Why Democrats Could Pass a Healthcare Bill With Bad Poll Numbers

The Republicans will have their shot come November.

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By Scott Galupo, Thomas Jefferson Street blog 

A reader brings up a good point. What does it say about the state of our democracy if one party can impose its will on the public in the face of such unmistakable and intense opposition? 

"You can argue we are free, but can you argue we are a republic in the spirit of the founding fathers?" the reader asks. (The Atlantic's Megan McArdle has similar worries here.

Well, yeah, I do. 

The short answer is, as President Obama put it shortly after he was inaugurated: "I won." 

It goes deeper than that, though.

In the '90s, conservatives often derided—rightly, I thought—Bill Clinton (and, for a time, Dick Morris) for governing not by principle but, rather, through poll-tested sound bites and "microinitiatives." Simply reflecting public will, without trying to shape it or lead it—non-DLC progressive types thought that was weak sauce at least as much as conservatives did. Indeed, candidate Obama more than once alluded to the Clintons' lack of sweeping liberal ambition. 

Also, there's a long-held, small-"r" republican justification for this view of governance. George Will has argued for decades that elected officials shouldn't just do what constituents want, but to explain to them why they should want "what they ought to want." Anything less was to embrace "careerism"—a "degradation of the idea of representation." 

In his pro-term limits polemic Restoration, Will cited Edmund Burke's 1774 speech upon winning a seat in Parliament: "Certainly, he said amicably, a representative should 'live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents.' ... But he said, a representative does not owe obedience. He owes something more than 'industry.' He owes 'judgment.' " 

Is this to say Democrats were models of Burkean deliberation over the past year? 

Of course not. 

Their post-Scott Brown panic revealed just the kind of rank careerist impulse that Will lamented. 

But it's simply not the case that enacting unpopular measures--however massive and complex--into law is some kind of violation of republican principles. 

McArdle is half-right when she writes: "We're not a parliamentary democracy, and we don't have the mechanisms, like votes of no confidence, that parliamentary democracies use to provide a check on their politicians. The check that we have is that politicians care what the voters think." 

No, the check we have is elections. 

Republicans have a potent argument to win many of them in November. 

Like I said: It's still a free country. 

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