"It's having a long-term strategy and working backwards from that," explained Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer during an interview in his West Wing office.
Success would be premised on building blocks. Moving the health care bill through the complicated committee process would be the equivalent of winning the Iowa caucus (necessary, as both were, for at least keeping Obama's prospects alive). Persuading lawmakers to back the bill throughout 2009 would be like the delicate chase for superdelegates in 2008. The final vote, in turn, was Election Day.
The tactics, likewise, were similar. There were core messages designed to appeal to moderates and activists alike (deficit reduction and expanded coverage). There was a clear invocation of this historical nature of the effort. And when presented with a numerical value for success -- in this case, 60 votes in the Senate -- the president and his team relied more on calculated maneuvering than big sells. Instead of pushing the entire caucus behind health care reform, they worked with individual members based on their relevancy to the process. It was the difference between trying to win every primary election and prioritizing states with strategic delegate yield.
More than any other mindset borrowed from the campaign, however, was the sense that politics is a sport of transactions. Handed a political landscape of broad competing interests, the best way to navigate is to offer a broad but concrete goal and jump hurdles. The only thing not to be compromised is success itself, in part because failure would prove so crippling.
"First and foremost, passing health care defined the ability of us as a country to govern ourselves," said Neera Tanden, a domestic policy adviser for the White House throughout most of the health care battle. "People forgot that when we face an imminent disaster this country actually could act." (Sam Stein, Huffington Post, May 13, 2010... firstname.lastname@example.org)
Earlier today, (May 13/2010) I listened to one caller to NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook. The caller, a Republican, nevertheless rebuked his own party for claiming the ideological approach starting with Reagan, "and it doesn't work," and "I think the Obama administration is doing a magnificient job of creating policy that works in domestic, national security and foreign policy areas."
Perhaps the "long-term goals" outlined in Stein's article, taken to win the presidential campaign in 2008, will actually convince more Republicans and Independents in November 2010, to vote for Democratic candidates. There already is a gigantic struggle between short-term instant gratification of a thoughtless electorate, and a long-term strategic vision for the country. With Wall Street and most businesses focussing on the short term, it is a sizeable mountain for the administration to climb.
But climb it, with a little help from writers like Stein and that Republican listener to On Point who made more sense than most vocal members of his party in the last several months, they must!