Are Democrats choosing to run off a cliff with ObamaCare?

Republicans have reacted with understandable glee to the Democratic insistence on extending the debate on ObamaCare.  After all, we are coming up on eight months since the Democrats first introduced this bill and attempted to rush it through Congress.  In that time, their polling has plunged, grassroots reaction has exploded, and a popular new President has seen his standing rapidly fall with voters.  The midterms look like a disaster already, and a last-ditch effort by Democrats to use parliamentary tricks to pass a broadly unpopular bill will only make that worse.

Are Democrats acting irrationally, refusing to see the cliff in front of them?  Andy McCarthy says no — and that Republicans need to understand that:

I hear Republicans getting giddy over the fact that “reconciliation,” if it comes to that, is a huge political loser. That’s the wrong way to look at it. The Democratic leadership has already internalized the inevitablility of taking its political lumps. That makes reconciliation truly scary. Since the Dems know they will have to ram this monstrosity through, they figure it might as well be as monstrous as they can get wavering Democrats to go along with. Clipping the leadership’s statist ambitions in order to peel off a few Republicans is not going to work. I’m glad Republicans have held firm, but let’s not be under any illusions about what that means. In the Democrat leadership, we are not dealing with conventional politicians for whom the goal of being reelected is paramount and will rein in their radicalism. They want socialized medicine and all it entails about government control even more than they want to win elections. After all, if the party of government transforms the relationship between the citizen and the state, its power over our lives will be vast even in those cycles when it is not in the majority. This is about power, and there is more to power than winning elections, especially if you’ve calculated that your opposition does not have the gumption to dismantle your ballooning welfare state.

Consequently, the next six weeks, like the next ten months, are going to be worse than we think. We’re wired to think that everyone plays by the ususal rules of politics — i.e., if the tide starts to change, the side against whom it has turned modifies its positions in order to stay viable in the next election. But what will happen here will be the opposite. You have a party with the numbers to do anything it puts its mind to, led by movement Leftitsts who see their window of opportunity is closing. We seem to expect them to moderate because that’s what everybody in their position does. But they won’t. They will put their heads down and go for as much transformation as they can get, figuring that once they get it, it will never be rolled back. The only question is whether there are enough Democrats who are conventional politicians and who care about being reelected, such that they will deny the leadership the numbers it needs. But I don’t think we should take much heart in this possibility. Those Democrats may well come to think they are going to lose anyway — that’s why so many of them are abandoning ship now. If that’s the case, their incentive will be to vote with the leadership.

Andy has a point.  The American political system has remained stable mainly because its political parties have remained rational over our history.  That rationality has been mainly based on the accepted principle that there isn’t more to power in our system than winning elections, which can create short-sighted leadership at times, but also discourages sweeping  changes to the country by a party on a political suicide mission.  A party with a leadership of zealots, though, could choose to use a two-year session of Congress to fundamentally remake America if it accepted a humiliating loss of power as the necessary trade-off.

However, that would require all of the politicians of that party to follow suit, and that’s where the Democratic leadership has a big problem.  They didn’t gain the majority by elected over 300 cardboard cutouts of Nancy Pelosi as Representatives and Senators.  While Andy is spot-on about Pelosi and her clique being descendants of the New Left radicals of the 1960s (as is Barack Obama), that’s not true for a large portion of their caucus, especially those representing red districts and red states.  Not only is political suicide much more likely for them than it is for Pelosi, Anthony Weiner, Jarrold Nadler, et al, they’re temperamentally different from the leadership clique as well.

That doesn’t mean that they can’t get bulldozed into compliance, but it does make it a more difficult proposition for Pelosi to hold her caucus together.  We’re already seeing signs of it splintering, and as this effort gets closer to the midterm elections, that will increase proportionately.  Blue Dogs are already unhappy with the direction of ObamaCare — and so are progressives, but for diametrically opposed reasons.  The summit may have helped to pull recalcitrant moderates in line, but Democrats got punked at the televised spectacle and have no fig leaf to wear to support a radical mechanism in pushing through a radical bill.

Andy may be right that Democratic leadership has made the decision that political oblivion is an acceptable cost for a one-time remaking of America that Republicans will find difficult to reverse in the next session.  However, I suspect that this strategy doesn’t account for the fact that the people who will actually have to end their careers may not appreciate getting forced into marching off a cliff while the leadership stays safely in their rear-echelon bastions of San Francisco and New York City.

Update: Nick Jacob reminds me on Twitter of what my friend (and new Salem colleague) Dennis Prager told Republicans earlier this month:

Most people on the Left are True Believers. This is critical to understand. They are willing to lose Congress; Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are prepared to lose both houses to get this through. Why? Because losing an election cycle means nothing compared to taking over more of the American economy.

I can give you an example from our side. There are many folks on our side who, if they could pass an amendment against abortion, would happily sacrifice both houses for a period of time. Understand that just as strongly as some are pro-life or religiously Christian or Jewish, that is how strongly many leftists believe in leftism. Leftism is a substitute religion. For the Left, the “health care” bill transcends politics. You are fighting people who will go down with the ship in order to transform this country to a leftist one. And an ever-expanding state is the Left’s central credo.

Prager is certainly correct about all of the points here, but the question will be whether most of their caucuses are willing to follow them — or more accurately, precede them — into political oblivion.

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