THE FIFTH COLUMNIST by P.M. Carpenter
I'm sure, at some point and probably numerous ones in the past, you've been asked a simple question by a small child about politics, a question about some term the child has just heard on the news, say, "the House." Is that like our house? the child inquires.
You smartly determine to keep your answer short and blissfully relevant to your auditor's level of comprehension; yet before long, you find yourself swimming in a hopeless explanatory morass of representative democracy; redistricting; the importance of state legislatures and political control of the state house -- oh Christ, another one?; the underlying corruption of corporate contributions and the urgency of public finance; and maybe even Speaker "Uncle" Joe Cannon's insufferable tyranny that, praise be, came to a rebellious end early last century.
The child, of course, wandered dazedly to the kitchen at "representative demo...." You screwed it up, big time; you forgot the essential component of "KISS," despite your initial determination to stay the course of short and simple.
It's an easy trap: What adults often take for granted, children find eerily, boringly abstract -- and that is precisely the lesson the White House has learned with respect to its heretofore health-care education of the "low information" electorate.
President "Obama started in the spring with the 'experts agenda,' " explained a professional health-care analyst to the Politico. "He talked about implementing health information technology, 'bending the cost curve' on health spending, reforming the health care delivery system and funneling more federal dollars into research comparing the effectiveness of medical treatments and procedures."
The result, said the analyst, was that "the whole debate drifted in a direction that was disconnected from the core concerns of the American people," not to mention their lay comprehension. Hence Congressional Democrats are now "fretting," reports the Politico, "that Obama has ceded the summer to critics who [don't use terms like 'bending the cost curve' and who have] packed town halls to shout at lawmakers."
Indeed, Democratic inhabitants of the original object of our discussion -- "the House" -- are now showering in panic. And for good reason. Late yesterday afternoon, for instance, Charlie Cook, of the respected Cook Political Report, found the political environment in need of this urgent update: "[T]he situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats.... Many veteran Congressional election watchers, including Democratic ones, report an eerie sense of déjà vu, with a consensus forming that the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats."
The latest Gallup, Cook further cautioned, reveals that among independents -- Hello, Blue Dogs -- Congress' job disapproval rating now stands at a staggering 70 percent. Concluded Cook, "We believe it would be a mistake to underestimate the impact that this mood will have on Members of Congress of both parties when they return to Washington in September, if it persists through the end of the Congressional recess."
In what tangible form an appreciation of that mood takes is, at this point, just about anyone's guess, but there's no doubt that President Obama will take much of the heat for it.
The Senate, too, knows how to read polls, which is likely why its leadership tried making such a splash yesterday with warmed-over, yawning news it probably can't use. Reconciliation, blared the Wall Street Journal: "[S]eeing little chance of bipartisan support for their health-care overhaul, [Senate Democratic leaders] are considering a strategy shift that would break the legislation into two parts and pass the most expensive provisions solely with Democratic votes."
Here's where I feel like the child. Because, I mean, wait a minute -- You, you parliamentary-procedure experts of varying political persuasions, have been telling us for months that reconciliation is, you bet, perfectly doable, fundingwise; yet the procedure, you've always added, would strip the legislative guts of virtually everything being funded, which themselves would then require separate, filibustered votes. All funded up and no place to go. This would advance the cause -- how?
Anyway, even leadership talk of such a procedure gives at least the appearance of leadership action; a little jolt for the pro-reform troops' morale, out there in the embattled boondocks.
Could Obama's pedagogic leadership have been better? That's indisputable. Yet exactly how, is the tricky part. This White House was determined to avoid the strategic mistakes of the Clinton administration, such as delivering public lectures on our "moral obligation" to pass health-care reform and insure the uninsured. But, there it is, this week, raising just that argument, only because it needs a new approach, even an old one. Good luck. The insured -- the majority -- mostly don't give a damn.
But what the White House is fundamentally bucking is something that too many on the critical left refuse to acknowledge: This country, at its characteristic core, notwithstanding the retaliatory blip of the 2008 election, is a center-right nation. And it remains one because it won't listen to those boring adults who see a spectacular train wreck coming if we don't change our immature, uninformed ways.
Still, there is long-term hope, as framed by none other than that half-American foreigner Winston Churchill: You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they've exhausted every other possibility. On health care, we simply haven't exhausted all of them yet.
Please respond to P.M.'s commentary by leaving comments below and sharing them with the BuzzFlash community. For personal questions or comments you can contact him at email@example.com
THE FIFTH COLUMNIST by P.M. Carpenter