Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Voting for Obamacare won't reverse the mistake of not voting for Hillarycare

Bill Clinton has tried to argue to the Democrats that not voting for Obamacare will result in the sorts of losses that the Democrats suffered in 1994. In Clinton's mind, that Democratic debacle was the result of Congress not supporting Hillary's health care plan. Other Democrats and analysts have endorsed that meme, including Barack Obama.

Yesterday, I posted about why the passage of the healthcare bill will not raise Obama's numbers. And the Democrats shouldn't look to Hillarycare as the reason why they lost control of Congress in 1994. Sean Trende has the historic analysis which the politicians are ignoring. He points out that the real problem in those early years of Clinton's presidency was that the Democrats failed to convince the public that Hillarycare was the right prescription for problems with health care. That's why they never even brought the program up for a vote. They knew it was unpopular so they just let it die on the vine.
To fully appreciate this, we need to gain a better understanding of what the 1994 elections were about. 1994 was fundamentally a culling of Democrats who were too liberal for their Republican-leaning districts. Republicans defeated 34 incumbents that year. Twenty six of these incumbents came from districts that had Republican PVIs[1] {districts that were more Republican than the nation as a whole]; of the remaining eight incumbents, one was under indictment, one had proclaimed how proud he was to grow his own marijuana, four came from Washington state (which had a tsunami-within-a-tsunami), and two were just kind of unlucky.

There were two controversial pieces of legislation that defined the Clinton Administration for Republican-leaning voters: the assault weapons ban and the first Clinton budget (a.k.a. the tax hike). If we look at the fifteen Democrats who voted against both pieces of legislation, only one lost (she represented a district that gave Bush a 15-point win in 1992). In fact, about half of them saw their share of the vote increase or stay roughly the same from 1992!
Read the rest of his evidence.

The Democrats are facing a parallel problem today in that they have quite a few Democrats who were represent conservative districts. That is what happens when a party wins two wave elections in a row, especially when several Republicans handed them the gift of GOP corruption scandals. The downside of such victories is that the representative is now an ideological mismatch for that district. Pelosi has already forced several votes that are turning out not to be popular with the public: votes for the stimulus, the big budget for this year, the auto bailout, cap and trade, and now for health care.

It is skewed political thinking to believe that these politicians will be better off making one more tough and unpopular vote for Obamacare.
The 1994 elections weren’t caused by Democrats not supporting Clinton enough. They were caused by Democrats supporting him too much. Democrats who support President Obama more than their districts allow risk suffering a similar fate in 2010, and there are enough of them to cost the Democrats their majority.

As for President Obama, he needs to remember that the failure of Clintoncare didn't mark the destruction of Clinton's Presidency. In fact, it marked its rejuvenation. It set that Administration back on the centrist track that saw him leave office with 60%+ approval ratings. I don't know whether America is center-right or center-left, but I do know that whatever the answer, "center" deserves to be in "all caps" font. The President and his party would do better to remember this.
Close your eyes for a minute and imagine the rest of Clinton's presidency if he'd had a Democratic majority in both houses. Without Newt and the GOP to play off against, would he even have been reelected? Would he have been able to cut the budget deficit? Unlikely.

Perhaps Obama should be secretly hoping to lose his majorities in Congress next year. It might even help his presidency.