Health Care: The Permanent Campaign

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The Democratic National Committee, through the Organizing for America operation that it imported from the Obama presidential campaign, has put up a new website that attempts to translate some of the internet-fueled grassroots tactics of the 2008 campaign into a governing tool for the Obama presidency. In that toolbox: Everything from 21st century social networking to techniques as old-fashioned as writing a letter to the editor or calling your congressional representative.

This is not a bad idea. The opposition is organizing, and one thing the failed Clinton health care reform effort lacked in 1993 and 1994 was an effective pushback. But I’m not sure it is going to be possible to capture the kind of energy and unity you can generate in a presidential campaign for something that is, at its essence, legislative sausagemaking. For instance, many Obama supporters who favor a single-payer system are feeling alienated and shut out because they are seeing no serious consideration being given to that idea. And while the website cites a “public insurance option” as one of Obama’s core principles, it is not specific on what that means. Would it be one that operates like (and is tied to) Medicare, or one of the significantly weaker versions now being floated as a possible compromise? Right now, I’d bet the ultimate version that emerges is going to be a lot less ambitious than many liberals are hoping.

In that sense, the Obama message machine is facing a challenge on two fronts. One will be against the inevitable opposition that will be coming from the right. The other one is convincing the President’s own base that some health care reform is better than none at all.

UPDATE: And speaking of the need to be precise in what we are talking about, here’s an explanation of how the same words can mean very different things in the wonky health care debate. Jargon can paper over a lot of big differences.