Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 6, 2009

REPUBLICANS FOR REFORM.... It's an extremely small group, but Time's Karen Tumulty notes the GOP contingent that likes what Democrats are up to on health care reform.

Okay, maybe it's not enough to call a groundswell. But after former Majority Leader Bill Frist told me last Friday that he would end up voting for the bill were he still in Congress (with some caveats about the shortcomings of the legislative language as it now stands), we've heard from some other GOP voices in support of the basic contours of Barack Obama's health care reform effort: Bush Administration HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who ran as a Republican, but who is now an independent)* and Mark McClellan, who ran both the Food and Drug Administration and the Medicare and Medicaid programs under George W. Bush.

Others are noticing, too. Mike Allen's widely-read "Playbook" feature in Politico included a headline this morning that read, "Tommy Thompson, Frist, Bloomberg give momentum to health care.... Non-Dem Support Builds For Health Reform."

And as long as we're counting GOP heads here, it's probably worth noting that former Republican Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker and Bob Dole have also "endorsed the sorts of reforms President Obama and his allies are pushing."

Now, as a practical matter, these endorsements probably don't mean much. It's a very modest number of people. Moreover, Frist, Thompson, Bloomberg, McClellan, Baker, and Dole have varying degrees of influence in Republican circles, but not one of them will have a vote when reform comes to the floors of Congress.

But I like the larger framing of this anyway. For one thing, the public, for frustrating reasons I can't fully understand, seems to want a bill with "bipartisan" backing. When high-profile Republicans express tacit support for Democratic efforts, it can help with public perceptions.

For another, it positions congressional Republicans as outside the mainstream. If several notable GOP officials are stepping up to endorse reform efforts, and Republicans on the Hill resist, it makes the lawmakers seem petty and overly partisan.

It reminds me a bit of the presidential campaign when a wide variety of Republicans -- including Ronald Reagan's national security advisor, solicitor general, and White House chief of staff -- endorsed Obama. It undermined GOP arguments that the Democrat was some kind of dangerous radical -- if he were a liberal extremist, why were so many prominent Republicans supporting him?

The same is true here. If health care reform is such a radical idea, why are relatively high profile non-Democrats endorsing the effort?

Update: As I was hitting "publish," an email arrived in my inbox: "Schwarzenegger Endorses Obama Health Care Effort." The list, in other words, is growing.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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Comments

Arnie gets it? That's the last thing I'd have expected. Hard to imagine why he'd endorse it when four Democratic governors won't.

Posted by: Harlow Wilcox on October 6, 2009 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Keep in mind that the results of the elections last November were a statement of no confidence in the last Republican President, not an endorsement of the Democrats.

Democratic opposition to President Bush was reactive and ineffectual for eight years, and the Obama administration's ideas about health care and other areas of policy really are new to most American voters. With respect to health care, my views have more in common with those of Thompson and Dole than with the transparent obstructionism of Congressional Republicans. My point here is just that it would be a mistake for Democrats to think that they've earned enough public trust to try achieving major policy changes with only Democratic support. They haven't.

Posted by: Zathras on October 6, 2009 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

it positions congressional Republicans as outside the mainstream

It also positions them as unconcerned about the consequences of their actions. Lest we forget, the only alternative the minority caucus can agree on is the status quo.

Posted by: Paul Dirks on October 6, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

I believe Bill Frist has subsequently walked back the remarks quoted here.

Posted by: Marlowe on October 6, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

So now we have three out of the last four retired Republican senate leaders endorsing an effort rejected by 98% of the current Republican senate.

Posted by: Christopher on October 6, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

It would be powerful if Dole were to walk back his opposition in Clinton's first term. He won the political battle, and the nation suffered. He's a smart guy, it could happen.

Posted by: Rathskeller on October 6, 2009 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

The race to the middle

The recent condemnations of Beck...
And now running to embrace reform...

Golly. You almost might think that to be a viable republican candidate for President in 2012 you have to:

✓Get off the hate train real quick
✓Embrace the middle (folks want a public option)
✓Speak out against the party line every now and then
✓Have nice hair

I am thinking the one that has been quickest to realize all this is Lindsey Graham. But I think he is too smart to run in 2012. Unless of course things get real bad and he can win. Prediction: He will wait until 2016.

Posted by: koreyel on October 6, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

you wade into a field full of swine -- even old retired swine -- and yer up to your knees in pig shit. Frist did walk back his support of any extant bill and predicted a hcr will pass in dec and hurt the dims in 2010. (USN&WR)

arnie's support is like dracula's these days...

Posted by: neill on October 6, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

zathras, on exactly what basis do you draw your conclusion that we need to have bipartisan support to make significant changes? i can't say that the bush administration gave that concept any thought at all, and i'm trying to understand why we should?

more seriously, i'm more and more certain a bill is going to pass, and i suspect so are the likes of the gop folk being quoted here....

Posted by: howard on October 6, 2009 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Congratulations to all of these men for taking a principled stand without regard to party politics. But I suspect, and this is in no way a criticism, that there was a bit of political self-interest at work here, too; they don't want to be associated with the likes of the people who showed up at "town hell" meetings, or with the likes of Michele Bachmann and Virginia Foxx. I had a hunch the screamers and name-callers were overplaying their hand, and it's looking more and more as though they did.

Posted by: T-Rex on October 6, 2009 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Frist walked back his apparent support of Baucus' bill, but he didn't walk back his entire book.

Posted by: Christopher on October 6, 2009 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

This just further highlights the fact that Democrats, not Republicans are standing in the way of reform.

Keep in mind that the results of the elections last November were a statement of no confidence in the last Republican President, not an endorsement of the Democrats. -Zathras (not the one)

I heartily disagree. Perhaps if Bush were on the ballot, perhaps if Obama hadn't inspired such a tidal wave of support, perhaps if McCain hadn't frightened the country half to death with Palin and his complete lack of economics know how.

I'd actually say just the opposite; it was surprising to me that, in an election year following a wildly unpopular president, how little the election had to do with him.

People support the stated Democratic principles and goals. This has been shown repeatedly through polls. Too bad many of the representatives they elect don't.

Posted by: doubtful on October 6, 2009 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Zathras, I have to disagree with your premise that Obama's positions are new to most Americans. Obama was pretty up-front about his health care positions, and about it being a priority, in both the debates with Clinton (where the differences between their plans was a hotly contested issue) and with McCain. Indeed, Obama, in his "talk to Americans like adults" campaign approach, was pretty substantive and detailed compared to most recent campaigns from either party; there have been few surprises as he has done almost exactly what he talked about on the trail (including being overly moderate on many issues, which should not have surprised progressives). The only surprise, I suppose, is that a candidate once elected actually conforms to what he said in the campaign, a bit of a rarity but one that people should find a positive overall.

Yes there were good reasons to vote against McCain/Palin, but a lot of people professed to enjoy voting for Obama; presumably they knew what he stood for when they came to that conclusion.

Posted by: zeitgeist on October 6, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

"Schwarzenegger Endorses Obama Health Care Effort."

Gov. Smoldering Wreck is on board...what could go wrong?

Posted by: Noam Sane on October 6, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

First, I'll stipulate: "Don't count your chickens....blah, blah."

Will all the Obama doubters that were scurrying around every website in the intertubes please look back at the last several months and acknowledge that the president does, in fact, have a clue. Maybe, just maybe, his legislative strategy was realistic and well-executed. Health insurance reform is about to pass the fifth of five congressional committees, the legislative wind is at our back for the public option, Republican obstructionism is starting to fracture and the conservadems are strangely quiet.

No celebrations yet, but we've never been so close. As long as there are no fumbles in the fourth quarter, Coach Obama will soon be doused in Gatorade at the bill signing ceremony.

Posted by: danimal on October 6, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, well, if Schwarzenegger's on board we have nothing to worry about.

Posted by: Roddy McCorely on October 6, 2009 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

If they voiced or expressed their approval, its not tacit.

Cheers,
Your personal pedant.

Posted by: catclub on October 6, 2009 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Could Arnold make a speech denouncing health care reform girlie men?

Posted by: Tea Bagger Jones on October 6, 2009 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Zathras, are you one of Broder's ghost writers? Most Americans know what the Dems are trying to do, and most Americans, in poll after poll, support a public option.
They also know that Republicans don't want any reform that isn't a complete giveaway to the insurance industry, and that the GOP would be perfectly happy to do nothing. No matter what concessions the Dems have been willing to make, and they've made a lot, Repubs respond with a big NO.
And yet you still insist that Repub support is needed because...well just because. Insisting that Repub support is needed is the same as saying maintain the status quo.
You know the best way to build public trust(even though Dems still have a ton more than Repubs these days)? PASS GOOD LEGISLATION. I guarantee you that the public won't give a rat's ass if any Repubs voted for it, so long as it's good and it works. Oh, and in the alternative, the Dems won't get credit for "bipartisanship" if they pass a water-down piece of insurance industry-friendly crap that doesn't do anyone any good. In fact, it's a good way to ensure a well-deserved return to minority status. The public has a funny way of holding the majority party responsible when they don't follow through on their promises.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on October 6, 2009 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

While not all of these people are presidential contenders, it's quite possible that the ones who are did the math and realized that the wingnut base LOST the Republican primary last year. Limbaugh, RedState, and the rest of the hardcore conservatives leading the "Tea Party" movement HATED McCain, yet were forced to accept him by the rest of the party. That's why they so firmly latched onto Palin, as it rationalized the fact that they were already planning to vote for a dude that they had once insisted they'd never vote for.

So perhaps some Republicans have realized that the wingnut base doesn't actually pick their nominees. For as loud as these people are, they've never gotten the presidential nominee they really wanted. After all, even Bush was the Establishment candidate; as were Reagan, Bush Sr, Dole, and McCain. The Republican Establishment always beats the crazed base.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on October 6, 2009 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

To be sure, it's nice to see these former (and some current) high-profile Republicans endorse the general goals of HCR.

I sense some kind of connection here--let's see, no longer in a position to directly affect policy (or soon to leave that position), and thus no longer in a position to receive large-dollar funding from monied, status-quo interests to do their bidding as opposed to what is best for the people, and so now in the comparatively free position of being able to judge an idea or policy on the merits alone and either support or refute it, without political fallout--nah, I can't see it.

Posted by: terraformer on October 6, 2009 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

The "frustrating reason" is that when pollsters ask the question, they frame it in terms of Democratic willingness to work with Republicans, AND imply that continued effort on the Democrats' part will yield Republican votes. If the question was, "Should Democrats pass health care reform with no Republican votes or abandon reform entirely" (i.e. the actual situation as it exists), I'd wager the polls would look very different.

Posted by: Ron Mexico on October 6, 2009 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Why wouldn't Ahnuld want to jetison HC to the feds? Now that CA is swirling the drain and all he can come up with is reorganizing the taxes. And we all know what that means in politico speak.

I wonder who the party of no has queued up for their next hollywood guvner.

Posted by: Kevin on October 6, 2009 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, but according to the Orangutang County Whackadoodles, Ahhhnuld isn't really a Republican.

Posted by: TCinLA on October 6, 2009 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Uh, shouldn't that be "Powerless Republicans for Reform"?

Posted by: hells littlest angel on October 6, 2009 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Are you not reading TPM? Frist is running away from his support as fast as he can today.

Posted by: MNPundit on October 6, 2009 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

I've been thinking about this public view of bipartisan support, and I wonder if it is a problem. It may be that a significant number of people want their GOP reps to vote for health care support, and when asked if they think that bipartisan efforts are important, they think, "Yeah, I want Sen. Snowe to vote for this," or "My rep isn't that crazy witch from Minnesota, he ought to go along with this!"

In short, it may be that the public are really wanting the GOP to be less insane than it is. Not to mention that the public really has trouble letting go of the fallacy of middle ground. There's an instinctive belief that if you have two, opposing options, then the right choice must be between them. It's why "moderates" tend to do quite well in general elections.

Posted by: Sisyphus on October 6, 2009 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK
Keep in mind that the results of the elections last November were a statement of no confidence in the last Republican President, not an endorsement of the Democrats.

Really? And your evidence for this is, what, exactly? Do try to keep in mind that the two are not mutually exclusive, particularly since "the last Republican President" wasn't, in fact, running.

and the Obama administration's ideas about health care and other areas of policy really are new to most American voters.

Really? And your evidence for this is, what, exactly? Considering that health care reform was a major plank of his campaign and that the issue came up in several debates, forgive me if I assume you're just making shit up.

My point here is just that it would be a mistake for Democrats to think that they've earned enough public trust to try achieving major policy changes with only Democratic support. They haven't.

Really? And your evidence for this is, what, exactly?

In any case, your point is moot. The general public just doesn't really care that much *how* the reform is passed; they care about *whether* it is passed and *what* is passed. If the Democrats get it right, with a robust public option, then it won't matter one whit in future elections that they got virtually no Republican votes.

Posted by: PaulB on October 6, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Zathras wrote: Keep in mind that the results of the elections last November were a statement of no confidence in the last Republican President, not an endorsement of the Democrats.

Yeah, especially since Democrats got their clocks cleaned in the Congressional elections two years before that...oh, wait...

You wish, Zathras.

Posted by: Gregory on October 6, 2009 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if Dole would have lent his support had his wife not lost her US Senate seat last November.

No, I don't think so.

Obama's and Hagen's wins in North Carolina are indicative of a definite swing in the entire country, as are national polls favoring a public option. The Rs oppose it at their own risk.

Posted by: hmmmmm on October 6, 2009 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Zathras wrote: My point here is just that it would be a mistake for Democrats to think that they've earned enough public trust to try achieving major policy changes with only Democratic support. They haven't.

Well, that's neat, isn't it? Given that the Republican Party has determined that it wants to continue to inflict its brand of incompetence on the American people by opposing just about everything the Democrats propose -- never mind the 180-degree turnabout from the time they had a slim majority in Congress and a president appointed by an obviously partisan Supreme Courtm, and despite the fact that the Republicans are more ideologically radical than ever, while many Democrats are quite conservative -- then somehow, magically, a popular Democratic president and large majorities -- including 60 seats in the Senate! -- are no reason the Democrats should enact a Democratic agenda.

Well, that'd certainly prevent Democratic successes from following onto the humiliating epic fail of Republican governance in completely repudiating your faith-based conservative beliefs, Zathras, I'll say that.

And I'll say this: You wish.

Posted by: Gregory on October 6, 2009 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

This is exactly why the President keeps saying this reform includes Republican ideas, and why he's so keen on it being appealing to Republican voters. It's hardly news that national Republicans in Congress are way out of step with their constituents. Whether we get one vote, no votes or a dozen GOP votes, the bill is "bi-partisan" in the senses that count. Dean Broder will just have to learn to live with it.

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Posted by: Lalage on March 3, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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