Maybe Obama is just lucky. You know, like Felix the Cat. If Jason Zengerle and the WaPo article he quotes are correct, the White House was shocked at the reaction of liberals to Sunday's public option trial balloon.
Maybe. The underlying article is unclear, as I read it, whether the White House was surprised by the reaction on Sunday and Monday or whether they've just been surprised in general by the central place of public option in liberal assessment of the various bills going through the committee process. And it's just as possible that the administration claims in that article ("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.") are simply part of a spin effort to get liberals ready to be happy with a bill without a public option. After all, if the White House has counted the votes and is convinced that the public option is going to fall short, then it's not a bad strategy to be shocked -- Shocked! -- that liberals care about it when there are so many other goodies in the bill. Bottom line: in the middle of this sort of thing, never assume that what's being said is straight talk. Everyone lies at the poker table, or else they don't last long.
As for why liberals are so attached to public plan, I think a little speculation is reasonable. It's important to realize that practically no one understands the actual public policy involved here: I sure don't, not with any real confidence, and I'm certainly in the top one percent of media consumers on these issues. Most liberals, I think, decided long ago that their preferred position was single payer, which is (in the abstract, without an actual bill to talk about) a fairly simple concept. Unfortunately for liberals, single payer was long gone after the presidential primaries last year. So liberals enter this debate already having lost their true preference. Given that, and that public plan sounds sort of like baby single payer, it's easy to see why liberals would center their hopes on public plan. And since it may in fact be in the interests of the White House to have liberals all hot-and-bothered about a provision that's not central to the bill, I can also see why the administration would rather portray themselves as shocked about the odd priorities of the progressives rather than putting in the energy to explain why the progressives should be happy with the final bill. Especially if they don't know what the final bill will look like, yet.