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Post Partisan
Posted at 04:15 PM ET, 06/15/2012

Liberal activists and the disappearing public option

I think Robert Reich had something of an underpants gnomes problem in his argument this week that a Supreme Court ruling knocking out the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act will somehow result in getting a public option added to the act. But I’ll give him credit for one thing: He’s talking about the public option. Is anyone else?

The history of the public option is, in my view, fascinating. Four years ago, it was a relatively minor point in the Democrats’ health-care rhetoric. By summer 2009, liberals were adamant that the public option was central to health care reform, to the point that some wound up opposing health reform when the voters weren’t there to include it. And now? It’s apparently been forgotten.

As I’ve said, none of the candidates most likely to become new Democratic Senators think it’s important enough to include on their Web pages (as far as I could find it, anyway). Even in liberal Hawaii, where there’s a contested Democratic primary, the Senate candidates apparently have no interest in using support for a public option to appeal to liberals – which almost certainly means that liberal activists, both in Hawaii and nationwide, aren’t pushing them to do so.

I’m not generally a big fan of Glenn Greenwald’s political analysis, but what he said today was exactly right: If liberals don’t agitate for the policies they prefer, they won’t get them from Democratic politicians. That’s the story of issues important to gay men and lesbians during the Obama administration, and it’s the story – in the other direction – of where we are with the public option and with, among other things, issues regarding detention and civil liberties. While people can disagree on best tactics, there’s very little room for disagreement that if Democratic-aligned activists and organized groups don’t work to get Democratic politicians to care about these issues, it won’t happen.

I’ve been dead wrong about the public option: I thought Democrats, particularly those in contested primaries, would universally support it in this election cycle. I’m usually very hesitant to say that Democrats and Republicans act differently, but I really do find it difficult to believe that Republicans would have dropped something that important to them so quickly, especially something that polls well and that they therefore believe is generally popular.

I mean, I understand that Democratic politicians might be reluctant to side with liberal activists on civil liberties, since the polling on that one goes the other way. Public option, however, I’ve been wrong on and just don’t understand. So, to get back to Reich: It’s all very well and good to hope that a SCOTUS decision would magically turn into a public option, but what he should really be doing is pushing liberals to make support for public option a litmus test in every contested primary remaining this year. Remember, politicians generally try to carry out their campaign promises, but if they don’t promise it, they won’t feel obliged to care about it after the election. 

By  |  04:15 PM ET, 06/15/2012

 
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