Friday, January 15, 2010

Wise men,'s Democrats?

Appalled by the prospect that a Brown victory in the Massachusetts Senate race could scuttle health care reform -- and Obama's presidency -- Andrew Sullivan fumes:
What you see here is the fathomless awfulness of the Democrats. Too fractured and listless to get a solid health insurance bill through both Houses in anything like the time they wanted, too disorganized to make a strong and coherent case for their proposal...

But losing Kennedy's seat is a near-epic failure. If health reform fails, it will be because of a fatal combination of Democratic hubris and Democratic weakness. They just won the presidency and both Houses. And this is what they manage? Really, who wants to belong or support a party this goddamn useless?

A reader responds:
Funny to read your take on the MA scare because three minutes ago I had the opposite thought, which was: will someone someday (okay, maybe me in a few hours..) step back and conclude that the Democrats performed brilliantly this past year?

For all the bites taken out of HCR legislation by myriad constituencies, it remains a remarkably well-crafted bill -- and so many of the fights over things that could have devolved into gross interest group giveaways have played out in public (like the excise tax) and been negotiated sanely, with many features of what was originally the Baucus bill improving through negotiation (though it's not over). Instead of 'moralizing' the difficulties -- they are failures of Democratic strategy and character -- look at the structural impediments that those with a decent and public-minded take on the core architecture of the bill have faced down.

First among them is no help from the Republicans. The stonewalling of 40 Senate Republicans on this bill is nothing short of disgusting. As Paul Starr has pointed out, the bill represents an essentially Republican approach to HCR - its chief tenets were proposed by Republicans in the Eisenhower, Nixon and even Gingrich-Dole eras. As Ezra Klein has pointed out repeatedly and in multiple ways, Republicans could have got major concessions, e.g., tort reform, if they'd negotiated in good faith.

Working down from Republican intransigence: Democrats won their majorities in large part by coopting what passes for the center in this government- and tax-phobic electorate. Blue Dog Dems are fulfilling the natural role of Republicans. But the Democratic party is starting the process down forty votes. The same dynamic held for the stimulus package. On climate control, there is no way to reasonably expect action from Democrats without some cooperation from Republicans. When one party is completely dysfunctional, that distorts the functioning of the competent party. There is no center because the center is the sound of one hand clapping.
That reader takes a rather sunny view of Congressional negotiation -- and of the bills' major giveaways to Pharma and a host of interest groups.  Still, take it all in all, and allowing for the casual haste of a letter-writer, I'd have to sentiments exactly.

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