Whose health-care Waterloo?

The Republicans gambled they could destroy the Obama presidency—and lost

“Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.” The man who wrote that on his blog, in the minutes following House approval of the massive health-care overhaul Sunday (March 21), wasn’t some Democratic pundit gloating over the victory. He was David Frum, former speechwriter in the George W. Bush administration and staunch Republican.

The Republicans made a huge and costly mistake on health-care reform, Frum said, by refusing to make any kind of deal with the Obama administration—“No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo—just as health care was Clinton’s in 1994.”

As Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne points out, however, the irony is that Republicans ended up opposing in lockstep a Democratic plan that “is built on a series of principles that Republicans espoused for years.” It’s market-based, it preserves the current insurance system—indeed, it brings the insurance industry millions of new customers—and it doesn’t even include a so-called “public option.”

In fact, it closely resembles the Massachusetts plan launched by former Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, which in turn was built on ideas developed at the conservative Heritage Foundation. President Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan, Frum points out, and Republicans missed an opportunity to finesse a plan more in keeping with conservative views. In their gamble that they could destroy the Obama presidency, they went all in—and they lost.

And why did Republicans make this mistake? Because, Frum says, they “followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat. … Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with someone who wants to murder your grandmother?”

The real leaders of the Republican Party are on Fox News and talk radio, Frum writes, and “they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination.” Rush Limbaugh wants everyone to fail, including Republicans, because he wants his listeners to be angry. If government works, “they are less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleep Number beds.”

And so we had the spectacle of Tea Party protesters outside the Capitol hurling racial epithets at Rep. John Lewis, one of the heroes of the civil-rights movement, and taunting Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, because he is gay. Is this what conservativism has become today?

Include our own representative, Wally Herger, as one who drank the talk-radio Kool-Aid—and who gladly added his feeble contribution to distorting and demonizing the plan. He called it “a government takeover of health care,” charged it would make people give up their current insurance and force 120 million folks into government programs. He made it sound like Stalin’s roundup of the kulaks. It’s being charitable to call these lies, but Herger delivered them without a scintilla of shame.

So Herger voted no, which means he voted for continued increased insurance costs, continued forced use of emergency rooms by the uninsured, continued rescission of policies by insurance companies unwilling to pay claims, and continued denial of health insurance—and thus health care—to people with pre-existing health problems.

There are an estimated 109,000 uninsured men, women and children in Herger’s District 2. Before long, they will have as much access to health care as he does, thanks to the plan he voted against on Sunday. They should remember that in November, when Wally Herger is up for re-election to his 12th term in office. Let’s make his vote to deny health care to so many of his constituents his own Waterloo.