Last night, I watched an hour-long documentary on the health care battle put together by PBS’s Frontline. (You can watch it online here). As one might expect, the interviews were skewed heavily to the left. While Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch make appearances, the producers don’t use conservatives as outside analysts. Instead, they rely on the likes of Howard Dean, the Center for American Progress’s John Podesta and liberal healthcare journalist Jonathan Cohn. So, there are parts of the documentary that are predictable — like the section on the August townhalls that portrays opponents of the health care bill as an angry mass who channeled their economic frustrations into protesting ObamaCare. There was a lot of emphasis placed on those making Obama/Hitler comparisons, but not so much on substantive criticisms of the bill.
With that said, it was interesting for reviewing the past year and getting a sense of the elite media’s instant historical take on the health care push. And it isn’t as flattering to Obama as one might expect. While there are the expected parts about a charismatic new president fighting long and hard and overcoming setbacks to sign a historic piece of legislation, by in large, it wasn’t triumphalist. Instead, it’s more a story about how the lofty Obama campaign rhetoric gave way to political reality, as he drove to pass a health care bill by any means necessary. While candidate Obama promised an end to cutting deals with special interests, as president, he negotiated a secret pact with PhRMA and reversed his campaign position on the individual mandate to win over the insurance industry. And despite his promises to be a post-partisan president, his signature bill passed strictly along party lines — in the Senate, the “Cornhusker Kickback” was needed to secure the 60th Democratic vote.
The program ends on an uncertain note, reflecting the fact that the political consequences to passing the legislation are not yet known. But overall, the piece demonstrates that the angelic media portrait of Obama has been soiled over the past year, and that’s due in large part to how he pursued health care legislation.
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