Friday, March 19, 2010

Second Time Around

Still working from Ezra Klein's interesting post about interest groups and health care reform...

A couple of other thoughts about the Obama presidency and the Democrats.  

First, I think one of the lessons here is that Barack Obama did a terrific job of putting together his White House.  I've criticized him for being slow on appointments -- and that's going to matter, perhaps, when it comes to implementing the bill -- but Obama acted quickly after the election to put together a highly qualified, experienced White House staff, and it seems to have served him well in this fight (all the annoying stories the last few weeks notwithstanding).  Obama's success at, as Ezra Klein says, neutralizing every interest groups that might have sunk this bill was no accident; it was a deliberate, and difficult to carry out, strategy.  It involved cutting deals in the first place, and then pushing Democrats in Congress to stand by those deals even when there were serious pressures from other groups, from the polls, or from expedience to walk away from them.  The most visible of those, perhaps, was the drug re-important issue, in which Democrats in Congress were obliged to flip-flop against a very popular issue, but there were quite a few others.  I think most liberals this week, or at least the ones who believe that the bill is going to pass, have been most comfortable praising Nancy Pelosi (and rightly so!), but it was Obama and his administration that led the way on this.  And it almost certainly helped that the people who suffered through the last try at health care reform were the same ones in place now, second time around.

The other thing I'd point out here is that one of the reasons the Democrats could pull this off it because the Democratic Party right now, Will Rogers (and I guess Jane Hamsher) notwithstanding, if really amazingly unified.  That was always the underlying story in the Obama/Clinton nomination fight, that they weren't really fighting over much of anything.  And what it meant was that when Obama won, he didn't just have to put up a facade of unity for the rest of the campaign, but he had a truly united party that was able to govern.  Just in terms of personnel, it was an important advantage for Obama that he could call on the talents and experience of the Bill Clinton White House, both for the transition and then for his White House staff.  Obama's transition was probably the smoothest for any Democrat since...oh, I don't know, let's just say the smoothest for any modern Democratic President.  Democrats are still not, as everyone watching this week can see, especially good at being team players, but again the underlying dynamic behind what looks to be the success of health care reform is just how little the Democrats differ. 

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