Great news, everybody! After delighting in last night’s historic vote to extend healthcare coverage to nearly all Americans while simultaneously lowering the long-term deficit, I put my Democratic voter registration card under my pillow and went to bed.

Lo and behold, I woke up this morning to find that my acne had cleared, my seasonal allergies had vanished, and eight weeks worth of male enhancement pills ordered over the Internet were waiting for me on the front stoop.

Jokes aside, the passage of healthcare reform really will change lives for the better and will do so in short order. I think about my friends who have survived cancer or deal with Crohn’s disease who will now be able to get insurance. I think about my peers who have struggled to find full-time employment after graduation who will now be able to rely on their parents’ plans for a few more years while the economy recovers. I think of the alter cockers (look it up) in my life who have depleted their savings paying for prescription drugs not covered because of Medicare’s doughnut hole. While some have derided the fact that some portions of the bill won’t go into effect right away, many of the most urgent problems with healthcare in America will be addressed almost immediately, including the ones I’ve just listed. CNN has a quick-and-dirty rundown of those.

The politics of passing healthcare were obviously quite contentious. However, it became clear to most Democrats that failing to pass reform would have no political benefit given how hard the party was fighting for it in the first place. In other words, successfully passing the bill, even if slightly unpopular, would extract no additional political cost to that levied for having supported the bill in the first place.

Besides, the polls that Republicans characterized as demonstrating “overwhelming public opposition to reform” were actually closer than portrayed, especially when one considers that most individual provisions in the bill were quire popular and given the overall confusion about what was actually being proposed.

Democrats around the country are celebrating today, not just the passage of the most consequential domestic program in two generations, but also a shift in political momentum based on a few assumptions, some more reasonable than others. Democrats are betting that successfully passing reform will fire up Democrats and close the “enthusiasm gap” that has caused pundits to worry that the Left won’t turn out to vote in November. Democrats also assume that passing the bill will result in a more successful campaign to cut through the misconceptions about what it actually contains, that the bill will become more popular as people learn fact from fiction, and that this will lead the GOP’s calls for the repeal of healthcare reform to fall flat.

While I do think the polls could reflect a healthcare honeymoon for a little while, I am skeptical of the argument that misconceptions about healthcare reform will be easier to debunk. Nonetheless, and whether it is true or not, there will be a strong media narrative about the revival of the Democratic Party’s political fortunes based on the party’s substantive success in passing the healthcare reform bill that has eluded congress and presidents for a century. While that narrative may become overblown, while the shift of momentum toward the Democrats may become exaggerated, it will at least become clear that Republicans wrote the obituary for the Democrats’ Congressional majority far too soon. The narrative that Republicans would be an unstoppable force, that the Democrats would be doomed this November, was also quite overblown and exaggerated.

Certainly, here in Louisiana and throughout the ultra-conservative Deep South, Democrats disproportionately broke ranks with their party to vote against healthcare reform. While in the North and West, many Democrats from generally more conservative districts were able to win election in 2008 based on the overall enthusiasm for the Obama campaign, in the South, Democrats have no real political incentive to support their party’s leadership. Not only are Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi particularly unpopular in the South but the Democratic Party’s grassroots base has much weaker infrastructure with which to hold their members accountable. Whereas Democrats in New York and Michigan, for instance, must almost necessarily earn the support of organized labor and “the net roots,” in Louisiana organized labor is often unpopular as a matter of principle, regardless of the issues they’re working on.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, for instance, has voted against much of his party’s agenda over the last 16 months as he prepares to take on Republican David Vitter for his Senate seat. He voted ‘no’ last night after also voting against the earlier version of the bill that came out of the House. His political calculation must have been that he cannot and should not do anything that would overtly cultivate support among reliable Democratic voters. Supporting things that liberals like generally means supporting something that conservatives don’t like. That will always make life difficult for Democratic candidates in a state with more conservatives than liberals.

But built into that logic is that liberals are so desperate to unseat people such as Vitter that their votes can be taken for granted. There is no political incentive to supporting any liberal causes; there is no circumstance in which a liberal or moderate Democrat would vote for Vitter. And given the so-called enthusiasm gap between liberals and conservatives demonstrated over the past several months, it has not appeared as though any Democratic candidate would have much success winning a close election based on the strength of grassroots liberal turnout.

Yet Melancon may be testing some limits. Advocacy of healthcare reform isn’t just the pet cause of some liberals; it has been the central plank of the party platform since President Truman. Healthcare, more than abortion, gay rights, or the two wars, is a consistent litmus test issue for Democrats throughout the coverage. The Democrats have always tolerated divergence from the party platform, but support for universal healthcare represents for many, the essence of the differences between the two parties.

Besides, it’s not as if Melancon has been setting the world afire in his advocacy for the other causes near and dear to rank-and-file Democrats. He is not pro-choice, he is not in favor of gay rights, and he has an abysmal record on the environment. Heck, the guy votes to protect the inheritances of millionaires, even using the right-wing moniker for the estate tax, “the death tax,” in his own press release.

In fact, the only major legislation I can remember on which Melancon sided with a majority of Democrats in this session was the stimulus bill.

I’m clearly no political strategist, but wouldn’t you assume it would be easier to defend a vote in favor of healthcare reform than one in favor of the stimulus bill? Even in a conservative state like this, could he think of no argument for a bill that extends coverage to working families while simultaneously reducing the deficit?


He’d rather justify voting for the stimulus bill?

I supported the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act too – in fact I wish it had been bigger – but it seems far more difficult to explain to an electorate that hates deficits and government spending than a bill that reduces the deficit.

Maybe the political decision to take Democrats for granted in order to court conservatives who don’t like Vitter wasn’t political at all. Maybe Melancon stands only on principle, making a decision on each vote purely on his moral compass.

It makes me wonder how Melancon will answer the following question when he is confronted with it on the campaign trail:

“If elected senator, will you vote to repeal healthcare reform?”

Vitter will be leading that charge. Will Melancon join him? Or will he say he supports healthcare after he voted against it?

Is there a breaking point for Democratic voters in Louisiana?

Is there a cost for beating Vitter that Democrats won’t pay?


RIP Congressman Cao 2008-2010

U.S. Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao’s career as a Congressman is effectively over. Save for the most cynical kind of calculated vote splitting, the New Orleans Republican has no path to re-election.

Not even an executive order banning the federal funding of abortion was enough to assuage the Congressman’s fears. He told The Times-Picayune that while he thought the bill would help his district, his distorted view of the abortion issue was enough for him to vote to deprive his constituents of something he believed would benefit them.

“Right now I’m pretty much a tormented soul,” said Cao, who noted that the legislation would benefit his district with its many poor and uninsured. He said he understood from his family’s own experience — a brother and father with kidney disease and a sister with lupus — the crushing burden of health costs and the difficulties of securing adequate insurance.

Cao said his younger brother, who had a kidney transplant, called him a few days ago to plead with him to vote for the bill. “That was one of the toughest conversations I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.

This is one of the most stunningly honest admissions of representative malfeasance that I’ve ever seen a politician cop to. He turned down the opportunity to help his constituents and his family. And he acknowledges doing so.

That takes a tormented soul indeed.

Unfortunately, his interpretation of what this bill would do on the abortion issue, which was always strained, has become all the more exaggerated, and frankly, wrong.

“For me abortion is such a moral evil, at a par with slavery, that I cannot in good conscience support a bill that seeks to expand it,” Cao said.

It is not my place to judge whether abortion is intrinsically evil. I support a woman’s right to choose what to do based on their own beliefs and what I believe is their right to decide what to do with their own bodies.

I do believe that the comparison to slavery is both divisive and classless.

But I certainly know that his assertion that the bill “seeks to expand” abortion is unequivocally false. The bill did not and does not seek to expand abortion. It works to restrict it in several ways.

First, by extending insurance coverage to millions of uninsured women, the new law ensures that millions more women will have better and smarter reproductive healthcare. Women do not seek abortions. They seek to avoid them. Giving women access to knowledge about sexual health and access to contraception will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.

Second, the bill prohibits federally funded abortions by specifically prohibiting the extension of federally subsidized policies that would reimburse women for abortions.

Thirdly, because of concerns about possible loopholes, the President will go so far as to sign an executive order to establish enforcement mechanisms to ensure that the prohibition against federal funding for abortions is upheld. The executive order has drawn strong rebukes from pro-choice organizations and Congressmen because they believe it extends beyond the status quo.

If Cao were to say that he won’t support any piece of legislation because his views on abortion are such that he finds every action by the government to be an unconscionable act that perpetuates abortion, I would find his views to be extraordinarily extreme and inappropriate for an elected representative but at least I would find them intellectually honest to some degree.

But his assertion that the healthcare reform bill passed into law “seeks to expand” abortion is, simply put, a mean-spirited lie.

Cao should know better than that.