A Tactical Half of a Loaf
With flourish, President Obama threw the public option under the bus tonight. It was the choice of a practical politician.
As has been noted time and again, Barack Obama gives a hell of a speech: commanding presence, earnest benevolence, passionate rhetoric. He did it again tonight.
Still, it probably won’t change much.
There will be health-care reform this year in some form, though President Obama sounded a tactical retreat on some of his once-ambitious ideas.
He will take what he can get.
Wise generals and presidents know when to take less than a full loaf, rather than nothing. But for many liberal Democrats who “brung him to the dance,” the retreat on the public option announced tonight will be a bitter pill to swallow. Speaker Nancy Pelosi says a final bill must, must contain a public option. It won’t. The Senate will never pass it. “It is only one part of my plan,” he said. “…we should remain open to options.” Translation: that idea just got thrown under the bus.
Liberal Democrats will vote for it because the alternative of putting egg on this president’s face and jeopardizing their own hold on Congress, as happened in 1994, is too awful for them to contemplate.
Will liberal Democrats now bring down a bill thusly neutered? No. In the end, enough will vote for it because the alternative of putting egg on this president’s face and jeopardizing their own hold on Congress, as happened in 1994, is too awful for them to contemplate.
I’m one who believes President Obama should have come out swinging early and harder for his specific concepts when he had strong public support behind him. Instead he relied on Capitol Hill’s Democratic cats to herd themselves, while opponents shrewdly played on the fears of an increasingly apprehensive and confused public. As he rightly said tonight, the charge that his plan would set up a panel to kill off senior citizens is “a lie.” (Sorry, Governor Palin, but you deserved that.) Still, the damage has been done.
Make no mistake—some progress on health-care reform is better than no progress, and in the end President Obama will get the credit. Those who wanted more must recall the words of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier: "Of all sad words of tongue or pen the saddest are these, 'it might have been.'"
Sam Donaldson worked at ABC News for over 40 years as a correspondent and anchor.