Yesterday Paul Krugman offered one of the best explanations I’ve seen yet for why the Public Option has become such a prominent factor for progressives in the health care debate:

If progressives had real trust in Obama’s commitment to doing the right thing, the administration would have broad leeway to do deals. But the president doesn’t command that kind of trust.

Partly it’s a matter of style — as many people have noted, he has been weirdly reluctant to make the moral case for universal care, weirdly unable to show passion on the issue, weirdly diffident even about the blatant lies from the right. Partly it’s a spillover from his other policies: by appointing an economic team that’s Rubin redux, by taking such a kindly attitude to the banks, he has squandered a lot of progressive enthusiasm.

Add in the dealmaking as part of the health care process itself, and progressives can be forgiven for having the impression that Obama (a) takes them for granted (b) is way too easily rolled by the other side.

So progressives have their backs up over one provision in health care reform that’s easy to monitor. The public option has become not so much a symbol as a signal, a test of whether Obama is really the progressive activists thought they were backing.

And the bizarre thing is that the administration doesn’t seem to get that.

As Krugman notes, the White House seems to be oblivious to the kinds of signals they have repeatedly sent to progressives about whether or not the President will follow through on many of the campaign promises he made in 2007 and 2008.

For the better part of a year now, progressive members– who would rather see a single payer system– have been selling the public option to their constituents as a necessary compromise. Progressives, in exchange for compromising on single payer (and supporting the president’s agenda), were supposed to be able to trust Leadership and the president not to compromise on the public option.

A move away from the public option is a breach of that trust….the White House needs to understand that, or they risk losing the support of the base.

Marisa McNee

Marisa McNee