Pure Physics


One quick thought on the health care debate.

Obviously, the unfolding financial crisis creates a serious, though far from unanswerable, question of funding. But I want to set that question aside for a moment to focus on the question of political capital. I just think this is very straight forward. ‘Political capital’ is an inherently, intentionally fuzzy concept. But to the extent we put any stock in it, realistically, no president will ever have more political capital to act on this issue.

Obama clearly ran on the issue. He won by an overwhelming electoral majority and a decisive popular majority. He not only has sizable congressional majorities. He has ones that expanded for the second straight election and to some significant degree on his coattails.

None of this is to say that the big move on health care won’t always be an epic struggle. It will be incredibly hard. But realistically speaking congressional majorities do not get much larger and presidents don’t get much more powerful. So if we’re saying that he lacks the political capital, I think that is another way of saying that, in the normal course of political physics, there’s no amount of political capital that would be sufficient to make the Democrats take the plunge.

That may well be the case. But if it is, it would mean that the bi-annual ruckus about the uninsured is not so much policy advocacy as a sort of regular chumming of the political waters — with the real final act always just over the horizon.

I don’t even say this as a matter of advocacy. I think it’s just straight political physics. And it’s something worth considering.