Health Care “Opt Out” Baits a Trap for US Republicans

By Al Giordano

Prior to October 20, just a week ago, the “conventional wisdom” among Washington DC-centric pundits and bloggers was that the so-called “public option” on the upcoming national health care bill was dead in the water.

Since October 20, the same voices have shifted to a presumption that the public option – in which the US government would create its own health program (much like it already has for members of Congress) to compete with private insurance companies, bring their prices down, and offer another option to citizens – is now a done deal and the remaining question is what kind of public option will be approved by Congress.

What changed on October 20 to so radically shift the beltway CW?

315,023 phone calls – deployed by Organizing for America, President Obama’s grassroots political arm – that flooded the US Capitol switchboard in a single day: that, and that alone, is what shifted the ground beneath the health care debate. Those that participated in organizing that warning shot know it even while many who did not lift a finger for it look for other explanations for this positive shift in the discourse.

Opponents have framed the public option as a stealth first step to a national “single payer” plan of universal national health care administrated by the government, and they may well be proved right about that in years to come. Meanwhile, the fact that the President, years ago as an Illinois state senator, supported a single payer solution, has been bandied about by some proponents this year as evidence that he either sold out “the base” (what some white college educated progressives call, um, some white college educated progressives) or that his attention to practical realities somehow indicate that he lacks a political backbone.

It’s been an entire summer of silliness from both of those camps; from the “Obama is a socialist” club to “Obama is another Bush” chorus, the infantile nature of so much of US politics has been on full display with the health care debate as its fulcrum.

Although during this same Summer of Shove of 2009, the President was repeatedly clear on his desire for a public option in the health care law that has eluded every administration since that of Harry Truman in the 1940s and 50s, he was accused again and again of not really wanting it or seeking it. Daily Kos blogger Brooklynbadboy offers an entertaining inventory of pundits and bloggers who “declared the public option dead.”

Among them are those like the whiny voice of blogger Jane Hamsher - still bitter that Obama beat her candidate Clinton in the primaries - who on August 17 declared, “Many people are rightly upset that the White House is sending stronger and stronger signals that they are willing to jettison a public option.  What was once the defining feature of the Obama health care plan has now been dismissed with a bipartisan flourish.” Then on September 10 repeated, “the White House has been trying to get out from under th e burden of supporting the public option for weeks.” Then on September 18 re-repeated, “President Obama has been desperate to ditch the public option for weeks.”

Such prattling has been duly featured at the Huffington Post along with daily “reports” (read: rumors based mainly on the statements of unnamed sources inside the beltway, but played as hard news) to feed the HuffPo editorial line, which goes like this: Obama doesn’t want a public option on health care and so “the base” (white college educated progressives, especially of the blogging tendency) has to “make him do it.”

That narrative has been a good example of the typical self-aggrandizing attempt by a certain tendency to insist that the story is about them (most of whom already do have health insurance, by the way, and don’t mix very much with we hoi polloi that do not).

I’ll offer an alternative view, informed by my study of Obama’s political modus operandi and my bias and experience that community organizing usually proves a thousand times more effective on any matter than poutrage blogging or its corresponding activist circle jerk: Almost none of those complaining voices participated in Organizing for America’s October 20 day of action that had set a goal of 100,000 phone calls to Congress demanding health care and exceeded that goal three times over. If any of the poutrage bloggers even mentioned it, much less promoted it or urged readers to join in that show of grassroots muscle, I didn’t notice, and probably you didn’t either.

The poutrage bloggers are evidently hostile to the entire idea of community organizing; that ordinary people can make extraordinary things happen by reaching outside of the beltway, recruiting each other, and deploying such human forces strategically and surgically to impose public opinion onto Washington from outside of it. History now reflects that those 300,000 plus phone calls to Congress on October 20 marked the turning point in the quest for a public option on a Capitol Hill where some key Senators had to be dragged kicking and screaming into getting out of its way. Suddenly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – who only began publicly touting the public option after his and other senators’ phone lines were lit up – is being proclaimed by some as the hero of the story who somehow got out in front of the White House in its favor.

Suddenly Reid – the schlamozel of so much poutrage blogging before - is their standard bearer, only because he serves their narrative that seeks to reserve credit for themselves for the coming public option health care program, and glances jealously at the President and his allied Organizing for America, who they see as competition over credit for organizing the the members of the poutrage club did not do.

Which brings us to the next media sensation in the debate as health care legislation rounds third base and heads toward the home plate: What is looking increasingly like an “opt out” provision in the bill which would gain the remaining stragglers among Democratic US Senators who have been hostile to the public option all summer long. It is a compromise – as legislation always involves – that would allow individual states (presumably via state legislatures, although the final bill hasn’t been written yet) to “opt out” of the public option on health care.

“Opting out” is perhaps not the right term for what would happen if, say, Oklahoma’s - or another state's - legislature and governor availed themselves of that provision. What they would really be doing, in effect, is prohibiting their own citizens from benefiting from the national public health care program, imposing only private insurance company options upon those citizens.

What nobody has mentioned so far – so let me please do so – is the political trap an “opt out” provision would set for health care opponents, particularly those in the Republican Party.

Let’s imagine that after more than 60 years of failure, Congress finally, this fall, approves a health care bill and that it has a public option but also with the “opt out” provision for states. Americans throughout the land – particularly the tens of millions without any health insurance at all and the many more who are unhappy with their private sector health plans – will feel a great wave of relief and hope for improvement of their own families’ daily lives.

Any state legislature and governor that then decides to “opt out” – thus denying their own citizens the option to sign up for national government sponsored health insurance – will then have provoked a lasting political storm upon themselves. It will become very personal, as people realize that Governor Smith or State Senator Jones directly denied their children what other Americans have won.

In the 26 states – 24 of them west of the Mississippi – that have statewide referenda processes, any state that opted out would be subject to public referendum campaigns aimed at reversing the opt-out. These would be a community organizer’s dream and an anti-public option politician’s nightmare. Even in those states without referendum processes, the public ire would be focused on those state legislators and governors that denied their own citizens access to what citizens in other states will have: a federal health insurance option to compete with those offered by the big insurance companies.

All political hell would break loose in any state where the legislature and governor opted out of national public health care, because they won’t really be opting out, but, rather, would be slamming a door on their own constituents. In those states, entrenched legislators once thought to be permanent in their seats would become electorally vulnerable. In the 2010 and 2012 elections many will be unseated by challengers who vow to return the stolen public health care option to the people. Such a dynamic would surely fall more heavily on Republicans, but also on some conservative Democrats as well.

The “opt out” clause, on a policy level, is a distasteful compromise, but on the level of electoral politics it is pure political gold, especially for pro-public health care Democrats. It could lead Republican legislatures and governors in key states to be replaced by Democratic majorities. It would become the battle cry to register millions of non-voters from the most marginalized sectors of society – those without any health insurance at all, first and foremost – to inundate the polling places in years to come.

In sum, as the various compromise options on getting a public health care option through the US Senate go, the "opt out" public option is the one that most sets a trap for opponents for years to come. It is a dare, really: Go ahead and try to deny your own state’s citizens what millions of Americans have now won for their families and themselves. You’ll be sorry if you do.

It is a long distance runner’s strategy, made possible on a single day – October 20 – by the unsung organizers that flooded the Capitol switchboard. And should that be the result of the final legislation that comes through Congress, it will set in motion a chain reaction of political firestorms that offer state-by-state organizing opportunities to continue to change the political map in the United States for the better, and bring the entire country, step-by-step, closer to a future single payer health care plan.

Update: And right on cue, another embittered Clinton '08 supporter (indeed, the rocket scientist staffer behind the then-Senator's lackluster "online" campaign, outgunned and outmaneuvered at every step by Obama's), Peter Daou, unwittingly reveals that, yes, it's all about who gets credit! Ha ha. His spiel is titled, "Don't Bother Waiting for Bloggers to Get Credit for the Public Option." Hey Peter, don't break your typing arm by trying to pat yourself on the back. And notice that he doesn't even mention the 315,023 phone calls generated to Congress a week ago? He could have just as well typed, "LA LA LA LA LA I'M NOT LISTENING!"

Update II: Andrew Sullivan, on the other hand, sees and hears the same train comin' down the track.



OFA is starting to hit its stride

This was a good demonstration project for what OFA can do, and I know that subsequent campaigns like this will produce even greater results. 

Even an opt-in provision,

Even an opt-in provision, which is really weak from a policy stand-point, would create room for community organizing to keep healthcare reform moving forward. One of my senators, Maria Cantwell, successfully got such an amendment into the Senate Finance Committee bill. We don't know yet if it will make it into the final Senate floor bill, but if so, it is a fallback position.

This was soooooo predictable

I know it was predictable that the poutiing-bloggers would take credit for this turnaround, because even I saw this coming months ago

The question is whether this matters, and my answer is "yes."   The reason I think it matter whether bloggers, and more importantly readers, believe that they are entitled to credit here, is because such an attitude potentially damages and discourages the true grass roots efforts.

Also, my view is that many of those bloggers, intentionally or unintentionally, breed a dangerous cynicism.  For they're rarely satisfied with voicing dissent; instead, they insist on couching every disagreement in terms of betrayal.  And while dissent may be productive, cynicism.

Yes yes yes

Thanks Al for this. I am so grateful you point this out. I major offender in this has also been, to my surprise, TPM flogging the idea that the WH wanted the trigger etc etc (even worse today reporting as WH quotes some stupid made up handicapping by Chuck Todd). As Booman so clearly put forth in his blog the WH wanted the trigger *at this stage* because they feared Reid did not have the votes. That is all, it was strategy not policy commitment.

I am nervous about Reid, and have seen a few comments here and there saying he might change this to an opt-in (that would the stupidest thing ever changing the trap you so eloquently have described into a dud). But though nervous I am confident, as I have been all along, that this is getting done. What cracks me up is that even bloggers miss the story all summer long and have bought into the Village CW about how Obama gets things done. Just hope Reid does not drop the ball.

Thanks again Al. Can you post this at DKos and HuffPo? Much needed.

opt in

I see Laura mentioned the opt-in. I hope you are right that  the opt in  would work I worry that would put the onus in a very different way on us and deal us a weak hand. I prefer the opt out, puts the onus elsewhere. But I am happy if I am wrong.


As I said an opt-in provision is really weak as a policy. My point was that if for some reason the opt-out provision fails to pass, we can fall back to the opt-in provision because it still provides a means for us to organize for change. It is far from ideal but better than nothing.


As I continue to learn new things from the likes of Al and President Barack Hussein Obama, I think the importance of timing has been my #1 lesson over the last year or two.

As mentioned in the above post, OFA did the big call-a-thon at such a perfect time.  Perhaps it was orchestrated with Dem leadership?

OFA has done several under-the-radar activities all along to build its base quietly, while all the teabaggers put on a sexy, sexy show.  Highly planned patience and silence can be much more effective than loud protesting, which can also be a useful tool when used properly.

The behavior of Obama and OFA over the last few months on this issue is so similar to what happened throughout the Prez campaign.  It's so odd to me how so many fellow "Liberals" can't recognize these patterns and how they can work, and instead cling to such tired strategies that have proven to be much less successful.  Humility is a virtue that unfortunately many do not seem to possess. 


Andrew Sullivan has a similar idea here. Now we just need Joe Lieberman to behave...

Laura I agree, I just think

Laura I agree, I just think the wonder of the opt out is that you have to fight to get out of it instead of fighting to get in. But yes opt in is better than co-ops and triggers.

I hope someone is cornering Lieberman and telling him what time it is. I am looking at you Rahm.

@ Bonkers

Bonkers - I almost wrote about the "timing" thing, but I figure the better, uh, time to do it will be after this has all played out to its conclusion!


so so true. The funny thing is that the outrage conveyors wanted everything done up front without any sense of how the dance of legislative politics takes place. I hope once this all happens Al will do a post on the timing thing.

I'm sorry, I don't speak Senator

Thanks, Al, for pointing out (again) that OFA and the thousands of people who made the calls and knocked on the doors, not the screaming mimis of look-at-me bloggerdom, did the heavy lifting.

I do have a question about the next step, though. How does one read this exchange (just reported in USA Today) between Senators Lieberman and Reid? Even though I don't speak Senator, it doesn't seem to me to be the dramatic, oh-my-god-the-sky-is-falling moment that a lot of folks are making it out be. Wiggle-room seems built into both statements:

"In an e-mail to USA TODAY, Lieberman spokesman Marshall Wittmann wrote: 'The senator has indicated that he is inclined to vote for the motion to proceed but will oppose [the] final bill if it contains [a] public option.'"

Updated 3:07 p.m. ET. Reid said today that "I don't have anyone that I have worked harder with, have more respect for in the Senate than Joe Lieberman. As you know, he's my friend. There are a lot of senators, Democrat and Republicans, who don't like part of what's in this bill that we went over to CBO. We're going to see what the final product is. We're not there yet. Senator Lieberman will let us get on the bill, and he'll be involved in the amendment process."


on "does it matter?" Jim

I'm not sure that it matters, although I think Al was wise to write this and we are wise to forward it. 100,000s of people know what happened here and are empowered by it. Perhaps a few more will get it next go around. Many other won't, and that's fine. They can argue with one another on the comment sections of blogs while the real work gets done.

Just read the Daou piece for some context, and it sure is weird  that anyone would see the converted yelling at the converted as creating change.

Thanks for linking to Andrew Sullivan's post. I took great joy in that too.

Damn it Al

You can't introduce logic and reason into this, it's about flipping out and accusing President Obama of being the second coming of George Bush!


Interestingly enough, the people who hate the opt out on our side enjoy accusing it of being inherently racist (because apparantly all the southern states will opt out for reasons that I haven't figured out), never mind that a lot of the states that would never opt out include states like California, New York, Illinois, New Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina, and Maryland (all are states with quite large African American and Latino populations, and in the case of California and New Mexico, have a relatively high uninsured rate). Certain sections of the left are quite infuriating at times.

To be fair...

While I have little time for Jame Hamsher myself, she did coordinate on this issue quite a bit. Her blog and its whipcount were frequently cited by the mainstream left. I think Firedoglake had a role to play, particularly on Maddow, Schultz and Olbermann... the viewers of which may have otherwise been less hopeful, and thus less likely to have participated in any meaningful way.

FDL is moving itself into obsolescence now that the merged bill is in the senate. They continue to complain. But I enjoy being proven wrong :-)

The mysterious disappearing calls

No one made any reference to the calls. There was a meeting at the White House the day after, I think, where 'things changed' and they were like 'no no   no pressure, just....'

Anyway, the denial by public officials that they're getting hotted up by this campaign was great.

I will admit that I got to the screen making the call and balked because I didn't see 'public option' in the ask script. I'm subject to ideological purity problems (white bourgoise radical variety) and I was at work and...

But like Al I could see this was a biggie. Does anyone know how this compares to other call-in campaigns?


Nothing to add, really.  Some of my Dem state legislators here in AZ are hand-wringing about the opt-out today, but I suppose that just puts them on record.

I do need to point out, however, that thereisnospoon at Daily Kos did blog a similar take, almost three weeks ago:


We in the US currently have $850 BILLION of health care fraud waste per year (approximately the cost of full citizenry insurance) that can relatively easily be cured and save by using electronic records and controls.  We need to allow interstate competition.  We have at least 20% of our population un or under insured, and have a system where the uninsured are at least 40% more likely to die of the same disease as insured, so it's immoral.  If a public option will put the pressure on the private sector to rectify this, I am all for it.  The way that it is is fiscally dumb and immoral.  If we can do it all private, that's even better.  But, curing this rediculous health delivery system must be fixed.

Lieberman Threatens Filibuster

Any thoughts on Sen. Lieberman's statement today, saying that he'll allow Dems to bring the bill to the floor but filibuster the final bill unless something changes (no public option)?


Regarding the Senator from Aetna and United Technologies:

What he says today matters not a whit tomorrow or next month when the voting happens. Like Senator Snowe (and Specter and some others), he likes to play all sides against each other to maximize his advantage when the moment comes to strike his deal. For all we know, he wants one of his Connecticut companies to get some new weapons contract instead of one in California, and is holding out for something like that, completely unrelated.

I would doubt very much that he will follow through on his threat to join a filibuster. Lieberman is a quintessential posturer, and in the end he's a coward, and I bet when the time comes and the hammer comes down, he blinks from his bluff.

showdown in chicago

Anyway, you may have heard of this on Democracy Now today or yesterday. I guess it's getting a lot of press but I missed it til now. I'm rather secluded here I guess. George has also been writing about in in the huffingtonpost.

Anyway, I know it's off-topic and a little late but I wanted to share it with the Chicago FieldHands should there be interest.



Thanks, Al, By Now You'd Think We'd Know

Given the experience of the presidential race, this health care reform has been interesting to watch. I perhaps naively thought the whole thing was orchestrated from the beginning, that is, that each little movement forward, or needed encouragement for forward movement was tapped into, placed, just where it should be. Why would the President, congressional Democratic leaders, etc, etc, cave to Repug summer follies or any other nonsense? No, the process has been fun to watch, the pressures applied just where they should be, the kudos to the grassroots rather than a top-down approach, Obama has been as usual brilliant in his look no hands approach, letting the nation demand reform, letting the citizens demand from their representatives what they need, no forcing of the issue, but playing it like a master  . . . . 

Thanks Al, as always.

Was 100,000 really the original goal?

Al -

Great post as always. I was just curious about your take on the original goal set by OFA of making 100,000 calls to Congress. I was a proud participant in the campaign, and was watching the counter on the OFA website closely. We blew through 100,000 in a matter of three hours or so. Whereupon, as you know, OFA sent out emails saying essentially, "We broke our goal of 100,000 calls to Congress! Let's try for 200,000." And then when the 200,000 goal fell even faster, breathless emails got sent out urging us to go for 300,000.

We may never know, but I have a hard time believing that the good people at OFA were really that surprised when 100,000 calls to Congress were made so quickly. But by setting the bar at a number that sounds like a lot to most people but in reality was quite achievable, they raised the excitement level of the participants and probably got more calls than they would have otherwise. It seems like something right out of the Alinsky playbook. I'm curious to know your thoughts.


Al, I love your brilliant political analysis. I disagree only to the extent you vilify Hamsher. I don't see her as a mindless Obama hater who cannot get over Hillary's demise. In fact, I recall her being quite critical of Clinton for listening to Mark Penn and trying to run to Obama's right in states like Texas. She encouraged Hillary to take risks, such as coming out against telecom immunity and urging Obama to follow. She's simply an idealist who lacks any sense whatsoever of political strategy. Like so many on the left, she doesn't do sausage making. But let's refrain from taking her down. There's already way too much animosity within the left. We're on the same team. Let's leave circular firing squads to the Republicans for once. They finally seem to be getting the hang of that particular art.

@Roy Martin

Let's assume that what you're saying about Hamsher is true, so what? Why should those of us on the left have to defend others on the left who we perceive to either be completely useless to our cause or damages your cause (which is exactly what peope like Hamsher do, in my opinion).

Liberals don't do sausage making? Tell that to the deceased Sen. Ted Kennedy (for an excellent example of a liberal at the top) or of Al Giordano who has worked at the grassroots level. Anyone who doesn't want to deal with the sausage making that is inherent in the political process should get the hell out of the factory.

Somebody Buy Joe Lieberman a Puppy (from Nate Silver)

Typically smart stuff from the one and only Nate:

re: Hamsher

How does Hamsher et al hurt the cause? (I'm afraid we'll all end up talking about and over each other...)

I'm of the opinion that whether she made any impact or not, it's all a game of Texas Sharpshooter on her part if she claims any victory. I think it's hard to predict whether her actions had any causal effect on any outcomes.

In what way has her actions had a negative causal effect. And if we can't figure that out, how do we predict it for the future? (Assuming that -- even if we can't prove a causal connection -- we stick with the idea that her and others' actions were hurtful)


The ways Hamsher (and people like her on the left) hurts (or have the potential to hurt) us are as follows:

1. She turns perfect into the enemy of the good. That is to say, while it's wonderful to work towards getting a public option, it is really stupid to kill all the other parts of the bill which are good (subsidies for people to get insurance, a raised ceiling on Medicaid spending, and requiring insurance companies to accept people with pre-existing condition for just a few things). Stopping those things from happening will disproportionately hurt poor people and minorities (who, unfortunately, are too often one in the same). Hamsher is completely tone-deaf to that.

2. Hamsher's actions make the rest of the left look bad, something to the effect of how the birthers on the right make the right look bad. And remember that the nature of the US government tends to be stacked against passing progressive change to begin with, so when liberals look like idiots, it hurts us a lot more than is the case with conservatives.


I see it differently. If her efforts were for nothing, her blog would fade into obsolescence like the rest of 'em. She is just a blogger, after all. I'm not sure she's tone-deaf to the other parts of the bill, but rather picked her fight. And being just a blogger, she'd be stupid to take seriously her claims of "public option or nothing". Feingold pulled that one out of his hat too, and I don't think anyone took him too too seriously.

I disagree when you say she makes the rest of the left look bad. To whom? The left? Certainly not the right, who hate her anyway. And a blogger hasn't changed any congressfolk's opinion.

I think she's just irritating and ultimately irrelevant. Why not keep it like that? If she settles for what's happened, fine: irrelevant. If she continues to be obnoxious, fine: irritating, and moreso than previously.

More to the point: what are the benefits of mud-slinging? She can't be isolated from our preached-to choir.


I'm not mudslinging, I'm offering a legitimate critique of Jane Hamsher, and it's clear that sh'es not irrelevant insofar as being seen as a face for the left as it's her and those like her (people like Ed Schultz, who has flipped his lid, in my opinion) who keep getting on TV and accuse anyone who thinks (God forbid) Barack Obama is not actually a tool of the insurance industry and is actually making a good-faith effort to get the Public Option and Healthcare reform through (and doing a good job of it) of being a bunch of Obama-bots, and that hurts the left by making it impossible to work within the system. The reason it hurts us is the same way that pro-legalization people who drew lines in the sand have done more harm than good to the cause of legalization (which, despite that, those who did the grunt work of organzation).

It's not wrong to call those on our side out on it.


Points taken :-) Pardon my mud-slinging accusation.

I'm partly here to be convinced. But I need something other than my own mind to fling ideas around. I hope the dialectic helps others, too.

Once again... put into words so well what many of us are thinking. Bravo.

One interesting thing: the whole public option debate has had a very familiar rhythm to it, no? I seem to remember some election thing a whole 11 months ago, in which McCain was attacking and the national polls were waning for Obama and lots of very loud but ineffective self-appointed online pundits were chicken-littling about how Obama is doomed, how Obama isn't trying hard enough, how he's got momentum against him and can't turn things around.

Then, somehow, things start to come roaring back in the other direction. The Obama campaign and its organized army ramped things up, started climbing back in the polls, and everything built up so quickly until it was completely overwhelming and McCain was obliterated.

I think we're at the point where a similar pro-public option wave is just starting to build, and OFA's 300,000 calls are only the beginning. Anyone else think there's something to this?

The right of association (and disassociation)

Sebastian - Eliot's second point touches more on where I'm coming from. I don't consider myself part of the same "left" as certain bloggers that I have criticized here before and will likely do again. Part of the necessity of criticizing them is to publicly disassociate myself from their antics, which if I were to be associated, I would find embarrassing and even defamatory toward my own work.

The sheer inaccuracy of claiming the public option dead at least three times this summer (and/or accusing others who are vocally for it of not being sincere in that) is reason enough to publicly disassociate from someone who chooses dishonesty over honesty so regularly.

I also don't see much point in asking people to refrain from criticizing someone who routinely vilifies others "of the left" and if we have the right of association that must include the right of disassociation. I am not on the same side as people like that, and the more anybody tries to convince me that I am, the louder I will speak my disagreement with those people to make it clear I am not. I wouldn't allow Hamsher or Daou or others like them 100 feet from my foxhole. Criticism is also a way of saying "keep your distance."

@Greg H

I totally agree with you. Isn't exhausting for these people to be panicking and screaming about our impending doom all the time? and to do so in the *exact same way* every time?

It is incredible to read comments in other blogs on the left that state without a hint of irony and total certainty that if only Obama was a real leader and got off his ass and worked for the public option Lieberman (or whoever) would not be pulling his antics. Or that everything that has happened is despite Obama.  Or even better at FDL stating that Lieberman is doing this *for* Obama!

This is the same line--Obama as weak, or lazy or not perfect enough-- some people took last year and they were all wrong. Remember when they said, as you note, that Obama did not want to president enough, did not know how to hit, etc etc. Once again we are here. why? Do these people think Obama getting elected was a fluke? By magic? That he has no political insitincst? He has the best political insitincts of a generation, IMHO, and these people think that their armchair quaterbacking is more insightful than his? Ha!

I am just grateful there are a couple of places one can hang out where people are still grounded in reality.


Action and precedent.

Alan Brauer wrote: "This was a good demonstration project for what OFA can do, and I know that subsequent campaigns like this will produce even greater results. "

That's the lesson the media should learn from the events of the past several months; that's the lesson the media should have learned from the 2008 campaign.  Maybe they will get it, eventually.

While there's still work to be done on health care (don't take my word for it, take Obama's -- last night he told the crowd in Florida about the health care fight: "I promise you, members of Congress listen to you a lot more than they listen to me.  And so the more that you guys are organizing and mobilizing and understanding that our job is not done, it's not -- it's barely begun, the better off we're going to be."), what OFA has accomplished already on this issue demonstrates what a mobilized progressive base can do on climate change.  That's going to be a war with interests even more powerful than Big Insurance -- Big Energy  They are watching this now with concern, because they know they will have to deal with an engaged citizenry soon.

This is the same kind of work that won Iowa, that won the nomination, and won the election.  Now it's being used to shape policy.  That's a major new development in American politics.


Health Care and OFA

Thanks, Al, for your clarity of perspective. I admit to getting demoralized by the drumbeat of "no we can't" from my fellow leftists. You are absolutely invaluable! I was really invigorated and excited by the OFA phone-calling action.  I guess it reminded me of the campaign, and of our successful- if exhausting- efforts. Yeah, we community organizers can move mountains- let's not forget that.

Ok, so now what do *we* do?

Al -


Virtually every day I make a few calls to my elected officials on health care.  (I rotate the offices I call and the message, so they don't feel like "oh, that guy again".)  But my senators aren't the ones likely to be the problem.  Feinstein is more conservative than a CA senator should be, but she's on board.


The question is - what message do we give our senators now?  (That is, in addition to the usual message of supporting the public option, etc.  And my usual message includes "please support the Wyden free choice amendment".)


Because if Feinstein or Boxer aren't going to be the problem, then telling them the same thing over and over won't help much.  Should I be calling them and asking them to put pressure on their recalcitrant colleagues?  I could see that maybe working from Feinstein, but I can't imagine a conservative Democrat listening to Boxer.


The only other option, which might backfire if anyone caught on, would be to call the conservative Democrats and pretend to be from their home state.  But I haven't done that yet, and I wasn't really planning on it.

On the "Public Option"...

The one thing that I'd like to mention is that the pulic option being discussed is much more limited than you make it out to be in this post.  It will make a lot of people feel good, but it's only going to be allowed for a small subset of citizens, and as it stands right now it won't even go into effect for them until 2013.  The 2010 ans 2012 elections could lend themselves to Dems being on the defensive, begging the public to wait for the effects to kick in.  And I think we can all agree Americans are not a patient bunch.

But other than that critique...I'm with you on it.  I think the opt-out is a brilliant political move, for all the reasons you list and more (see below).  I've tried to make this point over at DK for weeks, with mixed results.  I agree I don't think any state will have the guts to opt out, but those that do would be deep red states, and will only serve to turn those states blue that much faster.  That's simply not a political battle one can win.  Plus, let's face it, once the program is set up...the arguement for removing the opt out would be, literally, cancelling (at least) hundreds of thousands of people's health care.  You might as well advocate for state sponsered murder as a form of population control - it's just about as viable as a political arguement.

The one thing I'd add, as a combination of the two paragraphs above, that no one mentions and I hope that Pelosi makes a case for this in committee.  The current PO is only available to those who don't have insurance, and even then only to a sliver of them.  If Texas and Florida (both with red state legislatures) opt out, then the pool of people in the PO will go down quite a bit - so in my view the opt out should be used as a bargaining chip for a more inclusive PO.  Even if we don't believe that they will opt out...since they CAN, other states will have to make up the difference to keep enough people in the PO for it to keep everyone's costs down.  If moderates want an opt out to take the heat off them and transfer it to the state houses and Govs, fine.  That's a trade off.  But in trade, if states can opt out, every citizen in the states that don't should have the choice of getting it. That way the pool of people in the PO can stay large enough to make it effective.

If that case was made, and passed...we know that no one would opt out (any that did would likely be quickly overturned), and we'd get a PO that everyone could get in.  New England and CA alone, in that situation, would have as many people in the PO as the current bill would get from all 50 states.

opt out

Didn't some states opt out of stimulus money.  How is that working for them? What is the status of organizing campaigns against those who made that happen?


Once again we are here. why? Do these people think Obama getting elected was a fluke? By magic? That he has no political insitinct? He has the best political insitincts of a generation, IMHO, and these people think that their armchair quaterbacking is more insightful than his?

I think it is partially subtle and perhaps unaware racism.  The idea that it can't be the black man that is or is not doing whatever.  The idea that it's got to be the white people advising him that one needs to over worry about (Lieberman, et al).  I think some of these people simply cannot "see" a black man as a real leader, the acting agent instead of the acted upon reacting one.  I also think akin to that is some fear of losing their own influence.

I Am Over It

As a veteran of fighting the DLC's takeover of the Democratic Party 1992 and their disastrous policies that helped contribute to our current situation, I find it really curious that these progressive "purists" call out other people when Clinton and their DLC-ilk got us into this economic and electoral trouble in the first place. Young progressives like me and many others were shone the door because we weren’t buying their large turd sandwich that they were peddling in the 90s. These fools love to talk about Obama throwing people off the bus. During the DLC days, progressives were not even allowed onto the bus. If you see interviews with Bill Clinton, he always disparages progressives.

To me, Jane Hamsher, David Sirota et al. are ignorant fools. I cannot believe anyone takes them seriously. Let alone clicking on any of their sites or repeating any of their drivel. Where were these fools when this ish started going down? I hear crickets. This stuff didn't start with Bush II and Iraq. A lot of the radical Milton Friedman stuff went down during Clinton’s second term when the DLC worked WITH Republicans to undo a lot of safeguards that were put in place to protect the American people.

Do not get me started about keeping the interests rates artificially low that started during HIS presidency. I have been yelling about that for literally for 12 years now. I remember hearing from neighbors who were excited that they could borrow more money because it was so cheap. Now, I have to hear from Hamsher and her hairy band of morons of how Obama is not doing enough in his first-ten months to help homeowners, who many are now underwater because of the housing bubble, caused by some of these manipulative policies.

They meanwhile supported Clinton’s wife, who shared up until the very end of her sad candidacy, a commitment to her husband’s failed ideology, her husband’s failed advisors and her husband’s failed campaign methodology of race baiting to suppress the vote during the primaries (big clue: it doesn’t help you or down-ticket candidates in the general election).

Do not lecture me about Obama ruining your progressive-purity parade, thank you. If you wanted progressive purity, you should have picked Kucinich. He may not have won, but you would have had your purity and a leg to stand on. Most progressives jumped on the DLC and centrist candidates’ bandwagons from the beginning. Now, you act surprised and betrayed when the centrist candidate does centrist things.

It is important to talk about the DLC. The Blue Dogs, as they are now known, are actually the DLC. Good old Joe Lieberman was also DLC. Had Clinton won, they would have been in control of the party. If you think the Democratic party stinks now, what would you think when the Blue Dogs are in charge and could really care less about your progressive opinions and feelings?

Hamsher and others like her picked the wrong candidate and now they cannot back down. They need to now prove that they were right by showing us how horrible Obama is, even though they picked the worst candidate of all, the DLC Democrat in the first place. You know the people, who did not push back against Reaganomics when they were in power but embraced it and helped move its policies into reality.

If you do not think this is about the primaries, you are deluding yourself. Some of Obama’s biggest critics are former Clinton supporters that despite her excessive race baiting were surprisingly never turned off about her candidacy. There was a trivial article in the NY Times this weekend about how Obama does not play sports with women and it is a frat atmosphere in the White House. Coincidently Democratic strategist, Dee Dee Meyers and her perpetual outrage of all things not-Clinton was its main source.

Hamsher and her ilk hurt the process because they make stuff up (i.e. Obama really supported the trigger and duped us all) and then create a cycle of outrage and pearl clutching that dominates the small sliver of media attention that is already dominated by Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, teabaggers and birthers. Instead of talking about what is in each bill or the strategy (and covering ALL the bases), we hear about the hyperventilating of the poutrage crew, the pushback from their outrage, and then we discover, in passing, the poutrage crew was actually wrong. Wash, rinse and repeat, as Al has eloquently put it.

Are you tired of this cycle on the 50th time around? I sure am. I cannot believe people allow themselves to get caught up in it even after the tenth time. The funny part is when they are proven wrong, they act like nothing ever happened and start the cycle immediately again.

Like yesterday. This weekend was like cycle 51 of the poutrage cycle. We heard that Obama really supports the trigger option and has sold us out because of some unnamed Democratic strategist (it could have been Dee Dee Meyers for all we know). In spite of the White House, Harry Reid is now the progressive patron of the public option. TPM doubled-down on the fail this weekend by pushing this story, even though Obama, Valerie Jarrett and all the people around him kept saying the President prefers the public option. On Monday, Chuck Schumer let it out of the bag that Obama did not think Reid had the votes for the public option. Low and behold, we heard yesterday that Reid might not really have the votes after he stated otherwise.

John Cole took time from making fun of Republicans to point this out while the poutrage crew was quietly dropping the issue. They immediately moved onto attacking Reid and Obama for letting Lieberman caucus with the Democrats, not a word about how they sucked up all the air from the conversation this weekend on false information.

It is just easier to throw spitballs at Obama for not fixing 30 years of reactionary policies and infrastructure in 10 months than to get to work about finding, funding and electioneering for better candidates in 2010 and beyond, doing this all by holding together our large and very fragile coalition.

Really, progressives need to take a page from the conservative grassroots movement over the last 40 years. They took over the school boards, city councils, local seats of office, etc. It does not end with the presidency. After getting Obama elected, we now need to replace a whole lot of senators, representatives, governors, mayors, city council and school board members. Our work is just beginning.

So in a round about way, Hamsher’s harm is that she distracts from the bigger work that the coalition needs to do. It is a lot of wasted energy over a lot of NOTHIN’. Progressives would do themselves a favor if they would ignore her and her ilk. Progressives and their respective bloggers also need to wean themselves off of this useless poutrage cycle.

Do we need to push Obama? Yes, we do. Do we need to criticize him? Yes we do. To make stuff up about what he thinks and his secret motives and then hyperventilate about it is irresponsible and counterproductive.

@ BR

You ask what else you can do besides calling your representatives over and over.

Here's a suggestion: call other people and encourage them to do the same.

You can go to and find or organize a phone bank in your area.  You'll be calling people whose data has been captured by local grassroots activists at public events.

Multiply your force.  Build on the work of others.

@Allan:   I've done some of



I've done some of that as well, but my thought is that most of the people I'm going to reach aren't going to be constituents of the 2 or 3 key obstructionist Democrats.  What I'm trying to figure out is how to put pressure on those few senators.  But I agree with you, it's a good idea generally.


What a magnum opus.  My experience exactly mirrors yours right down to the seminal year being 1992.  Your comments about the DLC/Clinton/BlewDog sickness within Liberal ranks are a perfect summation of the problem.

They developed this ruse to destroy the DemocratIC Party from within, and prevent real Liberal reforms from ever being enacted, with the occasional bones thrown (usually just on social issues) to pacify real Liberals and keep them complacent.

As you say though, even when this is painfully obvious as it is right now when "Democrats" are scuttling even the most tepid reforms Obama is pushing, so many so-called Liberals are firing upon the wrong person.  I share your frustration on this issue since it's been the same debate for so long now.

It doesn't seem many of these supposed Liberals are ever going to change their minds about these simple facts, no matter how much proof they're given, so getting new people engaged politically will be key for sustaining this movement to reclaim the DemocratIC Party from the BigMoney takeover.  Through Organizing we're now squeezing them from up top by getting a community organizer elected President, and now it's up to us to continue applying pressure from the ground up starting at the local levels.

President Barack Hussein Obama, Al Giordano, and others are showing people exactly how to do this successfully, and that's why we need to make sure they are supported enough, so that they can continue to share their invaluable experiential knowledge.  Onward and Upward!

Thanks Al

Aw gee Al.  Your analysis matches my husband's argument last night on the "opt out."  Here I was feeling all black cloud over the "opt out" and you have turned my thoughts sunny again and fooey, now I have to admit my husband was right as well.  Keep up the good work.



I don't want to trash another blog here but I really cannot get over what is going on at TPM. Josh is usually excellent but somehow he is sticking to his guns on this and it was only after Schumer let the cat out of the bag that they started actually making distinctions between strategy and policy preference. I feel like a bunch of blogs have been lobotomized. So sad.

I hang out at Cole's a lot and I could not believe a number of his commenters were actually blaming Obama for it all and taking the 'Obama is not a leader' line. I fought back on that and furtonately most people at BJ are sane and see how these things work. DougJ has a great post there this morning about what HCR is about in terms of the poor and our moral obligation. I think a lot fo the poutrage brigade forget what is involved in actually getting the bill voted and signed. But for them purity is more important.

A question for Al, or anyone who cares to answer it. Booman has a post this morning about how Reid messed it all up by doing this now when he did not have the votes, instead of at the end. I partly agree with him. I was ten times more confident with the Obama strategy of getting the PO at the end in conference committee, because the strategy was a long play and had a lot of momentum building into it. Any ideas from anyone here if this is now totally messed up as Booman says or what?

Thanks again and toodles that was a magnum opus indeed.

The Health Care Ghetto

There's been talk from Rep. Wyden about a health care ghetto, that being a tragically tiny group of only 10% of folks who are even going to be eligible for public option.  Only people without employee insurance, I gather, something like that.

Assuming this is true, I find myself wanting to increase that 10% number.  If it's only to be "eligible" people, people will be trying to get into that group, just like people now in med. marijuana states go to lengths to get a medical marijuana eligibility card, for a host of reasons such as a tendency to having headaches.  If there is to be a health care ghetto, let's make it large as possible- though maybe it's premature to think in these terms.

What comes to mind for me is to actually encourage the insurance company recission practices, and make folks then immediately covered under the public option.  Let the insurance companies then feed all the premiums they've been receiving from us before we were eligible into the public option system.  I bet more than 10% of folks can point to some pre-existing condition, and thence become eligible, and increase this small percentage towards the sensible goal of 100%.  (And make the insurance companies cover everything or nothing, on an individual, so they can't cherry-pick what to treat while keeping our premiums.)  Bet the savings in lack of profit skimming in the public option would more than offset the increased cost of covering sicker people, especially as the percent of eligibility grows.

Just a thought, and not something that could be done very easily, actually, the more I think about it.  To do anything takes lots of talk and convincing.


thank you Al

I am very skeptical of the 'Opt-Out' provision. sounds too much like STATES RIGHTS to me. and those states who would Opt-Out are the usual suspects, and contain the majority of the Black population of the US, and I don't hide that healthcare is personal to me, considering the largest proportion of the uninsured are Black folks. I'm still very skeptical.

Easy on Jane, Al...

Al, I don't disagree with your point about organizing v. blogging.

But I think it's a crushing mistake to claim that Jane Hamsher is just a "whiny blogger".  And I don't think she's still bitter about Clinton losing - I think she's frustrated about 17 years of GOP opposition and corporatist obstruction that has cost trillions of dollars and a million American lives.  She's done a tremendous job of organizing and citizen lobbying. 

And if you have not already seen Slinkerwink's video diary posted on Daily Kos about the opt-out, please do.  And remember that Slinkerwink, like half a million other Americans, is deaf and literally cannot communicate through typical organizing efforts.

I agree with your point about Peter Daou ... and organizing in general.  It's important.  But blogging can make a difference too.

I regularly repeat your "organizing versus activism" line and explain to people that we need to talk with those who disagree with us, and not just with those we agree with.

So, let's talk.  Let's listen.  And let's stop beating up on our teammates.

Lieberman would have

Lieberman would have agitated against progress to give himself more influence and importance regardless. Does anybody else remember the guys at TPM cherry picking polls for their front page showing excellent news!! for hillary!!! Or has that gone down the memory hole? They like page hits too.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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