Monday, March 22, 2010

What Greg, Steve, Josh & mistermix said ...

Greg Sargent: Now The Argument Really Begins

A quick afterthought: Last night’s big health reform victory made history in many ways, but in hard political terms perhaps the key one is this: This is the first landmark piece of reform that passed over the unanimous opposition of one major party.

Both Social Security and Medicare had bipartisan support. While they were both the achievements of Democratic presidents, there isn’t a clear sense in the public mind that it was entirely the work of one party over the implacable opposition of the other one.

Now an achievement of equal magnitude — health care reform, which will dramatically reshape a vital aspect of American life — is about to pass into law as the work of one party and one party alone. The other party emerges from this battle defined entirely by its unanimous opposition to it.

This could have more dramatic repercussions than any of us know right now, perhaps helping define the differences between the two parties for years, in a way that no other major political battle has.

Republicans say — publicly — that this will play in their favor, and claim the public will reward them for showing the fortitude to stand firm against a far-reaching expansion of government into a deeply personal aspect of our lives. Democrats counter that Americans will realize that the dreaded government takeover warned against by reform foes is a caricature — and that once they do, it will reinvigorate the pact between government and the American people.

All this is to say that the real argument underlying this fight — this chapter in the larger ideological showdown over the proper role of government in our lives, an argument that has taken mutiple forms throughout our history — is only beginning. There will now be an actual law that frames and defines this debate. And the fact that each party placed all its chips on competing visions dramatically ups the stakes, with untold consequences to come — not just for the parties, but for the prospects of future far-reaching legislative initiatives.

As Obama has repeatedly said, this is what elections are for.


The Morning Plum:

* The White House is quietly plotting an aggressive battle plan to sell reform that’s built on turning the above idea into a liability: Obama’s top advisers believe “that Republicans have boxed themselves into a corner with unanimous opposition to the legislation and talk of a repeal.”

Key takeaway: The passage of reform is going to function as a kind of starting gun kicking off the real start of the 2010 elections.

* And so the air wars are already underway, with Health Care for America Now going up with this new $1 million ad buy in the districts of a dozen vulnerable House Dems, thanking them for saying “No to Big Insurance, and Yes to standing up for us”:

The insurance industry will be as ubiquitous in the midterm elections as they were during the last year, with Dems aggressively framing GOP opposition to reform as doing the bidding of Big Insurance.

* Indeed, Americans United for Change is first out of the gate directly targeting Republicans, with a new ad ripping Michele Bachman for siding with the insurance companies and denying constituents health care she herself enjoys. The spot is accompanied by robocalls targeting a dozen other Republicans.

* An interesting prediction from Mark Halperin: GOP efforts to run against health reform will be complicated by the quiet support for the new law from large segments of the business community.

* For posterity: A full transcript of Obama’s speech last night hailing passage of the bill is right here.

* Ben Smith says the much-maligned Organization for America deserves props for last night’s victory.

* And the headline of the day, from Steve Benen: “They passed the damn bill.”


There's a temptation, the morning after an extraordinary event, to try to capture What It All Means with something resembling insight. But when dealing with success on health care reform, and a historic victory a century in the making, where does one begin?

Perhaps with the expectations of Nov. 4, 2008. There was a sense among many when Barack Obama won a sweeping election victory that big things were not only possible, but in fact likely to happen. This was going to be a special time to bring about long-overdue change.

But as 2009 progressed, it wasn't just cynics who started to wonder if change is even possible anymore. Indeed, it was hard to miss an emerging pattern -- a progressive idea is proposed, the right reflexively rejects it, corporate interests scare the gullible, the media ignores the substance, th debate becomes overwhelmed by falsehoods and confusion, the public sours, Democrats grow frightened and fractured, and the idea dies. Introduction leads to demagoguery leads to failure. Lather, rinse, repeat.

In this sense, the debate stopped being simply about health care quite a while ago. If the recipe had been written on how to kill anything of significance, then it was easy to suspect that we might never see social reform on a grand scale again. Ever.

And just when it seemed our political system would be limited indefinitely to playing small-ball, something interesting happened. President Obama decided to keep fighting. Speaker Pelosi decided to keep fighting. Americans who elected a Democratic majority decided they weren't going to be satisfied with failure, and they got to work.

In a result that was hard to even imagine two months ago, they won, delivering the change America needs, and delivering a brutal setback for those who demanded failure. Paul Krugman noted:

This is, of course, a political victory for President Obama, and a triumph for Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker. But it is also a victory for America's soul. In the end, a vicious, unprincipled fear offensive failed to block reform. This time, fear struck out.

Given fear's long winning streak, that's no small feat, especially on a scale so grand.

It's generally wise to not exaggerate current events in a historical context, but I don't think it's hyperbole to compare this breakthrough to passage of American bedrocks like Social Security and Medicare. The health care reform bill represents a towering legislative accomplishment and a transformational moment.

President Obama told Americans last night, "In the end, what this day represents is another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American Dream. Tonight, we answered the call of history as so many generations of Americans have before us. When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge -- we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility -- we embraced it. We did not fear our future -- we shaped it."

And the nation, its people, and its future are better for it. Cherish this moment; they don't come often.

Josh Marshall: Results Are All That Matter

It's been an exceptionally long year for the president, his party, the Democratic caucuses in the Congress and everyone who was involved in whatever fashion in the 2008 election. A year ago, the Health Care debate got started in a climate in which there was little doubt that the president would pass his plan, and soon. That reality was most clearly expressed in the stance adopted by the key industry stakeholders who wanted to be in the discussion and on board rather than in opposition to it. They figured that passage was a done deal and wanted to affect the final bill in their favor as much as possible rather than waste time opposing it.

Then the debate dragged on over many months. The pace slowed in the early summer. Then there was the town hall Crazy (tm) of August. And from there we know the rest -- the ugliness, close calls, the shuddering collapse of morale after January 19th. But the truth is, nothing matters but the final result. No one remembers the politicking in advance of Medicare or Social Security or really anything else. There's either a reform law or there's not. That's why, even though it's still a momentous event in political circles, the 1994 run at Health Care Reform might as well never have happened.

Even over the last two days you've seen a shifting of perspective as all the drama and angst of recent months recedes before the reality of final passage. There's no denying this is certainly the biggest and by almost any definition the first major social legislation in the United States in almost five decades. (Congress passed Medicare in 1965.)

Today, when David Frum wrote that this was turning out to be the GOP's Waterloo, he had two interlocking points -- one focused on policy, another political.

The US has had several runs with major pieces of social legislation. And the record is that they don't get repealed. They're expanded and become embedded in the national political economy. That was what was at the heart of Bill Kristol's famous (or infamous) memo on reform from 1994. Once Health Care reform is passed; the middle class will like it. And there will be no repealing or doing away with it. And its success would create a new generation of Democrats. That was his fear.

To that end, Frum's policy point was, who cares if the Republicans take back Congress? Majorities come and go. But reform is permanent. For conservatives it's a catastrophic development and if they'd actually been part of the dialog they probably could have gotten a bill much more to their liking. The second point is political, though he's less clear in this case. Republicans, he says, are probably overestimating their chances this fall in any case.

I'm far from wanting to hazard a prediction. But I've thought for a while that this is right. Seven months is always a long time in politics. But this seven months particularly could be very long indeed.

I was in DC last week. And I was again struck, as I used to be when I lived there (1999-2004), by the powerful group-think that affects the place. It's really no different than you'd see in any other company town. But it's pervasive and hard to escape. When I was training down I read an update from a campaign watcher whose work I normally greatly respect. He clearly believed that Health Care Reform was not only a catastrophe for Democrats but that the actual passage of the bill would have no political effect. According to him, we're on pretty much a straight line between today and the November elections.

Again, I don't want to paint any rosy pictures. And, as I said, I don't want to hazard any predictions. But I think this conventional wisdom is quite mistaken. Hard fought victories don't deplete political capital; they build it. And political wins themselves often have a catalyzing effect that shapes political opinion far more than we realize.

Make no mistake, it's a genuinely historic moment, a realization that only now seems to be dawning on people. And expect to have political repercussions far greater than people expect. But as I wrote earlier, even if they lose their majorities in November, they'll be able to say: This is what we used these majorities to do. And it was worth it.

mistermix: A Simple Message

Think about some common parental fears:

  1. My child will be gay and/or want to marry someone of a different race.

  2. My child will get pregnant, or make someone pregnant, and an abortion will be needed.

  3. My child will have a childhood illness like Juvenile Diabetes or Epilepsy, or have a traumatic injury, that they will carry into their adult life.

Of these three fears, voting for a world where (1) and (2) are no big deal can be easily rationalized away:
  1. I will raise my child the right way and they won’t be gay, or marry someone from a different race. So, I’m free to vote for racist homophobes because this issue doesn’t affect me.

  2. If a pregnancy does happen, I know there will never be enough votes to overturn the right to an abortion, and I know I’ll always have enough money to buy one, so my pro-life vote doesn’t matter.

But it’s pretty hard to wish away (3). You can’t control whether your child is going to fall from a swingset and hit his head, or be run over by a car, or have a pancreas that doesn’t work right. If health insurance is denied for people with pre-existing conditions, anyone’s child runs the risk of losing healthcare, long after the parent has passed from the scene.

The minute Obama signs the bill, the Democrats can say that health insurance cannot be denied for a pre-existing condition, and that they had to fight every single Republican for this right. That message is simple, it hits people where they live, and it addresses a universal concern.

The commercials cutting from a kid with diabetes to John Boehner yelling “Hell No You Can’t” are probably already being made. They will be the Willie Horton ads of the 2010 election.

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