Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 19, 2009

WITH SO MUCH ON THE LINE.... In 1993, Bill Kristol privately advised congressional Republicans to do whatever it took to "kill" the Clinton health care reform initiative. It wasn't that the policy proposal was a bad idea; it was that passage would help the Democratic Party for years to come. The GOP, he said, for the sake of its own future, couldn't compromise or negotiate with the majority.

Sixteen years later, a wide variety of Democrats are working hard to convince Republicans to support reform, despite the built-in incentive for seeing reform fail. Mark Kleiman noted that a few too many Democrats seem to have forgotten the recent past, and worse, seem oblivious to the larger electoral dynamic.

For Gingrich and his allies, the health care debate wasn't really about health care: it was about destroying the power of a Democratic President.

It's not surprising that the Republicans have remembered that lesson, but it's disappointing that the "centrist" Democrats have forgotten it. This bill is make or break for the Democratic Party....

Matt Yglesias added:

In 1993, we had a new president elected on a promise of providing access to high-quality affordable health care to all Americans. In 1994, that promise went down in flames. The result of that failure was not only substantively bad, but politically disastrous for Democrats. Now it's 2009 and we have a new president elected on a promise of providing access to high-quality affordable health care for all Americans. It's pretty clear that Republicans remember that dealing a humiliating blow to said president by blocking reform will be politically useful to them.

And it's curious that many centrist Democrats -- particular those now eager to delay action on a bill and give special interests and the right more time to kill it -- don't seem to remember this.

All of this sounds about right. Republicans don't want to reform the health care system and don't want President Obama to be the president who finally delivers the overhaul Americans have been waiting for over the last several decades. The GOP has every possible reason to see this initiative fail, but that hasn't stopped some Democrats from a) insisting that Republican support for a reform effort they oppose is paramount; and b) making it easier to see their own party's efforts fail.

It occurs to me, then, that there's at least a possibility that "centrist" Democrats -- Blue Dogs, New Democrats, Lieberman, et al -- might not see failure as such a horrible option here. In other words, they may realize that coming up short on health care, letting this opportunity slip away, and hurting millions of Americans in the process may be devastating for the Democratic majority, but these same "centrist" Democrats may prefer a smaller majority, or perhaps even a GOP majority to "balance" the Democratic president. They may very well disagree with the party's leadership on most issues, and think the best course of action is taking away their power by undermining the party's agenda.

It seems odd that these "centrist" Democrats would forget the lessons of 1993 and 1994. But alternatively, are we sure they have forgotten those lessons, or have they learned those lessons all too well?

Steve Benen 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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I've thought all along that between serving their Ruling Class masters, and reducing the Democratic majority, "centrists" have a lot to gain.

With a smaller majority, of either party, "centrists" have more power for themselves. They get courted, and feted, and treated like kings and queens because their votes are crucial--to either majority.

It's despicable, and contemptible, and totally predictable. For me, these "centrists" are simply--and I use this word very deliberately--these "centrists" are traitors to the american people for their own power and status, and they should be summarily dumped overboard by the Democratic majority.

Posted by: LL on July 19, 2009 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds to me like it's time for Rahm to start making some personal calls and assuring each and every member of this cabal that he will personally see to it that their primary opponents in the next election will be well-funded and supported.

Posted by: Jennifer on July 19, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

These morons who confuse self-centeredness with "centrism" - Ben Nelson and Joe Liberman first and foremost - must be taken down, and taken down hard. If Obama cant politically castrate them, and fast, then he deserves what he gets. The problem is, the rest of us don't deserve that.

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on July 19, 2009 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

How is Obama gonna "politically castrate" these people, and if he can't, why does he "deserve what he gets?" The guy isn't the emperor, you know...

Posted by: realist on July 19, 2009 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Spot on, Mr. Benen. Push push PUSH this very accurate analysis. "Screwing average Americans for their own political gain - this is the REAL Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman." Or: "Health care costs breaking your back? Don't worry - Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman won't lift a finger to help. Now THAT'S leadership we can bank on." And for God's sake, Benen, will you please STOP calling them 'centrists'? At this point they've clearly identified themselves - power hungry corporatists; gutless jackals feeding on America's disease and misery; weaselly defenders of an indefensible status quo, scared s***less of their own shadows. Where were these stalwart sons of b****es when BushCo was tearing this country apart? NOW, with a popular Democratic president, they conveniently locate the mettle to aggrandize their power and position?

And I think Mr. Benen's basically correct in Nelson/Lieberman's worldviews - they're Rockefeller Republicans made Democrat by the mainstreaming of radical authoritarian conservatism. I don’t care. If they succeed in f***ing this one up, I will personally do everything in my power to send them to the showers come election time. That goes double for the DNC and DSCC. It's time for the Dems to rein this s**t in and govern, in accordance with the will of an overwhelming majority of the American people. Put up or shut up, Obama/Reid/etc.

Posted by: Conrads Ghost on July 19, 2009 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

GOP politicians and pundits, including Bill Kristol, seem gleeful that the national debt -- $11 trillion and quickly growing -- makes health care reform risky in the short run. Never mind that it was eight years of their own binge spending that grew the massive mountain more than 100 percent. Here's a chance to make the new president look bad and to short-circuit Democrats' power in the bargain.

How ridiculous we Americans must look from overseas. First we tie health insurance to employment, implying that if you don't have a job, neither you nor your family deserves easily accessible medical care. Then, years later, we allow the likes of Bill Kristol, who is rich, to squash health care reform for purely political reasons. Next, when the economy is unusually receptive to reform, we somehow let into office a president indifferent to the rising number of uninsured. Today, having elected a president eager for action, we seem poised to permit indefinite postponement.

Wanted: politicians brave enough to do the right thing instead of the politically expedient thing. But instead of profiles in courage, we see pols seeking re-election with an ads proclaiming, in effect, "He helped stall health care reform."

With a huge majority wanting health care reform with a "public option" to boot, that strategy would seem backfire-prone. But, then, it was voter indifference that brought us to this dreadful pass.

Posted by: Jerry Elsea on July 19, 2009 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

What the 'centrist' Democrats seem to forget is that THEY will pay the brunt of the price for failure, just as conservative Dems paid most of the price in 1994. Liberals from deep blue states and districts will get re-elected, just with smaller majorities - it is the wishy washies who will get tossed if Dems have a bad 2010.

Moreover, if there is anything that independents detest it is failure. Where is Captain Obvious when we need him?

Posted by: al-Fubar on July 19, 2009 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Enough with this inside baseball double reverse nonsense.

Any democrat holding a seat in Congress who in fact believes the President needs to lose influence and Republicans need to gain it is a functionally insane democrat.

The more likely explanation is the "centrists" and Baucus are self absorbed and stunningly shallow narcisssits. There is absolutely nothing partisan about the fundamental problem and the need for a real solution. From the "centrists" there is zero focus on the fundamental problem and the fundamental need for a real solution.

Health care is too expensive, it is getting more expensive, it is stunningly inefficient. It is dragging the economy down. Unless the health care marketplace is reformed so that profits follow efficiency and results, we are screwed. There is no good faith justification or principle behind the centrists bullshit.

And I write this as someone who believes the absolute refusal to tax health care benefits as a way to solve the health care problem is as self destructive a position as is possible. It is like the story of the Iranian who was told by his employer that the plant he worked at was being closed but he would still receive a paycheck, that the cafeteria would still be open, and he would just have to show up to collect his paycheck every Tuesday. And his response is "I have to show up EVERY Tuesday." So we can reform the health care market place, increase the quality of health care, drop its price; end the increase in health care's take of the GCP; end the tyranny of job loss or change meaning a loss of coverage; end pre-existing condition gaming so that there is no real coverage; end the bankrupticies and the living on the edge of bankruptcy.......... but at the cost of a tax on benefits which would in fact help properly incentiv-ise costs and benefits.... NEVER. Tax the Rich.

Great, just great.

Posted by: razor on July 19, 2009 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Old Walt: To have great poets, there must be great audiences too.

So too with our mired in muck democracy and its slimy purchased politicians.
Which reminds me of a recent Jon Talton post and one of the most biting paragraphs I've read all month:

Imagine if the outpouring for the song-and-dance man [Michael Jackson] had been applied to universal healthcare or global warming? There would be no hopeless bottleneck in a Congress owned by big business, no Dianne Feinstein saying that criticism about healthcare legislation from the left "doesn't move her." No calling climate change a "hoax.""
My point:

The only way to get this done is to light a fire under the public's ass. And the only way that fire gets lit is if Barack addresses the nation as a whole. He needs to usurp 40 minutes of prime time tv time and stand and deliver a hot passionate speech that hangs the sword of Damocles clearly over the Senate's collective head.

He needs to rabble rouse.
Without which, this thing drowns in the mud.

Posted by: koreyel on July 19, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

A good article on OpEd news today gives us all we need to know about the 6 politicians who have sold out to the insurance and drug industry for $11 million dollars. It breaks down what some of them are getting by the DAY while people are getting sick, bankrupt and even dying without healthcare.

Posted by: JS on July 19, 2009 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Let's be honest -- these folks view us with disdain. They only care about their corporate donors and getting invited to the good parties.

Posted by: Obama / Steelers / etc on July 19, 2009 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Too often "D" or "R" is a choice of convenience- I'm lookin' at YOU, Arlen Specter. And carpetbaggers Hillary Clinton, Bobby Kennedy, and anybody else who sees which way the political winds are blowing and what the best opportunity is for personal gain.

Call me a starry eyed lib, but I still hold these truths to be self evident: The nation was founded on the concept of equal justice for all, a government of the people, by the people, for ALL the people, and all that other stuff they fed us in 8th grade.

I agree with many of the posts above. It's time for some hard ball- brush back pitches, bean balls, spitters- anything that sets the Entrenched and Entitled politicians back to the dugout. Back to the minors.

Hell, let's send them back to the blue collar reality of a six AM time clock, with no paid holidays, healthcare, pensions. . .

Posted by: DAY on July 19, 2009 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

When Joe Lieberman was re-elected, beating Democratic nominee Ned Lamont, it was Republicans who gave him his majority. Ever since he was forced to fight in a Democratic primary (and lose), he has become more and more openly vindictive. He believes that he is a senator by right, just like in the old British House of Lords or the Roman Senate. He does not feel that he should be in any way accountable to either Democrats or Connecticut.
He knows that if the Democrats succeed in passing a good health care bill, more Democratic senators will be elected in 2010 and 2012. Joe will lose all his leverage and be left on a park bench someplace by the Democratic leadership. His motive, as always, is the survival and prosperity of Joe. Count on him to do whatever he can to keep the Democratic senate count from getting higher.

Posted by: oldswede on July 19, 2009 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

this fight is relly bringing home the centrality of election finance reform-as in public funding, free airtime for long-form ads and an absolute prohibition on anything but small gifts.

Posted by: sue on July 19, 2009 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me the names of the Gang of 6 need to be plastered everywhere so the common folks know who they are! We should all be sure to vote against their reelections (or work against them) and note how much money they've received from lobbyists.

Maybe this already has been done somehwere, I don't know where.

And Obama should rally teh troops and start calling people who live in those senate districts to change these idiots' votes.

How about they give up THEIR health benefits til they have enough "time" to figure this out.

boy this is a country of Have's and Havenots. A true Banana Republic.

Posted by: Clem2 on July 19, 2009 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Chairman Charlie Rangel posed an excellent question on FACE THE NATION this morning:


The Republicans are runnin' their mouths against the Democratic bills that have passed both House and Senate committees, but where is their bill that covers all Americans, provides quality care, reduces costs, bans restrictions for preexisting conditions, and is paid for ?

It's time to go on the offense with the American RightWing: PUT UP OR SHUT UP

Either produce an alternative bill that accomplishes all those goals, or admit to the American people you have no interest in all Americans having affordable quality health coverage.

Posted by: Joe Friday on July 19, 2009 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

What utter nonsense...to attribute motivations like 'caution for the nation's own good' and calling themselves "centrists" when they are hardly that. Call them what they really are..."Corporatists" or "Defeatists"...take your pick.

From the git-go their agenda has been to prevent, delay and destroy HC reform and they sought any and all reasons they could find to justify these actions.

".... But alternatively, are we sure they have forgotten those lessons, or have they learned those lessons all too well?..."-Benen

Exactly...they have run out of options as the demand for HC reform is so widespread and popular that this is the best they could think of that the American public might find plausible. These corporatists dems really believe we are that stupid to accept that they just want to slow down and delay a health care bill so they can make sure they are getting it right???? It's for the nation's own good that they must use extreme caution??? when in fact their own history stands in direct contrast to such caution.

We KNOW what they are doing...Most everyone knows what they are doing...obstructing the passage of health care ins reform for their own personal gain. Time not only to twist some arms but to break them as well. This goes well beyond their own state's constituents because it is a national issue.

What I want to know is what line do I get in to stop these defeatists dems from completing their agenda?

Posted by: bjobotts on July 19, 2009 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the thing, the GOP is playing politics with the American people.

Eric Cantor, for some reason was able to escape the Jack Abramoff scandal that took out Tom Delay. Cantor received campaign money from Abramoff, and yes, he was a one to stand up for Delay.

Did you know that Cantor have been donating money to Michelle Bachmann's campaign - they are using her as a front to put attention on her, instead of where the attention should be focused.

Did you know that Cantor's "National Council for a New America," has been accused of ethics violations, allegedly for using American taxpayer money instead of using contributions.

To me, this sounds like another shell company, or payback for Delay's outcome - yet, his attorneys argue this is legal.

His wife, was allegedly named as a beneficiary of the TARP program.

There's other stuff that is going on, and there is no focus on the real stuff, because they are good at diverting attention.

Yes, they are doing everything they can to make the health bill fail, yet, it will be the American people to suffer. The GOP will continue to brainwash, manipulate until they get there with their intentions for Americans.

Do you know what New America is all about?

I will let you decide, but, how did the "Contract for America" work out for you? Newter was the champion of this one!

Posted by: annjell on July 19, 2009 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

I am only saying people need to look deep to see what I'm saying.

We know that Michael Steele is useless

We know that Patsy is evil

We know that Mr. Limpy is evil

As I said, we are focusing on what they want us to focus on. The GOP is using the MSM for their gain.

Posted by: annjell on July 19, 2009 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

To the extent that sentiment from Kristol is accurately described, it is a literally traitorous proposal against the national interest of the USA. I guess Kristol didn't like Hillarycare anyway (what exactly did he think, anyone?), so he or defenders could argue it was a "kill two birds with one stone" side point. Still, to have such a motive even in part ... sickening.

As a result we can say, the existence of such sentiments is evidence that the current plan would be better than Republicans say.

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on July 19, 2009 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Now we know how sick and dysfunctional this alleged "Democratic Republic" is. Our bought-and-paid-for elected representatives are so out of touch with their constituencies because they feel immune from any consequences. Democrats could have 100 Senators and 435 Representatives, and they still couldn't pass legislation, health care or environmental, favorable to the average American.

Our system is so broken and beholden to special interests that it can't be fixed. The health care issue is a make-or-break issue for Obama (who knows it), and the dim Dems. Either way this will be a game changing event.

Posted by: r on July 19, 2009 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

There's no such animal as a "centrist democrat". They're all republicans, at heart and in deed. Remember that the next time the democratic party solicits you for a contribution.

Posted by: JL on July 19, 2009 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

>"those now eager to delay action on a bill and give special interests and the right more time to kill it -- don't seem to remember this."

Buford sez: Follow the money.

Posted by: Buford on July 19, 2009 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

So, how's that bending over for Holy Joe working out for you Rahm?
"crickets chirping"

Posted by: warren terrah on July 19, 2009 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Steve's right.

There's an important difference between Blue Dogs and the rest of us: Universal Health Care isn't necessarily part of their agenda; it most definitely is part of ours.

Blue Dogs _can_ afford to wait around hoping for something less earthshaking to come up. They can even afford to risk not getting anything at all.

It's the rest of us who are going to get screwed.

Posted by: leo on July 19, 2009 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

What's the point of having elected officials if they don't seem to understand how critical health care reform is?

This "fight" is really about special interests versus Joe and Jane public.

We owe it to our children to get health care right, not to the insurance companies, not the Big Drug firms, not the medical-industrial complex.

I voted for change I can believe in. Seems we are getting the same old same pathetically selfish small-minded politics as usual.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on July 19, 2009 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

company relatively consensus states

Posted by: salhtunper on July 19, 2009 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

tar action stricter increases disputed scheme uncertainty

Posted by: orvaerwin on July 19, 2009 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

"It wasn't that the policy proposal was a bad idea; it was that passage would help the Democratic Party for years to come. "

Lie. Liar. Huge big fat stinky lie.

Read the damn document. There is a single rather parenthetic paragraph which mentions this political aspect and all the other discussion of motivations quite clearly put the emphasis upon improving (and not worsening) the US health care system.

What disgraceful people you are.

Posted by: am on July 19, 2009 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

Hate to nitpick, but I believe the GOP memo on Clinton's health care plan was written by Irving Kristol, Bill's father.

Posted by: Slideguy on July 19, 2009 at 10:28 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, but Obama's agenda isn't about improving healthcare either. It's about reducing costs by restricting access. Listen to him. He knows you don't need the tests your doctor says you do, now he just needs to convince you.

Posted by: w3bgrrl on July 19, 2009 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

I really think the "centrist" Democrats really prefer Republican presidents. That way there's no accountability, and status quo remains in place. It's a big problem that the last three Democratic presidents have had, and Obama's mistake was not engaging the Blue Dogs instead of the Republicans.

Posted by: mikeel on July 19, 2009 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

Slideguy, follow the link. The letter is written by William Kristol. A copy of the actual letter is posted.

Posted by: Meah Bottoms on July 20, 2009 at 12:05 AM | PERMALINK


Listen buddy, I know you mean well, but you're missing the point. You're assuming centrist dems care about the party. They don't. I echo what Mikeel says, they would prefer a "republican president" because they could act as spoiler for a democratic one, and negotiator for a republican one.

Plus, nationally, most blue dogs and conservative dems are in districts that Republicans win. It's just a fact of life.

Posted by: Chris on July 20, 2009 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

The centrists are from red states, they know that if they go too far in supporting a Democratic president they lessen their own chances for re-election. Thus, to call a politician self-centered is an oxymoron, of course, they're self-centered, how else to stay there?
To think the founders actually believed citizens would go to Washington to do the country's business! What a bunch of maroons.

As to Joe Lieberman, oldswede nailed it. No other comment about Joe need be made.

Posted by: TJM on July 20, 2009 at 5:49 AM | PERMALINK

We know who the six reps are, the only thing we can do is to bombard them with phone calls and emails & make their life miserable, also make sure they know we will fund any opponents to them in the next election.

Posted by: JS on July 20, 2009 at 7:47 AM | PERMALINK
Lie. Liar. Huge big fat stinky lie.

Read the damn document.

We have, jackass. The fact there is even a single SENTENCE whining about how the GOP will lose power if health care works in this nation is despicable. The fact you're willing to try to defend it says volumes about your lack of character.

... and all the other discussion of motivations quite clearly put the emphasis upon improving (and not worsening) the US health care system.

Really? Seriously? Show me a single GOP proposal that would reduce costs, offer coverage for the 47 million Americans without it, and ensure that insurance companies accept customers with pre-existing conditions -- and have it NOT be based on some tax cut for the rich or useless tax credit that does nothing to help people get coverage.

Just. One.

What disgraceful people you are.

The only thing disgraceful around here are people like you who don't give a shit about families who are destroyed by medical debt ... who think being 37th in infant mortality is fine ... who is okay with lower life expectancies and higher costs ... and who are willing to defend a GOP that has done NOTHING -- absolutely NOTHING AT FUCKING ALL -- to fix the most embarrassing and pathetic health care system in the industrialized world.

Go to hell and rot, you piece of crap.

Posted by: Mark D on July 20, 2009 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

Who knew that the Money Party would come out against health care reform?

If the Muslim terrorists ever threaten America with nuclear bombs, move to Washington D.C. because the terrorists already know that their bombs couldn't possible hurt America as gravely as our lobbyist system of government. Think of D.C. as a vast fallout shelter.

Posted by: anonymous on July 20, 2009 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

I am SO with Mark D on this one.

Posted by: chrenson on July 20, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

It's also worth noting that many of these "centrists" are supported by local insurance monopolies, and reforms in the model of a national exchange and a public plan will force competition in their states and districts. For instance, BCBA controls something along the lines of 70-75% of Arkansas' insurance market, and to believe that this situation will have no impact on how Sen. Lincoln approaches reform is to be exceptionally naive. And you can repeat this for Nebraska, Montana, Louisiana, Indiana, etc.

Most people don't know just how highly uncompetitive private medical insurance really is, so the canard that an exchange and a public option will hurt competition gets more traction than it should.

Posted by: Sly on July 20, 2009 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK



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