In light of GOP tea bagger Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race—a victory that cost Democrats their filibuster-proof majority, doomed substantive health insurance reform (the White House long ago stopped calling it health care reform), and made it virtually impossible for President Obama to propose or pass anything that even slightly resembles a pro-worker, progressive agenda for the foreseeable future– my first blog of 2010 begins with a tip of the hat to two people with whom I usually disagree: Rush Limbaugh and George W. Bush.
Let’s start with Limbaugh. There are few people more willing to bend the truth to gain political advantage than he.
And that’s why it pains me so to agree with his take on Brown’s victory. Bloviating from Florida, the great prevaricator said that 2010 is “1994 on steroids.” Unfortunately for the scores of Democrat political activists who are whistling past the graveyard by willfully misidentifying the cause and minimizing the effect of the GOP win in Massachusetts, “Mr. All Drug Addicts Should Be Jailed Except Me” is exactly right.
That’s because he understands that what Democrats and their working class supporters just lost is much more valuable than what Bill Clinton kicked away in 1993—94. Back then the party merely forfeited its Congressional majorities.
This year it lost the opportunity to change America and the world. With 60 votes—the Dems only had 56 when Clinton gagged on health care in ’93—a principled, popular president can do just about anything he wants. Reform health care. Re-regulate the financial industry. Reinvigorate the union movement. Dedicate billions to job-creating infrastructure and green energy projects. Change the rules that govern foreign trade. Appoint liberal justices to the Supreme Court. Pass real campaign finance reform. Protect the environment. Implement a rational, compassionate solution to the immigration dilemma. .
As Limbaugh’s remarks about the consequences of Brown’s victory demonstrate, he understands this better than many of the Democrats who have shrugged off the loss of the seat Ted Kennedy held in the U.S. Senate for 49 years as an anomaly or minor setback attributable to “tactical errors” and/or a poorly run campaign. Limbaugh knows that by losing the opportunity to enact meaningful health care reform the Democrats have squandered the chance to prove that big government fueled by progressive ideas can solve the problems that beset America in the 21st Century. Truth be told, Limbaugh and his cohorts weren’t afraid that health care reform would pass, they were afraid it would work.
And now they’re rejoicing over the fact that Americans will never know.
That brings me to Mr. Bush. Despite his many failings, viewed in the context of the health care reform meltdown, he deserves grudging applause for demonstrating moral certitude and the willingness to act upon it. As delusional as he may have been, apparently the 43rd President believed that going to war in Iraq and hanging Saddam Hussein by his neck until dead were essential and righteous acts.
That explains why his resolve never wavered even as his stated rationale for going to war changed repeatedly. Whether based on Iraq’s complicity in the 9/11 attacks (not true), on the rogue nation’s development and stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction (not true), or on the contention that Hussein was simply a bad guy (true, but certainly not reason enough for the U.S. to waste the billions of dollars and expend the thousands of lives required to depose him) Bush remained steadfast in his conviction that destroying Iraq in order to save it was both justified and necessary. It also explains why he was initially able to convince the public, the media, and Congress that he was right. Doubters withered in the face of his dogged belief.
President Obama could and should have learned a few things from Mr. Bush. Had he approached the effort to reform health care with the same moral certitude that characterized his predecessor’s rush to war, a substantive bill would have passed six months ago because the American people would have accepted nothing less.
Yet, after declaring reform the top priority of his administration, Mr. Obama relinquished control of the issue to Congress and stepped off the stage. Predictably, as House and Senate Democrats engaged in internecine warfare, support for reform waned, especially when the Administration was forced to buy the Democratic votes needed to pass a watered-down bill in the Senate member by reluctant member, interest group by interest group. Clearly this unseemly public display of legislative sausage-making at its worst set the stage for Scott Brown’s victory and all the bad things that will flow from it.
If Mr. Obama had simply embraced the Bush model and relentlessly and spiritedly fought for what he supposedly believed in, no one would have forgotten that both the AARP and the AMA endorsed the Senate bill. No one would have forgotten that groups as disparate as organized labor and the health insurance industry supported reform. No one would have paid attention to Limbaugh’s rants. No one would have voted for Scott Brown.
Instead, Democrats now find themselves looking down the barrel of a gun held by members of a disenchanted electorate who are currently demonstrating a clear proclivity to vote for the party of no ideas—the GOP–over the party of badly executed ones.
And they have no one to blame but themselves.
Leo Jennings III