The big story this morning, aside from Mad Men and Michael Vick, is the death of the public health insurance option. On TV, on newspaper front pages, and on blogs, various stages of the public option’s demise are being reported. The basis for all of this pessimistic reporting? Statements, this weekend, by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the public option is not a deal-breaker.
Ex-sueeze me? That’s the big news? This is one of those questions that come up so often at White House briefings, we can all recite the answer like a well-dressed Rocky Horror audience. “The President strongly supports a public health insurance option, but the main goal is to provide health care reform that results in quality, affordable care for every American.” (throw toast at Gibbs)
The media has stood ready to stick a fork in the public option since this debate began. Off the top of my head, there was this July report that Rahm Emanuel had “caved” on the public option by answering this very question. That story was quickly walked back by the President later that day.
The White House’s strategy seems to have been to “rope-a-dope” on the public option, putting it out there and letting opponents punch themselves out at it. In the end, the White House doesn’t need the Republicans, or many of the Blue Dogs, to push this through. The question is whether or not they realize what’s at stake.
An even bigger question is, why is the media so ready to eulogize the public option? While recent polls have reflected slipping support for health care reform as it is being debated, those same polls either show overwhelming support for the public option, or they simply don’t ask.
There are two obvious answers. First, corporate influence over the mass media that drives news coverage is always a popular go-to bogeyman, and not necessarily in the tinfoil-y, paranoid sense. A media culture that intersects so strongly with a corporate culture is bound to reflect those values disproportionately.
There’s also the voracious nature of the 24-hour, 1440-minute news cycle that grants outsized importance to mundanities and inanities, particularly in the entertainment-starved dog days.
The answer is a combination of the two, abetted by desperate and dishonest opponents of the public option and their squeaky wheels. Look for the White House to spend the day, and the week, pushing back against this.