March 11, 2010

Health Care - Is It Just Political Theater At This Point?

Overconfidence has been the cause of many a surprising defeat. It seems more and more like it could be what ultimately killed the Democrats' current effort at health care reform. If that's the case, if it's really just that the patient's time of death has yet to be declared, then why the continued charade? Well, every good drama has villains, and heroes. It has suspense, perhaps some cliffhangers and a build up to a climactic ending. The health care saga is no different from political theater at this point - trying to get a certain segment of the population to suspend it's disbelief, if only until the November mid-term elections.

The target audience in this case is the progressive liberal crowd. The purpose of the political theater is to stretch out the death of the various incarnations of health care reform, in order to make it seem that the 'heroes' did absolutely everything they could to create a happy ending for the audience. The happiest ending would be single payer (government run) health care. A bittersweet happy ending would be a government option. That would leave room for a sequel down the road. Like Rocky 2. And an unhappy ending would be no liberal reform whatsoever.

Clearly the program guide would have the following;
  • Democrats as the intrepid heroes
  • Republicans as the nefarious villains
  • Tea Partiers as the angry, unruly mob
The cliff hangers would be the Congressional and Senate passages of the competing bills, and the latest cliffhanger, the one they are stretching out for all they are worth, is reconciliation of the two bills. But if a cliffhanger stretches out to long it starts too look unbelievable.

And as it turns out, most of the total audience, the American public, has long since turned the channel to watch that other drama unfold - "It's the economy stupid." starring virtually everyone. Those who have hung around have done so out of either hope (those progressive viewers) or out of a desire to ensure that the ending doesn't follow the script laid out by the producers (the creative team known as Obama-Pelosi-Reid).

I mentioned overconfidence. I think the Democrats all along felt that they could fabricate a story line that could thread the needle for progressives and moderates alike. They wanted to appear that they were listening to both sides, and that the only real villains, the Republicans were the ones off base on the pulse of the story. They wanted the story to look like they were trying to be inclusive but that the villains were just to villainous and that Democrats were the only real object of thoughtful deliberation. They likely wanted to appear that they had indeed been deliberative so they dragged the narrative out a bit Pass one bill in Congress. Pass another in the Senate. Take longer than the President's artificial deadlines but still get it done, and narrowly. Take some lumps along the way, because of kickbacks and bribes and allow the President's version to come along and be the squeaky clean superhero version that rights the wrongs that were done along the way by Democrats who wanted to do the right thing by the wrong means. There's a lesson to be learned along the way - you have to be as clean as our President to get things done. You have to be true and brave and free and yecchhhhh!!!! It's an After School Special on ABC. Hokey and contrived.

It's a good thing their narrative got spoiled by Scott Brown in Massachusetts of all places. That hubris, of dragging out the script because they had the majority they needed, cost them their happy ending. The villainous party of 'no' turned out to be who the audience was cheering for. It's like the audience cheering for Wile E. Coyote instead of the Roadrunner. Except that in this case the Coyote isn't getting sympathy support because of hunger, it's because the audience knows he's the good guy.

So if the ending has been spoiled - and there's plenty of evidence that it's certainly possible - why are the Democrats continuing with the drama? Because they want a sequel. Even if this health care attempt is dead, and they know it, they want a sequel. Except the sequel isn't health care - it's just more Democrat victories. They want the far left base to think they tried right up until the bill really was dead. They want the base to get angry and turn out for the mid-terms like the Tea Partiers and town hall protesters against the bill did. Then they want to extend the suspension of disbelief of viewers, in an attempt to win them back in some way, any way. To do that they have got to hold the attention of those who changed the channel or are thinking of doing so. They may not have an answer for that, but if they lose the viewers, getting them to turn back half way through another unfolding drama is nigh on impossible.  But they need to try.

Thre's only thing that scares me though. That narrow passage in of the bill Congress that Pelosi pulled off. What if that narrowness was part of the original script and as Nancy Pelosi claims, she does have the votes to pass the bill in Congress right now? What if she had another 20 to 30 votes in reserve that she let off the hook last go around? If that's the case she could call those votes in this time. That would be the surprise ending equivalent of Keyser Soze walking out of that police station and disappearing.

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