What the healthcare summit did


Just a short diary to convey my hopelessly naive take on what the Healthcare Summit accomplished and how Obama put the Republicans in a no-win situation.  First, let's think about the conventional wisdom in two ways.  There's the totally unrealistic expectation that Obama invited the Republicans to discuss healthcare reform as a way of winning some of their votes through persuasion and charmsmanship.  Sign me up for believing that Obama (and Rahm Emmanuel) are smarter than this.  They may end up getting a few Republican votes on it, but it won't be because of persuasion or logic.  Another view of the overall goal of Healthcare Reform is that Obama was really doing this to reassure Blue Dogs, presumably by making this bill seem less scary.  In a sense, you can think of the Blue Dogs as moderate Republicans who are open to being persuaded.  By either of these counts, the summit probably did not reach its goals.  As stated by various gasbags, it was a tie and a tie, as always, goes to the Republicans.  I have a slightly different take on the politics and optics of the summit and I believe Obama was largely successful.  Won't you join me after the jump?


I believe the Summit had two overriding goals: 1) draw more people toward the center of public opinion with respect to HCR, and 2) make HCR seem inevitable. 

Let's look at the first goal.  Polls find fairly weak support for HCR.  This happens because people on the Left think it is a corporate giveaway while people on the right think its Socialism.  Nevertheless, around 40 % of the people support it.  This is clearly the center of public opinion.  The goal can't be to persuade Jane Hamsher or Glenn Beck.  Rather, it's to persuade the people who are "just kind of against it" to see it in a different light.  They don't even need to support HCR, they just need to think that it isn't a bad bill, all things considered.  The way you accomplish this is by sitting down and having a discussion with those who are against it.  People inclined to see this bill as Socialism saw the Republicans in a largely substantive and cordial discussion with Obama on the specifics of HCR.  These were grownups discussing complicated topics and having reasonable disagreements over an approach to solve a real problem.  At no point did anyone get up and start yelling Socialism.  And Obama, wisely, steered people away from polemics.  For those inclined to see HCR as a corporate giveaway, you saw a similar dynamic with people explaining, plainly and boringly, why it needs to be done this way.

Probably equally important, the second goal was also accomplished.  Obama's closing statement made it very clear that HCR is going to happen and it is going to happen soon.  There will be the predictable posturing and Stupakifying of issues, but it is going to happen.  At that point, HCR becomes a "known", or at least a familiarity.  So those who were previously adamently opposed to HCR go to bed and wake up for a couple of days.  And when they wake up, they realize our country isn't headed toward Socialism.  And it isn't appreciably more corporatist than it is already.  Maybe both sides sense a missed opportunity to enact their own agenda, but the verb tense is different.  And that is paramount.  "We'll get 'em next time".

For the Republicans, it was a no-win situation.  Either they come in and start yelling about Socialism and demanding to see Obama's birth certificate, or they decide to have a discussion and explain where they differ.  Clearly, the Tea Party route is not a successful strategy.  So, they engage Obama in a discussion.  At the end of it, an impartial observer would be likely to think that both sides had legitimate points and concerns.  Obama probably performed marginally better than the Republicans, but that wasn't terribly important.  The point is, you don't sit down in front of rolling cameras and have an amicable discussion with a Socialist dictator.  Everyone in that room seemed grown up (with the exception of Eric Cantor) and thoughtful.  But, the Democrats won the election.  And they get to enact their agenda.

Did this change any votes?  Not sure.  But it gave the issue momentum and changed the Republican talking point overnight from "Scott Brown!!!" to "Those mean Democrats and their mean large majorities in both chambers..."  Clearly, they had a stronger case before Thursday.

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