Monday, December 21, 2009

Digby! or "A National Party Once More."

I want to add something to what Digby had to say this morning about bipartisanship the Health Care Bill. Digby argues, with some interesting examples, that partisanship is important--that is, that each party ought to and should vote its conscience and that its good for us, as a country, to have a choice between two very different philosophies of government because that means that the legislation we get will actually be tailored to doing something, rather than to pleasing the incohate middle. I want to take that a step further and explain why I feel that this bill, flawed though it is, has driven a stake through the heart of the bipartisan zombie--to mix my horror film metaphors--and may finally enable the Dems to act like a National Party.

Yesterday Steve Benen quoted one of those anonymous sources as claiming that Evan Bayh, of all people, said this:

Mr. Bayh said that the health care measure was the kind of public policy he had come to Washington to work on, according to officials who attended the session, and that he did not want to see the satisfied looks on the faces of Republican leaders if they succeeded in blocking the measure.
Now, aside from the absurdity of making any kind of legislative decision on pique, or spite (not that I'm against them if they work) just stop and enjoy that for a moment. Evan Bayh is, temporarily, fleeing the sinking ship of bipartisanship. Well, they are doing so under duress, but they are doing so. And having done so, I believe there's no going back. Its something that the netroots have been saying for a while: when this legislation is done it is going to be understood as a wholly Democratic legislative act. Good, bad, or indifferent the Republicans are not going to take the fall for it but that being the case nor should they reap the benefits.

Up until now--and it sounds like the late night cloture vote run up was a doozy--the Democrats seem to have been unclear on this concept, at least as long as they were pursuing Republican votes. Now that it looks like they are going to get the bill through--though I'm hesitant to go that far at this point without spitting on the floor and shouting "Avert!"--most of them, except Feingold and Webb, seem to have grasped this nettle and grasped this fact: the Democrats had to be united to get the bill passed, and they will have to be united in supporting it. Each Democratic Senator who votes for the Senate version and the final conference version is nailing his or her personal flag to the mast. There's going to be no eliding responsibility, or shoving off the bad bits of the bill onto the Republicans or, more importantly, onto other Democrats.

One of the most enraging things about the Democrats, as SteveM has said again and again, is that they won't even take their own side in a fight. All through the Clinton and Bush years you could always turn on a TV and see Democrats, even relatively high up officials, slanging Democratic initiatives, the Democratic President, or anything else Democrats or progressives had touched. Chief among these attackers, of course, were people like Lieberman, Bayh, Nelson, Baucus--the conservadems. That's why Lieberman was chosen as Al Gore's running mate: because he was willing to serve as a public scold of Clinton's libertinism, as well as of liberalism.

Well, who now shall be the scold? Who now shall be the "reasonable" Democrat siding with the Republicans in deploring this bill? Apparently its not going to be Nelson, who I understand rose to defend it. And its not going to be Bayh. It may be the progressive Senators--but to my mind that's all to the good. It pushes the debate about what to do next far to the left, with "centrist" Democrats having to defend themselves against the charge of being too timid and too Corporatist rather than the implied charge of being Hippie Loving freaks leveled at them by their Republican enemies. This charge, as we know, was all that it took to make Democrats roll over and bark on command. It sounds like there was considerable blood and froth on the floor of the Senate last night. I take that for what its worth: nothing. But I do think that the Democrats as a block may emerge from this vote with a renewed need to stand together in opposition to the Republicans. In essence the Republicans have left them no choice. And that's all to the good.

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