Monday, March 22, 2010

What Change Looks Like

Two lessons from the great health care debate of 2009-2010: When you have the votes, you have the votes; and, there is nothing like winning.

For too long the horse race as presented to us by the media obscured the Democrats' large majorities in both houses.

Reporters and editors like legislative donnybrooks because they hold readers' attention and make their own jobs more interesting.

And so it is a familiar journalistic habit to focus on certain disgruntled back-benchers, the leftist-rightists of the rightist leftist faction, whose interests diverge from the larger party's.

And, in rare instances where a party is bent on driving over a cliff, you can expect the aforementioned to grab the steering wheel and finish the job in self-demolition.

But the Republican strategy of obstruction, with the sole purpose of provoking the president's failure on a signature initiative, ensured that would not happen.

The liberal elitist in highwayscribery thinks that's because this group of Republicans is not very bright.

While the "New York Times," cooed last week over Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Kentucky) masterful melding of his caucus into a useless pile of obstinacy, highwayscribery was thinking that if, let's say, nine Republicans had voted with the Democrats, they might have killed the bill.

But by making it a strictly "party thing," the GOP put wavering Democrats in the position of either betraying their caucus, or squeezing its leadership for a treat.

As an old hand who observes legislative debates with the same intensity he does the World Series, highwayscribery can tell you these holdouts usually want something specific from party leadership... and usually get it.

Meanwhile, ignoring their significant disadvantage in numbers and enjoying their own positive press, Republicans mindlessly stuck to a do-nothing strategy and lost.

Lost ugly.

There was something truly paltry in the dilatory tactics of House Republicans on Sunday. Paltry and puerile. With passage secured, the White Guy Party worked the rules machinery in the chamber with the fury of that fake playing at Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.

It was an unappealing exercise in futility to stave off final passage by what? Four or five hours?

Their link to the viscerally driven Tea Party is not shtick.

Outside the capitol building the rabble were calling black legislators "nigger" and gay legislators "fag." Inside the House chamber someone labeled the man who rallied the Democratic Party's pro-life faction a "baby killer."

Who can buy this bunch as a credible group of leaders?

On the other side of the political spectrum, the infighting over 'lo these many months was intense, but always characterized by the shared goal of keeping an eye on the prize.

While rivers of ink flowed on the Tea Party, the great unwritten story was how well the progressive types who brought Obama to the summit (or followed him, depending on your understanding of such things) held together.

If somebody in the caucus wavered, MoveOn, or Bold Progressive or whomever targeted them with a creditable primary challenge on their left flank in matter of days, raised a million bucks one week afterward, and beat them back in line.

The Tea Partiers make for great photo-ops because they're the ones in the street these days. And not by choice. The liberal left, on the other hand, currently keeps counsel in the halls of power; less theatrically, but more effectively.

NEWS FLASH: The winning 2008 election coalition endures and governs.

Choice words were traded over the public option, single-payer and other issues, but nobody was, in the end, willing to hand the FOX crowd a victory.

It has been so long since progressives won a significant legislative battle that there's hardly anybody alive who remembers how good it makes the team look.

Compare House minority leader John Boehner's red-faced, spittle-spewing condemnation of his "colleagues across the aisle," with Nancy Pelosi's measured, joyous, and forward-looking explanation of why Democrats were spending $900 billion on the American people.

Being constructive comes off much better than does being obstructive.

Now we must reconsider Pelosi's effectiveness as manager of the Democratic rank-and-file, while elevating her place in American political history.

President Obama's steely perseverance and infinite stores of patience will become new topics of analysis and admiration.

And rightfully so.

Republicans say they will base their 2010 campaign on the idea of repealing health care.

It's unlikely. They never really gave a hoot about health care reform. It was merely, as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said so early on the debate, an opportunity to stage-manage Obama's Waterloo.

But let's hope they run on repeal: an anti-idea that expresses perfectly their approach to governance.

There is no greater gift to the ruling party than an opposition looking backwards, asking voters to undo something they lacked the savvy to stop in the first place.

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