JONATHAN CHAIT JANUARY 21, 2010
A few weeks ago, in my article touting the Senate health care bill, I compared the public mood to the 2000 election. The right was inflamed, seeing a moderate liberal as a radical threat. Liberals were filled with ennui, alternating between lesser of two evils-ism and outright agnosticism. And the left had descended into destructive alliances with the GOP in the name of progressive purity. Emotionally, the mood now feels like the Florida recount.
It's different, of course, in that the Florida recount involved a massive procedural injustice, and the current situation does not. But all the other pieces are in place. You have the destructive left, then enthused by Nader, now enthused by the prospect of killing reform (see this emblematic campaign by Firedoglake to stop the one plausible path to comprehensive reform.) You have a wild, energized right willing to push its cause to the absolute limit. And among mainstream Democrats, you see the same torpor.
It's often forgotten how difficult a time Al Gore had merely carrying out his right to a recount in Florida. After the election, Democrats were exhausted. Every day they were quoted in the media urging Gore to give in, or demanding that he wrap up his efforts within some quick timeframe. (Republicans, playing into the Democratic fear, dragged out the recount just as they dragged out the health care negotiations, knowing Democrats would submit to exhaustion before they did.)
The analogy to the Massachusetts special election is probably Gore's loss of his home state of Tennessee. That was the fact you heard Democrats invoke constantly to explain why they had no patience for the recount -- if the man had simply carried his home state this would all be over! The blown special election in Massachusetts plays that same role in the Democratic psyche: they blew it, this was all unnecessary, if we give up it's their fault for blowing it.
A common thread, too, is an inability to keep in mind the long-term stakes. The prevailing wisdom in December of 2000 held that a George W. Bush presidency would be an inconsequential thing, as the new Republican would feel constrained by his popular vote loss, ditch his tax cut, and appoint moderates or even some Democrats to the courts and his administration. Likewise, Democrats today think they can negotiate some scaled-back deal with the Republicans -- of course they'll want to cooperate! -- or maybe let the GOP kill it and then be blamed by the public.
The liberal mood is best expressed by the liberal Rep. Raul Gijalva, who tells Greg Sargent:
For instance, Grijalva said, why not send the Senate individual bills that would, among other things, nix the “Cadillac” tax or close the donut hole, pressuring the Senate to deal with each provision separately?
“If the Senate chooses not to close the donut hole, that’s their damn problem,” Grijalva said. “They’ve had it too easy. One vote controls everything. Collectively, we’re tired of that.”
They're angry, they're tired, they've lost interest in weighing the merits of a decent compromise option versus a catastrophic failure, and most of all they want somebody else to deal with it. If they fail to pull themselves together, future generations will look back at them, note that Congress had passed comprehensive reform in both chambers, had the backing of an eager Democratic president, and could finish the deal by getting 218 of their 256 Democratic members to sign on, and somehow refused. I still find the idea that they'll allow this to happen unfathomable. If they do succumb, it will be because some deep and recurrent character flaw rose to the surface at the worst time, once again.