On July 22, 2009, Obama said in a press conference, “Now, the truth is that unless you have what’s called a single-payer system in which everybody is automatically covered, then you’re probably not going to reach every single individual.” Bingo. Too bad he didn’t hang on to that insight, and use his rhetorical skills to make the case strongly to the American public. If he had fought for single-payer health care at the beginning of his administration, while he had both houses of Congress, and mobilized public opinion behind it, he might have made it. After all, the only thing members of Congress need more than industry money is votes.
Other than the fact there’s absolutely no evidence that presidents can change public opinion in this way, and the fact that Bayh, Nelson, Lieberman, etc. do not in fact need “votes more than money” since they’re not running for anything (and who thinks that winning votes and money are entirely unconnected anyway?) — hard to see any problems with this plan. I mean, this “going public” strategy sure worked well for Clinton, and Obama’s rhetorical skills sure did make the PPACA immensely popular.
The strangest thing about this kind of BULLY PULPIT argument is that people who seem to consider themselves tough-minded leftists have beliefs about American political institutions that are like caricatures of the most naive 1950s-style pluralists. I’m amazed anybody who considers themselves to have a critical attitude towards the status quo could implicitly deny that “[t]he flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent.” I’m also frustrated that getting a rational health care policy in the United States isn’t viable, but “forgetting” that hegemony exists is not actually going to facilitate change, and to the extent that it requires passing up opportunities to pass useful reform measures it actually makes things worse. Plans to transform American domestic politics that involve heroic presidential daddies imposing major social change on powerful interests by sheer force of will are indistinguishable from having no plan at all.