Health care, and the return of the media's bipartisan trap

Beltway pundits are definitely not happy that Democrats seem to be leaning (slightly) left on health care reform. Reading and listening to the WashPost's Dana Milbank, ABC's The Note, and Time's Mark Halperin today, all three highlight the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday embraced the push for a public option of sorts (encouraged by liberal activists and politicians), and all three are deeply, deeply troubled by the development.

The faux hand-wringing goes back to the bipartisan trap the press set for the Democratic administration last winter. The ground rules were simple: In order to achieve all-mighty bipartisanship, which Village dwellers worship more than anything (unless there's a Republican in the White House), Obama had to secure Republican votes. Conversely, in order to achieve all-might bipartisanship, Republicans didn't have to do anything. In fact they could uniformly oppose White House initiatives and the press would still blame Obama for not building bipartisan consensus.

Now fast-forward to today's health care debate, and specifically the Democrats apparent decision to try to pass landmark legislation without the help of Republican senators. Voilà! The bi-partisan trap is back.

Matt Gertz already detailed the problems with Milbank's health care column in the Post. And on MSNBC this morning, Time's Mark Halperin spoke for many D.C. elites when he said Democrats, “made a mistake not making it bipartisan."

And from The Note [emphasis added]:

Nearly a year after the American people voted to kill it, partisanship not only still lives -- it thrives, and it may never have been healthier than at this moment.

The White House hesitancy to go this route on health care had everything to do with the desire to keep Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, on board. Now that she's gone, this becomes a purely partisan exercise: Every one of those 60 votes in the Senate will have to be Democratic votes, and you can pretty much forget about 61 or 62.

The Note makes it quite clear who is not to blame for the lack of bipartisan cooperation--Republicans, even though yes, it's possible every one of them might vote against health care reform. Only in the Bizarro World of Beltway media could the Republican's uniform refusal to cross party isles be seen as a Democratic failure in terms of achieving bipartisanship.

In fact, The Note announces the Republican's decision to remain purely partisan represents a strategic victory for them:

And, if GOP calculations are even close to correct, and Democrats will fully own something the public doesn't really want, this is a major win for the right as well.

To recap, the Beltway press corps claims bipartisanship is the key to life happiness. But when Republicans refuse to engage in any bipartisanship cooperation, it's not their fault. Instead, the onus on achieving bipartisanship (i.e. two parties working together) rests entirely with Democrats.

And specifically today, the Village claims it's liberals who are to blame for flaming partisan wars on health care. Apparently liberals should have dropped their push for a public option because it ran counter to Republican beliefs.

Good to know.

BTW, public support for public option is now hitting a new high. But don't tell Milbank, Halperin or The Note.