Among the most intelligent pundits, I keep finding the idea that the magnitude of the progressive triumph owed a lot to the failed tactics of the Republicans. The Republican leadership decided early on that rather than negotiate for a compromise bill, they would go all out to stop any bill. Their members, disheartened by the magnitude of their losses in 2008, latched onto this plan as a way to restore purpose and relevance to their careers. The way the Republicans worked unanimously against this bill at every step in both houses was very impressive. But in the end, Republican intransigence only gave Democrats the added incentive they needed to forge on. Politicians hate to lose. By setting up the health care vote as an us vs. them, somebody has to lose situation, the Republicans welded the Democratic party together around a bill much more progressive than any compromise would have been.
We should also, however, spare a thought for the unsung hero of comprehensive reform, McConnell and his GOP colleagues, who pushed their “no compromise” strategy to the breaking point and beyond. The theory was that non-cooperation would stress the Democratic coalition and cause the public to begin to question the enterprise. And it largely worked. But at crucial times when wavering Democrats were eager for a lifeline, the Republicans absolutely refused to throw one. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and other key players at various points wanted to scale aspirations down to a few regulatory tweaks and some expansion of health care for children. This idea had a lot of appeal to many in the party. But it always suffered from a fatal flaw—the Republicans’ attitude made it seem that a smaller bill was no more feasible than a big bill. Consequently, even though Scott Brown’s victory blew the Democrats off track, the basic logic of the situation pushed them back on course to universal health care. . . .David Frum, a conservative:
Credit for not buckling goes to Nancy Pelosi and other gutsy leaders. But it also goes to the GOP. They wouldn’t take “yes” for an answer when lots of people wanted to surrender and settle for something much smaller. Instead, whipped up into a frenzy of ideological fanaticism and overconfidence, they decided to take no prisoners. So nobody surrendered! And that’s how Mitch McConnell brought universal health care to America.
At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994. . . . This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.Josh Marshall:
We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat. 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?
If the bill passes, and should the worse befall the Dems and they wake up on November 3rd having lost both houses of Congress, they can look back on all the work in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 cycles and say, it wasn't wasted and it wasn't for nothing. This bill will be by far the most significant piece of social legislation in almost 50 years and will achieve, albeit imperfectly, something progressives have been trying to achieve for going on a century. If the Dems lose their majorities in November, they'll be able to say: we worked this hard, we built these majorities, and this is what we did with it.