The Big Promise

by digby

There is a lot of back and forth about what Obama promised about a public option and what he didn't. The PCCC is running ads today pointing out that just a few months ago he promised that he wouldn't sign a bill that didn't have one. Whether or not what he called a "public plan" during the presidential campaign is up for grabs.

But when I went back a looked at Obama's speeches during the campaign to get an idea of how he talked about it and health care in general, I was struck by something else: how much his rhetoric revolved around changing the culture of special interest dominated Washington. In fact, virtually all of his domestic program was wrapped in that promise:

This election is about them. It's about you. It's about every one of the 47 million Americans in Virginia, in Tennessee and across this country, who are going without the health care they need and the millions more who are struggling to pay rising costs.

But let's be honest - we've been talking about this for a long time. Year after year, election after election, candidates make promises about fixing health care and cutting costs. And then they go back to Washington, and nothing changes - because the big drug and insurance companies write another check or because lobbyists use their clout to block reform. And when the next election rolls around, even more Americans are uninsured, and even more families are struggling to pay their medical bills.

Well, we're here today because we know that if we're going to make real progress, this time must be different. Throughout my career, in Illinois and the United States senate, I've worked to reduce the power of the special interests by leading the fight for ethics reform. I've sent a strong signal in this campaign by refusing the contributions of registered federal lobbyists and PACs. And today, I'm announcing that going forward, the Democratic National Committee will uphold the same standard and won't take another dime from Washington lobbyists or special interest PACs. They do not fund my campaign. They will not fund our party. And they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I'm President of the United States.

It's time to finally challenge the special interests and provide universal health care for all. That's why I'm running for President of the United States - because I believe that health care should be guaranteed for every American who wants it and affordable for every American who needs it.
I think that emphasis may be where some of the cognitive dissonance is coming from about this bill. The details of the campaign plan aren't as relevant as the sense that the bill came as a result of the special interests (including pampered politicians) getting their usual carve outs from an administration that ran so explicitly on clean government and a congress that was elected on a platform against the "culture of corruption."

It's a serious problem and one that they'd better get a handle on. The Republicans are already going for it:

The way Democrats secured the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster of health care legislation has exposed them to accusations that they have abandoned the "reformist" platform that swept them into office.

No cameras were allowed in the room where the final bill was written. And legislative sweeteners were added to the product to win the support of wavering members.

Senate Republicans, hell-bent on extracting every piece of political flesh they can in the current debate, quickly seized the initiative. And when they did, they turned to a familiar, self-proclaimed reformer to wield their message.

In a withering address on the Senate floor on Sunday, Sen. John McCain accused the president and Democratic leadership in the Senate of abandoning pledges of accountability and transparency during the reform process.

Pointing to the deals cut with the pharmaceutical industry, the American Medical Association and others, the Arizona Republican insisted that Democrats had "set up a tent out front and put Persian rugs out in front of it" - greeting special interests with specific gifts.

Now I agree that Republicans, McCain in particular, have no room to be making this accusation, but they are not constrained by charges of hypocrisy. But as I wrote earlier, this is probably the first time many people have paid attention to a piece of major legislation being cobbled together since the advent of the 24/7 cable news and internet. (The domestic bills during the Great War On Terror years were passed with much less fanfare and attention.) And what they saw wasn't pretty.

The Republicans are going to run with that and as unlikely as it is for them to make the case, it is made easier by the fact that the overriding "change" message of Obama's campaign was centered around the special interests and "business as usual" in Washington. The President and the Democrats failed to anticipate that this particular promise was probably the one promise people were going to remember they made.