Saturday, March 1, 2014

The birth of obstruction

By now we all know that on the very day President Obama was inaugurated in 2009, Republican leaders were meeting to come up with a strategy to reach Sen. McConnell's singular goal of "making him a one-term president." We also know that the strategy they settled on was to eschew compromise (remember when Speaker Boehner couldn't even say the word?) and obstruct anything he tried to accomplish.

In light of that, its interesting to look at the recently released 1993 memo from Bill Kristol informing Republicans about what their response should be to President Clinton's health care reform proposal.
Any Republican urge to negotiate a "least bad" compromise with the Democrats, and thereby gain momentary public credit for helping the president "do something" about health care, should also be resisted...On grounds of national policy alone, the plan should not be amended; it should be erased.
As we all know, the Republicans were successful in doing what Kristol suggested. And so its interesting to speculate about whether or not this was the birth of obstruction as a comprehensive strategy during the Obama era.

But its also interesting to look at why Kristol so vehemently opposed health care reform during a time when Republicans were open to working with a Democratic president.
Passage of the Clinton health care plan, in any form, would guarantee and likely make permanent an unprecedented federal intrusion into and disruption of the American economy--and the establishment of the largest federal entitlement program since Social Security. Its success would signal a rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment we have begun rolling back that idea in other areas...

But the long-term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will be even worse--much worse. It will relegitimize middle-class dependence for "security" on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.
Kristol knew that health care reform would challenge the trajectory of rolling back federal programs that had begun during the Reagan years. In other words, it would be transformative because it would work (notice how he elusively compares it to a beloved and effective program like Social Security?) Here's how Josh Marshall explains it:
Take this out of con-speak and you have a very candid statement that health care reform would work. Average people would like it. And it would "rekindle" the belief that government activism can be part of the solution in helping sustain and protect the middle class. Kristol was clear that this would not only [be] an ideological defeat but also a political one inasmuch as Democrats are the party of government.
And so here we are 20 years later and President Obama has succeeded where the Clintons failed (precisely because he learned from their mistakes). It is important that we recognize the battle over Obamacare for what it is - not only about health care for millions of Americans - but an ideological battle over the liberal/Democratic notion that good government has a role to play in our lives. Its about altering the trajectory set in motion during the Reagan years of distrusting a government that, from its outset, was to be "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Clearly the Republicans see the big picture and know what's at stake here. Hopefully every liberal/Democrat does as well.

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