It seems fair to conclude that Sam Stein's narrative of how the health insurance reform was passed is the story as Washington Democratic insiders, including the President, would like it remembered.
The article goes on to retell how administration campaigners started with an "inevitability" narrative (much like what failed Hilary Clinton in 2008), bought off much of the opposition (literally in the case of the pharmaceutical industry among others), tamped down health advocates with a more ambitious agenda than simply getting a win at any price, and fell back on the President's command of policy and persuasion when the going got tough.
On the one hand, it's a great story of good campaigning -- if you are a campaign manager. When I advise campaigns -- I've more than once been called in when inexperienced leaders feared they were losing -- I insist they assemble the best information they can find, map the best path to a win they can imagine achieving, and then commit to stay on the plan regardless of what emergencies and distractions may turn up. They need to continue to recognize unforeseen opportunities, but should that happen, any new activities have to fit with the plan. This is enormously hard to do in the heat of battle. The Obama team did it in 2008; they did it in again, just barely, in passing health insurance reform.
But while we can applaud that, we also have to understand that this mode of operation is inherently anti-democratic (small "d"). Aroused people and interested groups are anarchic from the perspective of campaign management. They want to blow you off your planned trajectory. They refuse to allow you to define winning. Stein reports that at one point, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO told White House staffers:
He had a right. Labor had thrown down for Obama in 2008 but was forced to allow its members' health plans to be taxed to make a Budget Director happy.
And therein lies the danger of running an administration like a campaign. Lots of hurts go away if your candidate pulls off a victory on Election Day. But a policy win on a much-compromised policy doesn't quickly salve the wounds you've inflicted on friends (and enemies) while getting to victory. Stein explains:
We're seeing the result in the intensity gap among Democrats in the run up to the midterm elections. The administration governs top down on an anti-democratic campaign model. They deliver a sliver of a loaf -- and lots of ordinarily Democratic supporters remain unconvinced that they are getting anything at all. This is probably somewhat unfair; out of the spotlight, the administration is delivering a restored quality of government.
But the disciplined, tightly controlled, insider model of progress on which they are operating misses the temper of the moment. We don't want cool management; we want our passions recognized and at least partially validated. Having ceded policy passions (and prejudices) to their opponents, they are in danger of getting badly burned by popular heat.