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One practical lesson that I believe operational experience teaches people is that you always need a lot more margin for error in any plan than you would rationally believe. In this light, Obama’s decision to push for a health care reform plan that could be threatened by losing one seat in the senate is what is troubling. You couldn’t predict this specific event, but it was always safe to assume that something would go wrong as the legislative process dragged on. It is my theory that his lack of executive experience is showing here, just as it did on cap-and-trade.
Now, it’s possible that there was no realistic alternative available as he was setting out on this a year ago – in effect, he had to go for broke, because there was no 80-vote alternative that he considered to be in any way worthwhile, and all we’re seeing now is that the coin came up tails for him on a bet that was smart at the time. Or, as I said, it might be that he has some way to pull a rabbit out of the hat now. Events will show us whether or not that is true. But barring these alternatives, it seems to me that Ross Douthat offers good advice: basically, take half a loaf and get on with things.
I’m inclined to blame Rahm Emanuel, who ought to have given the president better advice. At least some on the left seem to agree. Suddenly Rahm doesn’t seem quite so intimidating.