By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
It appears that the Democratic Party is on the brink of passing its healthcare reform legislation, and the prevailing wisdom here in Washington, based on polls and the results of the off-year elections in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, is that this will be a Pyrrhic victory.
The populace hates Obamacare so much, the Republicans and their sheep in the media contend, that the Democrats will lose control of the House and maybe even the Senate in November. And then, the Republicans promise, they will immediately repeal this abomination, to thunderous applause.
So the devil's advocate in me asks: If this bill is such a political loser for the Democratic Party, why have the Republicans fought so hard to defeat it? Their earnestness and ferocity have been admirable. Aside from one little nudge by Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, not one Republican legislator has been caught "helping" the Democrats to their inevitable destruction.
For the answer, let's return to 1993. Bill Clinton had just been elected, and was trying to move Hillary-care through Congress. Many Republicans, recognizing that the system needed fixing, were thinking about cooperating, and drafting a sound, bipartisan, and moderate bill.
Then Bill Kristol wrote his famous memo, which pretty much set Republican strategy for the next 20 years. Say what you want about Kristol, that was some memo!
"The Clinton proposal is…a serious political threat to the Republican Party," Kristol wrote. "Republicans must therefore…adopt an aggressive and uncompromising counterstrategy designed to delegitimize the proposal and defeat its partisan purpose."
Democratic efforts to reform the private health insurance system, a popular goal in 1993, should be painted as a massive government takeover that will interfere with every patient's relationship with his or her doctor and doom us all to inadequate care, Kristol wrote. For Republicans, the "long-term political effects of a successful Clinton healthcare bill will be even worse--much worse," he said. "It will relegitimize middle-class dependence for 'security' on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government."
And therein, I think, lies the real reason that Republicans have been fighting so hard. It is not that they think this legislation is the political kiss of death; it's that, in their hearts, they're terrified that it will be a rousing success.
There is a reason why all of the United States' major economic rivals and trading partners are years ahead of us on this. Their people have embraced the proposition that fundamental healthcare should be part of the social safety net. Indeed, the Republicans recognized this, when they were in power, when adding the prescription drug benefit to Medicare. And they show it in their passionate resistance, these last 12 months, to Obama's proposal to curb Medicare spending.
The Democratic plan is congressional sausage, and has some undeniably unappetizing elements. But, based on the experience of the rest of the industrial world, I think we have begun a transition to a government-regulated, privately administered healthcare system in which affordable and universal healthcare is a given. There will be a base of care, that everyone can get, and if you want to spend more for Cadillac care, you'll be able to do that too. Money has always talked in America.
And in another 20 years, our kids will look back and wonder what the fuss was all about.