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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Democrats, Take My Advice for What it’s Worth

In reference to the below, I have a little bit of advice for my friends on the left.

Today Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet, Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown and Jeff Merkley sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid asking him to push through a government-run health care plan through the reconciliation procedure.

Now, before we go any further, this isn’t concern trolling. Honestly. I’m just offering some strategic advice from the point of view of a guy who enjoys that aspect of politics and not just the partisan back and forth.

Of course, I’m also a guy who is going to be working to see you guys sent home come the next time you’re facing an election. Take it for what it’s worth.

First, if you feel the need to bulk up your left-leaning bonafides by threatening to use, shall we say, extreme measures to pass parts of the health care package, then go ahead and threaten away. It’s part of the game and it’s entirely understandable. It will probably buy you a few votes and a few dollars from the Daily Kos set, and, given the new sense of Republican competitiveness, you’ll need every advantage you can get.

But don’t try it. Actually attempting this kind of a bully maneuver would be a huge mistake. Why?

You’ll face opposition from your own party that might well make the maneuver impossible. Any Democrat facing a midterm election is feeling the pressure from the right and center right now, and that pressure is overwhelmingly opposed to passing any version of the current plan. What kind of support and cover will you expect from those folks?

It will be no surprise that I think you won’t get a single hand stretching across the aisle to give you even the slightest appearance of bi-partisanship. The GOP knows two things right now: that they have the political cover that they need to stand firm against the current versions of health care reform and that they need to work with the fiscal conservatives is they don’t want to face their own primary challenges in the midterms.

The Democrats have had a year of supermajority and have failed to achieve their biggest goals. The wasted political capital--both the effort spent in the trying and the feigned powerlessness when the electorate knows better--has left the great progressive movement weak, has left President Obama weak, and has left congressional Democrats weak. The triumphalism of a year ago is already faded in almost every corner and where it still exists it sounds remarkably out of touch with the great majority of America.

Nearly the entirety of the left seems to have misjudged the mandate that was handed to them in the last election, and the misjudgment lead to wild overreach. In politics, the biggest danger of both winning and losing elections is precisely the same: not understanding the reason that the election went the way it did.

Consider that reality deeply before you make a move that goes so powerfully against the poll trends. No, you don’t want to make decisions purely on focus groups and polling, but you don’t want to ignore the voices of the citizens, either. A decision like this--spearheading the subversion of the normal legislative process, ignoring the will of the citizens, and doing it all in a way that makes you an obvious target--is precisely the kind of thing that can ruin a political career and most certainly would haunt you in every election in the future.

Strategically speaking, from where I sit it seems like a pretty bad decision.

For that matter, I’m still not sure it would work, either. Is this the kind of thing that can actually be passed through the reconciliation process? I tend to think the answer is no, but I don’t know if it’s been tested, either.

As I said, take it for what it’s worth. I’m no fan of the health care ideas that have been coming from the left (and a bigger opponent of any public option), I’m a conservative, and I’m not the guy that the Democrats are courting. I’m not in the nebulous middle that moves with relative ease from party to party between election cycles--I’m not someone who they would consider to be “in play.”

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