Monday, November 9, 2009

Never bet against Barry Obama: how we’ve gotten to where we are on health care reform

Everyone knows that pitchers purposely throw balls to set up “out” pitches later in the count. But do hitters ever purposely swing and miss at hittable pitches? If anyone does it, you know it’s gotta be Manny Ramirez. It’s rumored that Manny purposely misses easy pitches in April to throw off scouting reports—so pitchers won’t be afraid to throw the same, crushable pitch in September and October when it really matters. Baseball guru Bill James swears that Manny purposely gets into full counts with a runner on first, so the runner can take off with the pitch and score on a well-hit ball. Manny’s so good, he can purposely dig himself into a hole just so his opponents are more surprised when he blasts out of it. No matter how bad it looks, you never bet against Manny.

And you never bet against Barry—Barry Obama, that is. Despite a summer of cynicism, replete with media obituaries of his administration not ten months into its first term, health care reform passed the House Saturday night.

To be sure, there’s still a long way to go in the Senate, but I’m going to go ahead and predict exactly that: the Senate will pass health care reform and the President will sign it into law. (True, Joe Lieberman’s filibuster threat would seem to pose an insurmountable obstacle, but I’m gonna call his bluff—this seems like a childish ploy for attention, not a serious threat.)

Why am I so confident in my prediction? It’s not based on media reports, although the Economist does report:
Harry Reid, the majority leader of the Senate, said that he may have the 60 votes necessary to pass a version of the health-reform bill that includes some form of public plan. A public plan may, therefore, now be politically viable again.

It’s not based on insider knowledge, although sources do tell me:
Senator Reid’s decision to include a public option in the Senate bill will likely give him enough support within the Democratic Conference to bring a bill to the floor. He then will determine which public option compromise (trigger or state opt-in) can get the 60 votes required to end a filibuster… While the next few weeks will be difficult once the bills reach the floor, it will be hard for Republicans to stop the President’s top domestic priority and the top domestic goal of the Democratic party for six decades. [Notice that it’s not “whether” a public option can get 60 votes, but “which” version of the public option will be included.]

It has nothing to do with electoral math, Nate Silver-esque modeling, or statements from Senators—although Sen. Baucus does state there’s a “sense of inevitability.”

The reason I’m predicting passage of health care reform is simple: I’ve learned never to bet against Obama, because he wins. Some people just have an innate ability to come through in the clutch, to not lose no matter what. Michael Jordan had it. LeBron has it (and it’s gonna take him to a title in the next couple seasons). And Barack Obama has it. All through the election, whenever the media counted him out (down 30 points in the polls to Hillary, “Bittergate,” Jeremiah Wright, Sarah Palin’s Convention speech), he stuck to his plan and pulled out the W. Now that it’s actually time to get things done, I feel the same mojo about him. He’s like the Mike Jordan of reforming, the Papi of the Potomac (2004-07 version), the Tiger Woods of Washington. Like Tom Brady (pre-David Tyree), you know that no matter what’s happened for the first 58 minutes, he’s coming through in the last two.
Think about where we were just weeks ago. For months, the President endured a cacophonous chorus of conservative contempt, clamoring breathlessly over death panels and socialism. Meanwhile, pessimistic progressives pleaded for the President to abandon bipartisanship and rely on the Democrats’ 60-vote majority to ram reform through the Senate. They criticized his arms-length strategy of outlining broad principles and leaving the details to Congress, and couldn’t understand why, with 60 Democratic Senators, he was pursuing bipartisanship with an opposition whose guiding principle was “Whatever it is, I’m against it.” The media all too happily promoted the negativity, pronouncing health care reform dead on arrival—and the Obama administration with it.

But, recognizing the pessimism as the product of a 24-hour news cycle obsessed with short-term events, the President pressed on. A month ago, progressives fretted and conservatives thought they smelled blood in the water—and yet here we are, closer to health care reform than at any point since Teddy Roosevelt came up with the idea 97 years ago. Even before passage by the House, last Monday’s New York Times reported:
President Obama’s arms-length strategy on health care appears to be paying dividends… Democratic leaders and senior White House officials are sounding increasingly confident that Mr. Obama will sign legislation overhauling the nation’s health care system — a goal that has eluded American presidents for decades.

So how did we get here, and how did the pessimists get it so wrong? Pretty easily: the President played them all like Manny Ramirez—putting himself in a bad position early on, only to lull his opponents into making a mistake when it counted. Like in baseball, it’s fall, not summer, that counts.

Obama’s strategy seems to have been to give in to Republican demands until, tempted into overconfidence by the concessions they’d already won, they rejected one compromise too many, exposing the true nature of their obstructionism. That moment seems to have been in August when Sen. Chuck Grassley, a “moderate” seen then as the best hope for compromise, endorsed Sarah Palin’s death panel myth, and subsequently sent out a fundraising letter detailing his opposition to “Obamacare.” From that point on, Obama could credibly point out, “look, we’ve given in to everything the Republicans have demanded, and they still say no.”

In other words, knowing full well from the beginning that the GOP would never give in to ANY concession, Obama was able to offer extremely generous concessions that he never intended to implement, anticipating that when the GOP rejected even those, he could move on unilaterally while credibly claiming to have pursued bipartisanship.

In short, if you’re a progressive who’s nervous that Obama is swinging and missing at a fat pitch over the plate, don’t be—he’s been just what he was on the campaign trail: calm, determined, and relentless. I’m not sure who said it, Jay-Z or Nas, but I do know this about Barack Obama: he… will… not… lose. Just look at this face:


  1. I'm still trying to think of a politics analogy for Andy Reid's clock management skills

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