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The Bennet Letter: Change We Can Believe In?

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On Monday, the White House and President Obama's health care bill proved my worse fears - that there was never any intention by Democratic Leadership or the President to support the public option.

And along the way, the base of the party was once again strung along with glimmer of hope in the form of the 'Bennet letter.'
Today's health care bill not only signals an end to the public option, but the Bennet letter can only be characterized as the worst form of manipulation of Democratic voters by the White House.

We start with last week's phenomenal action of the four Senators, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Kristen Gillibrand of New York, and Michael Bennet - to sign a letter to Harry Reid to pass health care with a public option via reconciliation. The letter is now called the Bennet Letter, because he is the author.
That was on February 16th, 2010 - and this letter set off a whirlwind of speculation and hope among Democratic base voters, that the public option would be saved after all. It has been the talk of the town. Michael Bennet's face can be seen on many websites advertisements as a 'Hero' from a group called 'Bold Progressives,' which is raising money for Bennet as a thank you for this letter.

I mention the date of February 16th because that was last Tuesday - and two days later on February 18th, President Obama came to Colorado to campaign for Senator Bennet, who is in a tough primary fight.

Excuse my incredulity, but wouldn't the biggest news in Democratic circles - a letter authored by Senator Bennet pertaining to health care reform - just released the week before the President's summit on health care - wouldn't that have been discussed between the President and Senator Bennet?

Instead, I find my hopes for the President's agenda being crushed under the weight of the cold hard reality of political calculus and inside baseball politics.

Otherwise, why on Earth would the President announce ,less than a week after the Bennet letter was created, today's health care bill, which has no public option?

That knee-caps any effort to get to the magical 50 count for reconciliation, and gives cover to Senators who had been dodging answering how they stood on the letter - such as Colorado's other Senator, Mark Udall, who was taped as saying that he did not know if he would sign the letter because he did not want to 'box the President in'
(hattip to Mario-Solis Marich and AM 760)

The only answer that makes sense is that the President never intended to let the public option through, and this Bennet letter was merely the White House's way to provide a way for some Democratic Senators to bolster their credentials with base voters, while not actually having accomplished anything.

A scenario that makes sense when you consider Senator Bennet's opponent, Andrew Romanoff, just had a series of press releases that indicated that he had been found to be polling stronger than Bennet versus the Republican candidate for Senate, that he was endorsed by the two largest unions in the state, and also by a majority of the state's legislators.

This fits with the pattern for the President.
#1 Obama cleared the field of primary challengers for another controversial Senate appointee - Kristen Gillibrand (who is also a co-sponsor of the Bennet letter)
#2 Obama endorses this guy - Arlen Specter:

Arlen Specter, recent Republican - who said McCain - Palin was the better choice in the 2008 election - over a true progressive democrat - Joe Sestak, who recently disclosed, despite White House denials, that he was offered (bribed) with a federal job to keep him from challenging Specter, after he was initially approached by Democratic leadership to challenge Specter before he switched parties.

In Colorado, Michael Bennet was endorsed by Obama, just days after the Romanoff Primary challenge was announced, in an attempt to stifle the primary process.

Now, with the Bennet letter, the President has shown that he and his team is playing the tune the base wants to hear, but has no intention of taking us to the dance - and that means no public option.

I remember back in 1993, there was a young charismatic President in his first year of office, who campaigned on "Change" and health care reform, and quickly abandoned that effort to pursue NAFTA instead.
I also remember the depressed based turnout in 1994 when the Republicans made huge gains in the midterms and started the era of hyper-partisanship.

Upon further consideration - let's look at where the 'Change We Can Believe in' really started.
It started when former Presidential candidate Howard Dean took the DNC in a new direction - with the 50 state strategy - which party leaders at that time - such as James Carville and Rahm Emmanuel - considered a policy of failure.

Howard Dean stuck to his agenda, and funded organizers (some of whom were my friends) to organize in the reddest part of the Red States - and had people attending Democratic meetings for the first time in a generation.

The result? Well, the narrative was that the public finally revolted against the Bush Presidency - but the real story was the number of races Democrats won where they were seen as non-competitive.

That 50 state strategy effort worked quite nicely to merge with OFA and the Presidential campaign to help the President and Democrats win overwhelmingly.

What was the first action the White House did to reward Dean?

He was replaced and the 50 state strategy was dismantled - and guess what, that meant 200 organizers across the country got fired - in a recession.

Who was most likely responsible? My guess is Rahm Emmanuel - who has been advising the President in many ways that are contrary to the grassroots efforts that got him elected.

Let's look at 2006's results and compare it to Rahm's wisdom.

The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), Rahm Emanuel, stormed out of Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Howard Dean's office in May after an expletive-filled tirade against the DNC's spending too much money, too early, in "non-battleground states."...

Was Emanuel Talking About States Like Indiana?

The Democrats picked up 3 seats in a state that was considered as red as the Hoosiers' basketball uniforms. Dean, in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, said: "We put folks into Indiana a year and half before we knew the candidates."

Was Emanuel Talking About States Like New Hampshire?

Voters in New Hampshire, home of the nation's kickoff presidential primary, re-elected Democratic governor John Lynch in a landslide over state representative Jim Coburn (R). Democrats gained more than 80 seats to grab a majority in the 400-member House, where they had been in the minority since at least 1922. Democrats also picked up five seats - giving them 13 of 24 seats - to flip control of the New Hampshire Senate, where they have been in the minority since 1988.

(There are more examples of this in the article)

This is the guy who is advising the President - and obviously encouraging him to inject himself into primary politics, something not done since FDR. It has not been repeated by any other President until now, mainly because it backfired so badly. (Ironically, FDR was trying to root out conservative Democrats and primary them with liberal New Deal Democrats - while Obama is protecting conservative Democrats and stifling primary challengers tacking from the left)

This latest Bennet letter bait and switch also sounds like the same kind of strategy Rahm would use to pander to the base, only to placate them - after all, he did call the Democratic activists' liberal strategy - "F#%king Retarded". Well, if we let these Senators who signed this letter and the ones who didn't get away with saying 'Well, we are going to support the President's agenda' then maybe Rahm is right.

Maybe the President realizes that he has to go in a new direction- and he will replace Rahm and push again for the public option.

But if the President keeps listening to advisors who think this is the way to treat the base, then there is something that can be done.

Watching Michael Bennet pivot from Conservadem to 'Bold Progressive' all in the 6 months since he got a primary challenge has got me thinking.

Maybe it is time for the President to be given some pressure from the base that Rahm and company are taking for granted.

If this keeps up, and the public option via Reconciliation turns out to be the old 'bait and switch,' you might soon be seeing bumper stickers that read: "Howard Dean 2012."