The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Corrected: Support for Public Option (Does Not) Collapse If Real Public Option Polled


Edit: oops.  I’m full of it.  Misread the poll.  In fact it indicates the opposite of my title.  Ignore the below.  Perhaps the public option will be fantastically popular.

The problem with public option polling is that the questions imply strongly that everyone has access to it.  In fact, most people don’t have access to it (if, for example, your employer offers insurance you can’t opt out and go to the public option.)  Kip Sullivan did a bit of investigating and found a poll which actually did inform Americans of this fact (h/t Corrente):

“Would you support or oppose having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans?”
Support: 55%
Unsure: 3%

If oppose/unsure: “What if this government-sponsored plan was available only to people who cannot get health insurance from a private insurer? In that case, would you support or oppose it?”
Support: 21%
Oppose: 24%

That’s quite the difference, don’t you think?  As I noted in my last post, voters are going to be furious with Democrats if they pass any of the current proposed health care “reform” bills. The public option in all of them is crippled and the subsidies are low, such that they will eat as much as 1/3 to a half of many people’s disposable income.

Because the public option proposed in any of these bills is not robust, since they won’t have enough enrollment to have market pricing power, and thus won’t be able to force down costs, there is no reason to believe that health care reform will actually contain health cost increases below inflation, let alone below wage increases.

Since the bills also force people to buy insurance, that means voters will be forced to buy insurance whose cost will rise faster than their wages.  This is particular pernicious when it comes to 20 and 30-somethings, fresh out of College, with huge student loans already, and few good job prospects.

This is horrible policy. It is also political suicide.  The people in the progressive blogosphere who are pushing for a “public option” without insisting on an actual robust option (again, none of the options being considered are robust and even if linked to Medicare rates none of them will be because they are not large enough) are pushing for a law which is a massive giveaway to insurance companies—a regressive tax on the middle class.  It is worse than immoral, though it’s terribly immoral, it is a horrible mistake the price for which will be paid at the ballot box.

I have warned on this repeatedly, as have others.  We have not been listened to.  I am not looking forward to having the last laugh on this, because it is a laugh which will be purchased in the suffering of Americans, but I will have the last, bitter, laugh.

Progressives need to learn how to analyze policy.  The reason you elect a particular party, Senator, President or Representative, let alone a Congress, is to implement good policies, not to pass something bad for the sake of saying they passed something.

When you pass good policy (say a stimulus bill which actually improves the job situation, instead of a stimulus bill to weak to do more than slow the bleeding) the population, aka: voters, receive good results. That makes voters happy. When they’re happy, they vote for you again.  When they aren’t happy, they don’t.  This is how LIBERAL government works.  Do good things, reap the benefits.

Reactionary government figures that if you give enough money to private interests and throw a few scraps to the population, you can buy the election.  But it doesn’t work.  Democrats received more money from special interests last election not because special interests decided they loved Democrats, but because the Republican brand was so sullied they knew the Republicans were toast.  So they gave money to the Democrats to protect their interests.  They bought in.

But the second Democrats are weakened, and Republicans look like they can win, they’ll go back to giving Republicans most of their money.

The right thing to do, passing good policy, isn’t just the right thing to do morally, it’s the right thing to do pragmatically.  It is clearly pointless to expect most Democratic legislators to do the right thing for moral reasons, but it would be nice if they understood they are cutting their own throats by continuously passing bad policy.


Yes, Health “Reform” is a Clusterf*** and those pushing for it are being taken


Actually 1930s solutions stopped financial crises for decades and would work now


  1. link via spork in the comments at fdl: Can the Democrats Avoid a Populist Health Care Rebellion?

    a must read.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Ian!

    Could you provide any insight into these aspects of this story?

    * How did “public option” become the health “reform” goal uniformly pushed by progressive opinion-leaders (e.g., A-list bloggers, MoveOn)?

    * Why did these opinion-leaders fail to criticize the outright lies by Obama, Daschle, Baucus, et al. about an “open and transparent process” that “considered all options,” even though that dishonesty plainly served to protect corporate interests at the expense of Americans’ physical and economic health?

    * Why did these opinion-leaders endlessly dodge the question of how many Americans would get access to the “public option”?

    * Why did these opinion-leaders fail to promote the remarkable and unabashedly progressive actions taken by single-payer advocates?

    * Are there systemic, cultural problems in the way consensus is formed and defended among progressive elites?

    This isn’t a trivial sidelight. Certainly President Obama, who frequently wavered on “public option” and who called it a “sliver” of his plan, wasn’t propagating PO. It was the “new, progressive media” trendsetters who put that amorphous agenda on everyone’s lips.

  3. Ian Welsh

    They pre-compromised, ironically. They thought and think that single payer is a no-go. Therefore get the best deal you can, because it will at least save some lives. PO is what they thought they could get.

    Also, most of them suck at policy, to be brutally frank.

  4. “Suck at policy?”

    And not at politics? (I mean, outside the confines of the internal politics of the narrow clique that is the “creative” [cough] “class”…. )

  5. we all suck at something(s).

    what i don’t get is why hasn’t dissent (on policy especially) gotten a hearing?

    anyway, i suck at persuasion. since we all agree that saving lives is actually the goal here, what can be done now? what is the best approach for where we are now and how can we have an open discussion/debate on the issue? any suggestions on approach, policy wise, politics wise, persuasion wise would be very welcome.

    i swear, i hate behind the scenes top down decision making regardless of where it is done. in congress or with leading bloggers. or do we not believe in a process that, if not democratic, is at least open?

  6. Ian Welsh

    There isn’t top down decision making, there’s group think. Often seems the same, but it isn’t.

    I have no magic bullet on how to change things. The combination of stupidity and Congressional venality is such that it seems unlikely anything really good can be gotten through, especially since there’s no leadership fighting for it. But keep fighting for the real thing, because

    a) if we don’t, the left gets blamed for this clustefuck.
    b) if you don’t try, you can’t win.
    c) when this turns into a clusterfuck, there may be a chance to come back and fix it. The single payer option needs to be seen as the way to fix it, not some teabagger bs.

  7. dblhelix

    Before drawing conclusions, the second question needs to be asked of supporters as well. Really, it should also get broken down by have insurance/do not have. You’d expect the latter to be enthusiastic but they’re a much smaller fraction.

    Yes, the polling on “public option” has been quite misleading for months now.

  8. Ian, I love your candor, and I don’t expect you to have a magic bullet.

    Since the old media is nothing but an ill wind, it’s a cryin’ shame if the “new media” has no better ability to course-correct and eschew truthy tribalism. This is bigger than any one issue, even a huge one like health care.

    It would be healthy and important if the tribal elders in the groupthinky new media would try to learn a lesson or two from the primary clusterfuck and the health “reform” clusterfuck. But everything I’ve seen in the last two years says it ain’t gonna happen. Kind of a shame because they could have given us, y’know, some hope for change.

  9. There isn’t top down decision making, there’s group think. Often seems the same, but it isn’t.

    it does seem top down to me. probably because i just get informed after the fact of the policy i’m supposed to support. even though there is nothing more than talking points that no one can or will explain.

    more than that though, i remember when moveon joined with hcan in iirc july 2008. nyceve and other single payer activists petitioned the moveon leadership to poll the membership for their opinion (it was thought that the membership would have been overwhelmingly in favor of organizing in support of single payer instead of the hcan approach). but some how that was seen as attacking moveon instead of challenging the leadership to be accountable to the members. that’s also what i mean by top down. the views of the members, supporters, etc weren’t of interest to the people making the decisions.

    …. completely agree re continuing to make the case for policy that makes sense (single payer qualifies) and also to question claims that are being made about the policy congress is considering. this last is especially important if single payer is to be distinguished from the po. (it doesn’t help that hcan, dean, etc have gone around conflating the two).

  10. vastleft, if we want change we have to continue to make the case and attempt persuasion. change isn’t something that power gives, it’s something we have to demand.

  11. Ian Welsh

    top-down occurs within some blogs (for example, FDL). But it doesn’t occur between blogs.

    MoveOn has always been more top down internally than many realized, imo.

    Jane is right about the veal pen, but that isn’t blogs, it’s progressive institutions.

    Each major blog has to be analyzed in its own way. For example, one large blog’s funding model requires it to do things which get people to give money to “action” funds. Atrios has no concern with money, and thus is free to say whatever he wants. Etc… Each one is different in what its concerns are. Some are driven by their money models (MoveOn, a non blog, certainly is), others by the idiosyncracies of their founders, others by a weird combination of the two. Some are reliant on funding by organizations who receive defacto access. Etc…

    Almost no one outside the club, and few people within the club, actually understand how the blogs work. But there is no top down leadership, the most influential people aren’t who folks think they are (Kos, for example, is not influential beyond DKos).

    At the end of the day the blogs that exist and are big, are the ones that have found a financial model that works. In some cases that means most of the people doing the grunt work don’t get paid, in others it means an outside group or groups pays the bills, in others it means whipping a crowd up to give money to action funds, in others it means someone is essentially hired to do one job while actually doing the blog.


    Some of those models lead to a fair bit of integrity (for example, I think Atrios has a great deal of integrity. He’s just not very motivated. But he tells it like he sees it.) Others lead to compromised integrity on specific issues, but leave the blogger mostly with their integrity.

    And so on.

    Analyze the key blogs like you would anything else. What are the key decision makers getting out of them? Why are they doing this? The truth is often some mix of altruism combined with a pragmatic need to keep body and soul together. Folks who have never run or been the main writer for a major blog have no idea of the insane amounts of work it actually requires. It’s not a part time job.

  12. BDBlue

    It seems top down, in part I think, because the people pushing it are trying to maintain a “leadership” position. That’s why there’s been so little opportunity for dissent on the progressive blogs. It’s not so much that they’re top down as that they all want to be seen as leaders and leaders were pushing the public option. Because, really, what makes Jane Hamsher any different than any other person with a keyboard and an internet connection? It’s the appearance that she’s on the inside, that she is either smarter or knows more than some random dude with a computer. That status is enforced by the progressive A-list the same way the Villagers enforce it – by marginalizing and dismissing anyone who dissents. The irony is that the people who built their careers taking apart Joe Klein and his ilk, have about the same reaction to dissent from their group think as the mainstream media does.

    And part of that is just human nature. The cool kids stick together because that, in its way, is what makes them cool.

    Part of it also is the nature of being an opinion writer, which is what bloggers often are, unless you’re in a highly technical field or master the details of some matter (like Wampum on Gale Norton or emptywheel on Libby), there isn’t a helluva lot beyond status that makes your opinion more valuable than anyone else’s. In that way, having people around pointing out your wrong on policy and strategy is seen as a threat to the “leadership” status of the blogger. I mean, why would anyone read and listen to someone who is repeatedly wrong?

    And the last part is wanting people to read your opinions (which adds support to the idea that you are smart and should be listened to). If Obama is popular and you want to be popular, then you won’t take on Obama (and, of course, if you’re an A-list blogger you probably spent the last year assuring people that Obama was, in fact, a fantastic progressive, ignoring the Harry & Louise ads, and so this also goes to the being wrong part). This is why, IMO, Rahm Emanuel is such a popular target. Because it prevents them from having to deliver the unpopular news about Obama, a guy they spent the last year selling.

    But this model of “leadership” is just as unsustainable for bloggers as it is for the media. Because in the end, if your status depends on being an opinion shaper, you don’t have anything if you don’t have credibility and these people have traded in their credibility (knowingly or not) for group think popularity and status. Unfortunately, it’s everyone else who has to pay for it.

    The good news is that the single payer movement (like the gay rights movement) is an actual movement made up of more than bloggers or pundits simply shaping opinion. They have people on the ground taking action, which is why in the end, the A-list has not been successful at getting people to STFU about single payer (I’ve noticed in comments a lot of pushback at the various blogs in favor of single payer, I don’t think this is a coincidence or unconnected to the fact there is a genuine social movement on healthcare). It’s also because like gay marriage, healthcare affects people every damned day and so they will get involved and eventually that involvement will lead to better policy because if people don’t get relief, they won’t be fooled. It’s not like torture where you can simply announce it’s better with no real proof and everyone will think you took care of it. People will know whether they can afford their healthcare. No matter how much Obama and the progressives want to pass something and declare victory, it isn’t going to work because it affects people so personally and profoundly.

    It’s just going to take time and it’s going to take more time because we have no real leadership in this country, including in the progressive movement (if you can even call it a movement).

    If that makes any sense. Kind of a stream of consciousness there, sorry about that.

  13. BDBlue

    And I see Ian beat me to responding to the top down and with a much better reasoned, I think, post than mine.

  14. Ian Welsh

    I think you have a fair bit of it. Except that the first mover and network effects mean that the current a-list bloggers do feel fairly (not completely, but fairly) secure in their spots. It is insanely difficult to break into the political a-list now without institutional backing.

  15. BDBlue

    That’s true, Ian, about needing institutional backing and I think the A-list, understandably, likes it that way even if such a system works against, IMO, liberal goals and values. And what I was trying to get not so much at the issue of why the A-list backed the public option, but also why they suppress dissent. To that end, it’s not so much that they are worried about others breaking into the A-list, I suspect, as they want to ensure their spot not only in it, but within it (e.g., in retrospect to other A-list bloggers).

  16. BDBlue

    OMG, the bad grammar in that last post of mine hurts. No more trying to do this in a rush between other things.

  17. They pre-compromised, ironically. They thought and think that single payer is a no-go. Therefore get the best deal you can, because it will at least save some lives. PO is what they thought they could get.

    And this is the crux of the matter. Because frankly, I haven’t seen any reason yet to think that the thought that “single payer is a no-go” is wrong. YES, if you ask the question right, you can get it to poll well. You can do that for tax reductions and the Afghan war too. YES, you can get certain politicians in Congress to support it—in a situation in which it has no danger of being voted into law.

    As long as Mary Landrieu can use right-wing talking points to diss even a PO that is available to everyone, single payer is and always was doomed. Until the public sees it as unacceptable or absurd, it is doomed. The premise for reform has been set since the 90s, and that is that someone—ideally, the existing players—must be making a profit off of it. If there is no profit, it is un-American.

    Any discussion of how to proceed must proceed from that premise. Otherwise it is merely positioning for the “I told you so” awards. Which, of course, I completely support. But you shouldn’t pretend it to be anything other than that.

  18. Lex

    Thanks for the conversation about blogs. Being one who doesn’t fit into any neat, political description, i’ve long been frustrated by how little dissent (especially careful and thoughtful dissent) is tolerated by the A-list that purports to be the height of liberality.

    There’s plenty of good stuff out there…and i don’t say that because i write for one that has excellent writers but only occupies a tiny corner of blogosphere when it isn’t experiencing massive server problems like right now. But it gets out shouted, and the current means of blog promotion only further elevates the A-list.

    In my uninformed opinion, the netroots might have had the ability to move political debate, but it seems to have been co-opted through personal ambition.

  19. It’s kind of a Turing Test problem.

    Looking at the posts (and not the behind-the-scenes culture), the lockstep behavior of the blogosphere A-list is, on some key matters, undifferentiable from a top-down system. When that lockstep behavior is counterproductive (though, “counterproductive to whom” should always be asked), the system remains as immune from criticism and correction as the most rigid authoritarian system. And as abusive to critics, one might add.

    I don’t dispute Ian’s description of how the high-end of the blogosphere is constituted. Yet I am struck that its limited inputs (ignored and trivialized user comments notwithstanding) and cookie-cutter outputs bear a striking resemblance to those of a monolithic system.

    As to Selise’s comment, essential steps in speaking truth to power are:
    * Trusting facts, over tribes and personalities, to guide you to the truth
    * Understanding who the “power” is

    Two steps that are taken quite rarely.

    Way too many lefties give their proxy to a “progressive” elite that is addicted to its own fumes.

    Lest I be misunderstood, I’m sure our blogosphere betters are all nice people, even when they’re crushing heretics and indulging their insider nobility in ways that bollix life-and-death policies. It’s quite enough that they mean well and that they noticed that Bush wasn’t a very good president. That’s more than enough for me!

  20. Mandos, ever heard of the Overton Window? Do you agree with the concept?

    If so, you might see that “pre-compromising” is a self-defeating behavior.

  21. BDBlue,

    The paradigm from the Old Media suggests that once you’re “made” as a tribal elder, you stay one.

    Bill Kristol has a batting average that makes Mendoza look like an MVP, but that’s never cost him his place in the lineup.

    If lefty elites promise us that Obama is “deeply progressive” and urge us to eat shit-sausage health-reform, can we really expect it to diminish their status?

    If there’s one thing we love in this country, it’s an incumbent.

  22. Oh, to follow-up to my comment to Mandos…

    I fully accept that honesty is a self-defeating behavior, as well.

  23. I don’t think that this is a Democratic problem as much as an Obama problem. He is just not exerting strong leadership. Obama has a number of problems that boil down to one trait — splitting the difference. Obama is plagued not only by bipartisanship but also by his attempt to split the difference between liberal and conservative Democrats, as well as among his own advisors. As a result. there is no clear signal coming out of the WH and echoed in Congress.

    The lack of clear policy and plan for implementing it leads to poor communications and the appearance of weakness and indecisiveness. This is affecting not only health care but foreign policy, especially in Afghanistan, energy policy, and economic policy.

    There is a debacle building not only in health care, but also economic policy, energy policy, and the war in Afghanistan. Worse, it appears that the government is in bed with Wall Street at a time when Main Street is suffering.

    Obama’s personal numbers are high and rising in the polls, but all his policy numbers are low and falling. This is not a good sign for Democrats.

    The result is a real mess that is undermining his presidency and making the Democrats look like they cannot govern effectively. If the GOP had anything to oppose them with, the Dems would be in big trouble already.

    On one hand, the GOP won’t be down forever. On the other, if if they are still down, they could win by default if independent voters give up on the Dems.

    Moreover, the economic continues to be not only weak but also still vulnerable. I would not be surprised if there is not another crisis before the 2012 general, since no hard decisions have been taken and the rot is being papered over.

    This bodes ill. The GOP is now in the hands of the far right, which is in a position to primary any GOP prospective candidate that does not meet their standard of ideological purity.

    What this means is that if the GOP should win, either by regaining support of disaffected independents, or the
    Dems losing the center and disaffecting their base, a far right government could come to power in the US.

    Needless to say, should this happen, it will have a disastrous affect on both domestic and foreign policy. Conservative economic policy will lead to global depression as money contracts, and this will likely lead to wider war with a war party in power, bent on projecting power.

  24. I do understand the Overton Window concept, though there is empirical evidence to show that media slant actually follows the existing biases of media consumers more than it shapes it to a degree that surprises me. Indeed, I used to think—as many people do here—that the problem was that progressive do not work hard enough to move the Overton Window left. Now I think that the time-scale for such a movement is much larger than anticipated, and that what progressives actually say matters much less than both you (and they) give them credit.

  25. BTW I do recommend reading the first few sections of that link. What it suggests to me is that the further away a left-wing blog is from the actual biases of internet readers, the lower the readership will actually be. Sounds around right. If you want to be Kos, you have to cater to the center of the Democratic Party. And what Kos writes is where the Democratic grassroots really truly honestly are.

  26. Mandos, it’s also worth noting that many surveys indicate that the public is more interested in real change than its elected representatives are prepared to give them.

    Hence, one of the most important challenges (one which Ian is tackling with this post) is provide a more-accurate description of what Americans really want than the Versailles party line avows.

    Still, I accept that change is hampered by having an unpopular and tongue-tied president and an ever-more affluent populace that voted in droves these past two elections to maintain the status quo. That alone suggests that lying to the public about having a transparent process that considered all options and making backroom deals with Big Pharma was the kind of politics all progressives should support without a second thought.

  27. “if you want to be Kos….”

    That’s a mighty big if.

  28. BDBlue

    I think what progressives (and bloggers generally) say is important primarily to prevent the media from making people who are unhappy with the current system that they are isolated or alone. That, in my mind, is one of the most powerful forces working against social change in this country – that people feel alone and disempowered in their opposition.

    And I would argue, Mandos, that the role of any activist is not just to look at what’s politically possible and change that, but to try to change what’s politically possible. That can and often does take years. But I would argue based on the clusterfuck that is the current healthcare reform effort that a “robust public option” is – and always was – just as politically impossible as Medicare for All only it is a harder sale because of the fear factor of something new (as opposed to something that people already love). Indeed, the new move by Congress critters is to call the pathetic public option Medicare Part E (for Everyone), showing how powerful the Medicare brand is.

    In the case of healthcare, the people standing in the way of single payer, as Ian pointed out, are not the American people, but the Congress and the elites. As I’ve said before that’s why single payer didn’t get a seat at the table. If it were truly unpopular and politically impossible (meaning the American people would rebel), it would’ve gotten its seat and been ignored. It was cut out of the discussion because Medicare is wildly popular and people would love to have access to it. So it isn’t, IMO, some unattainable goal. It’s simply a goal that requires moving the elites out of our way, which is hard, but not impossible. But to do that, you have to be willing to take on those elites.

    And that, to me, is the real problem. Elites don’t like challenging other elites, at least not ones they like to see as allies and friends (whether they are true allies or not, is another matter).

  29. nihil obstet

    We live in a celebrity culture, and large parts of the self-identified progressive blogosphere have fallen capture to it. MoveOn, for example, thought the best way to advance progressive goals was to endorse one of the Democratic presidential candidates in the primaries rather than working on pushing progressive policies for the electorate. More recently, the appeals I’ve gotten on health care (supposed) reform have been phrased as “Help Obama pass health care reform.” No effort, of course, to explain what the changes actually are.

    I think a lot of what we’re objecting to is not conscious on the part of the seemingly-in-the-tank A-listers. The whole model of effective political action is based on celebrity TV: “Be the inside baseball expert who can advise teams about strategy.” It’s fun for the fans, but otherwise irrelevant. They don’t seem to understand that. I’d prefer not to spend a lot of time in the great lefty tradition of splintering any possible common cause, however tempting I sometimes find it. After all, I want an NHS that removes profit as a motive at any stage of medical services, but I’m working for single payer because I think it’s the best we can get; let’s give the PO floggers some benefit of the doubt about their motivations.

    If the horrible insurance company enrichment program passes, we’re going to need to be able to heal rifts and work together to prevent the rightwing authoritarianism that will seize the opportunity.

  30. Mandos, it’s also worth noting that many surveys indicate that the public is more interested in real change than its elected representatives are prepared to give them.

    Hence, one of the most important challenges (one which Ian is tackling with this post) is provide a more-accurate description of what Americans really want than the Versailles party line avows.

    I have no doubt that many surveys do. My point is that however left-wing the public actually may be as people, it seems to have very little relation to what people actually demand from their media and politicians, and that media and politicians are actually reflect well what the public expects.

    Do you understand the difference? You might be able to ask a lot of people if they wanted a single-payer system, and they’d all say that they’d be dissatisfied with the system and that they want to abolish Aetna. But it turns out that it’s still possible that if you created and funded a full slate of candidates with good advertising funding, etc, that espoused those ideas, few would actually be elected.

    The last few elections have well borne out this dynamic. And I haven’t seen a good answer as to why.

  31. BDBlue

    I’m not so sure the last few elections have borne out this dynamic. The Democrats won in 2006 largely by promising to end the Iraq war. They failed to do so, but that’s a different matter. The public voted for the candidates who espoused the more liberal agenda (at least overall they did).

    Obama won largely by promising change and because of hope that he’d help pick up the pieces of last year’s economic meltdown. True, if you’d studied Obama’s history, you would’ve known it was all marketing bullshit, but that doesn’t make the problem what people voted for. They voted for the marketing bullshit – that he would, in fact, change things and mostly in liberal ways.

    Indeed, even now, the public supports the “public option” primarily because they believe it does more than it actually does. True, they’re misled by the news media, but it hasn’t had any effect on what they really want and what they even think they’re getting (which is why they’re going to be pissed – they think they’re getting a more liberal policy than they are).

    So I don’t think the problem is that people didn’t – or won’t – vote for a candidate who would enact the policies the public wants (which are more liberal even if the public doesn’t like the label). I think that was true a few election cycles ago, but that the Bush meltdown cured that problem and made people ready to abandon conservatism. And they did in droves in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles. The problem is the public was lied to about what Obama would do and so got someone who isn’t going to do what they thought. Now, that’s a problem of having an uninformed public and a bad media, but it’s not the same problem as having people who went to the polls and voted for bad policies. Because they didn’t.

  32. So, Mandos, do you object to pushing influencers of progressive opinion to support progressive policies that are humane, fiscally sound, proven, and popular with the public?

  33. Valley Girl

    Vast, re: this question

    * How did “public option” become the health “reform” goal uniformly pushed by progressive opinion-leaders (e.g., A-list bloggers, MoveOn)?

    Short answer- HCAN, Celinda Lake.

    You have to go back to one of Kip Sullivan’s long ago articles at to understand about HCAN, the Herndon Alliance, and “politically unfeasible”

    Americans support single payer, why doesn’t Celinda Lake?

    And, oh my, doing the google I just found this from June in the Columbia Review of Journalism:

    What Journalists Can Learn from Celinda Lake

    “Wisdom from the Democrats’ wordsmith”

    First there was Frank Luntz. Now, Celinda Lake is trying to do for the Dems what Luntz did for the GOP. Lake, a longtime Democratic strategist, has been hard at work crafting the right words and phrases to persuade the public that Dems really do have their best health care interests in mind. For months, politicians, advocates, and especially the president have talked about “affordable, quality” health care—a Lake-fashioned phrase that has caught on big time. Reporters have repeated these words without providing any context about what they mean—that is, if they mean anything. Insurance premiums lower than $12,000? A guarantee that your doc will never make a mistake? Take your pick. Those words are as hollow as a straw. They’re supposed to be.

  34. VG,

    Given that — as Ian describes, and I have no reason to doubt him — the blogs are not centrally managed, how did this kind of hollow messaging become the indisputable coin of the realm?

    How was it that provocative, inspiring progressive stories about single-payer activism — and well-documented stories about its benefits — got well and truly squelched?

    How is message discipline so synchronously in favor of crap policy and deceptively marketed candidates?

    And how is the environment kept so uniformly hostile to those who urge consideration of alternative approaches?

    My blog name notwithstanding, I’m not inclined to suppose conspiracies. Rather, I’m more inclined chalk things up to tribal culture and individual motivation.

    I’m less appalled that the tribe gets some things disastrously wrong than with its adamance at remaining unquestioned. It’s just not good for anyone, except for a few BMOCs. Same as the old Village.

  35. Valley Girl


    Given that — as Ian describes, and I have no reason to doubt him — the blogs are not centrally managed, how did this kind of hollow messaging become the indisputable coin of the realm?

    I can’t answer you exact question. What I was trying to say was that the groundwork for this was laid long ago by Herndon, HCAN and Celinda Lake, and that it became “group think”. It was not a bloggy thing. It was something that got embedded in the beltway and beyond. Most political blogs (not pnhp) focus on immediate issues, and jump on the latest big politcal issue, but without having done deep research, nor having paid attention to the history of what’s up.

    I hope my view makes sense. I’m trying hard!

  36. VG,

    That is relevant and helpful input, but the question does indeed remain: how does this particular coterie of demonstrably bright, presumably well-meaning, and ostensibly independent people succumb to groupthink on the biggest of issues?

    It’s especially striking that it befalls this particular coterie, which is historically defined (internally and externally) as a no-bullshit rabble.

  37. Ian Welsh


    again, I’ve been told that single payer could pass the house. There is even a marginal chance it could pass the Senate. The conventional blog wisdom that it could never have happened is not clearly correct to me. But more to the point, the public options being proposed are too weak to be effective. I’m not a single payer purist. I’ll take a robust public option. But one isn’t being offered. And in that context, I’ll bloody well say I told you so, and as is usually the case, yes, I’ll win the “I told you so” sweepstakes. Supporters of the public option are accepting a public option which won’t do what they claim it will. That’s the bottom line.

  38. Valley Girl

    Ian says: Supporters of the public option are accepting a public option which won’t do what they claim it will. That’s the bottom line.


  39. Ian Welsh

    In fact the right wing massively moved the Overton window. Yes, it took them time, but not as much time as people act like. Jimmy Carter did some very right wing things, and that’s only 76/ It is also true that as a simple bargaining position you don’t throw out things like single payer. Use them as a threat, to get an actual robust public option.

    I will also note it is certainly conventional wisdom amongst bloggers that if you move too fast for the audience you will lose it. However, I know for a fact that the audience of many major blogs would have gone for a real robust or single payer option if given a choice. In fact, getting them to rally behind the public option rather than single payer was difficult.

    Also, as someone who was an editor for a major blog, my experience was that the audience has more plasticity than one might think. It’s not infinite, as I noted before bloggers did not choose Obama, blog readers did. People who think that the a-list chose Obama are simply wrong, they followed behind their readers, with a few notable exceptions (for example, Americablog). On the other hand, they are more plastic than Mandos suggests. I know, because I had the internal traffic stats at my fingertips.

    There are also things that the blog liberal audience supports (for example, not letting Israel commit massive war crimes) that large bloggers are leary of being involved in because of either the flame wars that follow in comments, or because of elite pushback. But no one has suffered in gross audience numbers by making that argument.

    And so on.

  40. Ian Welsh

    Finally, this sort of bullshit is why the US is fucked and will collapse. If you are right Mandos, the US is doomed. Because it is not acceptable, according to you, to do anything which will actually fix any of the US’s problems. If that’s true, then the US will have a major collapse.

    So if you’re right (and you might be, though the US will probably collapse even if you aren’t) then I suggest you start working on finding another country to live in.

    Seriously. Maybe I’m right or wrong about the politics, but I will be very shocked if I’m wrong about the policies and the historical dynamic and where they lead.

  41. Ian, again I see no reason to contradict your view of the history.

    However formed, the lockstep consensus — through commission or omission — inflated Obama’s reputation, protected him from criticism (protecting him from being pushed leftward), and helped destroy his opposition.

    That it was done for fear of losing readers is, IMHO, a terrible statement about the values of the blogosphere elite. ‘Twas the very thing that sealed Howard Beale’s fate in “Network.”

  42. Lesly

    Two months later, The Onion is spot on:

    The legislative stalemate largely stems from competing ideologies deeply rooted along party lines. Democrats want to create a government-run system for not providing health care, while Republicans say coverage is best denied by allowing private insurers to make it unaffordable for as many citizens as possible.

  43. whatsit

    You contradict your own headline. Needs a fix perhaps?

    The poll asks the second question to the subset of those who initially say they oppose a public option. When the option is narrowed, suddenly about half of those are for, and half against. That still leaves the initial 55% for, *plus* the new 21% for, which equals 76% for some sort of public option.

    Unless you are defining the “real” in your headline in a subjective sense, what you want to find is a poll breaking down the initial 55% into yes or no on the second question. If they rejected that premise, then you can claim a “collapse.”

    Your I-told-you-so may be correct, but it does not flow from the stats. Please review.

  44. Ian Welsh

    Haha. I suck, and you’re right. Oh well.

  45. whatsit,

    Good catch!

    Having watched progressives endlessly hide the fact that few people will get access to the “public option,” I skimmed past the poll, since IMHO the important part of the post was Ian making a rare, brave, important and painfully true assertion that the public is not being told that the public option covers only a small percentage of Americans.

    Those who think that’s a good situation can, I reckon, celebrate the poll flub. It will little matter to them that linked PNHP article (along with the Corrente post that correctly interprets it), are in fact good news hook for Ian’s real point: the public option (if it passes) will, by all indications, be available only to a few… and hardly anyone will tell the public that.

    I heartily encourage readers to check out the PNHP article, which correctly interprets the poll data in question and for public option polling more broadly. And I extend my appreciation to Ian for taking an unpopular stand for truth — and that includes making a timely and blunt correction to his post.

  46. Ian you are many things, but most certainly not “full of it.” You are one of the few bloggers out there willing to post a retraction, a real one and not the half assed kind. and much of what you said in this post remains true, despite the poll.

  47. Jeff W

    Ha, yeah, you’re definitely not full of it, Ian. And the poll doesn’t indicate the opposite of what you said, just something different, because it deals with opposition to, not support of, the public option.

    What it seems to indicate is that, of those people opposed to (or unsure of) something called a “public option,” when you add that it’s “available only to people who cannot get health insurance from a private insurer,” 21% (of something, it’s not quite clear) who previously opposed it now support it. Given that the people who oppose a public option might do so because they’re afraid it will “dominate” the health insurance field, it’s not all that surprising that support rises among those opposed if you then add that the public option is available only to those who can’t get private insurance anyway. A portion of those opposed would support a very restricted public option.

    That question doesn’t address those who supported the public option in the first place. (The poll supports, if anything, the idea that the “public option” is designed to gain the support of those opposed to it, at the risk of losing the support—we don’t know how much, exactly, because that question isn’t asked—of those who initially favor it.)

    I’d like to see some polls ask “The proposals under consideration for a public option contain the following” and include such things as “allow everyone to buy in,” “allow you to choose between the insurance your employer offers you and a government-administered plan,” “allows you to enroll in Medicare,” etc., and see how many people don’t know what’s actually in the proposed legislation. Of course, the poll could ask the second question here, as well, to those who support the “public option.”

  48. tatere

    Support appears among the initially opposed because they understand the extra qualifier to mean that it won’t be given out to “the wrong people”…

  49. The poll is very good. I see the response to the second question as understandably confounding. The subjects probably said, “What the heck is this person talking about?”

    The New York Times did a poll on Sept. 26 and asked: “Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance.” Favor 65% — Oppose 26% (

    That’s what the public sees as the public option, not a narrow casted program for 15% or so of the population.

    As for the Democratic leaders and blowback, I suggest that they’ve already discounted that in light of other factors. Obama’s Sep 9 speech was very carefully constructed: “Let me be clear – it (the public option) would only be an option for those who don’t have insurance.” Later he said, “”This exchange will take effect in four years, which will give us time to do it right” ( An incremental roll out for 40 million over four years is what he offered with a precise reading but the entire package is like a Rorschach by design. Yet the needs of the people are immediate or long overdue.

    Imho, this is just another bailout — bigger than the automotive effort by far, linked to the Wall Street effort, but not of the same grand scope.

    I hope that I’m wrong but I’m confident that we’re being played by the Democrats. They know that the Republicans are now carnival side show aspiring to be a regional party. The Democrats make the mistake by assuming that the people will see only two choices and that they’ll win by default.

    Health is the existential issue. Expectations are too high and there are no deliverables. Fasten your seat belts (or not;)

  50. again, I’ve been told that single payer could pass the house. There is even a marginal chance it could pass the Senate. The conventional blog wisdom that it could never have happened is not clearly correct to me.

    Yes, you have made this argument. It’s very strange then, that it hasn’t.

    Of course, that’s the point. It hasn’t. Does it matter what the conventional blog wisdom is? Now you could say that the big prog bloggers haven’t really helped, because they spread a self-fulfilling prophecy. That imputes a direct influence on the discourse that it has never been clear that they actually have.

    It’s completely meaningless to say that something could pass (counter to conventional wisdom), but fail to describe any plausible condition under which it would do so. Which no one has so far done.

  51. I will also note it is certainly conventional wisdom amongst bloggers that if you move too fast for the audience you will lose it. However, I know for a fact that the audience of many major blogs would have gone for a real robust or single payer option if given a choice. In fact, getting them to rally behind the public option rather than single payer was difficult.

    Alright, let’s play this thought experiment out. dKos, Atrios, and all the rest of the big liberal heavyweights decide to support a full-throated defence of single payer.

    To what extent does this increase the likelihood of the legislature and presidency supporting a policy that the American political elite has spent generations opposing with every fiber of their being?

    The point is yes—a blog can move quickly. John Cole flipped over from being a conservative to a liberal. Do you think he kept the same readership? No, he identified an existing trend and tapped into an existing readership market. You can do that reasonably quickly if you’re smart.

    But now take a right-wing blogger like Charles Johnson of LGF. BIG STUFF on the neocon right. The moment the caught a small infection of the sanity virus and turned on his “Crusader” white supremacist fan base, he generated mucho controversy, but his site stats have apparently plunged. It turns out that there isn’t much of a market for a web site that is both orthodoxically liberal on domestic issues but also Islamophobic.

    So I think your notion of plasticity in blog readership is a little more complicated than that. Yes, you can generate mucho page views with a controversial stand. But how many of the really big blogs have done an about-face against the actual opinion-leaders of the movements that they represent—and survived? We don’t have very many examples of this, and I don’t think that’s an accident.

  52. After that brief interlude about blog readership dynamics, I’ll get back to the questions of the Overton Window and disaster-prognostication tomorrow hopefully. I just *know* y’all are holding your breath 🙂

  53. On a side note, Paul Krugman on the popularity of the MA health mandate. How long do I need to hold my breath for this to appear on Correntewire?

    Please note the key:

    The poll found that 79 percent of those surveyed wanted the law to continue, though a majority said there should be some changes, with cost reductions cited as the single most important change that needs to be made.

    So not only do they want to keep it, BUT there is popular scope for moving further than that. This suggests that the idea that passing mandates without strong cost control will create a backlash against the whole thing is wrong.

    But then, it’s Taxachussetts we’re talking about here. Not Middle America, nope.

  54. Ian Welsh

    We don’t have very many examples of this, and I don’t think that’s an accident.

    Do we have many examples of people who have done it and not survived?

  55. Ian Welsh

    We’ll see on Mass but I agree that’s interesting. And, in fact, I understand there’s a push there to just go single payer and forget the whole thing. So maybe this will lead somewhere good.

    But then, while Mass isn’t the liberal bastion some make it out to be, it isn’t America either. Heck, it’s even more liberal on some issues than California.

  56. California is a bad place to compare anything in the USA to. It’s a nation unto itself the size of Canada, and it introduced the world to Reagan and tax-cut frenzies.

  57. Do we have many examples of people who have done it and not survived?

    We don’t have very many examples of big successful bloggers in the first place, and for some reason the ones who are successful generally choose not to be risk-takers in that fashion. I gave you an example of LGF as a blog for which the model works—drastic change of position (relative to its crazier cousins like the Gates of Vienna), loss of blog value. I think Pandagon suffered a lot in terms of readership from the switch to Amanda Marcotte, but she had made up the gap by the time she became national news.

    It depends on what you mean by “not survived” and the time scale we’re looking at. Blogs can survive forever—the question is, do they suffer drastically from an ideology/focus shift in the short to medium term. Available examples suggest to me that they do—unless they’ve staked out their new market very carefully.

  58. Ian Welsh

    Ah, but you’re talking drastic, and actually, I’m not. Advocating for single payer isn’t drastic, in fact I know for as close to a fact as you can get that the influentials in FDL’s community, for example, were more single payer than public option before the editorial campaign began to sway them.

    The fact is that drastic change – from entirely left wing to entirely right, might cost you. But the fact isn’t that advocating for a different, but popular left wing alternative will.

    Again, I was watching numbers when I was editor of two blogs, and I found a fair bit of plasticity.

    Within a general ideological framework, you can take your audience pretty far, as long as they believe you believe, and they trust you.

    Whipping the left up for the public option was an operation and a half. It was not the default position of the left wing blog readership.

  59. Re the Overton Window (finally). To account for the rightward movement of the Overton Window, we first have to define what we mean by “right”. The American right has two components as I see it: an imperialist/neocon “Bond villain” right, and a domestic-populist right.

    As such luminaries as Noam Chomsky have spent literally decades documenting in great detail, the imperialist right has held almost total sway in American discourse and policy for generations without limit. The Bush gang was just an extension of it, but they turned out to be spectacularly incompetent as all levels of American opinion now agree (aside from the crazy 25%ers). The Obama administration largely continues this position, but is attempting to salvage failed policies of the previous administration—but can in no way be interpreted as changing orientation.

    The Overton Window on “world-historical” matters is far to the right and has never budged more than few milimeters in Chomsky’s adult lifetime. Have there been local victories? Yes, and those shouldn’t be discounted. A 0.1% improvement means a lot of people.

    The Overton Window that we’re talking about concerns certain *narrow* aspects (compared to the world-historical issues) of domestic and economic policy. And how much, in terms of the major agenda items, does the American right achieve in a given presidential term? I would argue: not much. During the (R) trifecta years, was Real Existing Medicare or Social Security overthrown?

    But over the past 3-4 decades, they did accomplish something big: with some amount of movement unity and concerted messaging, they changed the discourse. Their policy accomplishments were usually really small and incremental compared to their desires—wedges—with some exceptions during the Times of Reagan. But over decades, despite the paucity of accomplishments, they stalled improvements in the situation, but most importantly, they changed the vocabulary. And they did it in concert with the administrations they had, accepting half-measures (from their POV).

    Now the question is, can the progressive movement accomplish the same thing? Or is it going to be hung up on arguments about just how much a particular administration should be biting off? About the ways in which Obama has squandered illusory political capital?

    That, to me, is the Overton Window question.

    YES, there are many ways in which the big progressive blogs suck. I stopped posting at dKos years before he started his purges and troikas. But over the past two years or so, I’ve started considering the value of progressive-claiming media outlets simply using a vocabulary that some government interventions are beneficial, and being accepted locations for politicos (who aren’t going anywhere) to propagate their meek establishment messages.

    That isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for the throwers of rhetorical Molotov cocktails. Oh, heavens no. I just find it a little rich when they cast themselves as David and the big prog blogs as Goliath.

  60. While I wait for my Overton Window post to get unmoderated, a note on doom:

    Actually a few years ago I became a little obsessed with Peak Oil. I spent a year pretty depressed that civilization was over, considering that I suspect I would (like most of us) be prey and not predator in the Mad Max world that Peak Oil “doomers” tell us we’re facing.

    After a while, though, I allowed myself to be convinced that civilization—even technological civilization—didn’t necessarily have to end on the Hubbert Curve downslope.

    Don’t get me wrong. I still think that Peak Oil doomerism is most likely correct. I just no longer think that it means a Mad Max world, or that we won’t be able to pull our chestnuts out of the fire at the point where it looks like they’ll burn.

    I sort of feel the same way about the USA in this cycle, except that it’s not nearly so drastic. It really depends on how the 20% decline in living standards actually plays out. Which is not at all clear. And if it’s REALLY bad, well, there aren’t too many other places in the world that I can go that would be much more unscathed.

  61. Lex

    Mandos, (if you’re still following)

    I agree that we’re probably not looking at a Mad Max future, but i think you may be mistaken in the assumption that N. America will be scathed to roughly the same degree as the rest of the planet.

    It’s a matter of falling from a curb or falling from 30 stories. One means scrapes, bruises and maybe a twisted ankle; the other means open fractures and crushed organs.

    After the collapse of the USSR, and the decade of economic turmoil that followed, the Russians managed pretty well considering. They had, however, learned long ago to go around and subvert their own system of government and social order. It had failed to consistently feed them, so the population went about feeding itself as best it could. And there are numerous examples beyond food production. The big thing is that they were used to being poor and fucked.

    N. America is used to being rich and enjoying the fruits of pleasant living. I’m convinced that yes, we can make do and figure out how to live on the downhill slide of Hubbard’s curve or within real economic calamity. We’re human after all.

    The problem, and why i think that N. America will be much more scathed than many places on the planet, is psychological…the population’s reaction to such eventualities will be far worse than the eventualities themselves.

    In a “third-world” forgotten corner, the upheaval will be less drastic, and the conditions that people are used to now will be preparation. No gas for the scooter or Toyota anymore, well then its back to donkeys which had never been fully replaced by motorized transport in any case.

    I understand that you’re Canadian, so you’ll probably fare somewhat better than us poor slobs south of the border. I know my nation pretty well, and i fully expect us to start shooting each other and then clamor for a tyrant who focuses our collective blame on someone.

    The real problem will be us…

  62. Ian Welsh

    I’ve never suggested a Mad Max ending. I have, repeatedly, suggested that a Russian style failure is not unlikely–for the US. And I do think the US will be hit harder than most other first world nations, the pain will not be equally spread around.

    One country which will be hit very hard, unfortunately, is Canada.

    I don’t think people really understand how fake too much of the US economy is and how much of the technological industrial base has been hollowed out The parallels with the USSR are a lot deeper than people think.

  63. Lex

    The Mad Max scenario is too easy to describe (and i think maybe tempting because of that) and hence easy to discard or ignore. Not much different to my mind than preparing for the Rapture.

    Yes, the parallels are far deeper than people think. That’s what frightens me. Though i’m even more frightened by the differences. Where i can make a case that the USSR prepared, if unintentionally, its people for the bitter end, i can’t make the same argument for the US.

    I see the point about Canada, and that saddens me. I didn’t want to make predictions, mostly because i’m not Canadian…though i often wish that i were.

    Note for the record: i’ve never played the American hiding behind a Maple Leaf game abroad.

  64. Oh, no, the Mad Max reference was relative to the Peak Oil question, re the scenarios painted by Matt Savinar and so on, or even the Oil Drum these days, seeing as most of the less doomerish voices seem to have left the site.

    However, I did mean to express skepticism about how bad it would really get in the USA when manufacturing is already picking up in some parts of the country. We’ll see.

    And yes, I, like Ian, am a Canuck. The difference is that I now live in the USA, hence Ian’s advice for me to get out ASAP.

  65. Ian Welsh

    Almost the entire Bush era was a weak dollar experiment. It didn’t work. It won’t work now because of the counter-forces–you may get some uptick, but it won’t be sustained.

  66. whatsit

    Thanks for the correction, and you are right: polling questions on this rarely go deep enough, explain what they are asking, or use neutral language.

    I was suspicious of the entire town hall clown show in general. The Dems were sent back to their districts to sell empty boxes. Later, an Obama e-mail encouraged me to support the president’s reform, when no one could say in so many words what that might be.

    But there is a way to get to single-payer within the current bills (from the reports I have read).

  67. hi, mandos! [sorry you had to hold your breath for so long]

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