Matt on policy detail during campaigns: "I wrote blog posts comparing the details of the Obama, Clinton, and Edwards “plans” on health care and climate change and it turns out this was all totally irrelevant."
I draw exactly the opposite conclusion. The details of these plans ended up being extraordinarily relevant. What we got in the end was the Edwards-Clinton plan, except with regulated competition on the exchanges replacing the public option. When a plan shows up in a primary, gets adopted by a major centrist Senator (Max Baucus in his Jekyll aspect) and ends up one or two centrist-vote-buying compromises away from the eventual thing that passes Congress, it suggests that health care plans introduced in primaries are a big deal.
It's true that Obama won and the policy we got was farthest from his plan. But that's just because the pro-individual-mandate forces won the debate, even as their candidates lost the election for other reasons. One of the beautiful achievements of the interminable 2008 Democratic primary was that Democrats got together and figured out that an individual mandate was good policy. A mandate is exactly the sort of technocratically essential but superficially icky proposal that wonks dream of but nobody will swallow. But we chewed on it for a good long time, and in the end we realized that it was good. So when the legislative process started, the Democratic base was ready to support a plan with a mandate.
It makes me proud to be a Democrat. Where Republicans made ridiculous smears about death panels, we took time to learn about adverse selection death spirals. We talked out the wonky details and formed a consensus behind a strange but good idea. The guy who won had proposed the wrong idea (probably because he was being a bit timid on the issue during the primary), but given that a consensus had developed about the details of the plan, he and influential moderates could embrace the consensus and do the good thing! Well done, people.