If I’ve been critical of President Obama and congressional Democrats for watering down legislation during the health reform debate (and I certainly have, on many occasions these last months), then why did I feel such a sense of elation over the bill’s passage Sunday night?
Republicans chose to make this issue the line drawn in the sand, the make-or-break bill, a defeat they’d cunningly plotted that would send the president into a tailspin from which he'd never recover. So whose Waterloo was it when they failed to block the reform?
I’m elated not because this was the very best version of health care reform possible (far, far from it) or because its passage somehow inoculates Dems against serious losses in this fall’s congressional elections, but because I’m delighted whenever I see presidential muscle put to good use.
For once, the Democrats acted decisively. For once, they ended speculation about their impotence. For once, they used their strong majorities in both chambers to coordinated effect. For once, they seemed to be precisely what we thought we were getting in 2008: the party in power.
The legislation in question is only a first step. It has deep flaws in its continued reliance on and enrichment of the private, for-profit insurance industry (which I think, when categorizing American businesses, would be more accurately listed under “mining and other extractive industries” not under “health-related”).
But, boy, wasn’t it satisfying to see the thousand and one objections swept away by raw determination from Obama and his allies? Wasn’t it impressive how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demonstrated a strategic sense that wiped out the Republican quibblers and their tea party claques? Wasn’t it great to see a major policy decision made on the basis of what will help the most people rather than on which lobbyist has the greatest amount of influence?
I’m delighted whenever I see presidential muscle put to good use.
It will be necessary to revisit this measure in the future. Later congressional action will be needed to clean it up and to more fully deal with the underlying corporate greed that drives our health care costs beyond all reasonable bounds—double those in any other industrialized country. A lot of work remains before health care in the United States is both affordable and accessible. But for now, at least, a start has been made.
Joe the Plumber, the designated Republican working-class icon, was in New Mexico in the days before the health reform vote happened. He made an appearance in Roswell at a rally attended by (to judge from the sparse crowd in the television footage) a couple dozen tea partiers. He came to Albuquerque to address the angry white guys on the Jim Villanucci radio show during drive time. And he didn’t make a dent anywhere.
The tea party “movement” (a term that glorifies it beyond all reality), seems to have exhausted its energy. It is now shriveling, not flourishing. Its crowds are smaller, event by event. Oh, the rhetoric is more shrill and harsher than ever, but the negative message seems to have less traction with Americans with each passing week.
The economy will slowly improve, and Democrats will continue to use their majority to actually get things done in Washington—rather than get trapped into phony, one-sided discussions of “bipartisanship.” Voters will be shaping opinions about which party to support based on a completely different image than the one that evolved during the first 13 months of the Obama term.
The passive, defensive, divided party that seemed unable to keep its yellow dogs and blue dogs inside the fence long enough to pass a bill has taken on a sleeker, more disciplined, more activist look. Success breeds success. “Just do it” is a much more attractive motto for a majority party than the endless soul-searching and whining that characterized the last year.
It’s way too early to predict the election results for November, but as a Democrat, I feel a lot more confident after this health care reform bill passed than when it seemed doomed to death by inaction. No matter what it ultimately does for America’s health, it has certainly made the Democrats more robust.