Keep the public option

Democrats have a mandate to deliver effective reform. Healthcare was second only to the Iraq war as a top issue for Democrats in both 2006 and 2008, and voters delivered historic congressional majorities and a landslide presidential election as a result. Party activists donated money to Democratic candidates, knocked on doors, made phone calls and did the hard work that gets candidates elected. Millions more set cynicism aside to turn out and vote, expecting “change they could believe in.” If, despite massive Democratic advantages, all that hard work ends up being for naught, cynicism will understandably regain the upper hand. Democrats will have to answer a simple question: Do regular Americans call the shots in D.C., or are corporate lobbyists still ascendant?

The public option is good policy. Americans are concerned with healthcare costs and have little faith in the private health insurers who annually jack up premiums by double digits. In a market economy, competition can be the best check on costs, yet insurers operate in a near-monopoly environment in most of the country. The current system, operating with little oversight and little recourse outside of costly litigation, is driven by a perverse profit motive that leads insurers to systematically deny sick policyholders coverage. A system more concerned with healthy Americans than profitable ones is imperative.

The public option is good politics. Despite the August campaign of fear, lies and disruption, the public option remains extremely popular. A recent CNN poll had 55 percent favoring, 41 opposing. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll had it at 59-38. A Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos last week clocked in at 58-34. SurveyUSA had it at 77-22. While the exact wording of the poll questions affects intensity of support (dropping the word “choice” from the question increases opposition dramatically), the numbers are clear. And it isn’t just Democrats. The public option is popular among independents, and even a quarter of Republicans consistently support it — more “bipartisanship” than you’ll ever see in Washington. In our own poll, independents indicated by a nearly 2-to-1 margin (32-17) that they’d be less likely to oppose a candidate who opposed the public option.

Democrats are ready to punish opponents of reform at even higher margins — 58-8.

That would explain the Democrats’ fading support. In the Daily Kos/Research 2000 weekly polling, the party’s favorable rating among Democrats dropped from 84 percent on June 4 to 67 percent last week, and independents have dropped from 48 percent favorable to 36. But here’s the thing — Republicans aren’t picking up that support. Only 11 percent of independents have a favorable view of the GOP, same as June 4. On the other hand, the Republican Party is bringing its base home — from 61 to 73 percent favorables among self-identified Republicans.

If Democrats abandon the public option, they risk a demoralized, cynical base, one unwilling to do the work to get Democrats elected and which will stay home on Election Day. Republicans, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly active and engaged. Shades of 2006 and 2008 in reverse?

If Democrats can’t deliver on good policy with strong popular support and dominant congressional majorities, then they’re too incompetent to be in power.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos.