Posts Tagged ‘Jim DeMint’

The Unhinged Anger on the Right Leads to An Ill-Advised and Unhedged Bet Against Reform.

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

There are 2 broad lessons to take from last night:

1. Unhinged Anger Makes For Great Ratings.

Hell no!” John Boehner frothed, spittle flying as he cursed on the floor of Congress yesterday.

“This health care bill will ruin our country. It’s time to stop it…We’re about 24 hours from Armageddon,” Boehner had claimed earlier.

Baby killer!” an as yet-unnamed Republican congressman screamed at pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak on Sunday.

Nigger!” a chorus of protesters chanted to Rep. John Lewis, who also heard such things while being beaten nearly to death fighting for civil rights in the 1960s on Saturday.

Faggot!” screeched other protesters at Barney Frank that same day.

Just a few days earlier, a disturbing video recorded a man barely able to walk due to Parkinson’s disease being mocked and ridiculed by anti-health care Tea Party protesters.

A short time before that, a conservative millionaire was promising guns to “patriots” concerned about “what was coming.”

This overheated Manichean good-vs-evil rhetoric in which slight changes in wording transform you from a pro-lifer to a “baby-killer,” in which subsidies for the uninsured constitute a “government takeover,” or in which America is about to be overrun by destroyed yet again eventually must discredit it’s purveyors. At least, it must decrease in its effect over time.

Common sense has taught people that “when there’s smoke, there’s fire.” And Republican operatives epitomized by Karl Rove have taken advantage of this. Top-line Republican operatives have adopted with more vigor than the left ever did the tactics of the radical New Left of the 1960s: from attacks on the legitimacy of political institutions (from the CBO – which Rove accused of Madoff-style accounting this weekendto the Senate Parliamentarian to Congress to the Courts to the media to presidency) to the maxim that the “personal is political.” Unlike the New Left, they have virtually no agenda but to hold onto power and to, having lost it due to incompetence, tarnish the other side enough to get it back. Their hysteric charges represent the triumph of moral relativism. Their escalating outrage is an attempt to fool the American people.

This is how the rage has been created over a bill whose provisions are broadly popular and that is based on a plan offered by Republicans a generation earlier. David Frum cogently explained last night how even those Republicans “who knew better” were driven to bend before this unhinged anger that led the Republican Party to take an unhedged bet against reform, how it provoked them to declare this fight a make-or-break fight, and to take out all stops to their opposition, even though they stood little chance of succeeding:

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

…Yes [such talk] mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

That’s point #1: Cynical politicos out for short-term partisan gain and entertainers trying to get ratings foment unhinged anger to push their party to make a suicidal unhinged bet against reform.

Point #2. This Was Waterloo.

The Republican Party made a huge wager that they could block health care reform, and lost. Senator Jim DeMint rather infamously declared in a secret call to anti-reform advocates:

If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.

Newt Gingrich echoed this point:

This could be the bill that drags his whole presidency down and they look back on it and suddenly the whole thing is unraveled.

Ralph Reed wrote in an email last week:

Our goal: To shock Congress into abandoning Obamacare (which will also effectively end the Obama Presidency and save freedom in America).

That was their game plan, their goal. They wanted a repeat of 1994. Their strategy in opposing the bill presumed it would never be able to pass. They escalated the rhetoric to insane levels. The less hysterical merely called it the “government takeover of 1/6th of the economy.” Bent on manipulating public opinion, the more cynical asked “innocent” questions:

Will America become another failed Cuba-style Socialist state? [Source.]

Do you think your political affiliation might eventually play into the decision on whether you get the life-saving medical treatment you need? [Source.]

A nation of Terri Schiavos with a National Euthanasia Bill? [Source.]

The more hysterical began to panic about legislation containing death panels, killing grandma, forcing government-mandated abortion, euthanasia, and reparations for slavery, authorizing government jackboots invading your home to take your children for socialist indoctrination, and overall, destroying America as we know it unless we arm ourselves and “prepare for what is coming.”

As the American people find out the answer to all of these questions is a resounding, “No!” – as they find out that the claims were made to monger fear for partisan gain – and that the bill that a plurality of people oppose contains mainly provisions that most people support – as the reality of this reform sinks in, the Republican Party will lose traction. As David Sanger quoted David Axelrod in the New York Times:

“This only worked well for the Republican Party if it failed to pass,” David Axelrod, one of the president’s closest political advisers, said at the White House as he watched the vote count for the final bill reach 219 in favor. “They wanted to run against a caricature of it rather than the real bill. Now let them tell a child with a pre-existing condition, ‘We don’t think you should be covered.’”

Now that the bill has been passed, we can focus on whether the health care plan’s tinkering with our dysfunctional system is making things better or not – as Ross Douthat says. And we can focus on the 10 things health care legislation will do right away. Obama can make his case for what he is doing (again to Sanger): “to sell the government’s oversight role over doctors and insurance companies the way he is trying to sell financial regulation: as a leveling of the playing field, in favor of consumers.” The passage of the bill re-shapes the coverage from “what could happen” to “what it is doing.” And the Democrats are more comfortable with that argument. Perhaps most frightening of all for Republicans, if this bill accomplishes what its supporters claim it will, it will re-shape the political landscape – as Bill Kristol explained in warning Republicans against cooperating in 1994:

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 the growth of government.

This won’t necessarily benefit the Democrats. Republicans don’t need to keep doubling down on their anti-government rhetoric; but for the present, it seems they will.

Today, the most profound effect though is a different one. By passing this bill, Obama has proved he has yet again broken the backs of the idiocrats who threw every rhetorical, legislative, and political obstacle at him. He has showed the patience and passion which won him the presidency can be translated into presidential achievements. The bill only tinkers. It isn’t dramatic reform. But it’s core accomplishment is dramatic: a change to our core social bargain; as explained by James Fallows:

[T]he significance of the vote is moving the United States FROM a system in which people can assume they will have health coverage IF they are old enough (Medicare), poor enough (Medicaid), fortunate enough (working for an employer that offers coverage, or able themselves to bear expenses), or in some other way specially positioned (veterans; elected officials)… TOWARD a system in which people can assume they will have health-care coverage.

This is an historic achievement. It is a moral one, and it is, counter intuitively, an important step towards controlling societal spending on health care.

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The Lessons of 1993/1994 (cont.)

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Usually I try to contextualize a writer – for example by saying what publication they write for. Other times, I presume the name conveys enough. But I don’t know Sean Trende from Adam. However, he has an interesting column published in Real Clear Politics about what he calls the “myth circulating in the blogosphere and the punditry.” (He gives Steve Benen, Mark Kleiman, Matt Yglesias, and Senator Jim DeMint as examples; I also made this point.) He says this myth is “threatening the Democrats’ majorities.” He describes it:

It goes like this: In 1994, Democrats failed to pass a healthcare bill, and they lost their majorities. Ergo, if Democrats fail to pass a healthcare bill in 2009, they will be at serious risk of losing their majorities in 2010, so to save their majorities, they should make certain above all else to get something passed.

He parses through the data – read his column for the figures – and concludes:

In other words, the problem for Democrats in 1994 was not that they didn’t support Clinton’s agenda enough. It was that they got too far out in front of their conservative-leaning districts and supported the President too much.

Overall, I found his piece rather persuasive – as Trende styles himself a poor man’s Nate Silver – at least on the narrow question of whether or not a Democrat in a right-leaning district would be hurt by rejecting any controversial measure pushed by Obama. But what he doesn’t deal with is the counterfactual – as there isn’t the data available in the set he is looking for to take this on. (Reading a bit more of Trende, it also seems he isn’t that sympathetic to health care reform or the Democrats – making his adopted pose of concern that a “myth” is “threatening” the Democrats’ power in Washington a bit grating.)  While it’s true that Democrats in right-leaning districts might save their seats by opposing cap-and-trade legislation, the stimulus, and health care reform, the party as a whole will undoubtedly suffer from their failure to advance the issues they were most passionate campaigning on.

Kevin Drum – in a post which is overall worth reading about why he is optimistic about reform – makes this persuasive counterpoint:

[I]f they [the Democrats] cave in to the loons and demonstrate that their convictions were weak all along — they’re probably doomed next year.  Their only hope is to pass a bill and look like winners who get things done.

This is exactly the counterfactual that Trende doesn’t address – and it was the fear of Bill Kristol and many other Republicans in 1994 that this is exactly what would happen if the Democrats passed a successful health care reform. It clearly seems to be the fear many Republican leaders are feeling now – as they seem determined to resist any pressure to work towards a bill they can accept in favor of simply continuing with the unsustainable status quo.

They called Medicare and Social Security “tyranny” too.

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Of those who are opposing health care reform, there are a few general groups:

  • There are those who are wary of any change in the status quo, even while they realize it is unsustainable;
  • There are those who are misinformed on one aspect of the legislation or another – whether they think the plan is “radical” or that it has “death panels;”
  • There are those who are opposed for partisan reasons – one of these is Senator Chuck Grassley who – though he is the key Republican whose support the Democrats are trying to win – admitted he would not support a bill he agreed with if enough Republicans didn’t support it with him; others in this camp are – of course, Bill Kristol who advised Republicans to “kill” reform and Senator Jim DeMint who said he wanted to make health care reform Obama’s “Waterloo;” and
  • There are those are ideologically opposed – who are inciting much of the most extreme rhetoric about this issue. The leadership promoting this – as Rachel Maddow aptly demonstrates – oppose and want to dismantle the programs most Americans support. They consider Medicare and Social Security to be “tyranny” and “creeping socialism” and all those other buzzwords that they are now using against health care reform. In this clip where Maddow confronts former congressmen, majority leader, and one of the major organizers of the tea parties and the anti-health reform activists , Dick Armey:

As Maddow said – it is a very important point. Many of the Republicans participating in this national “conversation” are hiding their true beliefs.

Most Americans do not consider Medicare and Social Security to be “tyranny.” Those who are inciting fears about health care reform do.

The Lesson of 1993/1994

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Like a lingering odor, the failure of Hillarycare in 1993 is hanging over this perilous moment in Obama’s presidency. It’s true that Clinton’s health care plan never got this far legislatively.  By presenting a complicated plan to Congress and trying to bully it through, the Clinton administration made a huge tactical blunder. But it is clear that both sides sense that this is the moment when health care reform could be derailed. While the Democrats and Obama have long been planning on pushing through health care, what is going on now is pure political blood sport. This is a zero sum game. This is a Democratic attempt to prove that they can accomplish something that is popular and helps the middle class and which they have been trying for sixty years with only moderate success to enact. This is the Republican attempt to protect the status quo and to slingshot their way back to power as they did in 1994.

Bill Kristol has said that this is the week to stop health care reform – to not worry about being obstructionist or trying to appear constructive:

There will be a tendency to want to let the Democrats’ plans sink of their own weight, to emphasize that the critics have been pushing sound reform ideas all along and suggest it’s not too late for a bipartisan compromise over the next couple of weeks or months.

My advice, for what it’s worth: Resist the temptation. This is no time to pull punches. Go for the kill.

Beneath the veneer of policy disagreement that Kristol is using, it’s clear he is advocating pure obstructionism. He senses opportunity. Which is why he and many other Republicans are now all repeating the same talking points: Obama’s health care reform is an “experiment” with your health; it will ration health care; you will lose the insurance you have now; the government will impose itself between you and your doctor; socialism! These rather familiar refrains are being thrown about for one purpose – and it has little to do with health care.

As Senator Jim DeMint rather infamously declared in a secret call to anti-reform advocates:

If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.

Newt Gingrich echoed this point:

This could be the bill that drags his whole presidency down and they look back on it and suddenly the whole thing is unraveled.

And the Democrats seem to agree – as the former Organizing for America sent out DeMint’s statements to rally supporters – and Mark Kleiman, a Democratic blogger said, “This bill is make or break for the Democratic Party.”

The Republicans are trying to break the Obama presidency – as they did Clinton’s. Clinton came back, but he never had the same political support.

Meanwhile, moderates play an interesting role in this political blood sport. They decry both sides for being mean – and suggest everyone get along. They talk about bipartisanship, suggest the Democrats move slowly, and they feel queasy at the prospect that the Democrats – by actually governing and doing what they promised they would do – might be overreachingMatt Yglesias ably responded to this point:

It’s not as if what happened in 1994 was the congress passed Bill Clinton’s big health reform package, then the public didn’t like it, then in revulsion they turned against Democrats. Nor did congress pass the proposed BTU tax, then the public didn’t like it, and then in revulsion they turned against Democrats. The noteworthy thing about the first two years of the Clinton administration was the lack of ambitious progressive programs put in place. And you could say the same about Jimmy Carter. Whatever it is people reacted against in 1978, 1980, and 1994 it wasn’t actually existing left-wing governance.

Ezra Klein – on the same theme – explained the lesson one of the key architect’s of Obama’s strategy learned from 1993:

Emanuel has carried that lesson with him into the Obama White House. “The only thing that’s not negotiable is success,” he likes to say. The worst outcome for the party — in part because it’s the worst outcome for its marginal members – is defeat. Voters punish defeat.

If the Democrats succeed – as Bill Kristol explained in 1993:

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 the growth of government.

Despite this moment of peril, Obama’s strategy to get health care through is still intact. His administration has learned the lessons of 1993- 1994 well – perhaps too well.

But make no mistake as you see the charges thrown about by both sides in these next few weeks. This battle is no longer about policy for either the White House or the Republican Party. (Though the right policies will be essential to its long-term success.) Right now this is political blood sport – it is about whether or not the Obama administration will be broken by obstructionist elements. The short-term success of the administration will be determined by whether or not they succeed in the next few weeks to pass something substantial; their long-term success will depend on the policies they are able to include.

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