Monday, April 12, 2010

2010 Is Not 1994. Unless it Is.

There's lots of talk these days about some early indications of a coming bloodbath for the Democratic Party in the 2010 midterm elections, and a lot of that talk--somewhat understandably--involves parallels to 1994, when the party lost control of both houses of congress in the aftermath of a contentious battle to reform the health care system in this country. Just as many things are different this time, however: from the dearth of Democratic retirements (at least so far), to the absence of a Somalia-like misstep by the President on the foreign-policy side (at least so far), to the fact of his election by a popular majority of the country--a counter example to what most people don't remember was the original cassus belli the extreme right-wing brought to their hatred of Bill Clinton: In a plurality-take-all system at the state level, he'd comfortably amassed 270+ electoral votes while over six in every ten people were industriously voting for someone else. Not this time.

Most of all, there is the glaring difference that the Democrats this time actually *passed* their health insurance reform effort, and (somewhat less importantly when it comes to electoral strategies, I'm afraid) the bill they passed is a far more politically conservative effort than the one they failed to pass in '94, anyway. Indeed the gist of the thing--increased access to care through the establishment of exchanges, individual mandates, and regulation of the industry's capacity to deny coverage--were also the main talking-points of the counter-proposal to Clintoncare that had been authored by The Heritage Foundation in '93. Having just passed a Heritage Foundation look-alike, then, it would seem unlikely that the Democratic Party could be routed in November of '10 for dragging the country too far to the left. The parallels to '94, as I've been arguing in various political aggregator fora for weeks, simply aren't there. The Democrats should be a in a far, far stronger position than they were in April of 1994. But here's the thing: Because of these differences, they should also be in a far stronger position than they are, too.

There's no point raging at the dying of any light, of course, and raging against one that has been raged against since before I was born by everyone and Will Rogers, is doubly un-productive. But the position in which the Democrats now find themselves is really nothing short of stupefying. Everywhere I look, in fact, I cannot help but feel the uneasy sense that the Democrats are in the process of once again snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The stimulus bill passed last spring (you remember, the one that was derided as socialist and profligate, yet consisted of over 50% tax cuts?) has begun to work after precisely the sort of time-lag predicted by professional economists, and the methodology behind it has been (once again) validated as a matter of settled paradigmatic fact, negating the willfully counterfactual drivel that has tumbled from the mouths of the Palinites regarding the supposedly ineffectual policies of the New Deal. That bill passed without a single a Republican vote, and now that they've spent a year poking holes in it on fallacious grounds as it continued to quietly do its work (while they dragged the health-care debate out to its maximum duration through Senate filibuster), the Republicans are brazenly now pivoting to a charge that the President has frittered-away time on a contentious health insurance fight instead of--get this!--concentrating on the economy.

The health insurance reform bill itself, meanwhile, does none of the things that were suggested it was going to do by the same people who called it socialist as well. And yet those people keep banging away about it as if they lived in a parallel universe. I recently found myself in a two-weeks-long flame war on Facebook with a friend-of-a-friend who insisted, over and over again, that the parallel to the '93 Heritage Foundation proposal was a delusional fantasy on my part, dismissing link after link as beneath his time to either read or counter-cite, on the basis of this bill's supposedly self-evident inconsistency with the guiding principles over at Heritage. And finally, when I found the link that truly settled the matter, he disappeared. There was no "well, it's not as similar as you make it out to be, Dave," no mealy-mouthed grumblings about how the circumstances were the difference, no faint about how Heritage was hoping their own bill wouldn't pass, or some-such: He just flat-out disappeared. There simply was no comeback. The bill we just got done passing, is, not, a socialist, takeover, of, the, health, care, system. Period. And still, in other venues, they keep at it.

All of this should make for some pretty strong Democratic bargaining leverage with the American people. Nobody likes it when a political movement turns shrill, and people especially don't like it when that negativism is inconsistent with the reality on the ground. Just ask Newt Gingerich, who predicted a sixty-seat Republican majority in the House after the Monica Lewinsky matter, and whose bitter slash-and-burn strategy about a matter that most people honestly didn't care about one way or the other very nearly lost the Republicans their control of the body, and did eventually cost him the Speakership.

So why isn't this 1998 all over again, instead of continuing--alarmingly--to poll like 1994? The equalizing factor is the same one it always is: While Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have been making policy and presuming the self-evidence of the lies being told by the other side, what they haven't been doing nearly as good a job of, is MESSAGING.

Tell some of the most incendiary trolls in political news sites that the stimulus was over 50% tax-cuts, and they scream denials back at you... until you post a link that proves it, and then they abruptly vanish for days at a time, and come back wanting to talk about something else. Tell some blow-hard facebook nobody who's used to spitting-out Glenn Beck nonsense that the Heritage Foundation proposed something not unlike what we just passed, and he embarrasses himself insisting that it isn't true until you've blugeoned him with so many references that he finally reads one of them... and abruptly vanishes, too. But in order for this to happen, you have to actually do some of this telling.

The elected Democrats in Washington, it would seem, are in the process of instead making the same mistake they always make when they're in power. They assume that the absurdity of the things being said about them is its own counter-argument, and they don't respond aggressively enough. George McGovern spoke about it not too long ago. The '72 Nixon campaign was saying things about McGovern that were so outrageous that the Democrats feared the charge of "stooping to their level" by responding, and chose not to. As a result of which (with a little bit of help from Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, of course), they got clobbered.

And this, folks, this is the alarming parallel to both 1972 and 1994. There are far too many smart people on the left who are assuming that the passage of the main component of their legislative agenda, and the absence of a plague of locusts descening instantly aftwerward, will serve as a de facto response to the gibberish nonsense still being spewed out by the Republicans. And in this country, as Democrats should know only too well, there is no such thing as a de facto response to gibberish nonsense. If Democrats continue to make the same mistake now that the health insurance reform bill has passed, they're going to have huge swathes of the country going to the polls in November believing that it's a socialist takeover of health-care, even though it already isn't, and they're going to get clobbered by the same boring, lying liars who've done it so many times before.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida


shred403 said...

yeah, yeah, yeah, but dammit, how do you get the forum when the media is all controlled by the foam-at-the-mouth right wingers? Faux News is the largest growing "news" network in the country--groan.

The Key Grip said...

...did you see *this*?