The relentlessly cynical and negative traditional media has talked itself into believing certain things about the fight over health care reform, whether there is any serious evidence beyond their own self-reinforcing stories or not. Unfortunately, what happens when these kind of stories are written, is that everyone -- Congresspeople, unnamed lobbyists, unnamed administration officials, other journalists, progressive activists, and bloggers -- then reacts to these stories, usually to reinforce their own point of view or their client's interest.
The problem is that so many of these assumptions are unproven/unknown at best, or downright mythological at worst. Having been deeply immersed in both the lasting health care fight in 1993-94 and this one today, I feel fairly confident in pointing out some of these things that most traditional media reporters seem to believe as gospel that in fact are not all certain. Let me just mention a few of the biggest:
I. Serious health care reform is dead or on "life support"
Versions of this story have been floating around for many months now, with reporters eager to cover a train wreck and flaming failure for Obama.
Now don't get me wrong: I don't want to imply that reporters particularly want health care reform, or Obama, to fail. They just like to declare everything a failure. In the 1992 campaign, reporters and pundits declared Clinton to be a walking corpse after Jennifer Flowers, the draft dodging thing, the didn't inhale quote, the brutal NY primary, after Perot got in, and several other times as well. They declared the 1993 Clinton budget dead at least a dozen times before we passed it, and the same thing happened with the 1994 crime bill. After the '94 elections, they declared Clinton gone, irrelevant, powerless, certain to be defeated many times before he smoked Gingrich in the '95 budget battle and went on to another electoral vote landslide in '96. They declared that it was a matter of days before his resignation after the Lewinsky scandal broke, and that he would be forced out of office for sure after the news about her dress came out. They declared Gore toast before he won the popular vote in the 2000 elections, and Kerry dead in the primaries before he won in Iowa. They said Hillary Clinton was the nominee for sure in the fall shortly before Obama won in Iowa. This year so far, they declared the stimulus in deep trouble right before it was passed, and Obama's budget in a world of hurt shortly before it passed.
A strong comprehensive health reform bill (yes, with a public option) has passed four committees so far, and according to public statements by members and private vote counts a lot of us advocates have been doing, we are well within range of victory. House Progressives have the votes to defeat anything without the public option, and they are still standing firm. Strong health care reform, with a public option, is far from a done deal, but it is quite alive, thank you.
2. The town halls and August recess have been a disaster for health care
The yelling, Hitler comparisons, and people bringing semiautomatics to events made for great theatre, but the reality on the ground was very different. In the local newspapers and monitoring by Congressional offices I am aware of, supporters of health reform out-numbered opponents at most places. The swing congressional offices I have talked to received more calls, faxes, mail, and email from supporters than opponents. And I have yet to talk to any members of Congress, or even their staffers, even the more conservative ones, who have said to me that they have come out of the August recess wanting to give up on or even slow down on health care reform.
3. Obama and the left are at war over health care reform.
Other than occasional unnamed White House staffers who enjoy dissing their progressive friends for their own reasons, and the occasional progressive blogger who takes everything Politico and Ceci Connolly say seriously and is therefore convinced Obama is out to do us wrong, I see little evidence Obama and progressives are at war over health care. It is progressives, after all, who are actually fighting for the ideas Obama laid out on health care in his campaign and earlier this year, ideas Obama has not renounced or said he is giving up on. From what I can tell, Obama is doing everything he can to try to get a bill out of Senate Finance and then out of the Senate itself, while continuing to support Pelosi in her efforts to get the strongest possible bill out of the House.
Having fought this fight in 1993-94 and so far this year, I know how tough this is to pass, and how ugly the process is. I take nothing for granted, and take nothing on faith. Health care reform could still die; war over what goes to the floor could still tear the Democratic Party apart; politicians, including Obama, could still sell progressive activists down the river to get a bill, any bill, passed. But all of the above is conventional wisdom, not fact and not a done deal.
The White House has just announced that Obama has raised the stakes even higher, through the roof in fact, by planning an address to a joint session of Congress next Wednesday. That means this White House is determined to pass a bill on health care reform by hook or by crook, by any means necessary. I hope that also means that the White House realizes passing some meager, small compromise of a bill, with the stakes this high, would be a political nightmare. But one way or another, they will show their cards next Wednesday. Will the president, in front of a joint session of Congress, meekly give up fighting for anything big? Will he declare war on his progressive friends? Will he announce that he no longer cares about keeping insurance companies honest? We will know the answers after his speech, but I wouldn't be drawing any firm conclusions until after you listen to it.