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Obama’s August: Not Bad, Actually

In today’s Washington Post, Dan Balz makes the case that August was a disaster for the Obama administration and health care reform. I believed that before I read Balz’s column--in fact, there can’t be anybody who follows politics who doesn’t believe August was terrible for the Democrats. But Balz’s column paradoxically made me think that perhaps we all had it wrong.

Obviously, August saw a decline in Obama’s approval ratings and public confidence in health care reform. But public support is not the only variable here. I believed that the hopes of a health care bill that attracts the support of non-Maine Republicans were illusory all along. The ultimate endgame entailed getting all the Democrats to pull together and pass something.

Of course, Democrats didn’t want to do this. They wanted bipartisan support, mainly for political cover. Moderate Democrats won’t do this until it becomes clear that the Republican Party is dead set against reform, completely in hoc to its right-wing base, and not negotiating seriously. The danger is that Republicans would maintain the façade of reasonableness and interest in negotiation long enough to either run out the clock, or force the Democrats themselves to appear partisan if they decide to go it alone.

In that sense, August moved the ball pretty far down the field. A month or two ago, conventional wisdom demanded that the Democrats compromise with Republicans. Now the conventional wisdom has started to recognize that this is impossible. Balz, as reliable a barometer as any, mentions the “fictitious death panels” that dominated the August debate. More importantly, he writes:

"The cause of bipartisanship moved into reverse during August, though not because of anything Obama did or didn't do. In this case, two Republicans who the administration had hoped could be leaders in helping to work out a bipartisan bill [Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi] unexpectedly turned harshly partisan in their rhetoric."

If the conventional wisdom recognizes the reality that securing Chuck Grassley's support for health care reform is futile, then Democrats will have a much easier time going ahead by themselves, or with Olympia Snowe. Yes, health care reform has lost some popularity. But Democrats are past the point of no return. They have no choice but to pass a bill, and the Republicans have done them a favor by showing their hand.

Posted on both The Plank and The Treatment