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As a follow-up on Nate’s fine work (here and here) on polling about the “public option” in health care reform, it’s worth emphasizing that the two most credible surveyors of public opinion on this subject, the Kaiser Family Foundation and CBS/New York Times, have both found that at least half of self-identified Republicans favor a well-described public option.

So the question must be asked: if Barack Obama wants to conduct a bipartisan approach to universal health care, what does that mean in terms of the public option? Killing or watering down the public option in order to (maybe) attract the support of Sen. Chuck Grassley, and not much of anybody else in the congressional Republican ranks? Or maintaining it to appeal to rank-and-file Republicans, who favor it despite the views of their “leaders” and the polarized atmosphere in Washington?

I ask this question because I’ve felt all along that President Obama’s concept of bipartisanship is focused on appealing to rank-and-file Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, not to congressional Republicans. This approach, moreover, forces congressional Republicans to choose between cooperating or, more likely, increasing their polarization efforts in order to hang onto their rank-and-file base, which also tends to increase their isolation from the swing voters they may actually need in the future.

I understand that Obama and congressional Democrats may need cooperation from Grassley or a few others for short-term tactical reasons in the Senate. But ultimately, “bipartisanship” on health care may actually mean looking past congressional Republicans and pitting them against their own supporters across the country, particularly on the public option.

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