When policy replaces process

WHEN POLICY REPLACES PROCESS…. Now that health care reform is advancing, the media is starting to do what we expected it to do: telling news consumers what the policy does, instead of how it’s being passed.

Matt Yglesias noticed some movement in this direction yesterday.

[W]atching CNN, we got a little flavor of why having a health reform bill signed into law is going to help improve the political position of reformers. By the late afternoon, it was clear that reform was going to pass. Consequently, the political story was getting a bit boring. And yet, there was important health care news! So CNN did something a bit crazy, and wound up giving a decent amount of camera time to Sanjay Gupta to answer questions about the actual content of the bill rather than the political games around the bill.

The coverage that resulted wasn’t glowing. Indeed, Gupta and David Gergen teamed up to give credence to a GOP talking point about the “doc fix” issue that I would deem both dishonest and nonsensical. That said, coverage of the actual content of the bill is by necessity more favorable to the bill than the hokum that’s dominated the conversation thus far. After all, most of what people have been talking about is either straight-up lies — death panels — or hysterical mewling about the death of freedom and the gulag.

Right. For months, the coverage of this issue was dominated by ridiculous demagoguery. It was followed by excessive scrutiny of legislative procedure, horse-trading, arm-twisting, and vote-counting. Is this the kind of coverage that’s likely to generate public support for the underlying effort? Not so much.

But that’s changing — because it has to. Americans’ interest in self-executing rules was dubious last week, but it’s non-existent now. Reconciliation, cloture votes, motions to recommit — they all lose their salience the moment the process wraps up.

The result is coverage like this and this, which show what health care reform will do for people, instead of how it will get passed.

I predicted in January that coverage like this would likely make reform more popular with the electorate. As we shift the focus from process to policy, I continue to think that’s true.