Obama’s healthcare victory was a disaster for the American right. But it only has itself to blameby David Frum / April 27, 2010 / Leave a comment
When President Obama passed his healthcare legislation on 22nd March, the American right suffered its most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s. It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster.
My fellow conservatives have since cheered themselves by suggesting Obama’s unpopular bill will deliver defeat in the November midterms. But with the economy improving, and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill reaching voters by then, this seems over-optimistic. And even if they are right, so what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is poor compensation.
A huge part of the blame for this attaches to ourselves. We conservatives made a strategic decision. Unlike the Democrats in 2001—some of whom supported President Bush’s first tax cut—we decided to make no deals. 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.
But the hardliners overlooked a few vital facts. Obama was elected with 53 per cent of the vote, not Clinton’s 42 per cent. The liberal voting bloc in congress was bigger and stronger than in 1993-94. And the Democrats had learned from their own history—they remembered the consequences of their failure to pass healthcare under Clinton. So this time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.
Could a deal have been reached, swapping some Republican support for dropping the worst bits of the bill? Who knows. But the gap between the plan Obama passed and ideas long espoused by Republicans is not big. Indeed, the legislation has a broad resemblance to the reforms introduced by likely Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts. It also builds on ideas developed at the conservative Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s—ideas that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clinton’s plans in the mid-1990s.
Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan, so it’s at least possible that the right could have won concessions: fewer taxes on productive private enterprise, less damage to small businesses, or a smaller expansion of the government’s Medicaid programme for the elderly. Too late now.
No illusions please. This bill will not be overturned by the courts, or repealed. Even if Republicans win a landslide, few votes will be mustered to roll back the elements of the bill that most people like: healthcare for poorer…