Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

October 29, 2010

THE ACCOMPLISHMENT-FREE ALTERNATE UNIVERSE.... In the wake of the 1994 midterms, it was not uncommon for many -- in the Democratic Party, in the media, in the country in general -- to wonder whether the results would have been different had the health care reform effort not failed. Maybe, the thinking went at the time, if Dems could have pointed to a milestone accomplishment, and hadn't suffered such a legislative fiasco, they wouldn't have lost the House and Senate.

Sixteen years later, a "war" is beginning to break out in some Democratic circles with a similar question: maybe if Dems didn't achieve this milestone accomplishment, they wouldn't be poised to endure drastic losses in the midterm elections.

Obviously, it's a speculative issue, and no one can say with confidence what public attitudes would be like now if (a) health care reform had failed; or (b) Democrats never even tried to get it done. The economy is, was, and will be the top issue on voters' minds, and right now, it's just not good enough to help the incumbent majority withstand the prevailing/historical winds.

But that won't stop the debate. Jonathan Cohn imagines an alternate universe in which Democrats failed to deliver on health care reform and President Obama dropped the issue. It's well worth reading.

Of course, the second-guessers could be wrong. Imagine for a second that the future had turned out differently -- that, after passing the stimulus, Obama turned to health care reform and made it the centerpiece of his domestic agenda. Maybe the fight would have turned into a fourteen-month-long political boondoggle, helping to turn independents against Washington and allowing conservatives to rally. Maybe the final bill would have included major compromises, leaving the liberal base dispirited. And maybe, after it was all done, Democrats would be likely to lose the House and in danger of surrendering the Senate -- with losses even more severe than the ones they face now.

It's possible -- just as it's possible that the outcome of this election actually has very little to do with health care. It could have been determined back in February, 2009, when Obama and his allies settled on a too-small stimulus -- whether out of political necessity or economic misjudgment -- while standing behind necessary but unpopular rescues of the banking and auto industries. The truth about these counterfactuals is that you can never really know what might have been if history had unfolded differently.

One thing is certain, however. Had Obama succeeded in passing health care reform, he would have brought financial security and access to basic care to millions of Americans, while beginning the hard and necessary work of reengineering the health system to make it more efficient. Yeah, the voters might still be really angry. The Democrats might still be on the verge of a historic defeat. But the country would be a lot better off.

This is, of course, a description of imaginary circumstances, but the point should be obvious.

Similarly, Matt Yglesias' take yesterday was very compelling: "[O]bviously you don't want to risk a congressional majority over something trivial. But the Affordable Care Act is not a trivial law. It's one of the most important laws of the past 30 years. So then the question becomes, was it important in a good way? I think it was. And that's the job of a congressional majority -- to pass important bills that change the world for the better. I think the 111th Congress did a fair amount of that."

This is, I've long assumed, why people seek to serve the public through elected office in the first place.

The alternative, by the way, is leaving a dysfunctional health care system in place for the indefinite future -- bankrupting families, businesses, and government agencies. As Greg Sargent noted today, "Those who think Dems shouldn't have tried reform this time around need to be asked when Dems would have gotten their next bite at the health care apple -- particularly with such big majorities."

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

Bookmark and Share

Of all the people who are not happy with the health care bill, I wonder how many have actually read the bill and how many have listened to repubs
propoganda about the bill, anyone who says that they are paying higher taxes under Obama would believe anything.

Posted by: js on October 29, 2010 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

The dynamic of these elections was set before Obama entered office. A larger stimulus would not have resulted in dramatically different economic circumstances given the magnitude of the problems.

The dynamic was established by the decision by Republicans to purse a scorched earth approach. The complex mess Republicans created was destined to convince the wavering middle that electing Democrats was a mistake when Democrats could not solve the problems within 2 years.

Posted by: jb on October 29, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Given the essential corruption of our political system, the ACA was astonishing on its own terms. For the first time, health care will be regulated on a federal level, thus allowing cost containment, much greater justice, and less private-market capriciousness. It could have been much better but that would necessitate the counterfactual of a basic political integrity. The crucial question now is whether it can withstand the wholesale nihilism of the American right.

Posted by: walt on October 29, 2010 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

You really think your readers are stoooopid, don't you, steve.

So it was either the ol' dysfunctional system or a plan that is so embarrassing, they had to make it kick in after 2 election cycles....

And if people don't like it, its because they are not as smart as you?

And nothing else was possible even though the public overwhelming supported a public option and the majority, single payer.

Posted by: Ian on October 29, 2010 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Hate to agree with FDL - but they're right on this one.

There were 3 major possibilities -

1) Don't do anything on health care. Bad since major problem and was promised.

2) Fight for a strong bill including guarantee of public option.

3) Come up with a compromise bill which no-one really likes.

Administration chose 3 which was a disaster politically.

FDL's point - would have been better to have fought - and forced the GOP to filibuster Option 2 - strong bill. And even better if they had done that in year 1, not year 2.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on October 29, 2010 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

There is also the alternative universe where Democrats banded together and formed a cohesive national message in defense of their votes rather than running away from them.

Imagine of that world existed. A world where Democrats pounded 3-4 key talking points everytime they appeared on TV. Where Democrats did not run AGAINST their own sitting President. Where Democrats took PRIDE in their accomplishments rather than pretending they didn't happen (which just gives the Republican talking points credence).

Posted by: thorin-1 on October 29, 2010 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting that there is no alternative scenario discussed where the Democrats fought for single payer, or even for the "strong public option" that Obama said he was "committed" to ... instead of declaring single payer "off the table" and excluding advocates of single payer from the debate, and throwing the public option under the bus.

Instead, the Democrats preemptively rejected these genuinely progressive approaches which polls showed had strong public support, and instead built the bill around a 30-year-old Republican proposal -- the individual mandate requiring every American to purchase insurance from for-profit corporations -- and then handed the whole deal over to insurance corporation lobbyists and their bought-and-paid-for stooges in the Senate to write the bill.

Obama and the Democrats had an opportunity to forge the equivalent of a New Deal for the 21st Century.

Instead, they chose to meekly negotiate for a Slightly Better Deal from the corporations.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on October 29, 2010 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

In another, fantasy, universe imagine if this country had an honest media that actually spoke the truth on whatever issue independent of any politcal considerations ? If so, even the most stupid American, which sadly is the majority in this country, would have created a country that actually had social equity at it's core. But we don't. Instead we have a Corporate Media whose employees only function is to generate the propaganda necessary in order to benefit their employers. This is why the BIGGEST ENEMY TO OUR COUNTRY ARE THE CORPORATIONS AND THE MEDIA THAT THEY OWN. If our country were honest then all the media elites such as Brian Williams, David Gregory, Wolf Blizter, and all the fucking rest of these criminals, would have their corrupted Souls framed in FBI posters as fugitives. They are, indeed, our biggest enemy.

Posted by: stormskies on October 29, 2010 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

It is NOT the health care legislation itself! *Whatever* issue or legislation the Democrats had tried to do would have been framed and aggressively jack hammered by the wingnuts generally the same way: Armageddon. The PROBLEM is that Democrats were caught clueless from the day of the inauguration onwards! Wingnuts have been 25 beats ahead of everything, and there is simply no excuse for that to have happened! Everyone knows, or should know by now how they operate.

Posted by: Varecia on October 29, 2010 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

stormskies you're absolutely correct. I mentioned this the other day, but it bears repeating. At the tail end of Hardball one day this past week, Chris Mathews was complete disbelief that Democrats weren't campaigning on the health care legislation they past. He was completely flummoxed as to why they would run from it. I wondered how many on air hours Mathews had devoted to the tea baggers' tantrums over "socialized medicine", how much time he had spent on the "death panels" instead of debunking the nonsense and covering what the legislation really was about? and he's confused as to why health care is now a toxic issue with voters. Look in the mirror Mr. Mathews along with the rest of your colleagues.

Posted by: SaintZak on October 29, 2010 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Great post. In a more civilized time, what Obama did over the last 2 years would be rightly recognized as wisely spending his political capital on necessary reforms. I predict that it will be so recognized in hindsight. That is true statesmanship, doing what you believe needs to be done and taking your shots in the short run, and trusting your judgment that things will be for the best in the long run.

There was once a time not so long ago that you could truly consider the opposition party as the loyal opposition. You might disagree on means, but generally everyone worked towards the same ends. No more. Today's Republican Party and its allies have truly morphed into something ugly and repellent, a metastasizing cancer on the American body politic. They exist only to wield power for its own sake and enrich themselves.

Posted by: Rasputin22 on October 29, 2010 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Varecia - if you want to believe this is because, gee, gosh, obama and the dems made a big mistake; that is up to you.

I will skip posting more information and supporting links to the many other ways this administration has sold-out its base - from what I have seen today, such comments from others are quickly deleted.

Many are no longer willing to be as "gracious" as you are about this - repeated failures and widespread disenfranchising of your base (after a historic mandate in 2008) did not happen because dems misjudged repugs and the media.

Posted by: Ian on October 29, 2010 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Rasputin22 - bush is sure his legacy will go up too. Both are pretty silly proclamations.

And both scenarios assume that absolutely nothing else was possible - the limitations on action under both administrations were clearly set out from the very beginning.

Then the next question becomes, so did each lie about their intentions. Its so funny - here, people recognize that bush has little or no credibility.

Obama, on the other hand, some will defend to the end, even when, in so many ways, the results are the same.

Does anyone really think the Gulf mess (its still going on you know) was handled responsibly?

Still fighting 2 unfunded wars OK with you too?

And everyone else that disagrees about a hcr bill that will permanently ingrain an inefficient private sector into health care delivery was a bold stroke of genius?

Please, you are insulting the intelligence of most.

Posted by: Ian on October 29, 2010 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

Rasputin22 wrote: "In a more civilized time, what Obama did over the last 2 years would be rightly recognized as wisely spending his political capital on necessary reforms. I predict that it will be so recognized in hindsight."

Actually, looking back in hindsight from an extremely uncivilized future in which human civilization is collapsing under the onslaught of anthropogenic global warming, what will be "rightly recognized" about the Obama administration is that they failed to take action to quickly and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions when there was still (maybe) a chance to do so in time to avert catastrophe.

All of the other "accomplishments" will be "rightly recognized" as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on October 29, 2010 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

bush destroyed the republican brand - that is why they launched the tea party.

Daily Kos was so giddy about it, for an entire year they promoted the "Goposaur" - mockingly turning the republican logo as a dinosaur.

Obama and democratic party leadership squandered an opportunity to lead. We will see, but it appears the democratic party brand has been destroyed now too, at least for the next election cycle.

And because big losses that everyone anticipates will totally derail everything else this administration promised, most like the destruction of the democratic party brand reaches beyond 2012.

There is no one to blame but the president and party leadership. And Obama repeatedly proves he is not up to the tasks before him by tying to blame everyone else for his administrations failures.

But when you surround yourself with Goldman Sachs insiders after promising, "Change you can believe in", the outcomes were plain for all to see.

Posted by: Ian on October 29, 2010 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't read all the comments, but as always, Democrats turn to eating their own first, rather than understanding that as long as Fox News, Limbaugh, Beck (and now add the Koch brothers) et al. are around and thriving, Democrats could deliver world peace and make everyone in the country a billionaire overnnight, and rabid conservatives will still convince the public at large that Democrats want to kill everyone's grandmothers and hurt small businesses.

Democrats did nothing wrong, EXCEPT for what they always do wrong -- they were afraid to toot their own horn and call out again and again the rabid foolery that passes for today's conservative "leaders."

Posted by: June on October 29, 2010 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

June, your post makes no sense - you can't have it both ways.

The real problem is that they needlessly CAPITULATED on everything from 2000 onwards.

Bush got everything he wanted - even after dems ran on "accountability" (immediately taking any meaningful accountability off the table).

If the dems repeatedly capitulated to a radical right fringe and the corporate media that you identify - then there is nothing to toot your own horn about, is there?

Posted by: Ian on October 29, 2010 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Ian, your conservative blather is astounding, and dressing it up in moderate tones does not hide conservative baiting .

Posted by: Michaeli on October 29, 2010 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK
Hate to agree with FDL - but they're right on this one.

I am mystified. Why would you "hate" to agree with FDL. They've actually been right on a lot of stuff. I don't get it. Why trash another progressive blog?

And I think I mostly agree with Ian's comments.

Posted by: msmolly on October 29, 2010 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

It seems to me the thing that the Dems lack in 2010--and what they lacked in 1994 --is a reason that voters should elect Dems.

What will the Democrats do for regular folk if the Democrats are re-elected.

Democrats have chosen to take a position roughly equivalent to Bush 41's position in 1992: if you wait a bit things will get better.

The difference between Bush in '92 and Democrats in 2010 is that the wait was shorter in '92 than in 2010.

The Democrats haven't lost yet, but if they do... I suspect Dems made two mistakes.

Obama did not go after Republicans forcefully enough in the media. He assumed he would be rewarded in some way by not being aggressive when the GOP thwarted his agenda. The Republicans assumed Obama and the Dems would be blamed for a lack of progress.

The Democrats were also too conservative. They assumed if they coddled monied interest groups that they would be able to defend their seats with the advantages of incumbency. But once those monied interest groups saw blood in the water they couldn't help themselves.

I actually think Dems will do better than most are predicting. But if they do lose big, the lesson might be that Dems should be tougher on Republicans and GOP interest groups when they get in power.

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on October 29, 2010 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Obama campaigned on audacity but delivered moderation. I think he underestimated the desire to take on corporate interests: pharma and the insurance companies, Wall Street, and campaign finance reform. He failed to focus the spotlight on Republican obstructionism and cynicism. And now he is paying the price for not capturing the populist fervor for change.

I support him only because the alternative is far, far worse.

Posted by: Seould on October 29, 2010 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

No, they didn't make an error in passing the HCR bill - they made a bunch. Making it solely a Dem bill instead of working with the GOP - leaving themselves vulnerable to GOP spin, pushing it first instead of job bills, putting the major reforms off for 4 years.

They made a lot of mistakes.

Posted by: JEA on October 29, 2010 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

Exhibit A from "eating our own": @Ian

(And if you couldn't tell, I disagree with Ian's every word.)

Posted by: June on October 29, 2010 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

jea. you have it backwards. Obama has ruined his brand and that of other Dems by trying to compromise with those who want no compromise. He (and you) haven't lerarned that lesson, even now. New leadership is needed that forcefully and articulately advocates coherent positions on job stimulation, health care, foreign wars, and a host of other issues where Obama has advocated weak, incoherent policies timidly defended. that new leadership is needed now-- even if it increases the probability of a one-term Palin presidency. Six more years of BHO will guarantee a decade of Palinistas.

Posted by: gdb on October 29, 2010 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

Just consider another alternative universe. One where the Democrats had passed a bill that established a health plan with market mechanisms to avoid moral hazard. It could resemble the French system, the best in Europe if not the world, where the patient pays the doctor and they negotiate the fee without government or insurance plan interference. The patient then gets a check a week or two later from the health plan that is a negotiated flat amount for the service. It usually doesn't pay the full charge and there is no coercion on either party to limit themselves to a predetermined total charge.

The system encourages fee-for-service but there are HMO-like programs for those who like them. Doctors can charge what they like but those who follow the plan fee schedule are rewarded with vacations and pensions. Medical school is free and doctors coming out of training have no debt so, even if they make less money than their American colleagues, they are in pretty good shape economically.

I was banned here for suggesting such a system last spring. The details are on my blog. I was accused of opposing Obamacare in spite of my interest in universal care.

Any second thoughts ?

Posted by: Mike K on October 29, 2010 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

Republican Goofball Mike K.

"Just consider another alternative universe. One where the Democrats had passed a bill that established a health plan with market mechanisms to avoid moral hazard. It could resemble the French system, the best in Europe if not the world...."

Republican Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader:

"What we can fairly conclude, even before the votes are counted on Nov. 2, is that America is not interested in becoming France," said McConnell, the Senate's minority leader from Kentucky.

The French health care system is compulsory for all citizens, includes a public option, does not allow insurance companies to realize a profit, reimburses serious illnesses and injuries at 100%, pays doctors very little, and has the majority of hospitals owned by the government, among sharp differences.

All those ideas are so popular with Republicans and conservative Democrats, aren't they? They are in fact the very ideas that they -- and you -- screamed were socialism Hitler tyranny.

Meanwhile, the House Republican Neanderthals so hate anything French they stripped the very word from the menu in the House cafeteria lest they be tainted by ingesting something that was even called European. Like you, they are ridiculous dipshits, and not to be taken seriously.

Lead the charge, Mike. At your next local Tea Party meeting stand up and say very loudly that you want a compulsory French-style health care system that dismantles the for-profit insurance companies and cuts doctors' pay by a third while ceding hospitals to the Federal government. This is your moment!

Posted by: trex on October 29, 2010 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

Let me just add that if a crazed Teabagger doesn't put a bullet in you after that, Pfizer will.

Posted by: trex on October 29, 2010 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

Well, at least you didn't delete my comment. My suggestion was to use the French system as a model. McConnell is not my, or the tea parties', favorite Senator.

They are in fact the very ideas that they -- and you -- screamed were socialism Hitler tyranny.

Once again, leftists cannot have a rational discussion and ALWAYS go to ad hominem hysteria. That's why people are reluctant to debate you.

Posted by: Mike K on October 29, 2010 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

My suggestion was to use the French system as a model

Really? I just laid out the components of the French health care system for you. Socialist socialist socialist with a few modest tweaks. Government negotiates prices, everybody must pay in, everybody is covered, the sickest and most expensive patients pay nothing. No market forces because there is no competition between insurance companies except for modest supplementals.

So how exactly does your plan differ? Please be specific. And let me just preempt you and predict that when it ends up that your plan is just free medical school for doctors who can charge whatever they want when they're out as long as they post their prices but none of the other components of French care that actually define the system and that you don't like and can't support publicly because conservatives would have your head on a pike if you did, then that isn't the fucking French health care system, you tool; it's a bag full of wishes and unicorns with no way to pay for it and no gains in access or protections for human beings who need health care.

And by the way, calling you a tool isn't ad hominem because the substance of my argument doesn't rest on it. It's simply casual abuse dealt out on a system of merit. Further, noting that you and your fellow numbskull Teatards did in fact refer to the Democrats health care plan as socialism Hitler tyranny isn't ad hominem either. That's called "quoting you."

But as long as we're talking about it, Republicans and Teatards saying they won't work with Obama or Democrats because they are just like Hitler and the Nazis IS actually ad hominem argumentation! And for anyone who is interested, there ARE plenty of examples of ad hominem argumentation on your blog. Most of them go something like this: "...this is because leftists and socialists can't help themselves and always do X...." It is a tactic that attempts to void validity of an argument simply based on a characteristic imputed to a debater -- you know, like saying we must bomb countries in the middle east because the only thing "they" understand is force.

And don't think that everyone reading this thread didn't notice that you cowardly avoided debating specifics on this issue by (incorrectly) invoking your unwillingness to engage in debate with someone who might go "ad hominem" with you. Poor little thing.

Posted by: trex on October 29, 2010 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

Today I attended a seminar on the new law. Many of the new provisions are pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. Too bad regular folks have no idea what is in the new law. Are you listening clowns in the media still pushing "death panels?"

That said, there is still enormous room for improvement in the new law, particularly since we are about to enter a period of nagging high unemployment and lots of people aren't going to receive the benefits of the new law until 2014.

Posted by: Ron Byers on October 30, 2010 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, awesome blog you made.. How long did it take you to definitely make this? And where did you obtain your background??

Posted by: Val Moen on February 2, 2011 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly