I've had the privilege of learning about politics from some pretty amazing people throughout my academic career, including a Nobel Prize winner, a man who redefined the way we understand ideology and public opinion, and an intellectual successor to Murray Edelman. Despite all that I think I have learned more about politics from my dad.
The HCR legislation passed this weekend is, in any reasonable analysis, watered down. Weak. A shadow of a real reform bill. For this reason I was staunchly opposed to it for months. I argued that passing no bill would be a better outcome than passing reform in name only. What we got is marginally better than that. But it is a good thing that it passed. It took me a while to understand why. More accurately, I needed to have it explained to me.
This bill is a beachhead – a way for the idea of universal health care to establish a foothold in this country. It packaged a number of the most lukewarm, least controversial ideas in health care reform and was enacted over strenuous opposition, opposition based mostly on ignorance (or misinformation). It is not a good bill, but it is the first step in a long process. And no matter what the wingnuts say this week, it isn't going anywhere. As one of the dumbest up-and-coming conservative superstars said:
I never thought I would say this, but Patrick Ruffini is exactly right. "They" are well and truly fucked. This thing is not going anywhere.
First of all, it would require a Republican president. That won't happen for at least 3 years, possibly 7. By that time the changes will be well entrenched both bureaucratically and politically. The wheels of government move slowly but they are difficult to stop once they start rolling.
Second and more importantly, David Frum is right. (What is wrong with me today?) A campaign to repeal these reforms would amount to the longest suicide note in the history of American politics. Here are just a few examples of changes made that future Congresses will not touch with ten-foot poles.
What kind of delusional sociopath is going to base a campaign around repealing that? Don't get me wrong, the GOP's commitment to nihilism is strong enough that they'll make the argument anyway. But politically that will go over about as well as the flat tax, flag burning, or mandatory HIV infection for children under six. If they want to campaign to kick Junior off your insurance, jack up the price of Granny's pills, and give insurers the right to drop people for pre-existing conditions, I am happy to see them do it. "We demand to pay copays!" is a mighty strange campaign slogan to say the least.
So is Frum right? Is this Waterloo for the GOP? If they were smart it wouldn't be. There's plenty for which they can claim credit. They kept many things they disliked out of the legislation. But the fact remains that they failed to stop it. This is the first real victory for Obama and it's hard to avoid the fact that he looks like a more competent President today than he has at any point in the last six months. Most people understand politics like a football game – who won, who lost, and the final score. And the bottom line is that after six months of histrionics, threats, and blood-curdling rage from the Teabag crowd and talk radio, in the end they couldn't go a goddamn thing to stop it. They altered the final product but could do little more than throw tantrums like children on Sunday as the final vote was tallied.
I'd love to say I figured that out on my own, but sometimes we all need a good talking-to from someone older and wiser.