Health Care Is a Done Deal if You Read Between the Lines

Sep 8, 09 | 8:52 AM   byMichael Wolff
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John Podesta, a ranking figure in the Democratic Party who ran the Obama transition team, has been making ominous remarks about the president’s prospects:

“It goes without saying that a lot is riding now on his ability to re-energize the health care debate and bring it home to a successful conclusion,'' Podesta told the New York Times’ White House reporter, Peter Baker. And: “'Nothing will influence the perception of the presidency more than whether he can be successful in getting a health care bill through the Congress.'”

So he could be toast? Like that?

If we assume that Podesta doesn’t just run at the mouth, that every word he speaks, especially to the New York Times, is a professional and calculated one, and that he represents certain powers that be in the Democratic Party, are those powers writing off the president? If he doesn’t get his heath care bill, he’s failed?

Rather more likely, if the Democrats expected failure they would hardly be setting themselves up to drive off the cliff—they'd be backpedaling. But it makes sense to define the stakes as make or break, if you know you can’t lose. You’re getting set for a sweat-drenched victory walk—you will have defied mighty odds. All this stuff about the crumbling administration is just setting the stage for an ever-more confident resurgent administration. They’ve gone through the fire and are now burnished steel.

Of course, this being politics, it could be that John Podesta’s relationship with the White House is not so good—he did not, after all, get a job in the administration after leading the transition team—but that his relationship with Peter Baker and the New York Times is rock solid (Baker quotes Podesta often). A bit of bitchiness in a quote tweaks your foes and keeps the press happy.

Or it could be that Podesta, a longtime Clinton loyalist, is speaking for the Clinton or the Clintons’ wing of the party. Tired of being upstaged by Obama, the Clintons know, better than anybody, that a health care defeat will bring him down to size. Podesta, on their behalf, is already smacking his lips.

But politics tend to be simple, rather than complicated. It’s usually just the opposite of what they say: If they sound like they’re anticipating failure, it means they’re sure of success.

It is unlikely that the president would be addressing the nation about health care tomorrow if defeat were likely—or even possible. Indeed, the orchestration of this legislation into a crescendo—into this “key week” in the Wall Street Journal’s description—means that somebody’s pretty sure there’s going to be a sweet pay-off. (The Journal story has “key” senators in this “key” week moving toward a bipartisan deal.)

So relax. It’s in the bag.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter:

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