Who Started The Debate Over the Public Option?

by Conor Clarke

Steven Pearlstein has a fantastic Washington Post column this morning, laying out more reasons why the left should let go of the public option. But I found myself disagreeing slightly with his summary of the debate:

The public option is nothing more than a political litmus test imposed on the debate by left-wing politicians and pundits who don't want to be bothered with the real-life dynamics of the health-care market. It is the Maginot Line of health-care policy, and just like those stubborn French generals, liberal Democrats have vowed to defend it even if it means losing the war.

I agree with the second sentence but not the first. My feeling is that the all-consuming importance of the public option was "imposed on the debate" by the right, not the left, and most of the liberals who have sworn a blood oath to defend it are playing a defensive and reactive game. Incidentally, though, this is a third reason why I feel a little uncomfortable letting the big health-care showdown take place over the public option: The left isn't the side that picked the battleground. A month ago, the public option didn't suck up half the oxygen it does today. The fact that it has so suddenly become the left's lodestar for the entire debate suggests to me that the left is not picking its battles with sufficient care.