Senior White House adviser: ‘I don’t understand’ why the public option is ‘Waterloo’ for ‘the left of the left.’

When HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Sunday that a public insurance option was “not essential” to health care reform, a significant backlash ensued on the left, with progressive leaders sending a message to the White House that “a bill without a public option won’t pass the House.” The Washington Post reports today that the Obama administration was “unprepared for the intraparty rift that occurred over the fate of a proposed public health insurance program.” Borrowing a metaphor from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), an anonymous “senior White House adviser” expressed confusion about how the public option became “Waterloo” for “the left of the left”:

“I don’t understand why the left of the left has decided that this is their Waterloo,” said a senior White House adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We’ve gotten to this point where health care on the left is determined by the breadth of the public option. I don’t understand how that has become the measure of whether what we achieve is health-care reform.”

“It’s a mystifying thing,” he added. “We’re forgetting why we are in this.”

Progressives are adamantly pushing for a public option not only because it could reduce cost and keep insurers honest, but also because they are seeking to make a principled stand in support of a position that many of them feel is already a compromise from their preferred policy choice. As Yglesias has noted, while “the presence or absence of a public option isn’t the only thing that matters in the health care debate,” there is “good reason for activists to be putting a lot of emphasis on the public option.”