If the public plan was a stab at new thinking, the president and its advocates have done a poor job of bringing the public around to agreement. It hasn’t even been clear that its supposed advocates want a public plan. Here again the public caught the drift of the administration’s shifting sands. Telling Americans they could keep the insurance they had and saying that most people are satisfied with their coverage—that is, until they get sick—has done nothing to build toward the Eureka Moment needed for real reform. Ultimately, real reform must mean that Americans have to see other possibilities, and strong leadership will be needed to make that happen. It makes me think what’s needed is something like Lyndon Johnson changing the paradigm on civil rights. Will Obama do that tonight?
As academics know, in order for a social movement to succeed, the discourse—the terms of the debate—-must change. That has not yet happened with health care. Up to now, we’ve been asking the same questions: how much it will cost; who will be covered; what’s the subsidy level for people who need help paying premiums; can I keep what I have? The country is trapped in the logic of the prevailing system. Will Obama articulate goals that will confront health care problems in a new way?
That remains to be seen, but this morning the crawl at the bottom of my TV screen flashed that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama would give more specifics tonight, and would remain flexible. Specifics are fine. We on Campaign Desk have been urging those for months, but flexibility? Does that mean caving into the special interests that funded his presidential campaign? And how does that square with strong decisive leadership for which Americans apparently hunger? To me, this doesn’t sound like a change in the discourse that will lead to the Eureka Moment. Still, we in the media should keep our ears perked tonight and in the coming weeks for any signs of the kind of shift the country needs.