President Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe is returning from his brief stint as an author to help the Democrats stop the bleeding after their twin gubernatorial losses last November and last week’s shocker in the special election in Massachusetts. Plouffe penned an op-ed for yesterday’s Outlook section that charts how he hopes to do this.
Plouffe urges the Democrats to pass health care reform without delay. He notes, correctly, that they already own the issue so there is no real way to run from it. He also notes correctly that once the law is signed, people will realize it does not, in fact, contain "death panels" or a "government take-over" as former Governor Sarah Palin and a few more politically engaged prelates have suggested.
Maybe Plouffe was busy working on his index, but has he not noticed that the Republicans have totally won in the most critical battle of all, framing the other issues. All year long. Climate change legislation has been successfully portrayed as a tax increase on small businesses that will cost jobs when, in fact, green technology is a net jobs creator, and not just in the short term, but in the long term. The "public option" became, in the public’s mind, "socialized medicine" as if the word "option" was not a part of it. Etc. The Republicans seem to have a knack for this sort of thing. Remember the "death tax"? I am not sure if it is simply too late to reframe these debates in a way to make them popular again.
Plouffe’s boss, the President, has been asleep at the political wheel, failing to realize the need to continue educating and persuading the American people. He has not even spent enough time trying to persuade individual members of Congress to stick with his reform agenda. What needs to change about this White House is fundamental: The President needs to be out front on two or three issues, speaking about them all the time and in key states and districts. Other issues should be left to Cabinet secretaries. In politics, the campaign never ends.
Once, in a meeting with a campaign manager who was running an important statewide race, the young man said to me, "You have to remember. There is an election. And there is governing. And you can’t win an election if you are worried about how you are going to govern." This incredibly cynical view suffers from more than cynicism. It is wrong. Candidate Obama campaigned on "hope" and "change" not on "Medicare for all" or "High-speed rail in five years" or "Wind farms in all 50 states." Yes, there was a health plan on the website, but who read it? He needs to flesh out his policies always, daily, hourly, in terms of how they enflesh the change he promised and how they will lead to a more hopeful future for America.
The President would benefit from re-reading his history. In 1933, Frances Perkins agreed to become the Secretary of Labor only after incoming President Franklin Roosevelt pledged himself to support such key policies as unemployment insurance and Social Security. But, FDR said to Perkins that the American people were not yet ready for Social Security and that she should spend the next year educating them about it, to build support for the program. She did, and the following year, the Democrats ran on the issue and won. In 1935, the bill was passed and signed into law.
Plouffe is right that the Democrats should try and pass something on health care reform but whether they pass only half of it, or pass none of it, they should spend the rest of the year educating the electorate on the issue, and, as FDR did in 1934, turn the election into a referendum on additional health care reform. But, that will require that they come back with a bill that is not filled with goodies for Nebraska and the unions, with a bill that is not 2,000 pages long, and with a bill that includes changes people want. If Obama brings the American people along, the Congress will follow. But, the American people need to be educated and persuaded. Plouffe has his work cut out for him.