The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands
bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method
and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above
all, try something.
That was President Frankin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, and his last injunction, “but above all, try something,” seems to have reached Washington D.C. almost 80 years after it was first uttered. On Monday the White House released a healthcare reform plan, and both President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have signaled their willingness to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills through–you guessed it–reconciliation.
That movement toward a majority vote on healthcare reform didn’t happen by accident, nor can the re-introduction of the public option be attributed purely to the subtle and inscrutable shifts of power within our nation’s capitol. I happen to think that Nancy Scola, on Techpresident, has it right:
The targeted, sophisticated grassroots drive now unfolding to provide political cover to the nearly two dozen Senate Democrats who signed the so-called Bennet letter, calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to include the public option in the great debate over health care reconciliation, is shaping up to be a something of a case study in how the “netroots” might force change by tweaking the legislative process as it functions today. The trick? To push Democrats out in favor of a progressive priority, and then make the experience a pleasant one for the senator or representative. Reward what is, in the eyes of the movement, good behavior, and create an environment where progressive political risk doesn’t necessarily trigger in politicians a negative response.
Or, to return to FDR:
I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.
A few weeks ago, I blogged about Larry Lessig’s idea of an economy of influence in Washington D.C. What Nancy underscores in her post is the beginning of an important and very welcome revision to that dynamic:
- The Old Way: Lobbyists place phone calls to legislators, tantalizing them with the prospect of special interest money for future elections and, perhaps, a career as a lobbyist should the election go against them. The price of that deal? Servicing the policy needs of a given special interest.
- The New Way: Americans advocating for the public option (a policy they support) where everyone can see it, in real time. As for the price, well, it’s hard to imagine that giving the American people the same voice in Washington that special interests already have is much of a burden.
Underlying our work at ActBlue is the belief that if you give Americans a means to speak to power, they will. In two days, 7,500 Americans have doled out almost $150,000 to support the public option. Last summer, another drive supporting the public option raised $400,000 in a week. In the midst of the worst recession since FDR urged Washington to “try something,” those accomplishments aren’t just news, they’re a testament to the faith that Americans have in our democracy.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama said:
We face a deficit of trust–deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.
In light of that statement, the early release of the White House healthcare plan and the televised summit with the GOP on Thursday confirm the basic intuition we have about our system of government: if we speak, we ought to be heard. And if we speak the language of Washington ($), we will be.