Political Animal


March 21, 2013 10:40 AM No, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney Did Not Enact Obamacare

By Ed Kilgore

The Washington Examiner’s Phillip Klein is one of the Right’s more sensible pundits. But in his column on the Tenth Anniversary of the Iraq War, he sneaks one of the more important conservative revisions of American political history through the back door:

In 2004, with the memory of the defeat of the Clinton health care plan still fresh enough in people’s minds, the idea of a Democratic president passing universal health care legislation would have seemed like a distant liberal fantasy. In fact, in the Democratic primary, even Howard Dean’s health care proposal (that mostly built on existing government programs) was tame by today’s standards.
But by 2006, with sectarian violence escalating in Iraq, President Bush’s approval rating had cratered and Democrats were able to take over both chambers of Congress in an election that was largely a backlash against the war. Exit polls showed that 56 percent of Americans who voted in that year’s midterm elections opposed the Iraq War — and 80 percent of that group voted for Democrats.
Suddenly, there was a change in what seemed politically possible. In 2007, as the Democratic presidential primary season got under way, emboldened liberal activists were able to convince all of the top contenders to release universal health care plans.

You kind of have to reason back from the fact that the “politically impossible” Obamacare proposal that Klein says only the backlash to the Iraq War enabled was itself based on a long series of Republican proposals, not just Romneycare but a Republican alternative to Clintoncare back in the 90s. That fact reinforces the related fact that Democrats have pretty much been committed to the goal of universal publicly-established health coverage since the Truman administration (e.g., the supposedly “conservative” Democratic Leadership Council always made universal health coverage a high-priority goal), while differing on the means and pace, and differing with Republicans who sometimes flatly defended the status quo and sometimes issued their own competing coverage-expansion proposals. As a whole, these latter were pretty much the template for Obamacare.

The idea that big Democratic health coverage plans suddenly appeared for the first time since 1994 during the 2008 presidential cycle, as “emboldened liberal activists” went for the gold gambling on a landslide, is simply not true. All the 2004 Democratic candidates had comprehensive health reform proposals (no, they didn’t all provide 100% coverage, but neither does Obamacare), and they actually spent as much time talking about them as Clinton and Obama did in 2008.

But here’s the howler:

On top of Obama’s 2008 victory, congressional Democrats were able to build on their gains from 2006, so that once all the votes were counted (and Sen. Arlen Specter defected) they had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. It was only the lopsided nature of the majorities that allowed a plan as ambitious as Obamacare to become law.

Um, no, that’s got it almost completely backwards. It was the Republican Party’s collective decision to refuse to accept any form of health care reform, even those modeled on past GOP proposals, followed by the Senate Republican decision to filibuster any legislation to the bitter end, that made 60 votes for Obamacare necessary. That’s when the 2008 landslide, in which stubborn GOP support for an endless war in Iraq was indeed a factor, became important.

There’s no telling what contemporary politics would be like had George W. Bush not listened to his vice president and his advisers and invaded Iraq on false pretenses. Maybe he could have governed more successfully, but then just maybe he might have lost in 2004 had he and his party not been able to spend three solid years convincing Americans they needed to kill a lot of Arabs in order to avenge the killing of a lot of Americans by Arabs in 2001. The Bush administration had a lot of domestic failures, substantive and political, and by the time the 2006 elections rolled around, its stewardship of the economy was a big problem exacerbated by Republican refusal to admit things weren’t just peachy. And unless you go through a Rube Goldberg machine to explain connections, it’s not all that clear that the Iraq War caused the economic disaster that left Bush a feckless bystander and Barack Obama the odds-on favorite in 2008.

By the time Congress finally got to vote on the Affordable Care Act, the bill was a health-care-expansion scheme that was based more on Republican than Democratic policy precedents, and secured (because King Filibuster required it) support from senators ranging from Bernie Sanders to Ben Nelson. The idea it was some radical bill that would have never been even imagined as possible without the Iraq War is far, far off the mark.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on March 21, 2013 11:02 AM:

    Bass-ackwards, indeed.

    And the reason the Republicans haven't been able to come up with their own alternative health care plan, was because the Democrats had already stolen theirs - via Heritage & Romneycare.
    And the only thing more Conservative that could still be called "health care," was the status quo - such as that can be called "health care," and not "For-profit Health Care."
    And that's what they were left defending.

    As for what I quote below, well, Ed, you were warned a long time to 'stay away from the brown acid, since, it's not too good...':
    "There’s no telling what contemporary politics would be like had George W. Bush not listened to his vice president and his advisers and invaded Iraq on false pretenses. Maybe he could have governed more successfully..."

    No, he couldn't have govererned more successfully.

    He was a f*ck-up from the second he was born.
    He was an arrogant, insecure, incurious, sociopathic @$$hole, who only wanted the position because he felt it was due him.

    Cheney was one of only countless inept morons and socopaths that were in the administration.
    The only one I'll present as barely competent, was Colin Powell. But he was a Bush Crime Family butt-boy for so long, they bleached all of the competence out of him, long before he became SoS.
    SoS was his "Peter Principle" end-point.

    The Bush mis-administration couldn't hold a 1-car funeral procession without there being a horrible accident, explosions, fires, people dead and wounded - and EMS, the police, and fire departments, being blamed for the carnage and inept way things were handled, and the MSM paid of to cover-up the catastrophe.

  • Josef K on March 21, 2013 11:06 AM:

    I know I say this alot, but let's be fair to them. The GOP has not a single, solitary success to its name. Everything they've done since at least 1980 has either damaged the country or its economy or its standing in ways that are clear and unambiguous the GOP's fault. They've gotten very good at twisting (at least rhetorically) history and events so they look only marginally less bad; this is only natural as the alternative is for them to admit they're the single worst threat to the Republic since the British Army marched into DC in 1814 and set fire to the place.

    You have to admire the chuzuptah involved, but shouldn't be even remotely surprised by it. A mass suicide of card-carrying Republicans is the only other alternative we might see.

  • MichaelF on March 21, 2013 11:39 AM:

    "so that once all the votes were counted..."

    So that's how they're describing Norm Coleman's extended temper tantrum in 2008/2009...

  • schtick on March 21, 2013 11:52 AM:

    The only thing that would have happened if Bush hadn't listened to dicky and rummy about invading Iraq is, he would have lost the election.

    The other thing is, he wanted to privatize EVERYTHING.

  • paul on March 21, 2013 12:02 PM:

    The whole premise of this thing is really weird. "We screwed up so badly and so thoroughly for so long that our opponents were able to pass extreme legislation." Even if you grant that, then what?

    Why the heck should anyone support a group whose own people say it's done so terribly that a (supposedly) really bad thing still looks better?

  • dweb on March 21, 2013 12:07 PM:

    There’s no telling what contemporary politics would be like had George W. Bush not listened to his vice president and his advisers and invaded Iraq on false pretenses.

    And there is no telling what contemporary politics would be like if Harry Reid and the Neanderthal wing of Senate Democrats would pass meaningful filibuster reform allowing majority votes on appointments and legislation.

    But Harry is really angry about GOP obstruction and refusal to play nice, so there is hope....Bwahahahahahahaha

  • boatboy_srq on March 21, 2013 12:12 PM:

    a plan as ambitious as Obamacare

    Apparently, not letting people die in the ER or on the street, or forcing people to choose between emergency medical treatments and their homes, is "ambitious".

    It was the Republican Party’s collective decision to refuse to accept any [insert Democratic agenda item here], followed by the Senate Republican decision to filibuster any legislation to the bitter end, that made 60 votes for Obamacare necessary.

    Startling how Klein assumes that any Democratic policy item - which, by definition, would be opposed by Republicans - would be some remarkable overreach. This especially since GOTea obstructionism essentially forces the "60 vote" requirement for execution. Apparently in Teahadistan, Democratic majorities only count when they're 3/5 or higher, and once they reach that level suddenly become dramatic, "ambitious" "overreach." This logic extends well beyond the ACA battle: it covers economic stimulus, tax reform (at least tax reform that doens't equate to cutting 1%er rates), financial sector reform and oversight, etc.... essentially any "good governance" agenda item.

  • Epicurus on March 21, 2013 12:16 PM:

    It's not surprising, really. The GOP continues to attempt to re-write the history books in their favor; they will fail. Keep pumping out the fiction, it sells well in the remainder bin at Wal-Mart. Those of us in the "reality-based community" know the truth.

  • jim filyaw on March 21, 2013 12:24 PM:

    why is it a continuing republican myth that all democratic programs (social security, medicare, obamacare, etc) have happened in some sort of cosmic vacuum, i.e., that everything was just hunky-dory before the socialists showed up with their collectivist ideas? there were real problems which these programs addressed, maybe not perfectly, but it would take a fool to argue that things were not better with the program. there was also a real vacuum. it consisted of republican ideas.