In the Arena


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I watched David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett and bits of Robert Gibbs on the Sunday shows this morning, and it wasn’t pretty. I’m still not sure where the Administration stands on health care reform–all in, partly in, all out…and if partly in, which parts? Obama himself told Stephanopoulos earlier in the week that insurance reform was still possible…but then told the Ohio town meeting on Friday that insurance reform isn’t possible unless you have a mandate because people will choose not to buy health insurance until they need it.

So, confusion. It’s unavoidable at this point–the system is still shuddering from the aftershocks of the Massachusetts election and it’s difficult to sense what sort of legislation is still possible. But it would be nice to hear the Administration acknowledge something like this: We went a bridge too far. When you have to resort to deals like the Cornhusker Kickback, the Lieberman collapse, the union buyoff, you don’t have the broad support that’s necessary to put something like health care reform into law. As Karen has argued, that’s the most important message from Massachusetts. Another message: we like the universal health care we have in Massachusetts, but we don’t want to make any sacrifices–especially when it comes to Medicare funding–so that the rest of the country can get universal, too.

It will take some time to sort this out, to see how and whether health care can be disaggregated into digestible legislative bits…and which parts of it are just indigestible for the moment. But more time on health care, unfortunately, is the last thing Obama can afford to spend. It has consumed too much of his presidency, and his political capital, already. He needs to make himself politically relevant to the public again. The State of the Union speech on Wednesday is where that process begins.