Emerging narrative: Shut up, liberals. You're ruining it.
"I don't understand why the left of the left has decided that this is their Waterloo," said a senior White House adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We've gotten to this point where health care on the left is determined by the breadth of the public option. I don't understand how that has become the measure of whether what we achieve is health-care reform."
"It's a mystifying thing," he added. "We're forgetting why we are in this."
Another top aide expressed chagrin that a single element in the president's sprawling health-care initiative has become a litmus test for whether the administration is serious about the issue.
"It took on a life of its own," he said. [WaPo]
The foregoing paragraphs sparked massive speculation when they appeared on the front page of Washington Post yesterday in a story by Michael Shear and Ceci Connolly.
If the president really favors a public option, why would members of Obama's inner circle undermine him in the Washington Post?
Over the past several days, there's been a pattern out of the White House. On Saturday, Obama told a town hall in Colorado that a public option was just that, an option--not the be-all-end-all of reform.
At Netroots Nation, key Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett made it clear that the "American people" were going to have to push the Blue Dog Democrats. Because the White House wasn't going to.
Secretary Kathleen Sibelius said the public option wasn't an essential component of reform, though yet another anonymouse later insisted that she misspoke. (Arguably, a Freudian slip is a manner of misspeaking.)
The Republicans have made it clear that they will attempt to filibuster any bill that's put before them. On a good day, the Democrats have 60 senate votes, which is enough to break a filibuster, but only if all 60 fall in line.
That gives potential defectors a lot of power. Enumerable compromises have already been made in the hopes of securing the support of the conservative Blue Dogs.
The last straw was when Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), a member of the committee tasked with writing the senate bill, went on Fox News to declare the public option dead.
The liberal base is pissed. Even the Associated Press took time out of its busy schedule to register our disaffection.
Washington takes it for granted that the Blue Dogs can and will scuttle any healthcare bill they don't like. It's considered their divine right to veto any bill that displeases them. If the Blue Dogs ultimately vote against the bill, the Serious People will blame the progressives for trying the Blue Dogs' patience. But if progressives vote against the bill, nobody will blame the Blue Dogs for their imperious intransigence.
With such a narrow margin of victory, liberal senators could exert the same kind of leverage. What if Bernie Sanders refused to vote for a bill without a public option?
Now, that would be an impetus for negotiation. The White House would suddenly have an incentive to stand up to the Blue Dogs on the Finance Committee. If they don't write a bill that the progressives will pass, healthcare reform will die.
Of course, the White House would rather preempt a two-front war in the Senate. I suspect that they're using strategic leaks to subtly psych out the progressives. Notice how Anonymouse 1 (cough, cough, Rahm Emanuel) uses the phrase "their Waterloo," echoing the Republicans' threat to make healthcare Obama's Waterloo. The implication is clear. "The left of the left" had better fall in line or everyone will blame them.
The Daily Beast has a piece today by John Avlon headlined, "The Coming Liberal Suicide," a cautionary tale about how everyone will blame liberals for getting hung up on that crazy fringey dirty hippie "public option" of theirs.
Joe Klein, who conducts the conventional wisdom like copper conducts electricity, goes even further: "This year, the liberal insistence on a marginally relevant public option has been a tactical mistake that has enabled the right's "government takeover" disinformation jihad." So, it's already our fault and we haven't even done anything.
Optimistic progressives see the Washington Post's anonymice as self-serving rogues. I think they were on message all along.