Obama and the Public Option

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Ezra Klein reports that the White House is opposed to the effort to revive the public option and pass it in the Senate via reconciliation. Why? Because they want to appear “bipartisan.” Matt Yglesias is unimpressed:

While it’s true that the White House has sought to brand itself “as a bipartisan outpost” you know and I know and Ezra Klein knows and I certainly hope David Axelrod knows that at the end of the day if a health care bill emerges no Republicans will vote for it. And any shine of bipartisanship that Obama may or may not have put on himself is going to go away. So what’s the point in being “sharply opposed” to the public option concept? This is very bad logic, and if true very fishy behavior on the part of the White House.

I think this gets to the deepest, most mysterious question about Barack Obama: does he really believe in bipartisanship? That is, does he actually believe that if he sticks to his guns and keeps pushing away at compromise, eventually Republicans will start to work with him in good faith? Or is this basically a ploy to get public opinion on his side because he knows that the public is deeply in love with bipartisanship?

I hope it’s the latter, because even a year ago the former was a belief that only a political naif could maintain. Today, you’d have to be a thoroughgoing idiot. But all evidence suggests that Obama is neither naive nor stupid, so I have to assume that this is basically part of a long-term effort to turn public opinion sharply against Republicans.

Alternatively, I suppose it could be strictly a short-term, inside play to maintain Democratic support for passing a bill. Obama may believe that Dems are so scared, and support for passing anything is so fragile, that bringing back the public option at this point runs the risk of frightening a big chunk of the caucus away for good. Sadly, I can’t pretend this is a groundless fear.

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