Desperate

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March 16, 2010 7:20 a.m.
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All liquored up on sake” … “a suicide run” … bizarre invocations of assassination. Threats of civil (or perhaps not so civil) disobedience against new Health Care laws. The Republican rhetoric sure is heating up as momentum gathers for a final vote on Health Care Reform. But there’s no missing that it’s the intensity of desperation.For weeks many Republicans and Democrats have argued that if Health Care Reform is unpopular now (which it is by a marginal and decreasing degree) it’s not going to get more popular once the Democrats pass it in the face of popular opposition. On its face this is a plausible argument. It even contains a certain logic. Republicans have obvious political reasons for making the argument. And some Democrats probably even believe it’s true. Yet the available polling and historical evidence all suggests that it’s flat wrong.

As I noted yesterday, since the Dems got back on track toward passing Reform, they haven’t taken any hit in the polls. Indeed, support for the Democrats and Reform itself are both rising. Trend or not, what’s certain is that there is no evidence from polling data that the renewed push is hurting the Dems in the least. And there’s increasing evidence to the contrary. And that simply confirms the most salient and real lesson of 1994. For all the rise in right-wing militancy, discontent over guns and other wedge issues, and even with all the structural threats to Democratic rule, what really killed the Dems was that at the critical moment they flaked. President Clinton bet his whole presidency on grand promises about Health Care Reform. His party controlled the entire federal government (though the control was more illusory than today), and they didn’t deliver anything. Impotence isn’t just demoralization to supporters and enlivening to political opponents. For a big swath of the public, policy proper in its specifics is always in competition for a more elemental desire for effective and efficient government, government that can at least be expected to execute in most cases on its plans. It’s really not such an alien or odd predisposition. In our lives, most of us would like to work with or under managers who share our values and management styles. But given the choice of an effective manager who we don’t particularly like and an incompetent, I think most of us would prefer the former.

Passing Health Care Reform won’t save Democrats — whatever ‘save’ means in this context. They’re going to have a very hard November. But there’s little doubt that passing will improve their prospects politically — perhaps only marginally, perhaps by quite a lot. Republican leaders get that, which is why they’re pulling out all the stops for a final push to stop it. So since the politics makes sense and the policy does too, there’s simply no reason not to push ahead to conclusion.

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