Ed Kilgore makes an interesting point about bipartisanship vs elite village consensus. (He frames it as political bipartisanship vs grassroots bipartisanship, but I think my shorthand is more descriptive ;)
He has said many times that he thought Obama's spirit of bipartisanship was aimed at the people rather than the political party in DC. I think the jury is still out on that, but for the sake of argument, I'll agree that's so. Therefore, his approach to health care should be calibrated to gaining the support of the people, which sounds right to me in any case. Kilgore writes:
[I]t's worth emphasizing that the two most credible surveyors of public opinion on this subject, the Kaiser Family Foundation and CBS/New York Times, have both found that at least half of self-identified Republicans favor a well-described public option.
So the question must be asked: if Barack Obama wants to conduct a bipartisan approach to universal health care, what does that mean in terms of the public option? Killing or watering down the public option in order to (maybe) attract the support of Sen. Chuck Grassley, and not much of anybody else in the congressional Republican ranks? Or maintaining it to appeal to rank-and-file Republicans, who favor it despite the views of their "leaders" and the polarized atmosphere in Washington?
I understand that Obama and congressional Democrats may need cooperation from Grassley or a few others for short-term tactical reasons in the Senate. But ultimately, "bipartisanship" on health care may actually mean looking past congressional Republicans and pitting them against their own supporters across the country, particularly on the public option.
Yes, yes and yes. Indeed, if Obama still wants to emulate the great "game changer" himself, Ronnie Reagan, that is exactly what he would do. Reagan used his personal popularity to get rank and file Democrats to support his policies. And he rhetorically always framed his policies as the common sense policies of the everyman out in the country, and then they backed it up with polling that showed that the people trusted him.
Obama can pass health care with Democrats and then legitimately call it bipartisan by citing public support. But he has to not care that David Broder and David Brooks have a hissy fit over it. They do not speak for Americans; they don't even speak for Republicans on this one.
This is what the bully pulpit is all about. He can take his case directly to the people and if he backs a real plan, with real teeth, he can get it passed, I don't have any doubts. The party grassroots and the public at large, including a large number of Republicans, are with him. The only people standing in the way are the insiders in the ruling establishment who want to protect the status quo.
The Republicans and the financial elites (to the extent they are distinct) are both on the run at the moment. Their powers are sorely weakened by the messes they've created and the public distrust of them as individuals and institutions. There has rarely been a greater need or a greater opportunity for a politician to appeal directly to the people and create a positive, enduring legacy. He can lead the country or he can lead the village on this --- it's all up to him at this point.