As the debate about health care has stretched on, I’ve argued that it wasn’t smart for Republicans to be so strident about the Dems’ proposals. Better to have a seat at the table and argue for more cost cutting measures, different ways to fund it than tax hikes, etc. Instead, they said “NO!” at nearly every turn, and thus put themselves in a very bad strategic position, especially since it was always likely that some type of legislation would pass.

Because, after all, this isn’t a radical bill. In fact, the ideas in it have been presented as solutions by Republicans (or even implemented in some cases) and they know that.

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum agrees:

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

And back to that point about the rhetoric from the right. Well, it nearly worked. Characterizing it as a government takeover of health care did fire up a lot of conservatives/libertarians who would at least show up to rallies and argue with politicians. True, they had a lot of misconceptions, but they were passionate enough to gain worldwide media attention and that takes some doing. But they are a VERY small base of people who most likely would have voted for Republicans anyway. And the more Republicans catered to these folks, the more they back themselves into a corner where any sort of compromise would have been impossible.

Again, Frum agrees:

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

Or, to put it more bluntly…

How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?


Folks, if you want to know why bipartisanship failed, don’t look to Democrats. Look to Boehner. Look to Palin. Look to Rush. Look to Hannity. Look to McConnell. Look to Beck. Look to Fox News. Look to the Tea Party.

Democrats came to the table ready to deal. What they weren’t ready to do is develop a health care bill that was based almost solely on Republican economic philosophies. Still, they eschewed a public option, even when their base was crying foul and demanding it. But Republicans made the political calculation that defeating the legislation was more important.

Fair enough, but Frum thinks that this bill represents the biggest legislative defeat for Republicans since the 60s. Because, even with all of this talk of repeal, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to sell the idea of jacking prices back up on prescription drugs, reinstituting the pre-existing conditions clause and a whole host of other things that this current legislation addresses.

  • Alistair

    Well said and I predict that Joe Scarboragh & David Frum will lead a min-revolt within the conservative movement.

  • gerryf

    Lead a revolt of what? To take back the conservatives from the liars, panderers and miscreants?

    Well, that will work.

    Here’s my prediction. By 5 pm the same day, Frum and Scarborough will be branded liberal backstabbers and excommunicated from the movement–because that is all the GOP has become, a movement.

    When The Dems took back control of the house, I thought the reasonable conservatives would take back the party. I was wrong. When The Dems took control of the white house and the senate, I thought the reasonable conservatives would take back the party. I was wrong.

    I can only conclude their are no more reasonable conservatives left.

  • Folks, if you want to know why bipartisanship failed, don’t look to Democrats.

    Justin, there WAS bipartisanship here. The opposition to the bill was thoroughly bipartisan. Yes, bipartisanship—the bipartisan opposition to the bill—failed to stop it.

    Frum is wrong. If the GOP had gotten its hands dirty, they would have shared the blame. As it is, the GOP has successfully forced the Democrats to own this disaster, and the GOP can and will campaign for full repeal. They could not have done that if they followed Frum’s guidance.

  • muffler


    There is no such thing as bipartisan opposition. You either contribute to the bill or you don’t. If you work together for a solution then that is bi-partisan.The GOP did force this to happen… that is what is wrong with the entire concept. It was only delayed.

  • Muffler, I don’t agree with Simon about much. But I find your suggestion preposterous. You seem to lack an understanding of how one uses adjectives to modify nouns using the english language.

    Clearly, the truth is really that it irritates you that Simon has used the adjective “bipartisan” to modify the noun “opposition.” But its meaning is clear and manifest. It refers to opposition composed of folks from both parties.

    Is it or is not accurate to describe the opposition as bipartisan? Clearly it is. All republicans and what, a fifth of democrats opposed the bill. It is what it is.

  • mw

    Frum? Really?

    Hmmm – My assessment of David “axis of evil” Frum is that he was wrong about George Bush; wrong in 2004 about Iraq; wrong in 2006 about the future of fiscal conservatism and limited government advocacy; and wrong in 2008 about the supporters of Ron Paul.

    But, I guess it is conceivable that he is right now.

    There is always a first time.

    I just wouldn’t bet on it.

  • Frum is an important voice among conservatives precisely because he is (almost) always in opposition to the more dominant view. I read him for that perspective, because in these highly partisan times the only reasonable opposition you can find comes from within the same wing of the same party.

    But I find Frum’s analysis devoid of his usual principled stand; he is talking only about the political ramifications of the GOP opposition. He does not address the bigger question of IF we should have this kind of Federal government expansion, preferring to aim low and consider only the narrow political ramifications to current office-holders.

  • Brenda of Brooklyn

    I popped in here thanks to a link from NYT and I am just amazed as I read your comments. You guys are still drinking the kool aid…You lost the house, the senate and the white house…In 12 years the republicans did NOTHING (for the average Jane & Joe) about any of it. Take a look around you and stop listening to your own echo chamber. What you see is what youve wrought. Thank heaven the true hearts and minds of America’s better nature is reawakening.

    BTW, I predict in 10 years our great nation will be stronger and healthier in terms of competition and its citizens will be more productive knowing they wont go broke.

  • So I’ve been listening to the “debate” about health care reform in the US as an ex-pat since end of 2008, and my view is that the Republican side has been either 1) hiding its head in the sand and denying the existence of problems with healthcare cost to average Americans, making them afraid of going to the doctor for fear of bill collectors when they couldn’t pay the exorbitant rates being charged to the people that couldn’t afford health insurance in the first place (serious and sustained problems), or 2) devious in responding to proposals to fix those problems, like saying that the Federal government is going to kill everyone’s grandmother. It’s a central and enduring dishonesty.

    I see a reflection of those traits in the litmus-test wing of the Republican Party with its approach to environmental issues, and I’ve seen a purging (ex-communication?) of middle-of-the-road, “Let’s talk about this” Republicans like Christie Whitman (former Governor of New Jersey). Those people, committed small-government conservatives who talk freely and openly about the proper role of government in a democratic society (big enough to function efficiently, small enough to stay out of the way), are the New Silent Majority in the Republican Party. And they are being silenced by the New McCarthys of our age.

    The Republican Party cannot possibly be a Big Tent until it stops alienating people of slightly different views, especially to the electoral center. Until the Republican Party’s Inquisition is dead and buried (along with the yelling, self-appointed Inquisitors), so too will be the mainstream electoral prospects (read: suburban soccer mom votes) of the Republican Party.

    (PS Thanks for reading)

  • Kathleen

    “they askewd a public option”?? Did you mean “eschewed”?

  • EveryMan

    I think what is missing in debates over health care strategy now is recognition of the actual state of things. I assume that the primary Republican goal was to kill the bill, not to be set up to win back Congress in November (though this was unquestionably a secondary goal). If this assumption is correct, and I certainly hope it is, then the GOP just lost big. Really big. In this case, the use of total obstruction as a tactic to do away with legislation DID NOT WORK. This has nothing to do with how you feel about health care, etc, it’s simply where we stand right now. It’s very optimistic to believe that continuing with such tactics will eventually lead to success. I suggest that the more savvy choice would be to rethink the strategy and change course to a campaign that actually has a chance of providing policy victory, as well as a political win.

    We need a working two-party system. That is not what we currently have, but it is fundamentally inaccurate to only blame the Democrats. The Republicans chose the “united we stand” strategy way back at the beginning of the Obama presidency. There was never any chance at garnering sincere bipartisan support. The fact that Dems were able to corral the disparate members of their own caucus into all voting for the bill was indeed a feat unto itself. Now, if you don’t like the bill then the Republicans were right from the beginning in showing staunch and continued opposition, and if you do like it, they were being, well, not very satisfactory at their jobs. It is simply a matter of perspective.

    GOP: convince me, with specifics and without the words “freedom” or “liberty,” that you can do better! I could certainly be swayed… I just believe, to the core, that so long as we have a government, it should be a good one. If, as a legislator, you fundamentally don’t believe in it, that’s perfectly fine. Picket, protest, find other ways to boycott the federal government, but don’t run for Congress, because then we, the taxpayer, end up paying for you to not do your job. That’s fiscally irresponsible. I’m much less afraid of socialism than I am of anarchy (though both are hilariously hyperbolic…and kind of anachronistic…right? I mean, how many voters age 18-24 have any idea of what it means to be Maoist? How many voters do, period? I wish the Dems had had the guts to call Bush the modern Robespierre!).

  • Marc Chicago

    Our conservatives’ strange and superstitious need for “purity,” ideologically and otherwise, is blessedly a self-limiting phenomenon. Consider them royal families, inbreeding towards idiocy and hemophilia; consider them bacteria in a petri dish, first intoxicated, then poisoned, by their own waste.

    It is a shame that these folks do not believe in evolution. They might learn some valuable lessons about gene pools and adaptation. They might learn to bend without breaking.

    Oh, and in regards to your penultimate paragraph: “Still, they askewd a public option, even when their base was crying foul and demanding it.” Did you possibly mean “eschewed”? Sorry to be didactic, it is just how God made me. Everything else in the article was aces.

  • Kelly

    “Askewd”? Don’t you mean “eschewed”?

  • I never post

    ESCHEWED. Took me 90 seconds to figure out what “askewd” was.

  • Hey all, yes, definitely meant eschewed. And I still spelled it wrong…even in the wrong way. Yikes. Egg on face.

    Thanks for letting me know and keeping me honest.

  • michael mcEachran

    Justin – congrats – this post was quoted today in the NY Times:

    Well done.

  • alex

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  • levannhandlk4

    Thanks for letting me know and keeping me honest.