2010: Success And Failure Merge

My personal memories of 2010 will be less than stellar; outside of the growth of this blog there is a paucity of professional accomplishments to celebrate. Politically, 2010 will stand as one of the most confusing years in the history of our nation. The hallmark of this year is the level to which political message has risen above real political action and governance. This is the year where the transformation of political parties has come to fruition. Once instruments that supported and nurtured a set of principles, Democrats and Republicans have outgrown their simple and honest purpose. Principles are now defined and crafted to suit the ambitions of the parties.

Republicans have long been proficient at political branding; indeed, the conservative success of the last thirty years is linked directly to their ability to push Democrats away from their own name. But 2010 stands as a shining example of that talent in action. In 2008, Americans had reason to firmly reject the notions of supply side economics and interventionist foreign policies that conservatism had wrought. The Republican Party was dead, the pundits declared, and it would be a long stay in the wilderness before they returned. President Obama’s pragmatism and ability to work across the aisle (demonstrated in the Senate), would preclude real controversies. Domination of the Senate and House by the Democrats would allow for the orderly procession of problem-solving legislation. 2010 culminates a very different 2 year period from the one predicted by the pundits.

Conservatives used the rules of the Senate and their own iron discipline to change the game. They then sat back and watched while liberals drove themselves over the cliff. The great failings of the Democratic Party are its profound inability to unify in the face of opposition and its institutional lack of courage. Oh individually, many liberals are courageous, but the Party rarely stands resolute. The passage, in March, of health care reform is exhibit A. Many Democrats missed the bus on an issue that was, in the minds of voters, the most important item prior to the financial collapse of September, 2008. Throughout 2009, several senators waffled on the measure, delaying and nitpicking until past the point of no return. Despite 60 votes in the upper chamber, it took until Christmas to pass legislation through both houses. That should have been the end of it, as I can’t find an example (until this Congress) of bills making it that far and then not being signed into law.

This year began with the great Democratic collapse of Massachusetts; the election of Scott Brown to the seat held for so long by Ted Kennedy. Once the results were in, House Democrats (led by Barney Frank) began sprinting away from health care reform. It was only the immense greed of insurance companies that saved the bacon on reform. In February, insurance executives, sensing safety, filed for enormous rate increases in Ohio. President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid recognized the opportunity and acted. Two months of poking and prodding weak-kneed liberals later, and the Affordable Care Act had passed.

The law is a two-stage device, based on recommendations by conservative interests in the mid-90’s. The first stage takes away insurance firm’s ability to screen out high cost clients. This move does two things; it increases the raw amount of Americans able to find coverage, and it changes the parameters of operating models for the business. For insurance concerns to maintain the same levels of earning per share, they will have to compete to add low cost clients. Competition drives cost savings and service improvements. Stage two is the implementation of an exchange system, funded by tax dollars, that facilitates consumers and insurance companies finding each other. We call that shopping, and the ability to shop forces cost savings and service improvements.

Americans, largely, never heard about the actual structure of the bill, because the media (all of it) focused on the outrageous stories and labels surrounding the bill; they equaled great ratings. After this law was passed, in an election year, Americans never heard about the bill because Democrats ran away from it just as fast as their puny little legs could carry them. They ran equally fast away from the stimulus legislation and, later in the summer, worked to pass financial reform as quietly as possible. Republicans who hammered the Democrats on “fiscal irresponsibility” must have smiled. Conservatives have no qualms citing C.B.O. estimates of the cost of items like the original health care bill in the House, or the Cap and Trade bill, but when C.B.O. says the stimulus bill worked or health care reform is a deficit cutter, Democrats can’t fight back.

And why should anyone believe them if they did? The merging of success and failure is found in the passage of bills that legislators then run from. If you won’t campaign on the merits of a bill you signed, why would anyone believe you when you say that it is financially sound? If you and yours are daily hammering the President and your fellow legislators for passing a “weak” bill, why would your constituents believe that your actions were in their interests? The merging of success and failure is found in the marriage of cowardice and pathetic campaign strategy. If your advisers tell you you are behind in the polls, hiding from your record will emphatically not help you!

The rank and file of the defeated Democratic House proved their tactical ignorance and lack of maturity when they ended 2010 by throwing a temper-tantrum over President Obama’s “tax-deal”. The President, who courageously staked his ability to govern on that health care bill, and that stimulus bill (and a legislative commitment to repealing DADT), showed where pragmatism and perspective come into play in governance. He knew that continuing the tax cuts was financially risky, but the Republicans were committed to them. The extension of said cuts would hurt no constituents in the short term, and pragmatic policy-making over the next two years could save all from harm over the long term. His constituents would benefit from the long term extension of unemplyment insurance, and the Democrats would benefit tactically from not having the extension of said held over their heads for the next 13 months. So he acted decisively and made a deal with the “opposition” that the new “principles” of the Democratic Party would have preculded.

As a direct result of that deal, Congress passed the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. As a direct result of that deal, the Senate ratified the START Treaty. As a direct result of that deal, the Senate confirmed some of the dozens of presidential appointments they had been blocking. Republican leadership remained committed to blocking those issues, but some of their rank and file were prepared to respond to the President’s commitment to compromise with a little commitment themselves. Of course the merging of success and failure can be found in the response to these activities; liberal promises to primary a sitting president with more liberal accomplishments of any since Johnson; conservative promises that those compromises will be the last of this President’s term. In our democracy, and with our media, it seems we can’t live long on the heights.

The Rational Middle wishes all of the readers a prosperous New Year filled with love, friendship, and peace…