So why do I remain fairly optimistic that a decent healthcare reform bill will pass? Sometimes I wonder myself. But here are three reasons. First, Jon Chait, who thinks getting bipartisan support for a bill was always a chimera:
The ultimate endgame entailed getting all the Democrats to pull together and pass something.
Of course, Democrats didn’t want to do this. They wanted bipartisan support, mainly for political cover. Moderate Democrats won’t do this until it becomes clear that the Republican Party is dead set against reform, completely in hoc to its right-wing base, and not negotiating seriously....In that sense, August moved the ball pretty far down the field.
Second, Carl Hulse of the New York Times, reports that conservative Democrats haven't been too fazed by the August freak show:
Even after the tough town-hall-style meetings, unrelenting Republican assaults and a steady stream of questions from anxious voters, interviews with more than a dozen Blue Dogs and their top aides indicate that many of the lawmakers still believe approval of some form of health care plan is achievable and far preferable to not acting at all.
....The political temperature of the Blue Dogs — and their ideological counterparts in the Senate — after the five-week recess is crucial. As representatives of some of the nation’s most conservative territory represented by Democrats, they potentially have the most to lose if a Democratic bill spurs a backlash....One lawmaker in the group, Representative David Scott of Georgia, said his determination to enact a health care overhaul had been increased over the recess because of what he called the spread of misinformation and other unfair tactics engaged in by the opposition.
And third, there's the fact that conventional wisdom places Dems in a very, very deep hole right now:
Some of the most prominent and respected handicappers can now envision an election in which Democrats suffer double-digit losses in the House — not enough to provide the 40 seats necessary to return the GOP to power but enough to put them within striking distance.
Top political analyst Charlie Cook, in a special August 20 update to subscribers, wrote that “the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and congressional Democrats.”
Now, put all this together and look at it from the Democrats' perspective. Republicans have been given every chance and have obviously decided to obstruct rather then work on a bipartisan compromise. So the Blue Dogs and centrist Dems feel like they're covered on that angle. What's more, the townhalls have shown them what they're up against: if they don't pass a bill — if they cave in to the loons and demonstrate that their convictions were weak all along — they're probably doomed next year. Their only hope is to pass a bill and look like winners who get things done.
When you're up against a wall, you do what you have to do. Politically, Dems have to succeed, and at this point they've all had their noses rubbed in the fact that the only way to succeed is to stick together. What's more, Barack Obama has a pretty good knack for coming in after everyone else has talked themselves out and cutting through the haze to remind people of what's fundamentally at stake. If he can do that again, and if he has the entire Democratic caucus supporting him, they can win this battle.
Nearly every Democrat now has a stake in seeing healthcare reform pass. The devil, of course, is in the word "nearly," but at this point even Ben Nelson probably doesn't want to be the guy to sink a deal if he's literally the 60th vote to get something done. It's usually possible to pass a bill when everyone's incentives are aligned, and right now they're about as aligned as they can be. That's why, on most days, I remain optimistic.
UPDATE: A commenter at James Joyner's site describes Obama's style this way: “He operates like a community organizer: let people have their say, let them wear themselves out, then step in and define the consensus.” At his best, I think that gets it about right.
And when is Obama going to do this? Next Wednesday in an address to a joint session of Congress. Nice symbolism there. I hope it works.