It is rare that you can pinpoint an exact date as to when a politician threw her career away, but Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democratic incumbent from Arkansas, did just that with an op-ed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on July 8, 2009. In it, she endorsed the so-called “public option,” a gateway to government-run healthcare. Indeed, the Democratic Party’s near universal grip on federal seats in Arkansas will be wiped out in November due to the support of Arkansas congressional Democrats for Obamacare. In a sense, Arkansas stands as a perfect microcosm of the looming disaster awaiting Democrats at the polls.
There is a fair amount of silliness emanating from Democratic strategists, given ample voice in the mainstream media, that the public actually likes Obamacare if you break it down into parts and explain to the public what it entails. Uh, yeah. If you break out the benefits and ask folks if they like them, you’ll get positive responses. However, once it is explained how these benefits will be paid for, and how it will impact the economy and individuals’ control of their own health plans, support tanks.
This argument is just another variation of the Healthcare-Is-Good-For-You-If-You’d-Only-Listen spin that has been rolled out by the White House since it first started trying to win over public support for an unprecedented government intrusion into the personal and financial decisions of Americans when it comes to their health.
Which is a much more subtle argument than was initially made. And that ain’t saying a lot. The initial response to anybody who dared to question the reform bill was to accuse them of being un-American or fearmongers. Blanche Lincoln scored a twofer, using both epithets against her own constituents.
Never before had I heard Blanche Lincoln sound like Nancy Pelosi. Luckily, I never will again.
In the tumultuous days when Obamacare was initially rolled out, when few politicians had actually read the bill (have they yet?), the liberal establishment, high with paternal arrogance, was confident that the public would line up like lemmings behind the bill. Emerging from behind closed doors, members of Congress parachuted into their home states and expected to be applauded for their bold vision and sweeping reform, and that their constituents would understand that they knew what was good for them and would be grateful--once it had all been properly explained.
Instead they were heckled. They were met with angry protest. Their constituents asked rude questions in town hall meetings. And they reacted with a party-wide nervous breakdown.
Rather than listening and adapting to the overwhelming opposition they encountered, they freaked out. Started hurling insults at their own constituents as if they had developed sudden cases of Tourette’s Syndrome. Fearmongers! Racists! And, most cutting, Republicans!
The only problem was that, even just a year ago, there weren’t a whole lot of Republicans in Arkansas. One of the last single-party states of the Old South, Arkansas was dominated at the local, state, and federal level by Democrats. Democrats controlled the state House. Democrats controlled the state Senate. Democrats controlled the judiciary. Hell, Democrats even controlled the state’s Chamber of Commerce.
And yet, opposition to Obamacare was overwhelming. Surely, Lincoln should have surmised, there was a Democrat or two in that 60 percent of Arkansas voters lined up in opposition to the bill.
Surely Marion Berry, the longtime congressman from the state’s First District, would have surmised this. Surely Vic Snyder, the longtime congressman from the state’s Second District, would have surmised this. And, surely Mike Ross, the longtime congressman from the state’s Fourth District, would have surmised this.
None did. Only Ross put up much of a fight, for a while, and he milked it for all it was worth. I don’t blame him. It made him a star, briefly. Alas, his waffling in the final debate caused his star to fade a bit and his eventual no vote did little put the shine back on.
Not terribly long after he cast his vote in support of Obamacare, Berry “retired” from his seat, one of the bluest of blue districts in the country. Shockingly, Republican Rick Crawford is neck and neck with his Democratic opponent in this Delta district. Snyder of Little Rock? His is a congressional district dominated by state government workers dependent on government largesse for their livelihood, and he too, at one time, was considered safe for as long as he wanted the seat. He also has “retired” in the face of hurtling poll numbers and Tim Griffin, a young Republican attorney, has locked up that seat. Mike Ross? For the first time since his election, he is in a real fight for survival.
There are a lot of reasons why the Democrats--who won such large majorities only two years ago--face losing power after only one term. It’s too depressing to count the ways. What started it all, though, was Obamacare. Not just its intrusion into the personal decisions by Americans about their healthcare. Not just its shocking price tag. Not just the Democrats’ obsessive focus on this bill at a time when Americans were mostly worried about jobs.
It was also the condescension, a hint of the European paternalism, that emanates from the current government, a government that crammed this bill down the throat of a public that clearly opposed it. And then had the arrogance to assert that the public just didn’t understand the bill. The peasants.
Turns out that the public understood the bill better than Congress itself understood the bill. And they didn’t like what they saw. Town hall meeting after town hall meeting, members of Congress faced clear and resolute opposition.
Their response? Shut up already, we know what’s good for you.
Corrected on 10/19/2010: An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly indicated how Rep. Mike Ross voted on Obama’s healthcare reform legislation. He voted against the bill.