Sunday, March 21, 2010

Whose Waterloo?

Recently, Republicans have spent a lot of time talking about how passing healthcare reform would kill the Democrats in November. But would it?

I feel more comfortable saying that passing healthcare reform would be potentially terrible news for the Republicans. Whatever he was saying last fall, Obama and his advisors probably knew that the Republicans were going to fight this thing tooth and nail. And so they did, constantly falling back to new arguments as they lost ground. First they went the morality route (death panels, killing grandma, etc.). When that failed, they went the fiscal responsibility route. When the CBO's estimates came out and shot that one down, they fell back to arguing about procedure instead of substance - as though political horsetrading, reconciliation, deem and pass, etc., were odious things that they'd never heard of and would certainly never dream of doing.

We're still hearing echoes of all these arguments today, but now Boehner and the rest are basically just trying to intimidate Democrats out of voting for it by saying they'll lose in the midterms. Some Dems have stepped up - courageously, I would say - and addressed that explicitly, saying they're willing to take that risk. Good for them. Sometimes doing the right thing and doing the safe thing are miles apart.

But I'm not sure that the Democrats are going to lose big in November, the way the Republicans are predicting. People have short memories. If healthcare reform passes, the world will not end immediately. Government stormtroopers will not break into homes to drag senior citizens off to face death panels while forcing their family members at gunpoint to change doctors. Congress will move on to address other issues, like the economy and financial reform, and the populist rage that the Republicans have been fueling will subside (for the record, it's not even clear that healthcare reform is unpopular among the majority of Americans - most of the polling numbers suggest that people aren't so much unhappy about the bill as they are unhappy that the Democrats have taken so long getting it through, and success will change that).

So, while the Democrats and voters move on, the Congressional Republicans will have a "now what?" moment. As some of them have threatened, they can continue to act like petulant children and oppose literally everything the Democrats put forward. But I doubt that anything else on the legislative agenda will be as contentious as healthcare. Even the teabaggers, crazy as they may be, are furious at Wall Street, and I suspect that the GOP can ill-afford to alienate them by bringing government to a halt again to protect multi-million dollar bonuses for the people who wrecked the economy. And Boehner and McConnell will have a very hard time going on national television and explaining why job creation for unemployed Americans is a bad thing. If the obstructionism continues, it's going to be the Republicans who face an uncertain future in November, not the Democrats.

Boehner has warned that the Democrats will suffer in the midterm elections for this. And maybe they will, at least this year. But after the healthcare scare is over, whether that's this November or somewhat further down the road, the Republicans are going to find that whatever gains they made by scaremongering were only temporary. Ultimately, I suspect the congressmen who egged on an angry mob that waved Confederate flags and spat on and hurled racial and homophobic epithets at elected officials will end up looking worse than the ones who risked their political future to do what they felt was right. (I'm aware that these were isolated instances, and not everybody in the mob did it, but that's the thing about forming an angry mob - if you're part of it, you tend to be held accountable for its actions, whether you personally did it or not.)

Alternately, congressional Republicans could try a change of tack and only open their mouths when they have something constructive to add to the debate. But either way, they will have lost whatever initiative they ever had, and it may be a long time before they're in a comparable position to threaten the Democrats' agenda.

Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina said that healthcare was going to be Obama's Waterloo. And maybe he was right, although not in the sense that he meant. Is healthcare reform Waterloo? Could be. But right now, the Republican Party is looking a lot like Napoleon (small, with an inferiority complex). And the Democrats are looking a lot like the Duke of Wellington.

(And he's the guy who won.)


  1. Thanks for the wrap-up and the optimistic forecast! Just a suggestion (for those of us on the opposite side of the world who miss some of the details of domestic political news), would you throw in links for things you reference? :) Happy early birthday, by the way!