Nothing Succeeds Like Success


There’s an awful lot that’s strange about Dana Milbank’s column on how Rahm Emanuel is awesome and all Barack Obama’s problems stem from not listening to him. Many of these have to do with the very fact of the column’s existence. Milbank’s argument that Emanuel was right and Obama was wrong about various controversies introduces new factual claims into the public record about Emanuel’s stances on various controversies. This tends to suggest that the column was written with the Chief of Staff’s cooperation. But what kind of COS brags about how little influence he has over an administration’s decision-making? And what kind of COS complains about the President’s decision-making? It’s strange.

But this substantive call is also strange:

Obama’s greatest mistake was failing to listen to Emanuel on health care. Early on, Emanuel argued for a smaller bill with popular items, such as expanding health coverage for children and young adults, that could win some Republican support.

Milbank deems the results of having gone for something more ambitious as “disastrous” but I don’t see what’s been disastrous about it at all. After all, way back on February 4, 2009 Obama signed a massive expansion of children’s health care into law. So it’s not as if failure to play small-ball prevented Obama from achieving the substantive goal of expanding children’s access health care. At the very worst, being ambitious prevented Obama from doing some stuff to help young adults. At the very best, being ambitious may allow Obama to achieve major reform of the American health care system. Personally, I was always skeptical about the feasibility of big picture health reform in the 111th Congress and I’ve been surprised by how successful Obama’s been.

It’s true that by trying something ambitious, Obama ran the risk of failing. But not trying merely guarantees failure. The only thing that’s different is the narrative in the press. Nobody said that George W Bush failed to reform US healthcare in a “disastrous” way, simply because he didn’t try. But the only real lesson of all this is that congressional Democrats who already voted for health reform would do well to vote yes again and pass the thing. Whether reform passes or not, everyone who voted yes wants to raise taxes to finance death panels that will give grandma’s organs to illegal aliens. But if it passes, then everyone involved in its construction is at least a strategic and tactical genius who proved the naysayers wrong. If reform dies, then everyone involved is a idiot who blundered and ruined everything.

Meanwhile, if reform does pass how long will it take for us to see an article claiming it as vindication of Rahm Emanuel’s desire to “throw long and deep” and not shy away from major challenges