Sunday, March 4, 2012

Health care reform and the bully pulpit

Scott Lemieux has a nice review up of George Edwards' new book On Deaf Ears, which it sounds like I'll need to read/assign soon. It's about the basic ineffectiveness of presidential speeches in changing congressional minds, something our pundit class seems to have a hard time wrapping its head around. I particularly like the discussion of Bill Clinton's experience with health care reform.
The particularly striking example, which Edwards spends a lot of time on, is Clinton and health care. Clinton, in short, did everything that armchair critics of Obama assure us would have produced a better bill than the ACA. The administration crafted a plan itself rather than waiting for Congress to act, and using extensively tested strategies made a conscious decision to “go public” and try to indirectly pressure members of Congress to support its bill by making it more popular. Of course, this approach couldn’t have worked out any less well; presidential communication didn’t make Clinton’s proposals any more popular, and Democrats in Congress who had been largely cut out of the loop didn’t have Clinton’s back.... Granted, Clinton’s health care strategy might (or might not) have worked better if he had Obama’s margin in the Senate to work with. But 1)Obama had very good reasons for not wanting to emulate that approach. and 2)there’s than no reason to think it would have produced a better result and 3)there was a very real risk it would have ended up in health care reform failing entirely yet again.

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