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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Sotomayor Confirmation Bodes Well

Some interesting conclusions can be goosed from the 68-31 Senate vote confirming Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
First, it’s a great day for our country. The nation’s high court will now look a little more like America. It’s also a moment for celebration in the Hispanic community, as well as for women, in that a Latina woman has risen to one of the highest decision-making posts in our government, and by a healthy majority. One significant step forward to making America a more just democracy.
By extension, it’s a big win for President Obama as well. It can be read as an affirmation of the President’s sound judgement that his nominee was well-qualified enough to win with such a solid majority.
I’m also grateful that no Democrats voted against her and that all of the opponents were Republicans, although 9 GOP senators voted for Sotomayor: Alexander; Bond; Collins; Graham; Gregg; Lugar; Martinez; Snowe; and Voinovich. That said, there should have been more Republicans joining the Democrats in confirming her. It should serve as a potent reminder that our party is the one that offers hope and opportunity to Hispanic Americans, one of the fastest-growing constituencies in the nation.
And it should also be a reminder that too many Democratic Senators have been overly-generous in excusing the ideological excess of Republican nominees to the high court. If ideological concerns trump experiential qualifications for most of the GOP — and Sotomayor arguably had the most impressive experience of any nominee in many decades — then they can’t credibly complain about it if Dems pull the plug on free passes for right-wing conservatives.
On the positive side for the GOP, it appears that there may be as many as 9 sane Republicans in the U.S. Senate. This is a good sign, given the GOP’s recent flirtations with nutty notions about the President’s birthplace and hysterical gibberish about Dems plotting euthanasia for senior citizens. Some of those 9 Senators might make a pretty good short list of Republican Senators who have aspirations to higher office — the ones who get it that the GOP must do better among Latinos to have a shot at winning the presidency. It’s not hard to imagine a Lugar-Graham ticket, for example, being formidable under certain economic conditions. But their relative level-headedness in the context of their Party would likely prevent such an occurrence, given the still-rising tide of the looney right.
President Obama will likely have at least one or two more opportunities, hopefully more, to nominate a Supreme Court justice. The Sotomayor nomination was a bold and brilliant stroke, both morally and politically. America will be a little more inclusive in the upper echelons of government when she is sworn in. I’m hoping that the President will nominate another woman at the next opportunity, and one who is strongly, not tepidly, pro-labor — an urgently-needed point of view on the high court of a nation in which the labor movement has lost considerable leverage. America’s workers need a vigorous champion among the Supremes.

Brewskis for Brotherhood

I’m going to go out on a limb here and argue that President Obama’s handling of the Gates arrest/Beer Summit was both klutzsy and deft. OK, a very little limb.
Klutzsy because the President’s comment that the police acted “stupidly,” however true, was politically-unwise in that he forgot for a moment that he is also the nation’s top law enforcement officer, as well as the commander in chief of the armed forces. And a commander does not diss his troops prior to a thorough investigation of the facts. Then there is the cold reality that a large percentage of Americans, probably not only “cultural conservatives,” are always going to side with the police, absent video footage indicating that they were abusive. At least one survey, though conducted just after his press conference, indicated that white respondents gave Obama low marks for his handling of the incident.
Obama’s uncharacteristicly knee-jerk comment was a mistake, forgetting for the moment that what he said was likely accurate. Good leadership does not require immediately saying something because you believe it’s true. Obama’s imprudent comment turned the incident into a huge distraction that sucked a lot of ink and broadcast coverage from the more urgent health care battle. Very important to learn the lesson here.
That said, the “Beer Summit’ was a brilliant idea. The President realized he made a mistake, quickly owned up to it, and then came up with an idea that demonstrated how grown-ups can resolve conflicts, even racial conflicts, in a way that resonates with middle class, and particularly working class Americans. Teaching by example is good leadership. It doesn’t preach; it just shows a better way.
I like the way Baltimore bartender Zach Yarosz put it in Brent Jones’s Sun article,

After working for years in several Baltimore bars, Yarosz has many times dished out alcohol to hotheads on the verge of trading punches when an argument turns personal…”They calm down if you buy each one of them a drink. It placates the situation,” said Yarosz, 27, as he sat in the Mount Royal Tavern in Bolton Hill, downing Budweisers with about 15 others as Obama prepared to host a “beer summit”…”I like the laid-back approach…”

Yes, I know, the Beer Summit looked a bit stiff and stagy. It was not a well-choreographed photo-op. And you couldn’t blame Dr. Gates for still being pissed off. But to his credit he showed with a positive spirit. Sgt. Crowley also gets creds for showing up and being positive, if not for learning the lesson that good police work does not include bullying people in their homes. Not sure what the veep was doing there — Obama might have looked more “in-charge” without him. But the President actually looked more relaxed than all of them, very FDR.
It could have been worse, the President could have done nothing, or said something lame, and his comments would then fester on indefinitely throughout the health care reform debate. The Beer Summit brought a little closure, at least as far as the President’s role in the incident is concerned.
There wasn’t going to be a Kumbaya moment, although Gates and Crowley have agreed to meet again. But the President has demonstrated a simple truth to the nation. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We have to be together, before we can learn to live together.” Well done.

Bring on the Fire, Mr. President

Count me in as one of the more pro-Obama bloggers. I am generally pleased by the leadership he has provided to far, although I still sometimes have difficulty getting my head around the concept of being proud of a president — it’s been a long time. Yes I admire his speeches, but I also admire President Obama’s low-key, no drama leadership style, which is a good way to get things done — most of the time.
With respect to health care, however, there is something that should be said, and Frameshop‘s editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Feldman says it exceptionally well in his article “On Health Care, Obama Needs More Drama“:

Given the widespread fear that has spread throughout the national healthcare debate, I was surprised by the virtual absence of emotion in President Obama’s press conference performance…As a candidate, his speeches about “change” were so powerful that they spawned a pop culture industry. And yet, now that he is President and talking healthcare “change”–a national policy that will end the daily suffering and humiliation of tens of millions of Americans–Obama’s rhetorical passion has been displaced by the soporific drone of a mid-grade federal accountant. Where is the passion, Mr. President?

Feldman quotes a ho-hum passage from the President’s press conference, and adds “Obama’s words seemed to be governed by the logic of balance sheets rather than the emotion of lives in the balance.” Feldman may be overstating the President’s lack of discernable passion about health care reform, but he has a point. The balance sheet stuff is important — Americans want to know that proposed reforms are fiscally sound, and they are not going to get screwed by higher taxes. But it is up to the President, more than anyone, to arouse the citizenry’s anger at the gross injustice of the current “system.” Voters should be reminded of the urgency of heath care reform as a life or death issue for many Americans, because it is. With that accomplished, Feldman argues, then the President can shine the light on his fiscal prudence. Feldman adds,

OK, sure…The cost of inaction is greater than the cost of action, true. I agree. But healthcare reform is also about: the infuriating inhumanity of the current system…!
People are living lives in fear–children are dying, for goodness sakes. This is about injustice and the anger that tens of millions of people have been trapped in lives of fear as a result of health insurance business model that Congress has been too cowardly to confront for decades. And this is about the very real, very legitimate fears that people have as a result of thinking about the social and cultural shift that will result from having a public healthcare system that did not exist before…These are legitimate fears, and people are talking passionately about them all over the country.

Feldman calls for corrective action:

Obama’s single greatest strength as a politician has been his ability to speak in such a way that it makes Americans feel that we are soaring to new heights together…Franklin Roosevelt had that gift. John Kennedy had that gift. And Barack Obama has that gift, too. And needs to use it.

It’s going to take every bit of leverage the President can muster to get a decent health care bill enacted, and Feldman is right that the President’s remarkable ability to arouse and inspire is a weapon that should be unsheathed before it’s too late.

CA Budget Battle Shows How Ideologues Can Undermine Health Care

The big buzz today is rightly about the President’ health care reform press conference. Harold Meyerson, however, has an instructive column in today’s La. Times, “GOP: Going Over the Precipice,” showing how Republicans in the California state legislature undermine health care and education. In one nut graph. Meyerson succinctly nails the outcome of their manipulation of the state constitution, which requires 2/3 majority in the legislature to enact the budget and tax hikes. Republicans, who are about a third of the state legislature, are refusing to pass a budget unless the $26 billion shortfall is paid for with deep spending cuts, and some Democratic leaders have apparently caved to their threat. Meyerson says:

The consequences of those demands are stark. Hundreds of thousands of children will lose their healthcare and tens of thousands of aged and disabled California will lose their in-home support services. Public K-12 schools will continue to lay off teachers and cut class offerings, and both the University of California and the state university system will have their state funding cut by roughly 20%. At a time when state business leaders are crying out for a better-educated workforce, the Republicans in the Legislature have pushed through policies that will make the state both sicker and dumber.

But that’s not all. Meyerson explains how the adverse effects of draconian spending cuts the Republicans are demanding will reverberate through the state economy:

The cutbacks also will deepen the state’s already deep recession. Public employees will have less money to spend. City and country redevelopment agencies, their funds impounded by Sacramento, will suspend their construction projects — and there are precious few construction projects in the state today besides those that redevelopment agencies are funding.
Indeed, the cutbacks may trigger a vicious cycle: By worsening the recession, they further reduce state revenues, which will lead to even more cutbacks as long as the Republicans continue to cling to one-third of the Legislature and to their distinctive brand of concern for the welfare of the state. (They are concerned about California like the Visigoths were concerned about Rome.)

Meyerson is here talking about California. But progressive reform advocates take note that a change of the state and a few words, and you have a well-stated argument, focusing on diminished services, against Republican spending cut philosophy in most other states.
Meyerson attributes part of the problem to state Democrats’ lack of a “well-known leader” to make their case to the state legislature and to the public, and he challenges CA Attorney-General and former Governor Jerry Brown and/or San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to step up and provide the needed leadership. But the most important reason Meyerson cites is that the state Constitution gives the GOP the power to hold the state budget — and services — hostage to the views of Republican ideologues who run CA GOP.
Meyerson urges CA Dems to pick a compelling spokesman and “consider calling the GOP’s bluff” and vote against the Republican deal. He also urges Californians to amend their state Constitution “to end the practice of minority rule.” No doubt the Republicans would respond by trying to slam Dems as the new obstructionists, so Meyerson’s challenge will require a more assertive public education campaign to reveal the devastation of CA services that would result. It’s a combative strategy Meyerson suggests, but it appears the combination of the state constitution’s 2/3 vote requirement and domination of ideologues in the Republican ranks of the state legislature leave little alternative.
Most of the commenters following Meyerson’s article are advocates of spending cuts. But one saw it this way:

It is even worse than reported here. Yesterday our Doctor informed us that MediCal/MediCare was cutting back every patients by up to 2/3s to save money. My wife, who is terminal, is going to have her pain med cut by 50% in the next couple months. Our Dr., the director of a large County Clinic, was no the verge of tears as he tried to explain there was nothing he could do but follow the new rules that were made to save money with no regard of the extreme suffering this will cause. This will impact at least a couple hundred thousand people in Ca.

The stakes are clearly high, and how effectively the Democrats respond is literally a life or death issue for many Californians.

The GOP’s Amazing Talking Parrot

Snarko-phile Alert: Don’t miss Dana Milbank’s column, “Health Care for Dummies,” in today’s WaPo. Milbank provides a devastating recap of RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s Monday speech to the Washington Press Club, which included verbatim passages lifted from a memo distributed earlier this month by GOP message wizard Alex Castellanos, advising Republicans on what to say to stop health care reform. A sample:

“Slow down, Mr. President: We can’t afford to get health care wrong,” said the memo.
“Slow down, Mr. President: We can’t afford to get health care wrong,” said the chairman.
Memo: “The old, top-down Washington-centered system the Democrats propose will empower Washington to restrict the cures and treatments your doctor can prescribe for you.”
Steele: “The old top-down Washington-centered system the Democrats propose is designed to grow Washington’s power to restrict the cures and treatments your doctor can prescribe for you.”
…”We are excited to join the growing number of Americans supporting the patient-centered health-care reform movement,” said the memo, “with patients and doctors in control.”
“Republicans stand with the growing number of Americans supporting the patient-centered health-care reform movement,” said the chairman, “with patients and doctors in control.”

True, parroting stale, boilerplate language is a staple of politics, particularly inside the beltway. Still, one expects the chairman of a political party to change a few words here and there to at least provide an appearance of originality. What makes the context especially amusing as snarkage is Milbank’s set up, quoting Castellanos’s memo:

“We need to bring new language to this debate,” Republican message man Alex Castellanos wrote in a memo to fellow GOP strategists this month. “If we paint the house the same color, no one will notice anything has changed: We will still be the same, outdated Republicans who have no new ideas and oppose everything.”

An inadvertantly prophetic observation. Milbank concludes, “As a voice-throwing act, Castellanos and Steele were quite a duo. But if Castellanos is the ventriloquist, what does that make Steele?”

NVRA Enforcement Needed to Secure Dems’ Future

Michael McDunnah’s post, “New Project Vote Report Evaluates Fifteen Years of the NVRA” at Open Left flags an important study, which could have have a significant impact on the Democrats’ prospects in upcoming elections. McDunnah discusses the just-released Project Vote Study “The NVRA at Fifteen: A Report to Congress,” written by Estelle Rogers. The conclusions of the study about National Voter Registration Act ought to alert Democrats and the Administration to an impending threat and an opportunity.
The NVRA should be enforced as a critical priority for American democracy, regardless of partisan concerns. For Democrats, however, the threat is that continued lax enforcement of the NVRA could help hand the Republicans an early comeback. Conversely, the opportunity for Democrats is that full enforcement of the NVRA could help secure Democratic majorities at the federal state and local levels for years to come.
Lax enforcement of the NVRA has undermined the integrity of our elections for all voters, regardless of their party preference. McDunnah explains:

During the first two years of its implementation, the NVRA contributed to one of the largest expansions of the voter rolls in American history. But many states have resisted or rejected the mandates of the NVRA since its passage, often challenging them in court, while others have been allowed to ignore their responsibilities due to lax enforcement by the Department of Justice. As a result, fifteen years after the passage of the NVRA, voter registration was once again cited frequently as THE PROBLEM marring the 2008 election. Tremendous disparities in the electorate still remain, controversies rage across the country over voter registration and list maintenance issues, and some seven million Americans-according to the 2008 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey-either attempted unsuccessfully to vote or were discouraged from voting by administrative barriers. It is clear that many problems the NVRA sought to address remain uncured, and its full promise remains unfulfilled.

What’s behind the failure of enforcement of the Act? McDunnah quotes voting rights scholar Frances Fox Piven in her forward to the study:

…The reform of American registration procedures has met widespread resistance, some of it attributable no doubt to bureaucratic inertia, and some of it perhaps politically motivated.”

Rogers, via McDunnah, breaks down the failure into four key elements:

“It is important to assess what has been accomplished and suggest what might be done to achieve the level of civic participation envisioned by the statute’s drafters in 1993,” Rogers says. The NVRA at Fifteen is the first in-depth evaluation of how four major provisions of the NVRA have-and more importantly haven’t-been successfully implemented: the “motor voter” program, establishing voter registration through motor vehicle offices (Section 5 of the NVRA); the creation of a simple, universally accepted mail-in registration form (Section 6); voter registration through public assistance agencies serving low-income families and people with disabilities (Section 7); and the regulation of how states can and cannot remove voters from the rolls (Section 8).

Rogers also cites “poor training requirements and lack of oversight and accountability of motor vehicle offices have led to problems with noncompliance” and,

After initial success in its first two years of implementation,” Rogers writes, “Section 7 has been largely neglected (and in some cases almost wholly ignored) by many state agencies. A lack of authority on the part of chief election officials over state public agencies, and a failure on the part of the Department of Justice to enforce the requirement, have contributed to the pervasive failure of Section 7, to the disadvantage of millions of eligible low-income and minority Americans.”

Project Vote estimates that compliance with the NVRA provisions could bring 2 to 3 million new low-income voters into the counts yearly. Not surprisingly, the Bush Administration Department of Justice pretty much ignored the Act. I’ve got to believe that President Obama, himself a former voter registration organizer, will provide stronger leadership to enforce the NVRA. As president, however, he’s got a longer list of higher priorities, so we can’t assume that the Adminsitration will provide adequate leadership to make the NVRA rise to its potential.
Then there is also the thorny issue of weak enforcement by Democrats in power. As, Bruce Dixon, one of the commenters to Mcdunnah’s post notes:

I worked in county govt – Cook County in Chicago, the office of David Orr, the county clerk office which is responsible for registrations and elections in the half of the county outside the city of Chicago. I recall we had no end of problems with the state of Illinois resolutely refusing to carry out the provisions of NVRA. We were able to get them to allow us to place registrars in Chicago city and suburban motor vehicle registration facilities and a very few other state offices. But we never got deeper cooperation than that, and certainly there was never anything like statewide implementation of NVRA…This was the case even though a Democrat held the office of state attorney general most of that time. Our office asked, requested, importuned and begged that elected Democrat for years to come out with some kind of advisory opinion to the effect that the state was somehow obligated to do so, but to no avail.

Dixon identifies the Illinois A.G. as Roland Burris, now U.S. Senator. The point here is not to target Burris as the only Democrat who didn’t provide the needed leadership to enforce the NVRA. No doubt there are other states in which Democrats, as well as Republicans, failed to provide the needed leadership. No matter how strongly President Obama rises to the challenge of enforcing the legislation, there is still the problem of limp enforcement at the state level, a worthy challenge not only for Democratic leaders who undertand the importance of this legislation in securing their party’s future — but for all Americans who believe that healthy turnouts keep democracy strong.

Will ‘Blue Dogs’ Block Health Care Reform?

Dierdre Walsh has a CNN.com report, “‘Blue Dog’ Democrats may block health care bill,” quoting a Blue Dog House leader Mike Ross (D-AR) on the Democrats’ health care reform legislation

“We remain opposed to the current bill, and we continue to meet several times a day to decide how we’re going to proceed and what amendments we will be offering as Blue Dogs on the committees.”…Asked whether the Blue Dogs on Energy and Commerce are considering voting as a group against the bill if it remains unchanged, Ross replied, “absolutely.”

According to Walsh, the Blue Dogs are concerned about inadequate cost containment in the bill, as well as new mandates on small businesses in the bill and a failure to fix inequitable health care costs for rural physicians and hospitals. As the bill reads now, small businesses with payrolls less than $250K would be exempt from penalties for not providing health insurance, and presumably, their employees could access the “public option.”
The House Energy and Commerce Committee takes up the bill today. Walsh reports that Dems have a 36-23 edge over Republicans on the committee, although 8 of the Dems are Blue Dogs. If 7 Dems vote with the Republicans, it could stop the bill from advancing.
Perhaps the $250K penalty cut-off could be raised to $350K to win the support of some of the Blue Dogs and the bill could be lightly tweaked to accommodate other of their concerns. Meanwhile, however, Nate Silver has a FiveThirtyEight.com post “Blue Dog Districts Need Health Care More than Most” which ought to make Blue Dogs think a little more carefully before jumping on the GOP’s obstructionist bandwagon. Silver notes an interesting statistic regarding the 48 congressional districts represented by Democrats that voted for John McCain:

The median Congressional District has an uninsured population of 14.6 percent, according to Gallup’s data (the average is slightly higher at 15.5 percent). Of the 48 McCainocrat districts, 31 (roughly two-thirds) have an above-median number of uninsured.

Silver then lists the 31 districts, identifies their representatives and ‘Blue Dog’ status and the percentage of residents of each district who are uninsured. Silver’s conclusion:

The bottom line is that the health care bill, among other things, is designed to help out the poor and the uninsured, and somehow or another will tax the rich in order to do so. I can understand if, say, Jason Altmire from PA-4 wants to vote against the health care bill. His district is suburban and pretty well off, and almost everyone there has health insurance. But Mike Ross of the Arkansas 4th, where almost 22 percent of the population is uninsured? This is a bill designed to help districts like his. And the same goes for most of the other Blue Dogs. A lot of the time, these guys are stuck in a tough spot between their party and their constituents. Here, those interests are mostly aligned. If a lot of the people on the top half of this list are voting against health care, first check the lobbying numbers, and then check to see if they’re still in office four years hence.

Blue Dogs will understandibly seek modifications in the bill that address their constituents’ concerns. But they would do well to give Silver’s post a thoughtful read before voting to maintain the status quo.

Is Palin Toast?

Seems like a lot of the ink, bytes and air time being lavished on coverage of Sarah Palin’s latest stunt are focusing on the wrong question, which is” Why did she quit?” The more interesting question is “Is Sarah Palin over?”
Yes, we will be seeing lots of her in the months ahead, as she cranks up her campaign and runs around the country trying to raise dough for her legal fees and Republicans whose support she hopes to win. And the media will give her lots of play, just because she is a political bomb-thrower. But it seems to me that she has just added a lethal dose of doubt to her narrative. In his CNN.Politics.com commentary, “The Politics of Self-Destruction,” Paul Begala nails it nicely:

For all her whining about the ethics complaints brought against her, Sarah Palin is not the victim of the politics of personal destruction. She’s the victim of the politics of self destruction.
I have no idea why Palin decided to quit, so let’s just pretend she was telling the truth: She believes she can make more of a difference on the issues she cares about as a private citizen than as the chief executive of the Last Frontier. My guess is a lot of Alaskans wish she’d said that when she was trying to become governor, but what the heck.
…The speculation is that, rather than returning to being a private citizen, Palin aspires to the presidency. Good luck. She quit her job as city councilwoman to run for mayor of Wasilla. She quit her job as mayor of Wasilla to run for lieutenant governor. She quit her job as the head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to run for governor. And now she’s quitting her job as governor to … be a private citizen? Right.

It appears Palin just handed her opponents — in both parties — a powerful meme, that she is a quitter, and one much more interested in her own career than public service. Sure, they could make the argument before, but now it is a slam-dunk. Hard to see how she can fashion a credible answer to the question that will surely dog her at town hall meetings, along the lines of “Why should we believe you will be a good President when you never finish the job?”
True, the American public has a short memory, as Nixon proved. Speaking of Nixon, Palin’s “I’m not a quittter” is disturbingly reminiscent of Nixon’s ‘I’m not a crook,” as will undoubtedly be depicted in creative YouTube clips before long.
Palin’s theatrics don’t do her party any favors, as Begala points out:

It is a paradox of the modern Republican Party: If they hate government so much, why don’t they leave it to those who can use it as a tool for national renewal? Republicans say government would screw up a one-car parade, and then when they get into government, they set about proving their theory right (e.g., Katrina, Iraq, the economy, etc.).

DLC president Bruce Reed affirms the observation in his current SLATE.com article, “Quitters Never Win: In Sarah Palin’s GOP, the leaders keep quitting and the troubles don’t“:

Look at the 2009 toll so far. One 2012 Republican wannabe, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, announced he would not seek re-election next year. One of the top woulda-beens, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, quit his job to join the Obama administration and left the country and the hemisphere.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter quit the party. Last month, Nevada Sen. John Ensign had to resign his Republican leadership post to spend more time with his sex scandal. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford resigned as head of the Republican Governors Association. After this week’s disastrous AP interview, Sanford soon may have to step down as governor as well. As his Argentine mistress said, you can’t “put the genius back in the bottle.”
When did the GOP become such a bunch of quitters? What ever happened to the party of Larry Craig and his you’ll-never-take-me-from-this-stall-alive spirit?
…Time after time, quitting has turned out to be the “worthless, easy path” that Sarah Palin insists it isn’t. What makes her sudden resignation especially troubling, though, is not the flawed strategy so much as her jubilation and relief in putting the statehouse in her rear mirror. Palin’s resignation is a symptom of what’s crippling the Republican Party of late: Governing has become an unwelcome distraction.

Palin should have learned from McCain’s fiasco in threatening to withdraw from the Fall debate with Obama that voters don’t have a lot of respect for politicians who reneg on their agreements. Certainly it’s another reminder that, as Begala puts it “The Republican Party was once a solid, serious, stable group of people…Now it’s got more flakes than Post Toasties.” At the very least, Alaska’s Democratic Party just got a huge gift.

Can ‘Party Discipline’ Make 60 Votes Count?

Despite all the hand-wringing to the contrary, political commentator Bill Press makes a well-stated argument that 60 Senate votes are more than enough for Democrats to get a progressive legislative agenda enacted. Writing in his syndicated column today, Press says:

For six months, we’ve heard nothing but complaining from Democrats: Our hands are tied, they insisted. We can’t deliver a public plan option for health care, or pass the Employee Free Choice Act, or repeal the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, or do anything else we promised to do if re-elected — because we don’t have 60 votes. We have to compromise with Republicans, instead.
That excuse was phony, of course. Senate rules require only 51 votes to pass legislation, not 60. Democrats should never have allowed Republicans to pretend otherwise.

Press believes the filibuster obstacle is overstated, particularly if the Dems can find the gonads to invoke a little party discipline:

As for those wayward senators like Nelson or Landrieu, there’s only one thing Democrats are lacking: discipline. This may be a whole new concept for Democrats, who are not used to marching in lockstep. But if Barack Obama and Harry Reid are willing to play hardball by withholding committee assignments, White House invitations, campaign contributions, and endorsements, they’ll be surprised how soon Democrats will get in line.

Press is dismissive of the contention that Senate Democrats need a few Republicans to join them

The truth is, Democrats don’t need Republican votes anymore. It’s time for Democrats to pull together, flex their muscle, and deliver their promised agenda: a strong climate bill; the Employee Free Choice Act; immigration reform; repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act; and, most important, universal health care — with a public plan option, but without a tax on health care benefits.

And he is equally-skeptical about the argument that there are not enough of the Dems to enact reforms like the public option:

…Democrats will never have a better opportunity. But, even before Al Franken was sworn in, some spineless Democrats were already offering a new round of excuses. The so-called “Super Majority” of 60 votes is illusory, they say, because you can’t count on Ted Kennedy or Robert Byrd being healthy enough to show up and vote. Plus, there are a handful of “DINO’S” (Democrats in Name Only) — think of Ben Nelson or Mary Landrieu — whose votes you can’t count on, even when they’re present. Neither excuse is valid.
It’s true that Kennedy and Byrd suffer serious health problems. But Senate passage requires 51 votes, remember, not 60. In fact, just 50 votes are good enough, with Joe Biden standing by to break a tie. Besides, no matter how sick, there’s no way Teddy Kennedy’s going to miss a vote on establishing universal health care. He’s worked hard for it all his life.

Regarding the public option for health care reform, his blog “The Bill Press Show” identifies nine Democratic senators who have “not agreed to support it.,” including: Blanche Lincoln (AR); Tom Carper (DE); Maria Cantwell (WA); Ron Wyden (OR); Bill Nelson (FL); Mary Landrieu (LA); Kent Conrad (ND); Dianne Feinstein (CA); and Max Baucus (MT).
Regardless of party discipline, most of these senators have substantial moderate/conservative constituencies to answer to. Still, opinion polls indicate that the public option has broad and deep support across much of the ideological spectrum, as Ruy Teixeira explains. Invoking some carefully-targeted party discipline can’t hurt much, and might help with some of them.
Press’s aforementioned list of the nine senators is hot-linked to their websites, for those who want to contact the wobbly nine and encourage them to support the public option. If there was ever a time for progressive activists and bloggers to launch an all-out lobbying campaign targeting a group of senators to pass legislation that can save countless lives and create a new sense of security for millions of families, that time has now arrived. Every one of these senators should be made to understand that their political futures will be sorely damaged if they fail to support the public option. More party discipline from party leaders is needed, but party discipline from voters is better yet.

Needed: Simplified Framing for Health Care Reform

While the basic principles of health care reform should be simple enough for progressive political leaders to frame as opposing forces gird for the battle over health care reform, American voters are being presented an ever-expanding range of complex issues and policies . As WaPo‘s Dana Milbank put it in his July 2nd column,

…Americans are passionate and confused about it — and their opinions are all over the lot.
A CNN-Opinion Research poll found that 51 percent of Americans favor Obama’s health-care plan, but a Wall Street Journal-NBC poll found that only 33 percent think it is a “good idea.” A New York Times-CBS News poll found that nearly six in 10 would be willing to pay higher taxes so that all could be insured, but a Kaiser poll found that 54 percent would not be willing to pay more to increase the number.
A Quinnipiac University poll found that a majority — 54 percent — believe that reducing health-care costs is more important than covering those who lack coverage, while the Times-CBS poll found that 65 percent thought that insuring the uninsured was a more serious issue. A Washington Post poll found that 57 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the health-care system — but 83 percent are satisfied with the quality of their own care.
In short, when it comes to health care, the state of the union is confused. The confusion won’t be cleared up by the complexity of the debate, with all the jargon about community ratings and insurance exchanges and risk adjustments and guaranteed issues…

A point made also in Mark Blumenthal’s July 1 post at Pollster.com:

Let’s start with what is hopefully obvious: Democrats in Congress are drafting multiple proposals, and the Obama administration has not specifically endorsed any of these. So a well informed respondent ought to have trouble evaluating “Obama’s plan,” since Obama has not yet committed to a specific plan. Even more important, very few Americans are following that debate with rapt attention. Last month’s CBS/New York Times poll, for example, found only 22% of Americans saying they have heard or read “a lot” about the health care reform proposals (50% said they heard or read “some,” 23% not much, 5% nothing).

“Softness” of responses is also a concern with analyzing polling data, particularly regarding health care reforms. As Blumenthal notes of the difficulty of overgeneralizing about polling responses:

When pollsters push as hard as CNN/ORC for an answer, a lot of the responses are going to be very soft, often formed on the spot and based on very superficial impressions. Nonetheless, if I were charged with conducting a benchmark survey for a candidate over the next few months, and I had room for only one question about health care reform, I would be tempted to ask a very general question about “President Obama’s plan to reform health care” (though I’d strongly lean to the NBC/WSJ version that explicitly prompts for “no opinion”).
Yes, public opinion on health care reform is multi-faceted. Americans come to the debate with a rich set of values and attitudes about what they like and dislike about the health care system, what they would change and what they worry about changing. Most have not yet focused on the details of the legislative debate. Many never will. So questions about specific policy proposals can produce results all over the map. As Slate’s Chris Beam puts in an excellent summary this week, “health care polling is especially variable, depending on the wording, the context, and the momentary angle of the sun.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation adds in its wrap-up of some recent public opinion polling on‘Footing the Bill’.

What the public thinks about health care reform from this point will depend on what they learn about any proposals over the course of the summer – whether it be the actual details of any plan that might emerge or the spin on such a plan that will inevitably come from ideologues on both sides, the health care industry itself, and interested advocacy groups. Our surveys have repeatedly found that opinion on most specific proposals is quite malleable and can be moved in both directions. Expect this to happen.

It’s not hard to see why framing is critical to the success of any health care reform package. President Obama has settled on a current strategy of framing the debate in terms of cost. In his article in The Atlantic on “Obama’s Inversion Of Harry And Louise,” Mark Ambinder notes of the President’s framing of the health care reform debate:

His basic message: your health coverage will be taken away if we don’t reform health care this year.
His arguments for reform have focused heavily on rising costs and the unsustainability of the current system. His public remarks on the matter are rife with figures about how much costs have risen and will rise in the future, and how soon the nation won’t be able to pay them.
“In the last nine years, premiums have risen three times faster than wages. If we don nothing, they will rise even higher. In recent years, over one third of small businesses have reduced benefits and many have dropped coverage altogether since the early ’90s,” Obama told the audience at his town hall meeting on health care in Annandale, Virginia Wednesday.
“If we do not act, more will lose coverage and more will lose their jobs. Unless we act, within a decade, one out of every five dollars we earn will be spent on health care,” Obama said.
Obama’s economic rhetoric is all about how things can’t remain the same. It’s the same point the Harry and Louise ad made, but backward, and in Obama’s version, the “naysayers” who oppose health reform are the ones who play fast and loose with the coverage Americans currently enjoy. And as polling indicates that Americans are concerned heavily with costs, the president has, in turn, stuck to telling people about the costs of not passing his plan…And so part of his rhetoric is about shaking people with fear into supporting his reforms. If Harry and Louise made people afraid of passing Clinton’s reform plan, Obama is making people afraid of not passing his.

President Obama is undoubtedly right that cost-containment is a critical element of any successful health care reform pitch. But any successful pitch is also going to have to explain in simple terms how the reforms will improve health security for millions of Americans. Ruy Teixeira argues in a TNRtv clip that the public option of health care reform proposals has surprising bipartisan appeal in recent polling, which suggests it could have merit as a key messaging/framing point.
George Lakoff, along with co-authors Glen W. Smith and Eric Haas offer ten excellent messaging/framing suggestions in their HuffPo article “Health Care Reform: Some Basic Principles,” including

Principle 3. Health care is central to the moral mission of the American government.
The American government has twin moral missions: protection and empowerment of the individual – equally for everyone.
Protection includes not just the military and police, but also consumer protection, worker protection, environmental protection, safety nets, investor protection, and health care.
Empowerment is what enables Americans to make a living and have a good life if they work at it. It includes systems of public road and buildings, education, communication, energy, banking — and health.
No one can make a dime in America or achieve their goals in life without protection and empowerment by America’s government.


Principle 7. The American Plan provides care instead of denying it.
Why do HMO’s have a high administrative cost – 15 to 20 percent or more? They spend money to justify denying you the care you need and all too often delaying care so much that you are harmed by the delay.
The American Plan is there to provide you care, not deny or delay it. Its administrative costs would be low, about 3 percent.

And, also at HuffPo, In his post “Hoping for Audacity,” Drew Westen emphasizes the need to tell the “how we got here” story as a prerequisite for good framing of reforms:

The American people would understand why we need to offer at least one health insurance plan not controlled by the insurance companies if someone would just tell them the story of how it came to be that our premiums have doubled as millions more Americans have lost their coverage.
…The President is offering the public a series of stories that are all missing half the plot and half the characters–namely, the part of the plot that says how we got where we are (e.g., 50 million without health insurance…He is trying to sell health care reform without calling out the drug and insurance industries, whose profits have soared at our expense.

We should have no doubts whatsoever, that the opponents of health care reform are now focusing with utmost intensity on which frames will be most effective in obstructing meaningful reform, as my May 6 post noted. Let’s not be caught unprepared.