President Obama's health care reform bill provides insights to public policy advocates on celebrating partial victories. The fact is, not all our advocacy efforts are successful; few are transformative; and many are simply incremental, flawed with compromises. It's clear the extensive health care reform that US progressives lobbied for was not achieved. It's not what Obama originally proposed. It certainly isn't close to Canada's health care system which many Democratic Representatives wanted. Yet they voted for it. Even ardent community critics of this pale imitation of the original plan are recognizing the importance of seizing victory from the jaws of defeat.
We are witnessing the President, Democrats and many critics celebrating the victory they were able to win – not the one they wanted. Are they aware of the bill's limitations? You bet. However they recognize the opportunity for health care reform comes along every generation in the US. Sometimes the first steps to serious reform are limited but can be expanded and improved later. Better to move to a higher plateau where opportunities for the next round of reform present themselves than to wait another 10- 20 years for the possibility of change. That is why they are celebrating while privately acknowledging their disappointments.
In public policy advocacy you don't always get what you want.
But like the Rolling Stones' song you do sometimes get what you need – the ability to maintain momentum; to overcome cynicism about the role of government; to build relationships with potential allies; to establish your credibility to implement the reforms; and to regroup and lay the foundation for the next stage of reform.