The Benefits of an Intransigent Left

Noam Scheiber says the hue-and-cry over rumors that the White House might drop its support for a public option is good news for health reform:

Around the conference table at TNR, we’ve been saying for weeks that what Obama really needed was a group of equally vocal, equally zealous critics on the left, pulling the debate’s center of gravity in the other direction. And, wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly what’s happened over the last 48 hours. We’ve now got a pole on the left to match the intensity of the pole on the right. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting a moral equivalence between the two. As far as I’m concerned, the critics on the left are basically right and the critics on the right are either insane or deeply cynical.) From a sheer tactical perspective, I think the White House and the Democratic leadership in Congress have dramatically improved their position.


But the known unkown in all of this is do centrist Democratic Senators really want to pass a health care bill or don’t they? That’s Max Baucus. And it’s also Kent Conrad. And it’s Mary Landrieu and it’s Blanche Lincoln and it’s Mark Pryor and Ben Nelson and so forth. If these folks are secretly yearning to pass a health care bill, then this bit of noise is arguably helping to create a situation in which they have the political cover they need. But if the issue is that they just really don’t want to pass such a bill, then the reverse is happening and we’re just looking at more smokescreen and delay. And I honestly don’t know which it is. For all the thousands of reporter-hours that have been spent on covering the congressional politics of the health care debate, I haven’t really seen any penetrating reportial insights into this crucial question of what the pivotal players think they’re doing. About the best you can find is Ezra Klein thinking aloud and concluding that he doesn’t know what Baucus thinks he’s doing. But since people write articles about the facts they know, rather than the questions they can’t answer, attention has tended to be deflected from what’s really the crucial issue here.