The President has shown a willingness to give the Professional Right not just "seats at the table" as we try to restore this country to where it was before Bush and Cheney got a hold of it, not just to give it half the seats at the table, but often — far too often —to give it all the seats, the table, and the damn carpet.
Here's what sometimes confuses me about the president. One day, he's talking about giving everyone a seat at the table, including Republicans. The next day, he's talking about how the Republicans drove the country into a ditch and we can't allow them to do the same thing again -- and that's precisely what they want to do, he says. Weird.
The fact remains that in terms of passing legislation in the Senate, the swing votes are the conservadems and the Snowe/Collins duo. My serious question here is this: is the White House really trying to get Republican votes beyond the conservadems and Snowe/Collins? In other words, is the White House giving away "all the seats, the table, and the damn carpet" or is it merely doing just enough to appease the centrist votes and to pass the bill with the usual procedure, requiring the above swing votes?
I don't know for sure. But the successful votes include conservadems and, occasionally, Snowe, Collins or Scott Brown. If we learn for sure that the White House was reaching for more than a handful of GOP votes merely for the sake of bipartisan kudos, I will be both shocked and disappointed. But that doesn't appear to be the case. (Though courting conservadems can sometimes require Republican votes as "political cover" -- a demand that could snowball, making more and more Republican votes necessary for passage. Politics is complicated.)
Olbermann also criticized the president for not starting with single-payer and negotiating it down to the public option (an idea we intensely debated here a year ago). On the surface and generally, I agree with this strategy.
The question, however, is this: would starting with single-payer have been a non-starter for the whole bill regardless of how vigorously the president's sales job would have been? And would progressives have been complaining today about how the president gave away single-payer and settled for a public option? We just don't know. We don't know which path was the smarter move. It's all hypothetical at this point unless we had a time-traveling DeLorean. One way or another, the White House exercised some political calculus and came up with the safer bet. One thing that's true in life and politics, it doesn't take much to blow something up. Just a spark. A dollar more here or there could butterfly-effect outwards and screw the whole thing.
Anyway, you generally know where I stand on all of this. I tend to lean a little more towards pragmatic politics and give the president a bit of latitude on these things, even though my politics are considerably to the president's left.
Clearly there's too much friction between the White House and progressives. I think the most profound reaction to the Gibbs remarks yesterday came from Sam Stein who observed how both sides are talking past each other. We actually have an opportunity, with this incident, to get a seat at the table and have a meeting of the minds. I wonder if it's time for a White House beer summit with progressive leaders.
I'm confident that an hour or two with some lager would resolve many of the misunderstandings. Learn about the political calculus. Learn about progressive-style accountability. Set aside some of the grandstanding on both sides and learn.
We can do this. Seat. Table. Beer.