What the Public Option Tells Us About Obama

Reflecting on the president's character, pundits are in a mood for finding flaws

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Liberals upset by Obama's reported willingness to abandon the "public option" have joined conservative detractors of the president. As Nate Silver laid out last night in a long post titled the "Grand Unified Obama Critique," Obama's desire to "split the difference" between extremes while leaving much of the shaping of the bill to Congress has alienated progressives and conservatives alike. But Silver ends on a high note, concluding that Obama has only pushed programs that have broad public support:

Obama will probably get this figured out -- in fact, he'll almost certainly get it figured out by 2012 (take a look at where Reagan and Clinton were at this point in their first terms). But if Democrats want to survive 2010 and the health care debate largely intact, he will need to do so sooner rather than later.

What else does the public option tell us about Obama?

  • Too Hands-Off with Congress, says Nate Silver in the best long exposition of Obama critiques at FiveThirtyEight. "Although Obama has put a lot of cars on the policy train, he's also let the Congress drive it. This is arguably the worst of all worlds."

  • Willing to Compromise Anything, says Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post. "Where, if anywhere, does Obama draw a line in the sand?"
  • In the Pocket of Drug and Insurance Companies, says Bob Herbert at the New York Times. "The White House, for its part, agreed not to seek additional savings from the drug companies over those 10 years. This resulted in big grins and high fives at the drug lobby. The White House was rolled. The deal meant that the government's ability to use its enormous purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices was off the table."
  • Feeble Against Republican Attacks, says Cenk Uygur at the Huffington Post. "If Obama continues to bring the weak sauce, there has to come a point when we begin to wonder why we elected him as well."
  • Unable to Win Progressives' Trust, says Paul Krugman in the New York Times. "Partly it's a matter of style -- as many people have noted, he has been weirdly reluctant to make the moral case for universal care, weirdly unable to show passion on the issue, weirdly diffident even about the blatant lies from the right."

For a contrasting view that suspects Obama is preparing the mother-of-all pump fakes, read this editorial from the Wall Street Journal, which treats his pull-back on the public option as "a tactical political retreat, not a surrender."

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