Big Tent Democrat (aka Armando) takes exception to my piece on 11-Dimensional chess. Apparently, he coined the term (or claims to, anyway). Now, Armando’s thesis is that to the extent the public option is still alive it is only through the efforts of progressives, labor unions, and activists who have kept the pressure on the administration. Whether that is largely or only partially true is kind of unknowable, but it is certain that we wouldn’t be in this position without the tireless efforts of the supporters of a public option.

I’d like to limit the amount of ‘what-ifs’ in my analysis, so I won’t attempt to assign degrees of responsibility. What I do know is that there were several very logical reasons for the administration’s wishy-washy position on the public option. Their first responsibility was to canvas the Senate and find out where the reform effort stood. They did that back in the winter and realized that the effort was in trouble. With Al Franken unseated and Kennedy and Byrd in ill-health, the prospect of getting 60 votes didn’t look so hot. So, they made sure to include language in the budget that would allow them to come back in the fall and pass the bill through the Budget Reconciliation process at the 51-vote threshold. This put the Republicans on notice that they couldn’t just obstruct, obstruct, obstruct and think they would succeed in preventing reform. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the message.

The administration also realized back in the winter that they didn’t have unanimity in support of a public option within their Senate caucus. They could overcome that problem with the Budget Reconciliation gambit, but they also knew two things.

    1. That it would be difficult to do all the things they wanted to do using reconciliation because of parliamentary obstacles.
    2. That it would be a highly contentious move that would require a lot of groundwork to justify.

When they looked at the Senate, they realized that they could get the public option through Kennedy’s HELP Committee, but they’d never get it through Baucus’s Finance Committee. But they also knew they didn’t need to get the public option through the Finance Committee. All they needed was for Baucus to report something. If it deadlocked in Finance, the whole thing would come to a stall.

So, what was the logical solution? Answer: Get the public option passed in the four committees where it could pass, and then drop it from the Finance discussion where it could not.

How would that have worked if Obama had staked out a position that he wouldn’t sign anything without a public option?

The question answers itself. That strategy would not have worked at all. And, as I detailed in my previous post, in refusing to stake out an ironclad position, Obama presented a ‘formless’ target for the Teabaggers and Townhall Screamers, as well as the Republican caucuses. He appeared to be bending over backwards to reach a compromise, and the polls bear out that he succeeded in leaving that impression. Creating that impression was an absolutely critical element in shaping public opinion for the final steps of this process, whether it is done through reconciliation or not.

Speaking only for myself.

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