Reality Based Community

“Reality-based” was one of the Democrats’ great touchstone phrases of the Bush years. And like so many self-identifications it started off as derision. The phrase came from this passage in a 2004 article by Ron Suskind in the New York Times.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

The phrase, grabbed from the Bushies and latched on to by progressives explained so much about the Bush White House mentality, that facts and realities weren’t “stubborn things” but fairly soft impediments in the way of willful self-assertion.

But buried in the folly and grandiosity were always certain insights into the dynamic nature of all “political realities.” Decisive action can change political realities. So can moral collapse. The point isn’t that willful assertion always means but that all variables in human action are dynamic and interrelated. And action itself, leadership, often has a deeply catalyzing effect.

This morning Greg Sargent flagged this new Gallup poll which on its fact provides plenty of ammunition for Democrats who want drop health care reform and find some rock to hide under during the storm of 2010. 39% support trying to pass the current bill and 55%, a clear majority, want to “suspend work on the bill and consider alternatives.”

Deeper into the poll we get this question, though: Should healthcare be the top legislative priority (32%), important but other issues should be addressed first (46%) or it should not be a major legislative priority (19%).

Then there’s another question. After one year, are you pleased with the administration’s progress (39%), Disappointed, thought there would be more progress (20%), Upset, taking the country in the wrong direction (37%).

Now I’m under no illusion that those 20% are people who wanted Obama to be more gung-ho with a prototypical liberal agenda. Some are but not that many. I would say most are voters with much less defined ideological stances and much more focus on government that can act — voters for whom action and accomplishments are as much a lever of popularity and support as ideological affinity (people whom partisans have an inherent difficulty understanding.)

The other point is, the work on doing Healthcare is done. That’s the point. Congress and the president could be on to jobs tomorrow if they just passed this bill today. The work — way too long, a year — is done. But voters are thinking it’s going to keep on going — which indeed some Dems are paradoxically interested in actually doing. But what is also not asked in the question is: what if Health Care Reform won’t come up against for 15 or 20 years?

So, yes, at this moment of bottomed-out morale and public exhaustion with endless process, the numbers look daunting. But look at the numbers in a dynamic way and I don’t think there’s any question that the political wise choice is to finish this now and move on.

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