White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, "despite his legendary personality flaws — his penchant for profane mockery is now so well documented that you sometimes have the sense he’s cursing at you so as not to disappoint — is freakishly well suited to the job."
Funny line, right? But also revealing? Matt Bai is a darn good political reporter. He digs deep and writes well. You want proof? Read his article in today's Times Magazine, describing President Obama's strategy for working with Congress on health-care reform.
As Bai says, "Designing a new health care system ... is a legislative goal that has eluded every Democratic president since Harry Truman and that Obama repeatedly vowed to accomplish during last year’s campaign." So apparently the new team is taking this challenge as seriously as, um, a heart attack. And they have a great new strategy: Show Congress some respect.
The way Bai tells it, Clinton's health-care plan failed, in part, because the policy wonks in the Executive Branch came up with a brilliant, detailed plan, then dropped it off on Capitol Hill with a note that said "Pass me." Seems this bothered the lawmakers, some of whom actually think that making law is their job, not the President's. Comically, this was also Bush Jr.'s strategy for the 2005 Social Security reform -- because if you were looking for a guy who would give any bad idea a second try, provided it were high-handed enough, Bush was your man.
Obama's strategy is a little less ... stupid. He has made it clear that he wants a bill to sign, but is letting Congress put one together. To help make that dream a reality, his administration is heavy with former Congressional aides and other inside players; his staff doles out White House goodies; and the President himself does something that traditionally makes aides tremble -- he meets privately with Congressional leaders. [Here's what trembling looks like among the tough and disciplined: "When I asked Emanuel if he would prefer that the president have someone around while negotiating with individual lawmakers, he smiled tightly. 'I prefer whatever he prefers,' the chief of staff said, sounding uncharacteristically diplomatic.]
Hmm. When you add the factors together -- popular president; new strategy; majority in both houses, not to mention fresh interest from business community and massive pressing urgent need for a health-care system that covers the poor, the unemployed and freelancers -- it looks like we might actually see this happen.