I understand that there’s always a strong desire for folks at the White House to never hear public criticism from allied groups or Democratic politicians, but this assault on AFSCME’s president Gerry McEntee by an anonymous White House official is really absurd. There are going to be many fights, health care is just one of them. But it is one that the White House has waged with the benefit of surrogates and allies like McEntee and his union members’ dues fighting in the field. AFSCME is one of the coalition partners of Healthcare for American Now (HCAN), the leading Democratic/progressive field campaign that has been working in support of reform (disclosure: my employer, SEIU, is a member of HCAN). That is, McEntee’s union is one of many that has been helping create the political environment necessary to allow for a strong reform bill to land on President Obama’s desk.
McEntee is one of the labor leaders who has been pushing most publicly back against the administration for not fighting harder for the public health insurance option and other key reforms Obama promised his health care agenda would contain while on the campaign trail. Gunning at him through anonymous quotes isn’t just petty, it’s stupid. It makes it harder for AFSCME to be an effective advocate for change on health care and it makes it less likely that AFSCME or any other progressive organization will want to be the tip of the spear for the administration’s agenda again. After all, no one is going to appreciate being attacked as McEntee was by an anonymous White House official.
David Waldman points out that there is a real imbalance here between the pressure the White House will publicly put on allies like McEntee and the complete lack of pressure being placed on Democratic senators who are actually holding up key parts of the reform package.
“Allies” don’t pass this thing. Senators do. Keeping “allies” in line is about keeping up appearances. Keeping Senators in line is about getting results.
Now, you could certainly argue that you use the soft touch with Senators, since they’re a prickly bunch. But what does a hard line with “allies” get you, really? What’s “unity” worth, exactly? What’s it good for?
You’ll get unity if you pass decent reform and are seen fighting for it. You’ll need unity if you plan to shush critics, pass a piece of crap and call it a win.
This is not a sustainable model for governance. The Obama administration is at risk of burning out their allies, while showing Democratic Senators that they have little to fear for being obstructionist and forcing reform to the right. Hopefully they realize this is the case and will cut this frustratingly short-sighted behavior out soon.