Monday, August 17, 2009

The Daily Strike-8/17/09-Democratic Defeatism

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. There wasn't much news in the political world today. The President made a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference, and talked about the administration's veterans initiatives (like unprecedented funding in next year's budget) and the war in Afghanistan (which we'll address in an upcoming entry). Today, though, we'll be continuing our August recess musings with an entry about Democratic defeatism.

DEMOCRATIC DEFEATISM: From 2001-2006, all we heard from the Republican party was that Democrats were a bunch of defeatists cowards. I think they might have been on to something. Instead of cowering in the face of global terrorism, (don't worry, I don't believe they ever did) Democrats are now cowering in the face of Republicans, the brain dead mainstream media, angry fringe protesters and opinion polls. It almost seems like the Democratic party doesn't care at this point about delivering health care reform. Where is the fight of Congressional Democrats? When did they stop being team players and become negative Nancies?

I've had a few problems with the way President Obama has conducted this health care debate, but at least he's out there fighting for it. He's willing to go in front of the American people and say "we're gonna get this done because we have to get this done." At least he is showing a sense of urgency. From Congressional Democrats, all I see is weakness. Every day I hear a Democratic Congressman say that they don't know whether they can support the bill. I hear Democrats criticizing the approach of their President or their Congressional leadership. Some Democrats, like Kent Conrad of North Dakota, go on TV every weekend to explicitly announce that we don't have the votes to pass health care reform in the Senate if it includes a public option. The two most overused metaphors in politics are football and war, and rightly so. Can you imagine going to war with soldiers who continuously say, "we can't get this done. We can't defeat the enemy." Can you imagine standing on the battlefield with a guy saying, "I'm not sure whether I'm gonna fight or not. I have to weigh a few things." Imagine being on a football team, the quarterback calls a play, and you say "nah, a bunch of fans have been yelling at me telling me not to do that so I'm just gonna run to the sidelines." It's one thing to bring up some concerns in private or to keep your views on the issue closely held until a bill comes to the floor. But to actively undermine your President as he puts his career on the line is simply unforgivable.

Democrats aren't playing as a team, and it shows. There has not been a sustained pro-reform chorus making the case to the American people. Instead, all we see on TV and in the newspaper are Democrats who are hedging, complaining, or whining about something or another. That sort of behavior not only sows doubt among those who are undecided on the issue, like political independents, but it emboldens the Republican party and those who don't want health reform to see the light of day.

What's worse is that this defeatism isn't any sort of noble reaction by centrists against a proposal that they feel isn't good for their country. Their attitude stem solely from misplaced political concerns. I know this because many of the Democrats who act the most squeamish are the ones who clearly know the least about health reform. Take Blanche Lincoln, Senator from Arkansas, who in the course of a month has gone back and forth on whether she supports the public option. Or Maine Rep. Mike Michaud who signed a letter saying he opposed the public option, AND signed a letter saying he won't support a bill WITHOUT the public option. How about the Blue Dog Democrats, who ostensibly held up the bill because it costs too much, then stripped the portions of the bill that achieved cost savings.

These legislators clearly have no policy principles whatsoever. They just do what they think is the most politically safe course of action. There are a number of reasons why Democrats have been acting so cowardly. Some of them, I think, are actually really affected when they're screamed at over the phone or in person by constituents. I think we can't underestimate how much members of Congress want to be personally liked, no matter what the consequences are to the party and to the country. My other theory is that they have 1994-phobia. In their minds, the last time the Democrats controlled all levers of a power, a Democratic President overreached and the party lost control of the House and the Senate. What actually happened was that a reticent Democratic Congress, full of me-first members with a variety of parochial interests, couldn't deliver on the President's promise to enact sweeping health care legislation. In doing so, the Democrats showed the American people that they were incapable of governing, and the American people kicked them out of office. It wasn't Nancy Pelosi and other liberals who lost in 1994. It was the centrists who came from conservative districts. If the Democratic party fails to deliver, and Obama can't come through on his primary domestic initiative, the party will pay a huge price politically. It will be a much bigger price than they would have paid if they stood tall and delivered a reform package that may cause a few wackos to yell at town hall meetings. In other words, in trying to protect themselves from temporary political harm, they're exposing themselves to massive political consequences.

More importantly, they are hurting Americans who are suffering under our current health care system. Health care reform was never going to be easy. This is a dogfight. I don't expect Republicans to play nice; this plan goes against their rigid ideology. I don't expect the industry to lie down, because this plan will cut into their profits. But there is no excuse for members of the Democratic party to be defeatist and undermine this whole effort.

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