By Brandon Greife, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
March Madness never had so many meanings. The term typically refers to the electric atmosphere that surrounds the NCAA tournament. This year, however, March Madness perhaps more aptly refers to the passage of healthcare reform. And I am mad. Mad that it passed. Mad that Republicans and, I believe, the American people lost.
I now know how the University of Kansas feels. The Jayhawks, the No. 1 overall seed and prohibitive favorite to win the NCAA tournament, were knocked off by an upstart Northern Iowa team. Going into the tournament, Kansas had all the momentum. Republicans felt the same way. We went into the past weekend up in all of the polls. No, not the ESPN or Coaches' poll; polls of the American people and how they felt about reform. Healthy majorities of people believed that passing healthcare reform meant that the quality of healthcare would go down while the cost would go up. The momentum wasn't enough to stop Nancy Pelosi, who came through with a last-second shot to seal the victory.
As with all surprise losses, we look to blame the referees. Here it may have been justified. Is reconciliation a proper move from the Democrats' playbook? Should fouls have been called on Mary Landrieu and Chris Dodd after their states received special attention in the reform legislation? And I've heard of a chest pass and a bounce pass, but a deem and pass? Is that even legal? Regardless, this particular game is over. Despite the raucous crowd outside the Capitol rooting against them, the Democrats pulled out the close win. They will soon cut down the nets, though I sincerely doubt we'll able to say the same for the deficits.
Like the Jayhawks, one loss doesn't define our season. The election of Scott Brown, Chris Christie, and Bob McDonnell were clear early season wins that showed we are on the right track. The fact we were able to woo key freshman recruit Parker Griffith was a sign that Republicans are returning as the party of fiscal responsibility. Finally, with 33 Democrats voting against the bill, Republicans were able to show the strength of their argument.
While this game was lost, a much bigger contest looms. In November, voters will be presented with a clear choice. The healthcare debate clearly showed the parties' differing coaching philosophies on the role of government in an individual's life. Now, the public will be tasked with choosing. Going into the debate, Republican fans have much to cheer about. According to the latest Gallup poll, President Barack Obama's job approval rating reached its lowest point, with 46 percent of Americans approving and 48 percent disapproving. Even worse than Obama's ever-shortening coattails is the growing enthusiasm gap between the two parties. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found a 21 percent enthusiasm gap favoring Republicans--67 percent of GOPers say they are very interested in voting in November while only 46 percent of Democrats feel the same way.
Democrats have reason to celebrate. They passed a key portion of their agenda and saved Barack Obama from becoming a lame duck president after only one year. Like Kansas, Republicans are simultaneously angry and despondent. But we have to start practicing for the bigger game. The Jayhawks will be back next March. Republicans will be back even sooner.
Corrected on 03/22/10: An earlier version of this article misidentified the team that beat the University of Kansas in the 2010 NCAA basketball tournament. The University of Northern Iowa beat the Jayhawks.