Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 26, 2009

THE MISSING ELEMENT.... I found myself yelling at my monitor this morning, reading Adam Nagourney's NYT piece about the "possibility of bipartisanship" on health care reform. It's not Nagourney's fault, necessarily, but the piece touches all of the bases on the problems with the underlying assumptions.

...Mr. Obama is under growing pressure to choose between wooing a small band of Republicans or struggling to rally his party to use its big majorities in Congress to get the job done. The bipartisanship exhibited in the passage of two other ambitious domestic programs that offer one historical backdrop for this debate -- Social Security in 1935 and Medicare and Medicaid 30 years later -- seems increasingly improbable in today's Washington. [...]

Even if he goes the bipartisan route and succeeds, the end result could be comparatively modest: Perhaps fewer than 10 Senate Republicans, and perhaps not even that many in the House, party officials said. Social Security, by contrast, passed in 1935 with the support of 16 of the 25 Republican senators and 81 of the 102 Republican representatives. [...]

No less important, a partisan vote could also undercut the political legitimacy of the effort itself. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were all passed with significant support from both parties, which is one of the reasons those programs have become such an accepted part of the country's political landscape.

That's true. But when there was bipartisan support for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, we were dealing with a Congress that had Republicans who a) took electoral mandates seriously; b) were chastened by electoral defeats; and c) had plenty of moderates and pragmatists in their caucuses. That's no longer the case.

As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, it's not Obama's fault Republicans have become too conservative, failed at governing, and were punished by voters.

The question of "legitimacy" then becomes tantamount to a heckler's veto -- a small, reflexive minority can cast doubt on the credibility of everything, simply by being stubborn partisans.

Nagourney said independent voters might reject Obama if he "abandons efforts to reach out to Republicans." But what about the months of outreach the president has already done? How about the fact that we'd likely get pre-recess votes in both chambers if the majority stopped caring what Republicans thought?

Nagourney added, "[T]he go-it-alone course could cost Mr. Obama and, more important, Congressional Democrats political cover should the health care plan prove ineffective, unpopular or excessively costly before the 2010 or 2012 elections." Perhaps, but it seems Republicans don't much care about "cover" when it comes to launching campaign attacks. Eight GOP House members voted for the ACES bill on global warming. Will that over vulnerable House Dems "political cover" in 2010? I seriously doubt -- Republicans are going to attack if they see a political benefit in it. And they always see a political benefit in it.

Nagourney went on to say relying on Democrats to pass health care reform may set "a polarizing pattern for the remaining three years of Mr. Obama's first term, complicating his efforts to get through an ambitious agenda by forcing him to rely only on Democrats for votes."

Maybe, but if the shrinking Republican minority is dominated by conservative ideologues, who don't take public policy seriously, and who reflexively reject anything Obama proposes because they're desperate to deny him successes, who's responsible for the "polarizing pattern"?

No less a figure than Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana, one of the chamber's more conservative Dems, conceded, "The Republicans are reduced to a core, so there aren't that many pragmatists left to work things out."

Steve Benen 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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Comments

The effect of political machinery on prospects for health care [at heart, "insurance"] reform is frustrating, as for other things. What's the latest on whether Democrats will reform the system and end the practice of "the tyranny of 40" and so on? Is it spine, is it administrative difficulty, what?

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on July 26, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

"The word bipartisan usually means some larger-than-usual deception is being practiced." -- George Carlin

Posted by: JMG on July 26, 2009 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were all passed with significant support from both parties, which is one of the reasons those programs have become such an accepted part of the country's political landscape.

Those programs had bipartisan support of the voters, that is why they are accepted. Same now with healthcare reform - the GOP congresscritters are out of touch with their own voters who support reform.

Posted by: CParis on July 26, 2009 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Nagourney's piece underscores a pattern among the DC press corps to ignore, or at least downplay, the obvious: the republicans have ABSOLUTELY NO INTEREST in agreeing to ANY of Obama's or Pelosi's agenda. They want Obama and the democrats to fail, while keeping their fingerprints off legislation and doing everything they can to undermine it (one of their tactics being to howl about the lack of bipartisanship--talk about gall!). That way, they think they will escape blame if things go south and they will ride that failure to electoral victory.

On the other hand, if democrats do grow a pair and pass Obama's agenda, and it WORKS, the repubs can forget about regaining the White House or a majority in Congress anytime soon. So this is a big risk they're taking. I just wish the DC press corps would call it more honestly.

Posted by: MVN on July 26, 2009 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Nagourney has never written one bleeding word worthy of remembrance since Dick Cheney -- god damn his shit-filled soul to hell -- utter ed the infamous "Big time."

Nagourney, like so many of his colleagues, is a pure T disgrace to the profession of journalism, and a fantasist. His god damn whine about bipartisanship, amidst the howlingly insane right wing Republican caucuses where he must hang out (unless he just phones it in -- who can tell?) may seem obvious to him, but it indicates to me he is a brain dead scribbler and an asshole.

Shit on 'im...

Posted by: neill on July 26, 2009 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Not enough pragmatists? Perhaps, they could not fit behind the Thomas Jackson stonewall Memorial built in front of the RepuG side of the aisle. Of course, there are some who still say that useage of "stonewall" was a perjorative meaning that Jackson did not come to the aid of his fellow soldiers. The remaining zealot RepuGs fail to come to the aid of any other than their pocket books.

Posted by: berttheclock on July 26, 2009 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

"The Republicans are reduced to a core, so there aren't that many pragmatists left. . ."

How is it that these dinosaurs keep getting re-elected? Surely their (majority of) voters can't be happy with the status quo.

Posted by: DAY on July 26, 2009 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

ERRATUM: apologies to adam clymer -- who i inappropriately (and consistently) associate with that bigger celebrity asshole, nagourney.

Posted by: neill on July 26, 2009 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

This is consistent with the media's obsession with bipartisanship when the Repubs controlled everything. Right?

Posted by: Obama / Steelers / etc on July 26, 2009 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

The failure to impose socialist health care on America will be the nail in the coffin of the BHO presidency.

Pass the popcorn.


Posted by: Al on July 26, 2009 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

"bipartisan" means, in retrospect, "rope-a-doped"

Posted by: bdbd on July 26, 2009 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Why stress yourself out? Whenever I see an excess of the words "may" and "could" in a newspaper article, i know the author is talking out of his ass.

Posted by: marcus on July 26, 2009 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

The REAL issue : legislation without a REAL public option means business as usual for the insurance industry. Profit margins MUST be reduced for the insurance industry in order for insurance premiums to STOP their unacceptable spiraling rate.
To pass legislation of this size and magnitude which FAILS to lower citizen premiums is outrageous.
To create an ineffective CO-OP ruse which fails to lower premiums in a national sense is a disgrace.
Better to pass legislation with ZERO Republican votes,than BETRAY those Americans who really need meaningful financial relief.
In America, Health Care is BIG business. Some areas of insurance protection should create less profit for the Carriers...Health care should be that area.

Posted by: ParityFanatic on July 26, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Administrative costs for privately run healthcare in the US run 31%. Contrast that with Canada where administrative costs are 15%.
Here's another fact for opponents of healthcare reform: health care costs are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the US. Think you're covered? If you're unfortunate enough to have a catastrophic health event you'll find the limits of your coverage fairly quickly.

Posted by: Dennis-SGMM on July 26, 2009 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans have become "too conservative"?

Their current woes stem from dropping Goldwater conservatism in deference to George W. Bush's radical leadership.

Consider: Conservatives in the Barry Goldwater mold support (1) limited government, (2) controlled spending, (3) low taxes, (4) individual liberty, (5) the rule of law, (6) decentralization, (7) restrained executive authority and (8) cautious foreign intervention.

Of the eight conservative standards just listed, Bush adhered to but one: low taxes, notably in cutting taxes in topmost income brackets.

No wonder congressional Republicans want to forget 2001-2008. To allow a review is to face a question (posed everywhere his side of Fox News): Why did you forsake virtually all your principles?

I say it was a case of living in the moment. Which is all right for your dog or my cat, but it is hardly conducive to longtime political health.

Posted by: Jerry Elsea on July 26, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

"Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were all passed with significant support from both parties, which is one of the reasons those programs have become such an accepted part of the country's political landscape."

Pure BS. These programs are an accepted part of the political landscape because they are so popular that the Republicans cannot figure out a way to dismantle them without seriously damaging themselves in the process. Most people have no idea who supported them and who didn't.

Posted by: sceptic on July 26, 2009 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were all passed with significant support from both parties, which is one of the reasons those programs have become such an accepted part of the country's political landscape.

This is a silly assertion. Who remembers what ratio of each party voted for these programs? No one. Their popularity rests entirely on their actual success in improving the lives of Americans. This is why the Cult of Bipartisanship today is so poisonous. Health care reform needs to be passed with the goal of doing the best possible job, because no one is going to give two shits how many Republicans voted for it in the long run, only whether or not it actually fixes the profound problems in health care. What they will remember is that it was Democrats and Democratic ideals that led to it, and the success or failure of reform will be mirrored in the fate of that party.

Posted by: kidcharles on July 26, 2009 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

I would love to see a documentary (or better yet, TV and radio spots) that contrast pre-1988 Republicans with those now in Congress. Most Americans don't realize just how far these guys have strayed off the reservation.

Posted by: DevilDog on July 26, 2009 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Dennis,

"Administrative costs for privately run healthcare in the US run 31%. Contrast that with Canada where administrative costs are 15%."

And the administrative costs for Medicare is less than 2%.

Posted by: Joe Friday on July 26, 2009 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

What Mr. Nagourney ignores is Repubs may pay a price for standing in the way. Perhaps the press might point out the Repubs are working actively to make sure a health plan doesn't work.

we see the village mentality at work again: Dems have all the responsibility while repubs have all the authority.

Posted by: Darsan 54 on July 26, 2009 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with claiming that Republican's somehow abandoned their conservative roots is that it is highly questionable they ever stood for the idealized Barry Goldwater conservatism Jerry Elsea describes.

1) limited government = limited interference in the right of business to do whatever the hell it wants, but no limits on conservatives right to enforce their version of morality on everyone else.
2) controlled spending = let's undo the New Deal, but forget Eisenhower's warnings about the dangers of the military industrial complex.
3) low taxes = #1 priority even then, especially reducing or eliminating progressivity in the income tax.
4) individual liberty = unlimited support for the 2nd ammendment and lip service at best for the 1st, 4th and 5th ammendments.
5) the rule of law = law and order, even when it conflicts with individual liberty.
6) decentralization = states rights = don't push to hard enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965 or Roe v. Wade.
7) restrained executive authority = whenever the executive is a Democrat but many of the supporters of the unitary executive theory under George W. Bush go all the way back to Nixon.
8) cautious foreign intervention = isolationism, except when a red scare can help gin up some support.

Maybe there have been a few conservatives that stood for all these things in a way inconsistent with Republican behaviour in 2001-2008 but they have always been a minority in the Republican party and have always continued to support the Republican party despite that.

Posted by: tanstaafl on July 26, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

"[T]he go-it-alone course could cost Mr. Obama and, more important, Congressional Democrats political cover should the health care plan prove ineffective, unpopular or excessively costly before the 2010 or 2012 elections." Perhaps,

That's one way to put it. The bills as described to date are not popular among swing voters, and the voters could vote the Democratic supporters out of office. It isn't the Republicans currently sitting in Congress that the marginal Democrats are worried about, but the Republican challengers planning runs in 2010 and 2012.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on July 26, 2009 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

In the 2 decades between WW1 and WW2, communism and fascism spread like a virus through the Western World. Republicans voted for the New Deal out of fear, not out of bipartisanship: they knew that, if the government didn't provide relief and take responsibility for the country's economic health, we could easily have gone the way of Russia or Germany.

Thanks mainly to the New Deal, the Great Society, and the landmark civil rights legislation, the fundamentals of the American polity are sound; i.e., there's no threat of revolution. But because of this gift of visionary Democratic leadership, Republicans are now free to indulge in irrelevant culture war button-pushing, and to stonewall measures certain to benefit the overwhelming majority of Americans.

(not to mention there's been a huge re-alignment between 1933 and now, and that comparing Depression era Republicans to the same party today is just silly)

Posted by: kth on July 26, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

That way, they .. ( Republicans ) .. think they will escape blame if things go south and they will ride that failure to electoral victory.

To be fair, Congressional Democrats used the same logic with respect to the Iraq invasion and Bush in general.

Of course, anyone could tell that Bush's actions would bring ill winds.

Posted by: Joey Giraud on July 26, 2009 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

I would love to see a documentary (or better yet, TV and radio spots) that contrast pre-1988 Republicans with those now in Congress. Most Americans don't realize just how far these guys have strayed off the reservation.

Posted by: DevilDog

Say, isn't 1988 the year that Rush Limbaugh launched his nationally-syndicated radio show?

Coincidence, or correlation?

Posted by: 2Manchu on July 26, 2009 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's far more likely that Independents will turn away from Obama and the Dems in disgust if they fail to get things done.

Trying to reason with the Republicans is not a viable option because they have shown they cannot be reasoned with. And it's not just now that they've been reduced in numbers to the Crazy People Party. Remember when they had majorities during most of Bush's presidency & the support, for a long while, of many people across the political spectrum? What did they do with it? I don't recall a single instance of them "reaching across the aisle." I remember comments about neutering farm animals and threats of triggering a "nuclear option" so that those pesky Dems would be marginalized forever.

The Republican party really started to go off the rails in the '60s, and that picked up a lot of speed during the over-rated Reagan years and reached its nadir during Bush. They're so far away from the mainstream it isn't even funny anymore, and nobody will call them on it. They've become the party of lawlessness, the party of No, the party of Party-over-Country. And the worst part is, they don't even try to govern, they're just interested in the win, the power, the money.

How is anyone supposed to negotiate with the likes of them? They should be marginalized because that's who they represent, the fringers, the birthers, the crazies.

Posted by: zhak on July 26, 2009 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

"To be fair, Congressional Democrats used the same logic with respect to the Iraq invasion and Bush in general."

I don't get this, Joey G. Are you implying that Democrats refused to vote for the Iraq invasion (and other Bush bills) in the hope that the policies would fail and they could make political hay with that failure? I wish that were so. Dems voted w/ Bush in large numbers on all of his initiatives--the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, NCLB, the upper income tax cuts, the tax cut for dividends, the bankruptcy bill,and the Medicare Drug giveaway to Big Pharma. I can't think of a single Bush bill that did not have large numbers of Dems joining in. The result is that we gave Bush lots of political cover for all of his idiotic ideas. The Reps may have learned from our stupidity, but they aren't copying our tactics

Posted by: WSP on July 26, 2009 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

Nagourney's ... piece touches all of the bases on the problems with the underlying assumptions.
----------------------------

What an astonishing coincidence.

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on July 26, 2009 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

"The Republicans are reduced to a core, so there aren't that many pragmatists left to work things out."

Not to mention the gerrymandering. Few House members have to worry about appealing to the other ideological side.

And I agree with the above comments - voters have no clue who voted for a given bill. They can't even tell you which party generally supports a given position.

Posted by: flubber on July 26, 2009 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

I have to demur, to the extent that this piece chooses to anatomise remarks by Nagourney, rather than merely remarking in disfavor upon anyone who hasn't been seized by your column on the pointlessness of bipartisanship. Nagourney is an intelligent, extremely well educated, independent and nuanced observer, reporter, and framer of issues without pretense of symmetry in various options he discusses, but also without intemperate neglect of the President's historic interests. I tire of flippancy, but it may be part and parcel of such incredibly slender complaints as yours. I cast the same vote you do, but you seem to need to embarrass it, and I wish you would not.

Posted by: Carter Nicholas, Charlottesville on July 26, 2009 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

Nicely put, Mr. Benen. Your points should be talking points, ad nauseum, for all Democrats to pound on. And whatever media (besides Stewart and Maddow) which has any shred of ethics and intelligence left should be at the least be acknowledging the same.

I'm also wondering what people will be saying in five years or so about the soulless 'conservative' maggots (I’m looking at you, Blue Puppies) who, publicly and repeatedly, insisted on maintaining the sickening profits of venal insurance and pharma corporations at the cost of America's physical and economic health. It's pretty simple - parasite insurance and pharma jackals have been amassing insane wealth off the injury, disease, and misfortune of regular Americans for almost twenty years now (with plenty of 'conservative,' d'oh, corporatist government help), and they'll be damned if ANYONE tries to rip that teat out of their liver lipped mouths. There is no hell hot enough for these fat, navel gazing, bought and paid for grubs. Only in America can someone (or an entire ideology) openly argue FOR insane profits based on ruthlessly exploiting human misery. What a country.

Posted by: Conrads Ghost on July 27, 2009 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK
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