Government & Politics

GOP locks keys in the car; Louisiana Dems lose keys

Healthcare overhaul had been iffy in the polls throughout the past year’s arduous negotiations on Capitol Hill. But now that it has passed, Democrats are banking that as the public learns what is actually in the law and what gets implemented in the first year of the law, the public quickly will warm to it.

Gallup released some preliminary numbers Tuesday: 49 percent of Americans think the health care bill is a good thing; 40 percent think it’s a bad thing.

Though we shouldn’t read too much into the results of a single poll, the numbers illustrate the perilous political position of the Republican Party and the absence of a political rudder within the Louisiana Democratic Party.

First, the Republicans.

It is unsurprising that the Republicans fought against the healthcare bill. The Democrats, on principle, have long held that healthcare should be provided for every American while Republicans, on principle, do not believe that the government should have a role in that.

Yet because the Republicans went to such great lengths to cast the president’s efforts on this issue as hostile to America’s core values, they may be unable to move on from it. Their base is so outraged by the passage of the healthcare bill that Republican elected officials and, soon, Republican candidates will have absolutely no choice but to also condemn it as unconstitutional and pledge to repeal it.

That’s what happens when Republican pundits are posed with a question about whether or not the bill is an attack on the very core of this nation. Instead of answering, “Well I wouldn’t go that far, but it is a bad idea and here is what I’d do differently,” they just go ahead with extremist condemnations of a mainstream proposal.

That dynamic played out on Capitol Hill this weekend when Tea Party protesters hurled racist and homophobic slurs at Democratic members of Congress. Instead of condemning that kind of discourse, Republicans rationalized it, or in the case of U.S. Rep. Randy  Neugebauer R—Texas, set an example.

That’s pretty much what Democrats who want to get re-elected need them to do. They staked everything on healthcare and won. They know they own this and know that voters will either credit or blame them for it. That bed has been made.

Republicans were pretty enthusiastic about that, until the Democrats actually passed the thing. Now, the only the thing Republicans have to show for the past year and a half is a record of extremist obstruction and procedural failure. And because their base believed the most over-the-top warnings of their leadership, Republicans have turned around to find the door has locked behind them.

The grassroots base of the Republican Party will continue to demand a focus on repealing the healthcare bill, will flock to primary candidates who condemn it in the strongest language, and will continue to treat it as the last stand of liberty that they’ve come to understand it as.

That alternative may prove increasingly unpalatable to independents and moderates as people begin learning about the benefits of this legislation and, then, seeing them with their own eyes.

Republicans certainly sense this. Senator John Cornyn, R – Texas, is already trying to walk back the rhetoric. Republicans won’t try to repeal all of the reforms they spent all year working to demonize.

Ross Douhat, conservative columnist in The New York Times, thinks that if Republicans had approached the White House after Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s surprise victory in Massachusetts, they might have won a major healthcare compromise and won a policy victory for conservatives. I suspect that he and others may soon think that would have been a smarter political choice for Republicans as well.

I’m not suggesting the Republicans won’t win a whole bunch of seats – the Democrats have a lot to defend – but Democrats certainly won’t be retreating from their agenda.

Except in Louisiana, where Democrats don’t seem to know what they stand for.

Earlier this week, I described the corner I thought U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, painted himself into by failing to support healthcare reform. It’s not just the alienation that liberals feel, it’s that Melancon is going to look ridiculous opposing efforts to repeal the reform he failed to support.

State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell looks just as silly. He was the only Democratic state attorney general to join the frivolous lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of healthcare reform, following the wishes of the extremists of the opposing party.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, Buddy Leach, sent out a statement Tuesday condemning New Orleans area Congressman Ahn “Joseph” Cao’s invocation of slavery in describing why he wouldn’t vote for the healthcare bill.

Leach could say he was only criticizing the Republican’s rhetoric and not his vote, just in case people were wondering why he also isn’t slamming the highest ranking elected Democrat in state government (Caldwell) and the party’s senate nominee (Melancon).

But then we’d really be splitting hairs wouldn’t we?

Perhaps they’d all be wise to follow Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, the only elected official in this state to vote for this historic bill. Landrieu figured out a way to hold the center on healthcare –  by opposing the public option –  without trashing the entire effort.

As angry as I was about her stance on the public option, Landrieu will have earned whatever reward may lie in the polls as voters realize that healthcare reform is less about the death of America as we know it and more about sensibly expanding coverage and reducing the deficit

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