Now that health care reform is law rather than contested legislation, the tone of mainstream media coverage is likely to shift. The depressing tendency of the press to favor the status quo is suddenly working for us rather than against us.
For example, David Espo’s AP story this morning starts:
Summoned to success by President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled Congress approved historic legislation Sunday night extending health care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and cracking down on insurance company abuses, a climactic chapter in the century-long quest for near universal coverage.
“Extending health care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and cracking down on insurance company abuses” isn’t a bad summary of the new law, but no reporter would have described it that way while it was still pending, at least without adding that according to Republicans it would bring on a new epidemic of bubonic plague. Last night was indeed “a climactic chapter in the century-long quest for near-universal coverage,” but it wouldn’t have been “objective” to say so.
Update Mark Halperin, who personifies the love of journalists for the team that currently seems to be winning, is even better:
In the 7½ months between now and November’s midterm elections, millions of Americans will be whipped into a frenzy over the purported evils in the Democrats’ health care bill, egged on by Fox News chatter, Rush Limbaugh’s daily sermons, threats of state legislative and judicial action and the solemn pledge of Republicans in Washington to make the fall election a referendum on Obamacare. But in doing so, they may be playing right into the Democrats’ hands.
President Obama gave a strong closing argument in the fortnight leading up to the dramatic March 21 floor votes, delivering speeches in the key states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia and achieving levels of “fired up and ready to go” not seen since his presidential campaign. Such passionate pleas stiffened the spines of his party brethren, who have been anticipating and dreading months of over-the-top rhetoric about the ruinous consequences of a Democrats-only effort to bring the U.S. into the community of nations that make health care available to all of their citizens. Indeed, not every Democratic member of Congress has embraced the White House theme that doing the right thing for the nation is more important than preserving individual seats in the Capitol. But enough hearts and minds were changed to allow the Obama-Pelosi tag team to get its majority at long last.
The President … may be indifferent to the acrid fussing of his Republican foes. He will be able to bask once again in the glow of positive press coverage (accented by a momentous signing ceremony), which will focus on four areas helpful to the Democrats’ prospects in November: the masterful display of White House patience and competence that got the job done; the elements of the legislation that are in fact consistently popular with large numbers of Americans, such as its insurance-company crackdowns; the return of the meme that Republicans are the party of No; and the accompanying rising poll numbers for the Administration and the new law.
In their comments in the House debate on March 21, Republicans often sounded shrill and angry, sometimes hysterical. This is a real danger for a party that since the 2008 Obama-McCain contest has aimed to appeal to die-hard conservatives at the expense of a broader-based constituency. The illusory belief that a majority can be built from a finite core of animated and agitated souls is what kept Democrats out of the White House for most of the 1970s and ’80s, and Republicans are in danger of duplicating that error.
The coverage through November likely will highlight the most extreme attacks on the President and his law and spotlight stories of real Americans whose lives have been improved by access to health care (pushed, no doubt, by Democrats from every competitive congressional district and state). The louder Republicans yell, the more they will be characterized and caricatured as sore losers infuriated by the first major delivery of candidate Obama’s promise of “change.”
Large segments of the American business community are going to present a formidable ally for Obamacare, either with outspoken support or notable silence.
The President and his allies will argue mightily in the coming days that the great war over health care has ended. Republicans certainly will make the case that the crusade has just begun. In this semantic skirmish, the White House, bolstered by the momentum of victory and allies old and new, is girded for combat.
The desire to be with the winner is not a very admirable trait, but it is extremely common and powerful, not less among the masses than among the media elite. While it seemed that Obama was losing power, his enemies were emboldened and his friends cowed. Now that engine is working in reverse.