January 18, 2005

Foolish Hardball

Ryan Lizza is learning all the wrong lessons from the Democrat defeat on health care reform in the Clinton administration:

Defeat breeds defeat. In Clinton's case, time brought not only a more organized opposition but also a crush of events--a bruising budget battle, political scandals, international crises--that sapped his political capital and distracted him from focusing on health care. The lesson for Democrats is obvious: The harder it is for Bush to pass other parts of his agenda, the harder it will be for him to pass his Social Security plan. Conversely, easy Bush victories on his budget, energy bill, tort reform, and judicial nominees will strengthen his hand on Social Security. At one point in 1994, Clinton believed a swift victory on what seemed like an easy-to-pass crime bill could serve as a springboard to revive health care. But, rather than hold their fire for the health bill, Newt Gingrich and his troops launched an all-out attack on the crime bill that caught the White House completely off guard. Similarly, today some Democrats believe that a fight over a highly polarizing Supreme Court nominee could be the magic bullet that saps the energy from Social Security. 

The Republican party has spent years setting up the impression that Democrats are obstructionists, fighting unfairly to block judges for partisan reasons and keeping good people off the bench. Picking a fight against a SC nominee in order to set themselves up for Social Security reform is tailor made to feed right into that longstanding Republican narrative.

The idea a little further on that the Democrats are about to emerge as reformers real soon now makes an appearance:

Many Democrats today argue that their route back to power depends on transforming themselves into a party of reform. Some of these Democrats are scared that mere opposition--and denying Bush's claim that Social Security faces a "crisis"--hampers their efforts. But Republicans faced the same challenge in the early '90s and found that the two goals were not mutually exclusive. They didn't just kill health care reform, they used its corpse as a platform to redefine themselves as a reform movement that swept away the Democratic majority. 

The reforms that Republicans pushed in the Contract with America were well integrated in a united Republican party, were consistent with, or at least acceptable to, all major sub-party interests, and had been well chewed for many years at Heritage, Cato, and all their smaller brethren in the think tank community. There is no such well formed reform agenda available to Democrats right now.

Maybe a decade from now such an agenda will exist and the Democrats will come storming back. I doubt it will come so soon. The Democrats have yet to really face the reality that they're no longer the majority party and the Republicans have yet to grow in arrogance enough to need to be booted out.

Posted by TMLutas at January 18, 2005 02:26 PM