When you are at the top of the heap, there is no place to go but down.
Health care reform is effectively dead. Not dead by a sweeping blow to the back of its head, but dead from the torture of a thousand cuts. And strangely enough, many of these cuts were a form of self-mutililation from my beloved Democratic Party.
We were strong, we controlled the House, the Senate, and the Presidency. We had the law-making system by the balls, we were in a position to pass the most sweeping health care reform ever, for the benefit of our citizens health, our morality and our economy. Every American would have access to a doctor, down to the homeless transient. We would feel satisfied that after years of spending money abroad it would do some good at home. We could better compete in a world marketplace where other countries have this advantage.
When they have such a great thing going, what do Democrats do? They screw it up.
Lesson One is no matter how strong you appear to be, you don't stop fighting. Do not capitulate. When faced with a golden opportunity to finally make a dream real, to make history, give nothing and take everything.
Lesson Two is don't get personally greedy. You are there for a cause, not be some holdout who sells their vote to the detriment of that cause.
For example, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) held out on her own party until she could sell her vote for $300 million in aid for Louisiana. Now she will not get that aid, and has been identified as a political whore. Not only that, her success in selling her vote gave other members of the Senate ideas … like
Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) waved the abortion flag about ... never mind that US law already forbids using public money to pay for abortions ... and failing that held out for the US to pay for Nebraska's Medicaid bills. I guess it seems fair to him that the rest of us pays Nebraska's bills as well as our own.
President Barack Obama may or may not have considered health care reform as a key issue closely identified with his office, but sure gave it only lip service in its consideration. Not only did he miss opportunities to hammer home his message, he missed opportunities to negotiate with Republicans using support for other issues in trade … such as gun control and engagement of the distribution of the stimulus package.
If Barack Obama was looking for bipartisan participation in the deliberations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did not get the memo. Flush in the glory of being the big man in the Senate, he failed his party and their constituencies to reflexively do what the Republicans could, keep his party in line and on task. In TV sound bites, he seemed embarrassingly confrontational to friends and foes alike.
If any success is involved in this debacle, it belongs to the House of Representatives and the Senate Republicans.
The House quickly did what their name implies, represented the public with a fair bill in a timely manner.
The Senate Republicans were sure-footed. They whittled and delayed and delayed and whittled the bill until it looked nothing like the American public were initially expecting, they did a fine job of representing their big business cronies. Their often outlandish claims went unchallenged by the other side, their "victimization" in the process sold wholesale while Democrats just sat back and watched, the GOP watched gleefully when their fringe would lie and distort facts to no meaningful reaction. Democrats let this happen.
The crowning achievement of health care politics did not happen in Washington, though. With the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy, whose lifelong ambition was to see fair access to health care in this country, to the highest of Democratic virtues and ideals, a vacancy was filled with a Playgirl-model Republican. Scott Brown did noting but run a decent campaign. Democrat Martha Cokely on the other hand, spent more time on vacation than vying for the Kennedy seat. The result of her thinking she was a shoe-in was to get the voter boot. Her loss killed the dream of not only Senator Kennedy, but a reform many have been waiting for 50 years to see. Ironically, it will be the heir to the "Kennedy Seat" that will kill meaningful health care reform.
Perhaps Coakley represents what has happened to the Democratic Party this year. Perhaps we feel that since the last election, everything we wanted was "in the bag." We assured ourselves that certain things were inevitable; hence, we did not have to make an effort to fight for them. What a mistake that was. And we only have ourselves to blame.