Sshhhh. Don't Tell Anyone
I hope people realize that part of legislative sausage making (indeed, all deal making) is taking positions -- or allowing others to take positions --- for tactical reasons that may not accurately reflect the outcome you desire. That's not to say that I think that despite what we are seeing that everything will come out ok in the end. Sometimes tactics fail and sometimes what people are saying is exactly what they mean. But it's important to remember that there is a lot of posturing and kabuki involved in legislative negotiations and things are not always as they seem.
If we had a functional press corps that was good at real political analysis instead of regurgitation of tired conventional wisdom, we'd know a lot more about this from reporters who have the sense and the skills to sort through the bullshit. But we don't. What we have instead is a media that runs with the narratives that "feel right" which means that they fall into well worn story lines which may or may not reflect anything that's actually happening --- but which by their very nature affect the course of the debate.
Right now, the entire political press corps is concentrated on two stories --- one about race and one about health care. (As Joan Walsh said, they are actually related, but anyway...) They are seeing Obama as weakened, and are getting very, very excited about that for reasons about which I've previously mused. But the truth is that Obama is weakening not because of health care, which was always going to be very, very difficult and which would necessarily require a huge chunk of political capital. This is simply because as much as everyone was thrilled by the "change" candidacy, as dday points out below, what they really wanted was to change was the occupant of the white house. Most people find serious, fundamental change quite frightening and are, therefore, easily subject to fear mongering, especially when they are already experiencing extreme economic stress over which they have no control.
Our economy is very bad and a good many people are scared to death right now. And their fear is real, even if they don't really understand the reasons for what's happening. I personally know people who are going bankrupt and losing their jobs and I would bet that most of you do too, if you aren't one of those people yourself. This fear is not the result of not pre-digested, focus grouped propaganda for entertainment purposes as is so much of our political discourse. The country is in deep distress. And when that happens, they look to the government, even as they perversely believe that it can't do anything, and they get angry .
Obama's numbers are dipping because of the economy. Any president's would be. Trying to pass health care in this environment is both necessary (you need a certain level of economic insecurity for an employer based system to gain traction) and more difficult(people have been brainwashed to believe that the "deficit" is a catch-all boogeyman.) It's a very tough needle to thread. But he had no choice. And we have no choice but to watch this play out and hope that it results in something we can live with.
So, as we watch this stomach churning process of health care legislation take place --- without any real sense of what's going to come out of it, if anything at all --- all we can do is fulfill our role in the process as concerned citizens and activists and take the politicians at face value, because it's all we have to go on. If we don't, the health care industrial complex and the conservative obstructionists of both parties will have the field all to themselves and any politicians who really are acting in good faith will be left stranded.
But we also have to keep in mind that a good many of these players, for good and ill, are also playing certain roles as part of the negotiating process which is not completely obvious. Until the history is written, we won't know exactly what went down or who did what --- and even then it's highly subject to interpretation. We must play our part and hope that it can help keep the kabuki dance from turning into a gangland beat down. It's frustrating, but it's the way hard fought deals are struck every day. It's not for the faint of heart.
As for winning the larger argument among the citizenry, as dday writes below, and as I've been saying for years (and for which I was especially chastised by all sides during the kumbaaya campaign) liberals gave up the war of the rhetoric a long time ago and contented themselves with playing around the edges of conservatism. Until that changes, liberals will be fighting on their turf and that means that no matter how much institutional power liberals attain, needed change is going to be more difficult than it already is --- which is to say extremely difficult. When people don't know what "change" means beyond a change of occupancy in the white house, the other side can very easily fill in the blanks with tales of terrorists and government boogeymen coming to kill senior citizens. And that makes the nauseating sausage making more revolting --- and obscure -- than ever.