“Partisanship with a purpose”
E. J. Dionne’s column on last night’s vote is online now. The passage of health-care reform, he says, is a major victory for Democrats:
To understand how large a victory this is, consider what defeat would have meant. In light of the president’s decision to gamble all of his standing to get this bill passed, its failure would have crippled his presidency. The Democratic Congress would have become a laughingstock, incapable of winning on an issue that has been central to its identity since the days of Harry Truman.
This is why Republicans decided to put everything they had into an effort to defeat the measure. They said its passage would hurt the Democrats in November’s elections. They knew that its failure would have haunted Democrats for decades.
It remains to be seen how well Democrats will capitalize on their success, of course. A recent New Yorker article by George Packer quoted the prolife Democratic congressman Tom Perriello (who was frustrated about public perception of the Recovery Act): “I’ve never been a part of any organization that was so bad at talking about its accomplishments.” As my Great Aunt Katie would say: You got that right, driver.
Packer’s article, “Obama’s Lost Year,” is available online for New Yorker subscribers only. (It appeared in the March 15 issue of that magazine.) Allow me to quote a paragraph I found particularly insightful, and one that I think is a fitting companion to Dionne’s column today:
The stalled effort to pass health-care reform has dominated analysis of the Administration’s difficulty in securing its agenda. But the key to Obama’s first year is the Recovery Act. It set the pattern for everything that followed: intelligent but cautious policymaking; legislative compromises that watered down the bill’s impact without enlisting more than a tiny number of Republicans; an immediate campaign by opposition politicians and media to declare the program a failure; a weak, uncoordinated Administration effort to explain and champion the stimulus package; gradual public disillusionment. A year later, Obama has few options left in the battle with stubborn joblessness — opinion in Washington has turned against another ambitious spending bill. “The elites in the media and the Senate are already out of the depression,” Perriello said.
There are two columnists I read in order to know what I think: E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post and John Judis of The New Republic. Throughout Obama’s first year, both of them kept their eye on the higher stakes, the historical test of his Presidency: whether the new Administration would begin to make government work on behalf of ordinary people, and whether Americans would see and believe it. Next to this, Scott Brown and the Nobel Prize and even Guantánamo will be footnotes to the age of Obama.
One more reason to read Dionne and Packer together!
Also, don’t miss David Gibson’s analysis at Politics Daily of the bishops’ role in all of this: “How the Bishops Lost, Even as Their Cause Prevailed.”