Olbermann saves the public option?

The MSNBC host admits he didn't invent the term "Medicare for Everybody," but he doesn't mind if you think he did


Mike Madden
October 23, 2009 3:23AM (UTC)

If the public option makes it into healthcare reform legislation, Keith Olbermann has an idea of who might deserve some of the credit.

"Democrats in one chamber of Congress, at least, finally catching on to the selling point that Medicare is a public option -- now looking to rebrand the public option as 'Medicare for Everybody,'" he said on Wednesday night's "Countdown" on MSNBC. Reporting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had started calling the public option just that, Olbermann couldn't help reminding viewers where they had heard the phrase before.

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"It certainly didn't originate here, but someone on this newshour having advocated for Medicare for everybody two weeks ago tonight," Olbermann said. Then he introduced a video clip from his hour-long editorial on healthcare reform earlier this month. Then, he had said:

The public option is, in broad essence, Medicare for everybody. Frame it that way, sell it that way, and suddenly, it doesn`t sound like a threat, turning this seemingly solid insurance which people have now for better or worse into something optional, and turning anything private into everything public... Medicare for everybody might not be literally true, but instead of terrifying, it would be reassuring and the explanations and the caveats would be listened to and not shouted down as anger and fear.

Later on Wednesday night's show, Olbermann's guests, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., and Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson, credited the host with the shift on language. "Well, Keith, you and my good friend [Minnesota Rep.] Jim Oberstar sold me on that branding sometime ago," Clyburn said. Olbermann didn't exactly complain. "I'm honored to be any part of it, sir," he said. Carlson said "in light of your rebranding," conservative Democrats were coming around.

It all seemed a little much, especially since, as Olbermann -- to his credit -- acknowledged, he wasn't remotely the first one to come up with the "Medicare for Everybody" idea. Last month, Bill Moyers had suggested that Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall should write Obama's healthcare speeches for him, specifically because Marshall had already started referring to the public option as, yes, Medicare for all. In a post on TPM in August, Marshall had raised the notion. "I think I could pretty much guarantee you that if the question in the public mind was 'Would you like the option of buying into Medicare before you turn 65?' the opposition would be vastly diminished," Marshall wrote. "This isn't just rhetoric. This is the most accurate and graspable explanation of what's being proposed."

Again, to his credit, Olbermann made clear Wednesday night that he knew he wasn't the one who came up with the concept. "We suggested two specific actions in that 'Special Comment' two weeks ago," he said. "No claim that either was my idea." But he certainly didn't seem to mind if people had that impression anyway.

Watch Olbermann Wednesday night here:

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Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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