Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Flubs of August

When people look back on August (about my post title, fyi) I think they'll realize it was a pivotal point in the healthcare debate, and possibly in national politics. It is the first time that I'm aware of where the Noise Machine that is the media totally failed to "move the needle".

Despite ballyhooing about raucous town hall meetings and endless hours of airtime for any health care reform opponent, nobody really changed their minds. In fact, public opinion may now swing more strongly in favor of reform. Solid majorities support the idea of a public option, even though they're uneasy about health care reform in general. Now, however, I think we're seeing those two lines starting to converge. People are getting the message that current reform efforts (generally) include support for a strong public option. The Finance Committee bill is only one of several bills that need to be reconciled before this thing is over, and it looks more and more like the Finance Committee's efforts are more of a sideshow to the main attraction. While the Senate is being a bit of a wet noodle, the House is much more strongly behind a public option, so there are many opportunities to get it into a bill. Perhaps the Finance Committee efforts will fail completely and no bill will come out. If that happens, then the other bills which include a public option are in a much better position to lend their language to the final version.

The bigger story for me, though, is the failure of the aforementioned noise machine. In the past it's been terribly effective, and Republicans have pumped their talking points through it, with the result being that people believed them. This time, however, it failed in a big way. Even though all the parts are working fine (and Fox/Beck continue to gain viewership relative to other cable news channels), nobody outside of their base is listening, or they just don't care. It's instructive that Frank Luntz, a Republican messaging specialist, warned Republicans not to oppose health care reform. The party, however, has a new set of leaders who don't stay "on message" (Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, et. al.) and as a result the whole apparatus has lost its power to affect the public debate for longer than a week or two.

Opponents of reform like to think that time is against the reformers, but in this case it appears that the opposite is true. Indeed, as time goes on the public opinion trends and the politics on the ground are swinging in the favor of a public option. And I'm fairly optimistic that, until the Republicans figure out how to be relevant in the health care debate, those trends will continue.

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