The Conversation

A Blogger Stopped the Public Option While the Professional Media Said Nothing

It's often the case that the most talented people are not the most vocal self-promoters and, by contrast, the best self-promoters often have relatively little to show in the way of real accomplishments. That's certainly true when it comes to the story behind the downfall of the public option.

For some of us, Sen. Reid's acknowledgement that the public option was always intended to lead to single payer is about as surprising as the sun setting in the west. The reason this strategy did not succeed is because bloggers on the right, and one blogger in particular who happens to be a good friend, found the proof about what Democrats were really up to shared it with the rest of us. His name is Morgen.

Morgen's first post on the subject was April 27, 2009 at my old blog Verum Serum where he had become a contributor during the 2008 elections. Morgen noted that Rep. Jan Schakowsky had admitted the public option was designed to put insurers out of business. The video clip created a firestorm. By the following Monday, Chuck Schumer was offering a compromise position on the public option. Why? Here's what the NY Times reported:

On Monday, some insurers and Republican lawmakers circulated a video clip of a recent speech by Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois, in which she said insurers were right to fear that a public plan option could “put the private insurance industry out of business.”

Indeed the clip had 90k views in the first week alone (it was eventually pulled by embarrassed progressives, but copies had been made). The video also appeared on Fox where Rep. Schakowsky was forced to walk back her comments.

When Sec. Kathleen Sebeilus appeared before Congress on May 12, 2009 she was confronted with Rep. Schakowsky's comments. Charlie Rangel lept to her defense and Schakowsky lamely continued to offer the party line about "choice and competition." But the damage was done.

Rep. Schakowsky wasn't the only Democrat letting the truth slip out. Over the coming weeks, Morgen kept finding new video making the same point. For instance, Senator Feingold told Democracy Now! that the goal was to create a new system that could become single payer over time. Many more clips followed:

  • This clip connected Obamacare to Jacob Hacker and his statements on the plan.
  • A spokesman for HCAN, the umbrella group pushing the President's plan, saying that the public option is the road to single payer (and that health insurers are the "enemy").
  • Rahm Emmanuel admitting the public option is a means to an end.
  • Ezra Klein admitting the public option is a "sneaky strategy," something he later denied.
  • Paul Krugman saying the public option can "evolve" into single payer.
  • Barney Frank saying the public option is the best way to reach single payer.
  • Eventually there were compilation clips like this one.

Each of these clips was published and then picked up by other blogs (not to mentioned ripped and reposted on You Tube). Fox aired some of the clips and eventually hundreds of thousands of people had seen these statements in one form or another including, critically, people on Capitol Hill.

By September of 2009, Senator Grassley was reading excerpts from three of these clips on the Senate floor during a Senate Finance Committee markup of the bill. And Senator Cornyn was quoting from another one. All of these found and highlighted by Morgen.

And then a couple week later Joe Lieberman turned against the public option. Why? Because he said the public option was the "camel's nose under the tent" for single payer. Lieberman expanded on this a few weeks later saying he had asked Democrats and they had admitted single-payer was the goal and the public option was a means to that end. I don't know for a fact what prompted Lieberman to ask these questions but I think I have a pretty good idea.

There was predictable outrage on the left over Lieberman's stance against it, but the final compromise bill left out the public option. It was dead.

Once the battle was over Nate Silver argued that it never had a chance because key Senators expressed opposition early on. But Silver failed to note that opposition from key Senators came after Morgen published that Jan Schakowsky video--the one the NY Times said was widely disseminated on Capitol Hill, the one that led Chuck Schumer to offer a compromise the following week. Months later Senator Grassley more or less confirmed the video changed the game for Democrats. From that point on they were fighting an uphill battle.

The major media published a flood of stories on the battle over health care in 2009, but despite the video clips, it was considered something akin to a conspiracy theory to suggest there was any ulterior motive in what Democrats were doing. Indeed when Sen. Lieberman turned on the public option he jokingly refered to himself as a "conspiracy theorist" for doing so.

It wasn't a conspiracy theory obviously, as Sen. Reid's statement demonstrates once and for all. The idea that there was a "government takeover" of healthcare was dubbed the "lie of the year" by Politifact but we came within inches of exactly that. Democrats knew it, Republicans knew it, many conservative bloggers knew it but most of America still doesn't know about the fast one Democrats tried to pull. They almost got a path to single payer without ever having to admit that was the plan.

If you were to single out the worst major media coverage of an important story during the Obama years there would be plenty to choose from. The Gosnell case comes to mind as do a few others. But I think the media's coverage of the public option and the attempt by Democrats and the President to push single-payer on the nation under the guise of "choice and competition" is probably the worst.

Fortunately, the public option did fail. But that didn't just happen. Senator Reid and President Obama would very likely have gotten their way if not for the efforts of one blogger (whose work was picked up by many, many others). Yet, incredibly, Morgen has never been asked to keynote a conservative conference or tell the story on a major radio show. I guess at a certain point an idea can become so pervasive that no one on either side remembers where it came from. But in this case I remember it well.


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