Saturday, January 05, 2008
Make It So
Eugene Robinson goes out among the natives and brings back some important data:
In Washington, it is conventionally wise to think of government gridlock as basically a good thing, even something that most Americans approve of. To have a president from one party and a Congress controlled -- or at least reined in -- by the other, we tell ourselves, prevents too-abrupt shifts in policy. Gridlock is supposed to force bipartisan consensus, which is held as a kind of Holy Grail, the only way to tackle the nation's biggest problems.
But tell that to Iowans -- or residents of most states, for that matter -- who either don't have health insurance or can't get insurance companies to pay their medical bills. Tell it to Arizonans who have pressed their state government to implement its own immigration policy -- shouldering what is clearly a federal responsibility -- because Washington can't get its act together. Tell it to military families, some in favor of the war in Iraq and some against, whose lives have been turned upside down by extended deployments with no end in sight.
There aren't many people in Washington (the state of mind) who spend sleepless nights worrying about sons, daughters or other loved ones serving in Iraq. Even though there are suburbs within 20 miles of the Capitol where illegal immigration is a passionate, hot-button issue, most in Washington think of the problem in academic terms. And just about everyone in state-of-mind Washington has top-notch health insurance; members of Congress enjoy a comprehensive plan that one might be tempted to call "socialized medicine," since a large portion of the costs are borne by taxpayers.
We in Washington are increasingly isolated from the people in whose interest we claim to labor. The economic gap between us and most of the country is widening to a chasm. In most American cities, a $600,000 house in a leafy neighborhood would be considered an extravagance reserved for the wealthy. Here, we'd call it a bargain.
The word "change" had great resonance in the Iowa campaign. In part, the yearning for change arose because George W. Bush has led the nation down so many dead-end paths. But from the conversations I had with Iowans, it seemed clear to me that change is also shorthand for the disconnect between the Washington state of mind and the widespread expectation, hardly unreasonable, that this city ought to actually get something done every once in a while.
Whether it gets done after a bare-knuckle brawl or a chorus of "Kumbaya" really doesn't matter.
That's exactly right, I think. The story isn't that people want peace at all costs. They want results.
Here's Candy Crowley from a couple of days ago in Iowa:
BLITZER: What do you think, Candy? Do you think Michael Bloomberg is really serious about doing this?
Steve Forbes -- you heard him in that piece. He says he has no doubt that Michael Bloomberg -- when the dust settles from the caucuses and the primaries -- will throw his hat into the ring as a third party, Independent candidate.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Steve Forbes may talk to Michael Bloomberg a good deal more than I do. It's hard to see where his niche is. I know that everyone says that everybody wants a more bipartisan spirit in Washington. But I'll tell you what, if you get out here with these Republicans and, in fact, the Independents and the Democrats, what they're looking for, in fact, is their ideas to be pushed forward.
You know, the first thing that comes out of their mouth is not I really wish everybody would get along. It's I want this war stopped, I want the economy to be better, we need better jobs. So I'm just not sure what kind of constituency is out there
When people say they want change it's not because they are tired of "partisan bickering" (which basically consists of derisive Republican laughter.) They're sick of a government that does exactly the opposite of what they want it to do. And they aren't picky about how it gets done. If it can be done with gentle persuasion, that's great. But if it takes a fight, they're all right with that too.
This is the central difference between the beltway CW as expressed by the Bloomer party and the village gasbags. The elders believe that nothing can get done without "moving to the middle" which currently means, even in the best interpretation, somewhere between the center right and the far right. And even that is incredibly optimistic. The truth is that Republicans out of power believe in total obstruction. They are perfectly happy to block all progressive legislation because they know they will suffer no consequences for it from the mild mannered Democrats and the bipartisan zombies.
Here's an example:
September 22, 1993 - Bill Clinton, delivers his health care speech to a joint session of Congress ... Response is overwhelmingly favorable. During TV interviews immediately afterward, House and Senate Republicans criticize Clinton for failing to provide specific details. HIAA and NFIB lobbyists, as well as lobbyists for other organizations, condemn the President's remarks and repeatedly charge that the Clinton plan will lead to a "tremendous dislocation of employees" and prevent American families from keeping the health care they already have.[They begin a series of ads collectively known as the "Harry and Louise spots."]
September 28, 1993 - Hillary Clinton begins several days of testimony on health care before five congressional committees... Its very success, however, triggers new and intense activity among opponents who see in her a foe whose defeat will require their most determined efforts.
October - November 1993 - Ira Magaziner is besieged by interest group representatives and members of Congress, all demanding last-minute adjustments.
October 27, 1993 - Clinton, in an attempt to recapture public support, formally presents his plan to Congress in a staged media event in the old chamber of the House. ...House Minority Leader Bob Michel of Illinois stuns observers with a forceful, bold, and unsparing attack on the very premise of the Clinton plan. Even those who have not closely followed the debate immediately understand what this laying down of the gauntlet by a moderate like Michel means: It is a clear signal of all-out Republican opposition.
November 1, 1993 - Hillary Clinton launches a scathing attack against the insurance industry to counter the highly damaging "Harry and Louise" ads...Her assault makes front-page newspaper stories, network TV news shows, and calls more attention to HIAA's role and message.
The success of HIAA ads give an immense boost to the organization's fund-raising. In the space of a few weeks, the budget for the campaign expands fivefold from $4 million to $20 million.In the end, HIAA raises and spends about $30 million more than its normal annual operating budget of $20 million -- a grand total of almost $50 million to the lobbying effort. The money HIAA accumulates for the fight pays not only for the Harry and Louise ads but also for a grassroots campaign that dwarfs anything the interest group has ever done. The effort produces more than four hundred fifty thousand contacts with Congress -- phone calls, visits, or letters -almost a thousand to every member of the House and Senate.
November 20, 1993 - The Health Care bill is finally presented to Congress.
December 2, 1993 - Leading conservative operative William Kristol privately circulates a strategy document to Republicans in Congress.
Kristol writes that congressional Republicans should work to "kill" -- not amend -- the Clinton plan because it presents a real danger to the Republican future: Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party. Nearly a full year before Republicans will unite behind the "Contract With America," Kristol has provided the rationale and the steel for them to achieve their aims of winning control of Congress and becoming America's majority party. Killing health care will serve both ends. The timing of the memo dovetails with a growing private consensus among Republicans that all-out opposition to the Clinton plan is in their best political interest. Until the memo surfaces, most opponents prefer behind-the-scenes warfare largely shielded from public view. The boldness of Kristol's strategy signals a new turn in the battle. Not only is it politically acceptable to criticize the Clinton plan on policy grounds, it is also politically advantageous. By the end of 1993, blocking reform poses little risk as the public becomes increasingly fearful of what it has heard about the Clinton plan.
December 19, 1993 - Stories about a new Clinton scandal continue to chip away at the reserves of political capital the President and First Lady will need when Congress returns in January.
January 3, 1994 - Republicans link Whitewater with health care reform in an allout campaign coordinated with the conservative talk radio network. The result: rising doubts that the public can trust Clinton in either case.
January 25, 1994 - The barrage of Whitewater stories continues, creating a siege mentality at the White House. Republicans openly embrace William Kristol's latest advice: Oppose any Clinton health care reform "sight unseen" and adopt a stance that "There is no health care crisis." Bob Dole uses this approach in his State of the Union response. During his talk Dole uses a chart -- depicting a bewildering array of new government agencies and programs -- to hammer home his point that the Clinton plan is government-run health care. The chart becomes a centerpiece in Capitol Hill debates and further frightens a public already Suspicious of government and increasingly distrustful of the President and the First Lady who have designed this new government program.
Late January 1994 - A critically influential -- and intensely controversial -- pair of articles appears on the Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page and in the liberal New Republic...The White House, and other independent experts, say the articles are filled with patent falsehoods and distortions...Newt Gingrich will later characterize them as "the first decisive breakpoint" in support for the Clinton plan.
Early February 1994 - Another blow is dealt to the President's credibility as former Arkansas state employee Paula Corbin Jones announces a lawsuit against him for sexual harassment and civil rights violations...the Business Roundtable, perhaps the most prestigious of all business groups, endorses the rival Cooper plan >as the best "starting point" for congressional action on health care reform.
The Chamber of Commerce of the United States changes its position and comes out against the Clinton plan. Behind the change of direction is an intensive grassroots campaign, waged against the Chamber's national leadership by congressional Republicans and the No Name Coalition.
February 5, 1994 - The board of the National Association of Manufacturers passes a resolution declaring its opposition to the Clinton plan.
March 1994 - Democrat John Dingell approaches Carlos Moorhead of California -the senior Republican on his committee -- to raise the possibility of working out a health bill together. According to Dingell, Moorhead responds: "There's no way you're going to get a single vote on this [Republican] side of the aisle. You will not only not get a vote here, but we've been instructed that if we participate in that undertaking at all, those of us who do will lose Our seniority and will not be ranking minority members within the Republican Party."
March 4-5, 1994 - Newt Gingrich...implicitly warns GOP senators that any Republican concessions will be met with more Democratic demands. Phill Gramm also weighs in against any Republican compromise on health reform. This meeting becomes a crucial step, not in forming a Republican alternative to the Clinton plan but in demonstrating to Dole how dangerous it will be for him to be part of any compromise.
End of March 1994 - Republicans seize on Whitewater even more aggressively, once more linking it directly with health reform, House Republican Lamar Smith of Texas sends a letter to each of his House colleagues and all their administrative assistants and press secretaries urging them to focus on one theme in their speeches, columns for the press, and media and constituent contacts for the next week: "Whitewater and Health Care." Included in the four-page letter is a list of suggested attack sound bites and quotes to be used by all GOP colleagues. In all this time nothing has been done by the White House to launch any kind of grassroots support campaign for health care reform.
April 19, 1994 - The Finance Committee begins holding closed-door sessions to discuss health care reform and deal with a central problem: how to finance the program the President wants. That same day,Rush Limbaugh, echoing the Republicans strategy line, tells his listeners that "Whitewater is about health care."
May 31, 1994 - ... pressure from the Republican Right increases. Six prominent conservative activists -- Richard Viguerie, Phyllis Schlafly, L. Brent Bozell, and three others -- send Dole and Gingrich an open letter warning that any "willingness to coinpromise on behalf of Big Government" will make it "impossible" for Dole and Gingrich to find conservative grassroots support in 1996.
A federal grand jury indicts Rep. Rostenkowski on seventeen counts of conspiring to defraud the government. He is required to step aside as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee -- a crippling blow to any effort to pass health care reform through the House.
Spring 1994 - Republicans other than Newt Gingrich begin to see a tantalizing prospect of winning control of Congress by opposing the Clinton health plan as a quintessential example of Big Government Democratic liberalism run wild. An article in the right-wing American Spectator Suggests Dole's presidential prospects hinge on his ability to block any govemment-run health care system. Dole's top aide, Sheila Burke, quickly finds herself the target of abuse from ultraconservatives because of Dole's seeming moderate stance.
Early June 1994 - Archconservatives plant stories in the news media targeting Republican moderates or anyone else who is not a "true believer." During Senate Finance Committee deliberations on the reform bill, the Washington Times weighs in with more of the same. "Some GOP colleagues and their staff view Mr. Dole's chief of staff and health care guru, Sheila Burke, as a liberal Democrat," the paper said, adding, "'Our No. 1's No. 1 is a liberal Democrat."'
June 11, 1994 - At a Republican meeting in Boston, Dole promises to "filibuster and kill" any health care bill with an employer mandate.
June 15, 1994 - Bill Clinton begins individual Oval Office exploratory meetings with Senate Republican moderates Chafee, Durenberger, and Danforth. Clinton impresses them with his detailed knowledge of compromises tinder discussion and his eagerness to move the process forward. He complains to Durenberger, "Every time I start in the middle, Bob Dole moves the middle to the right."
June 1994 - HIAA brings back its "Harry and Louise" campaign for another month's run, this time targeting provisions in the Clinton plan that will impose backup controls on health care spending and require standard premiums for all those insured. At the same time, HIAA -- in a blatantly cynical move -- runs a print ad that appears only in Washington and is obviously intended to be conciliatory to the playmakers of the capital. The ad emphasizes HIAA's support for universal health care coverage and insurance reform. Pro-reform groups fight back but are badly out spent. The DNC, for example, announces a one-week, $150,000 ad campaign, ostensibly designed to produce phone calls to Congress demanding "the real thing" in reform. But the DNC buys time only on Washington, D.C., stations -- not in the grassroots, where it counts.
June 29, 1994 - The major business lobbies fighting the Clinton plan swing behind the Dole-Packwood bill in the Senate, as they had done behind the Rowland-Bilirakis bill in the House. Incremental reform is all they will support. The Republican National Committee, happy to have something to be for, launches ads saying this is the way -- the only way -- to achieve bipartisan agreement.
July 22, 1994 - Trying to win back the kind of political support that brought them to the White House, the administration plans a bus trek across America to generate their own grassroots message to Congress for reform. A kickoff rally in Portland, Oregon, is marred by anti-Clinton protesters. When the first buses reach the highway they find a broken-down bus wreathed in red tape symbolizing government bureaucracy and hitched to a tow truck labeled, "This is Clinton Health Care." The anti-bus trek protests are the crowning success of the No Name Coalition and especially of the conservative political interest group Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). By the time the ill-fated bus caravan takes to the highways, CSE operatives, working closely -- and secretly -- with Newt Gingrich's Capitol Hill office and with Republican senators, have mapped out plans to derail the Reform Riders wherever they go.
July 23, 1994 - Following several days of anti-Hillary rhetoric on local talk shows, Hillary Clinton -- at a bus rally in Seattle -- is confronted by hundreds of angry men shouting that the Clintons are going to destroy their way of life, ban guns, extend abortion rights, protect gays, and socialize medicine. When she finishes speaking and tries to leave the rally, her Iimousine is surrounded by protesters. Each of the four caravan routes becomes an expedition into enemy territory -- with better-armed, better-prepared, better-mobilized anti-Clinton protesters at each stop along the way. Local reform groups and caravan organizers are forced to cancel scheduled stops because of implicit threats of violence.
July 24, 1994 - In an interview with Newt Gingrich, the New York Times reports that Gingrich has united House Republicans against passage of health reform and hopes "to use the issue as a springboard to win Republican control of the House." Gingrich goes on to predict that Republicans will pick up thirty-four House seats in the November elections and that half a dozen disaffected Democrats will switch parties to give Republicans control. The story attracts little attention.
August 3, 1994 - Clinton gives an emotional address in the White House Rose Garden, where he and the First Lady greet six hundred Reform Riders after their buses finally arrive in Washington -- timed to coincide with the day Mitchell introduces his health care reform "rescue" in the Senate, and Gephardt introduces his bill in the House. Mitchell's compromise is much less bureaucratic and government-driven than the Clinton plan. It puts off any requirement that employers provide employees health insurance until early in the next century. It makes a major concession to small businesses by exempting any employer with twenty-five or fewer employees from providing coverage. And it aims at guaranteeing insurance for 95 percent of Americans by the year 2000.
Mid August 1994 - Newt Gingrich strikes. For more than a year, he has marshaled his forces like a guerrilla army and coordinated the Republican attack strategy with the congressional Theme Team and economic allies in the grassroots campaign. Now he springs his ambush by attacking -- not the Democratic health bill being introduced in the House, but the least expected target, the crime bill. His plan is to bring Congress to a halt, strand the health effort, send lawmakers home, and deny Democrats the opportunity to record a vote on health care reform before the fall elections.
August 11, 1994 - Foley and Gephardt try to bring the crime bill before the full House for debate and then a vote. They know the procedural vote to begin debate will be close but they expect to prevail. Instead they lose by fifteen votes after fifty eight Democrats bolt their party and join the opposition. Congressional leaders announce that health care will be delayed indefinitely. Delay and obstruction also tie up the Senate.
August 15, 1994 - Mitchell threatens to keep the Senate in nonstop, round-the-clock session until Republicans agree to start voting.
August 16, 1994 - The final round of "Harry and Louise" commercials begins airing nationally. At the same time, the final outpouring of faxes, phone calls, and letters mounted by the small-business lobby floods Washington offices.
August 18, 1994 - Democrats gather for a private leadership luncheon. Though the initial remarks by senators are polite, they clearly contain strong criticism of the Mitchell bill. The meeting erupts into a stormy confrontation between Ted Kennedy and Bob Kerrey, who get into a shouting match that shows how deep the divisions in the Democratic party have become. This leaves observers stunned and convinced the party is falling apart.
August 25, 1994 - Democratic leaders of both congressional chambers give up on health care and announce they are letting their members go home for their much-postponed vacation. Neither the Senate (where Democrats outnumber Republicans fifty-six to forty-four) nor the House (with a Democratic majority of 257 to 176) has come close to passing, or even voting on, any health bill.
Late August 1994 - Democrats begin preparing for the November elections by distancing themselves from their President -- and from the reform he has attempted.
September 19, 1994 - The New York Times reports remarks -- never subsequently denied -- that Bob Packwood made to his Republican senatorial colleagues during closed-door strategy sessions while he was managing the Republican attack during the summer. "We've killed health care reform," Packwood told his fellow Republican senators. "Now we've got to make sure our fingerprints are not on it." For many this is the "smoking gun": proof of a carefully plotted, and secret, Republican strategy.
Congress reconvenes. Mitchell hopes to set aside four days for Senate debate on the new Mainstream bill and then schedule a straight up-or-down vote. Republicans begin mobilizing for a filibuster to keep the bill from reaching the floor. Supporters realize they don't have enough votes to break the filibuster.
September 20, 1994 - Newt Gingrich privately warns Bill Clinton in the White House that if he continues to push for health reform in the closing days of the session, he will lose the Republican support needed to pass GATT, which the President believes is critical to the U.S. economic position as the leader of the Western alliance. George Mitchell, repeating this Gingrich threat to colleagues privately immediately after, describes it as "an atomic bomb blast."
September 26, 1994 - At a news conference in the Capitol, George Mitchell pulls the plug on health care reform.
September 27, 1994 - William Kristol of the Project for the Republican Future spell out the next stage of the battle plan to change the makeup of Congress. "I think we can continue to wrap the Clinton plan around the necks of Democratic candidates." Some observers urge the White House to make some kind of public statement about special interests, all the money expended, and the fact that most Republicans were clearly committed from day one to killing reform, but no statement is forthcoming.
October 7, 1994 - Congress adjourns.
November 8, 1994 - Voters deliver a massive repudiation of President Clinton, break the forty-year hold of Democrats on Congress, restore Republicans to power at ever level of government, and set the stage for a further test over the nation's ideological future in 1996. In two years the Democrats have gone from a controlling majority 258 seats in the House of Representatives to a minority of 204. In all the contests House, Senate, and gubernatorial seats, not a single Republican seeking reelection loses.
Late 1994 - As the Gingrich Revolution in Congress prepares to assume office, a Gallup poll shows that 72 percent of the public lists major health care reform as a top or high priority. Only crime and deficit reduction rank higher.
They did this all from the minority.
Yes, the Clintons are also to blame and I'm certainly not exonerating either of them. But that example shows just how many forces can be arrayed to stop progressive change. I've seen nothing in recent years that leads me to believe it's gotten any less daunting. If anything, the Republicans' time in the majority made them more adept at both constitution destruction and parliamentary obstruction. (For sheer audacity, check out this from Kagro X, keeping in mind that this gambit was first used by Reagan and failed. It's not going to fail this time. They learn...)
The LieberBloomer party insists that the only way to get anything done is to reach across the aisle. Back in the day, when the two parties were regionally and ideologically diverse, (and the conservative movement wasn't completely insane) that was certainly true. But it hasn't been that way for a long time now. The new political terrain is to either rule like Republicans, which requires a servile press and mountains of money to spin your undemocratic, plutocratic, imperialism as "boldness", "strength" and "resolve" (which will never be said of Democrats) or you get a specific, detailed mandate from the people and then gather enough legitimate democratic power to enact it.
I get a lot of people saying I'm fighting old wars. And that may be true. I would love nothing more than to see the conservative, martial, exclusionary, robber baron faction in American politics (which is now the Republican party) tamed. But they have always been around in one incarnation or another and with the post civil war realignment finally completed, it seems unlikely to me that they will be even more open to compromise than they used to be. The country is back to its original equilibrium --- which was always politically at odds.
That's America. We've been fighting from the beginning. The good news is that the progressives may be coming back into dominance, which means it's possible for Democrats to actually enact progressive legislation rather than simply stop the bleeding --- if they're willing to take the heat. I think the American people will be with them if the politicians listen to what it is they really want, lay out a program to make it so and then pass their agenda even as the villagers shriek and howl about "partisanship."
Or, on the other hand, the Democrats could follow David Broder's advice and get punk'd. Again.
digby 1/05/2008 11:25:00 AM