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Obama: Let Me Make Myself Clear

President Obama’s approach to health-care reform so far hasn’t worked out according to plan. His hope was that after outlining his broad goals, Congress would work together to diligently hammer out the details on its own, then he would sign the bill before enjoying a ticker-tape parade and the admiration of tens or hundreds of millions of Americans whose lives he improved. More or less. But Congress is divided along multiple fronts, most Americans haven’t the foggiest idea of what’s going on, and Obama’s approval rating has dropped to the level of mere mortals. So now, as Congress prepares to get back to work, Obama is planning a more aggressive, hands-on approach, which he’ll kick off with a big speech clarifying the specific things he wants to see from health-care reform. The public option won’t necessarily be one of those things — which, though not a new development, could be a major issue anyway. So can Obama’s new strategy get things back on track?

• Chuck Todd and friends write that the White House’s flexibility on the public option is nothing new, but it nevertheless “is likely to enrage the left.” But is “the left really going to walk from any health-care legislation that … doesn’t contain a public option?” [First Read/MSNBC]

• Greg Sargent wonders why some in the Obama administration supposedly “welcome a showdown with liberal lawmakers if they argue they would rather have no health care law than an incremental one.” How about staring down the still-unpopular GOP instead? Of course, it’s “hard to tell whether this really represents West Wing thinking or whether it’s just Politico writing the story they want to write.” [Plum Line/Who Runs Gov]

• Ezra Klein says Obama has purposely held off from truly shaping the health-care debate until the right moment, though he may have already lost his chance. “Objectively, the fact that he hasn’t given a speech on health-care reform or defined his own bill or begun to really pressure the Congress means, in practice, that he has a lot left in his toolbox. What’s not clear is whether he has the political capital left to use them effectively, or whether the last few months saw him robbed of something he hadn’t even had a chance to use.” [Ezra Klein/WP]

• George Stephanopoulos lists “five key sets of questions” that the White House will have to confront, including how to give the public option a “death with dignity.” [George’s Bottom Line/ABC News]

• Marc Ambinder reports that Obama’s “goal is to give his side — Democrats — a true presidential plan that they can sell. That includes the rebranding of several consensus initiatives, like the insurance reforms, as his own. The effect of this sales job, if it works, will be to associate the president with parts of the reform bills that are almost certainly likely to pass — assuming the Senate doesn’t bog down.” [Atlantic]

• Mary Katherine Ham sums up the Obama strategy thusly: “Stand back, look cool, don’t get too involved, wait for things to shake out, adopt eventual consensus as his own idea, claim victory. Yeah, nobody saw this coming, unless of course they had paid attention to his entire career.” [Plum Line/Who Runs Gov]

• John Dickerson sees evidence in America’s confusion over health-care reform that “even an improved message or greater presidential involvement or backing specific proposals will be only so effective.” Things will be easier “once a final bill emerges from Congress and the president can defend a single piece of legislation,” but “Obama’s power of persuasion may just have definite limits.” Eventually he’ll have to decide whether to “continue working to educate people to build a political consensus, or … take whatever deal is available now and focus his energy on selling that deal to the public.” [Slate]

• Dan Balz thinks that after August eroded Obama’s “standing with the public,” rhetoric alone won’t be very effective. “Progress and success are what he needs, even if in small doses.” But his task looks “as difficult today as it did when Congress left [for its recess], if not more difficult.” [WP]

• Rich Lowry isn’t sure why getting more involved is “supposed to help, but it’s what the CW says he should do.” [Corner/National Review]

• Rick Klein points out one problem: “It’s not like the president hasn’t been talking about health care already, and extensively.” [Note/ABC News]

• Alex Koppelman agrees that “Obama has laid out his policy goals before, and on many occasions, no less. In order to really get a boost from this, he may have to say something truly new, at least phrase it in a new way or offer a new strategy — sending specifics to Congress for inclusion in final legislation, for instance, might be one way to accomplish that.” [War Room/Salon]

Obama: Let Me Make Myself Clear