Michael Tomasky argues that moderate Democrats have their political interests all wrong on Obamacare:
These Democrats, from red or just-barely blue states, are by longstanding habit terrified of associating themselves with anything that is remotely associated with a tax or an expanded government. This is well known.
What’s less well known is the counter-argument. If the president of their party goes down in flames on a major bill, and the Republicans can do a war dance on his (political) grave, whom does that hurt?
It hurts all Democrats, but most of all it hurts the most vulnerable ones – the ones from red or barely-blue states. In other words, them!
Imagine that Obama loses on healthcare. His approval rating sags to 42%. The Republicans stand to make gains in 2010. Where are they going to make them? Not in the navy-blue districts represented by the solons who are certainly going to vote for whatever plan emerges. They’re going to make their gains in the marginal, gettable districts and states.
So: is Ben Nelson better off making sure his named isn’t attached to a liberal-ish reform bill? Or is he better off lashing his fate’s to his president’s?
I say he’s a lot better off if the president of his party succeeds.
All things being equal, yes, Democrats across the board will be better off if Barack Obama remains popular. The Republicans’ whole electoral strategy is just a bet that he won’t. But Tomasky’s argument is flawed. People’s attitudes about politics may be closer to sports fandom than I’d like, but it doesn’t all come down to winning and losing Washington legislative battles. If people see their taxes go up or lose existing health coverage as a result of Obamacare, they will be displeased at the legislators who gave them this “victory.”
Even if Obama remains broadly popular at the national level, his popularity will lag in redder states. Paradoxically, some of his successes will make him less popular. Bill Clinton won the legislative battle over raising taxes in 1993. But moderate to conservative Democrats still lost their seats in droves for voting for the tax increase — and because the tax increase passed anyway, that number included some Democrats who actually voted against Clinton on raising taxes. (See Krueger, Bob.) The Blue Dogs are reluctant to support Obama because they come from the states and districts most likely to oppose the substance of Obama’s policies.
Moderate to liberal Republicans like Lincoln Chafee frequently voted against President Bush’s policies. They were still among the hardest hit when those policies became unpopular in 2006 and 2008. Chafee’s independence gave him a fighting chance, and independence saved the two ladies from Maine. But I doubt any of them wish that Bush had more legislative victories.
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