How Democrats screwed up health care debate

Dan Gerstein:

With the political prognosis for health care reform turning from poor to likely terminal, many of my fellow Democrats are grieving through grievance. They're lashing out at friends and foes alike, blaming everyone from Sarah Palin to the nutty Nazi lady from Barney Frank's town hall to President Obama for sabotaging the best opportunity in a generation to realize the liberal dream of universal health care. Everyone, that is, except themselves, the people who controlled Congress, set the agenda, wrote the legislation and developed the strategy for pushing it.

Consider it a case of admittance avoidance. Our party and the liberal activists who drive it can't stomach the fact that we are blowing this debate. So they have manufactured a convenient, simplistic narrative of villains and victims, where right-wing extremists and special interests are conspiring to stop progress through a cynical fear-mongering misinformation campaign. To hear them tell it, the Democrats' main mistake has been not fighting back hard and soon enough against the exaggerations and fabrications (which, no doubt, have been manifold and damaging).

But much as the Republicans have gamed the issue, the reality is that the first and worst deception was the Democrats' own. Step back for a second, listen to what the non-screaming skeptics are saying, and it's clear the party severely overestimated its mandate and underestimated the public's growing unease with the government's massive growth over the last year. What would have been a hard sell in any environment has turned into an epic challenge. Yet the Democrats have been charging ahead as if it's still November 2008, oblivious to the dramatic change in the electorate's mood.

Of course, you could argue that Democrats misread the public's appetite for a big-government solution on health care last fall as well. The left assumed that change on health care meant a public insurance plan. But most other Obama voters had (and likely still have) no idea what the term "public option" meant. If they were voting for him on health care at all, it was simply for lower costs and better care. They may have been open to that component of Obama's plan, as polls earlier this year showed....

I think that if voters actually gave much thought to health care it was to helping the uninsured. They had no idea that to do so would involve the kind of change Democrats are now trying to impose on the health care system. Obama has to be aware of this, because he carefully tailored his argument to avoid specifics that would raise the kind of objections he is now hearing.


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