The healthcare reform thing was one of Obama's rare *major* missteps (he makes minor ones, but not too often big ones), and an uncharacteristic one. Usually, he is a model of patience: indeed, the past two years have demonstrated that he has an unusually good sense of *timing*, and an understanding of how important that is in politics. Pressing the "We Must Pass Reform Before August" thing was a serious goof in this respect: while I understand his motives (in particular, the difficulty of building and maintaining momentum), he handed the Republicans probably their best counter-argument -- that this is the most serious piece of legislation in a decade (maybe in 50 years), and it is important to take a little time and get it right. So they won that skirmish, delayed things to the break, and made him look a little weak.
And for a couple of weeks at the beginning of August, it was looking like the tide was turning: that there was massive public outrage over the issue, and that it would fail. For a moment, it seemed as if the Republicans were clearly going to win. But for the past two weeks, I've been observing what looks like Obama performing a really elegant political judo-flip on them. It's instructive to examine more closely.
The problem is, the Republicans wildly overplayed their hand. Their case wasn't a *terrible* one to begin with: while I may have ripped into their arguments yesterday, they did have some legitimate arguments to make. But they took those arguments and larded them with utter nonsense, so their real case was drowned out by a mix of wild exaggerations and outright lies about the contents of the proposals. They weren't going for reasoned argument, they were going for people screaming and crying on TV.
And the thing is, that played *right* to Obama's strengths. He faded back and let them have their way for a week. For about a full news cycle, they completely won the airwaves. And then the flip started. The *next* news cycle was the retrospective on the previous one, as the commentators began saying, "Wait a second -- that's not true." The news loves nothing more than to analyze itself to death, and given enough time, they'll happily navel-gaze. So Obama let that process begin naturally, and then started in with an honest and folksy, "Oh, come *on* -- this is nonsense". Now, the momentum is shifting back his way -- still a bit of an uphill fight, but going in the right direction.
The whole story mostly underscores the way that the Republican Party is turning into a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Fox News talk-show hosts -- exemplified by no one better than Sarah Palin, who is proving herself to be essentially a talk-show host in politician's guise. (Palin's "death panels" thing was the nadir of the current mess, and is exactly a talk-show move: provocative, emotional, and ultimately at right angles to reality.)
I do wonder how many of the Republicans realize how dangerous this particular move is. It's great for the base, of course, but likely to just feed the marginalization of the party in the long run. They're getting so focused on winning the news cycle that they're forgetting how *short* that cycle is. You can score points that way, but most important political battles play out over multiple cycles. So getting into the habit of winning the first news cycle and losing the next is a really good way to not only marginalize yourselves, but ultimately make yourselves just look silly to the less-partisan center...