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The Obama Machine Starts Its Engines

Why do I remain relatively optimistic that health reform will pass this year? An e-mail just distribued to President Obama's supporters from the campaign is one reason. The message, personalized for each recipient, begins:

Dear [name of supporter],

The chance to finally reform our nation's health care system is here. While Congress moves rapidly to produce a detailed plan, I have made it clear that real reform must uphold three core principles -- it must reduce costs, guarantee choice, and ensure quality care for every American.

As we know, challenging the status quo will not be easy. Its defenders will claim our goals are too big, that we should once again settle for half measures and empty talk. Left unanswered, these voices of doubt might yet again derail the comprehensive reform we so badly need. That's where you come in.

When our opponents spread fear and confusion about the changes we seek, your support for these core principles will show clarity and resolve. When the lobbyists for the status quo tell Congress to hold back, your personal story will give them the courage to press forward. ...

This particular e-mail asks nothing of supporters, except that they sign their names to a petition and, if they choose, to share their personal story. But, presuambly, this is the first of many outreach efforts. Future e-mails will ask supporters to hold meetings, sign up other people, and, of course, donate money to the cause.  It's the same organizing model that got Obama elected.

There was nothing like this in 1993-94: Key interest groups sat out the fight until it was too late; former President Clinton had no grassroots army to deploy. This time will be different. And that's why reform has a realistic shot at succeeding.

--Jonathan Cohn