Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Electoral Battles, Ideological Wars

There’s no pithier example of how liberals have lost their ideological self-assurance, and their democratic bearings, than the fact that they regard calling the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) “ObamaCare” as a cheap partisan shot. 

At bottom, liberalism is about using democratic government to make the worst-off Americans as well-off as possible. Before the last presidential election you couldn’t find a Democrat, much less a liberal Democrat, who thought there was a more urgent egalitarian imperative than enabling currently uninsured people to secure health insurance. For all its considerable drawbacks as public policy, ACA answers to that imperative comprehensively enough to be the most ambitious piece of liberal social policy of the last 45 years. Enacting it, or something like it, was Obama’s most solemn campaign promise in 2008.

Now that it’s enacted you’re telling me that it’s a cheap shot to call it ObamaCare? That can only mean that liberals would rather talk about something, indeed virtually anything, else. Granted, Democrats are still doing their level best to keep ACA roll-backs off the table in budget negotiations with Republicans. But they'd rather that no one noticed.  They’d rather talk, for instance, about their newfound zeal to cut the deficit through a "balanced approach" that cuts three dollars of spending for every dollar of increased tax revenue.

Going with the flow, Michael Tomasky's asking himself whether it would be an altogether bad thing if the courts relieve Democrats of the burden of upholding ObamaCare even through their discreet silence. The recent Eleventh Circuit decision striking down the individual insurance mandate in ACA makes it ever-more likely that the Supreme Court will pronounce on its constitutionality before the 2012 election. Tomasky thinks that Democrats in general, and Obama in particular, might be better off politically if five conservatives justices kill ACA in its crib.  Otherwise, the 2012 election might become a replay of 2010.

“Consider an announcement from the Supreme Court next May or June that a 5-4 majority, including the four liberals and Anthony Kennedy, has upheld the ACA. What happens? The administration breathes a sigh of relief. But who actually celebrates? Not many people. Liberals are generally ambivalent about the act and always have been.

“Meanwhile, who is infuriated? Millions of conservatives. ‘Obamacare’ becomes a hot-button issue all over again. If you think conservatives can’t get any angrier than they already are, well, you and I have been watching very different conservative moments these last few years. They can always find something new to get mad about. And a court-imposed “socialistic” outcome, forced on decent, freedom-loving Americans by four liberals and that sodomy-endorsing Kennedy, is a pretty big something. . . .

“‘There are multimillionaires and billionaires out there who will throw money at independent expenditure campaigns focused on health care: elect a president and a Congress who will finally rid us of this pestilence once and for all. ‘Repeal Obamacare’ becomes a rallying cry all over again.”
Tomasky probably has a better handle on the politics of ObamaCare than I do.  So I don’t doubt that he may be right that the "political price of upholding it might be very high indeed."  Yet Democrats who won’t raise their voices in defense of their efforts on behalf of uninsured Americans, won't be just staging a tactical retreat in a single electoral battle. They’ll be presenting Republicans with articles of surrender in the ideological war over American hearts and minds they’ve been waging for the better part of 70 years.  That's a high price to pay for winning an election. 


Anonymous said...

Come on Tomasky! Any Democrat who won't come out and support ACA openly doesn't deserve reelection.

Mean Voter said...

Tomasky is right. Obama and the Dems would love to get a mulligan on Obamacare and let the Supremes be the ones that cause it.

What does that say about Obama and the Dems? It says Obamacare was a great idea but great ideas don't always translate well to legislation by committee.

Lone Wolf said...

Can someone remind me what the point of being a liberal is if you're not an outspoken advocate for universal health insurance?

Anonymous said...

The Clintons understood that the point of being a liberal includes being an advocate for universal health insurance. But they also understood first and foremost it means you can't do anything if you're not in office so don't do dumb, unpopular things.

Obama doesn't get this.