The time has come for somebody in the Democratic party to show moral courage.
Consider the situation. Despite a seventy vote majority in the House of Representatives and a then-twenty majority in the Senate, the Democratic party was only able to barely pass health care legislation in both Houses of Congress; and the two versions that were passed do not agree with each other. To get that far, Congressional Democrats made a series of ad hoc deals and temporary understandings, with no clear plan on how to reconcile them all; this, coupled with more or less every legislative and procedural trick on the books, have allowed them to get almost to their goal. Unfortunately, they don’t actually know what their goal even is at this point, but they’re almost there.
But also at this point they are, to use a cliche, grinding metal. The Democrats had made a choice last year to shut out the Republicans from any sort of meaningful discussion, interaction, or independent contribution in the process of health care legislation; and followed that with a healthy dose of attempting to demonizing the GOP when the GOP had the temerity to object. As a result, the Republican party has adamantly refused to provide any sort of a fig leaf to this steadily more unpopular legislation, and has been punished for that behavior by the American public by being more and more favored to win back at least the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, the House members who voted ‘no’ on the bill the first time are growing more and more terrified of voting ‘yes:’ and some of the ones who voted ‘yes’ are trying to decide whether or not doom is less likely if they switch their votes or not. And every Democrat in Congress is aware that keeping their individual seats are considered to be less important than passing the bill.
If more of these people were familiar with military science, they’d possibly realize that they’re in the political equivalent of any competent general’s nightmare. They’ve stalled in a charge because of heavy fire, and while they want to advance they can’t make themselves do it. But they don’t want to retreat, either, because that’s how you lose battles. The tragic bit is that stopping is of course the absolute worst thing that an army can do in that situation, especially after the first moment of shock; sometimes you should go forwards, and sometimes you should go backwards, but staying in one place only gets more of your people killed. All of this may seem obvious, but people think funny in the middle of a battle.
As we’re seeing now. The Democrats are telling themselves that they’ve spent too much time and clout to just quit; but they’re in no position to charge on through. So they stay where they are, and public opinion remains in the tank, and every so often a Democratic legislator announces his or her retirement or resignation. And this won’t change until somebody finally has the moral courage to say “This isn’t working” and organizes a retreat*. It should be the President – he’s the one that got his party into this mess in the first place – but the same lack of leadership ability that Obama showed at the beginning of the health care debate will make him a poor candidate for bringing it to an end. And House/Senate leadership is mostly dominated by the few Democrats who aren’t worried about losing their jobs in November. They’re not likely to feel the urgency that they should. And, of course, the rank-and-file largely don’t have the guts to go up against the leadership, given how the leadership has been punishing dissenters.
Which is why I wrote all of this out; if I thought that anybody would take this advice, I wouldn’t give it in the first place.
*Or a Banzai charge, of course: but as Neal Stephenson once noted, the interesting thing about Banzai charges is that THEY DON’T WORK.
Crossposted to Moe Lane.