09/19/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Aggravating the Base into Action

The easy analysis on the White House's perceived withdrawal from the (in)famous "public option" is to assume the President lost the stomach for it. In Politico, columnist Roger Simon asks: Does President Obama have the Guts?--which is somewhat hollow considering it takes a bit of grit for a black man to run for President of the United States and then win. Every left-headed stalwart from Jon Stewart to Rachel Maddow, eager to drive the slow ratings cycle that is the humid dog days of August, wants to clown the president or imply he's weak at the knees.

MSNBC bullhorn Keith Olbermann recently asked former DNC chair and failed presidential aspirant Howard Dean if there was some mysterious White House strategy we didn't know about. Something the general punditry wasn't aware of. Dean offered a flat "No," but one could sense the former Vermont governor (himself a physician) choking on a split second pause to ask the same question. What if, in fact, there is an alternative strategy taking place? What if the president isn't really being "punk'd" as some are quick to assert?

There are two directions the White House could be going with this. One path suggests publicly ditching the "public option" as part of an inducement to private insurance and big PhRMA interests, thereby confirming the public's worst fears about politicians colluding with loot-filled corporate syndicates. Another path suggests that, perhaps, the "public option" was never really on the table--just clever rhetorical bait and switch in an effort to sell the public on expired political goods. Which is why the administration, if you noticed, started pushing the notion of "health insurance reform," rather than full-blown reform or overhaul.

The other direction is more inventive and contains quite a bit of political gamble. It suggests the president believes his own party lacks the intestinal fortitude to bring this bill to fruition. There's nothing new to that since quite a few folks believe Democrats have a lot of bark, but little bite. Hence, he creates the appearance of a White House in crisis, allowing legislative turmoil and spastic town halls. These appear as the ingredients of implosion. But, it may also be a clever way to aggravate the base into action by giving the impression that he's ditching the "public option." The right has its base energized over myths of socialism. Why not galvanize the left by threatening to pull the plug on any serious reform? And, as you can see, hard-line progressive Congressional Democrats are already digging in their heels--as the White House probably expected.

One common observation during the course of this debate was that President Obama failed to make a movement out of it--despite the fact he had the machine, muscle and management skills to do so. Yet, this president prefers a grassroots approach, or at least, making us think it's people driving the discussion rather than the commander-in-chief.