Charlie Cook offers what is, I think, the plausible and correct version of the “Obama shouldn’t have tried health reform” by indicating that he thinks it would have made more sense to focus on the short-term jobs/economy situation. I completely agree with that. The problem is that this doesn’t seem to have been an available option. Jon Chait observes that Cook “offers no suggestion of what meaningful legislation could have passed after the stimulus, which exhausted Congress’s willingness to spend any money on job creation.”
To my way of thinking, this is a rare case where the kind of “talk on the telephone to politicians and listen to what they say” style of reporting that’s so valorized in DC could, in principle, do some good. Are there any centrist Democrats or moderate Republicans who are going to claim that had Obama backed off on health care they would have voted for substantial additional short-term stimulus measures? Do any sources at the Federal Reserve think that had Obama not attempted health reform that Ben Bernanke would have implemented a more expansionary agenda? As far as I know, the answer to both of those questions is “no” so nothing was actually traded off when Obama decided to focus on health care. But even though everyone in the media is very interested in second-guessing Obama these days, nobody seems interested in looking in to these issues.