There are certain laws of political physics that just cannot be ignored for long. All the bravado about minuscule midterm turnout or audacious executive actions out of the White House cannot forever mask the fact that two disastrous midterm election cycles have sapped the Democratic Party of authority. In 2015, the party will be in one of the weakest positions it has been in nearly a century. As Democrats begin to internalize that suboptimal reality, the effects are spectacular beyond Republicans’ wildest imaginings.
On Tuesday, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), said aloud what many Democrats had been thinking privately for years when he observed that the party “blew the opportunity the American people gave them” by focusing on passing health care reform amid a recession in 2009 and 2010. Schumer admonished Democrats for being myopically consumed with addressing “the wrong problem” at the time.
Schumer went on to add that the Affordable Care Act was not only the wrong policy at the wrong time but that its goals were misguided as well. “To aim huge change at such small percentage of electorate made no political sense,” Schumer added. Translated, New York’s senior senator is saying that reshaping the entire American health care system in order to insure just 30 million Americans – an objective which the ACA seems unlikely to achieve – was a foolhardy approach to governance.
By essentially legitimizing a series of Republican talking points, Schumer sparked a firestorm.
“It’s a gut punch for a member of leadership who’s supposed to be our message guy to throw his colleagues under the bus like this purely for self-promotion,” one unnamed Senate aide told Politico. “There’s no question the politics of ACA have been challenging, but millions of people now have health care who didn’t have it before and that’s something Democrats should be proud of and working together to defend – not using as a backboard to score cheap self-promotional points.”
The communications director for Howard Dean’s Democracy for America told Politico that Schumer, and anyone else who thinks like he does about the ACA, needs to have “their head examined.”
But the most pugnacious, antagonistic, unceasing deluge of criticism for Schumer came from President Barack Obama’s team of young former speechwriters: Tommy Vietor, Jon Favreau, and Jon Lovett.
Taking to Twitter on Tuesday, the group unleashed a tirade of recriminations directed at Schumer.
“I’m sure Chuck Schumer has his reasons for wanting to debate 2009 Democratic political tactics but I’m also sure those reasons are terrible,” Lovett tweeted. After defending what he said was the administration’s victory in a “century-long policy battle,” Lovett added that Democrats who lost their seats over it knew they were sacrificing them for the greater good.
“In a way, it’s refreshing to see Schumer admit to being so cynical,” Lovett added. “It’s been his MO forever.”
“Funny, I don’t remember Chuck Schumer giving that advice when he was privately and publicly championing the Affordable Care Act in 2010,” Favreau agreed.
“Shorter Chuck Schumer,” Vietor submitted, “I wish Obama cared more about helping Democrats than sick people.”
But if you thought this circular firing squad consisted of Obama era Democrats directing their attacks only at the old oaks in their midst, you would be mistaken. Freshly co-opted by the Senate’s Democratic leadership, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) backed Schumer’s position.
“Sen. Warren agrees with Sen. Schumer that there was an urgent need in 2009 and 2010 to help middle class families who were struggling to get by and that more should have been done,” read a statement released by Warren spokeswoman Lacey Rose.
Progressives might have been able to ignore Schumer’s warnings, but they can scarcely afford to overlook Warren. While these Senate Democrats are not denouncing the Affordable Care Act per se, their comments serve to undermine this law’s legitimacy. The fact that Democrats believe that drastic course of action is necessary to distance the party from its unpopular leader so as to remain viable in the next election cycle is a level of vindication Republicans could have only dreamed of just one year ago.