Healthcare suicide

Henry Hyde told me once that he was in the habit of asking potential candidates if there were an issue they would support or oppose regardless of the consequences. “I want to know if they consider anything more important than their own political careers,” he said.

President Barack Obama and his party’s leaders clearly do. They seem to think their plan to “reform” the healthcare system is worth any risk. Why else are they prepared to ram their scheme through, regardless of the political consequences?

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Any doubt of their willingness to do whatever is required to win on Capitol Hill vanished in the opening minutes of last Thursday’s Blair House summit when Obama rebuffed Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) suggestion that the president eschew his party’s rumored willingness to force “reform” through the Senate using reconciliation. Instead, Obama made it clear that his view of “bipartisanship” hasn’t changed since January, when he opined that since he won the 2008 election, Republicans have an obligation to get behind what he wants.

That isn’t about to happen. Thursday demonstrated that party differences are real, and not simple partisan bickering. The argument over the Democratic healthcare package stems from the very different ways the parties view the role of government and the private sector in a free society. This has been clear to anyone who’s taken the time to listen to the two sides from the beginning days of the debate, although Democrats have done their best to portray Republicans as simple-minded obstructionists or servants of evil interests.

Our two great parties do represent very different views of the world. Most Democrats sincerely believe in government and its ability to make wiser decisions than citizens, and are less convinced of the value of free markets than their Republican counterparts. Republicans don’t always live up to their beliefs when in power, but as a group, they believe deeply in limited government and are very skeptical of the government’s ability to “manage” a free economy.

Both parties over the years have been forced to seek support from a non-ideological electorate that expects more of the government than Republicans are wont to support and is far more skeptical of the wisdom emanating from Washington than are most Democrats. This has kept either party from straying too far from the center and confounded students of politics across the globe. Today’s Democrats have, however, refused to face the fact that Americans believe that liberals have gone off the ideological deep end and that their insistence on a centrally run healthcare plan will lead to disaster.

The town hall meetings of last summer, the development of the Tea Party movement, the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, the recent prediction by Charlie Cook that the GOP is positioned to retake the House in November and the president’s ominously collapsing poll numbers are signs that a prudent politician with an eye on public attitudes would heed.

But today’s Democratic leaders are operating as ideologues, not prudent politicians. Having failed to convince the public that they are on the side of the angels, the president and his congressional allies seem prepared to pass legislation that risks their congressional majorities and seems to ensure long-term damage to their party. Democrats are either on a suicide mission or are true believers committed to doing what they think is right, even if their opponents and an unenlightened public are too dense or misinformed to appreciate the wisdom of their policies and the purity of their motives.

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One suspects that most congressional Democrats will vote with Obama, Reid and Pelosi because they too are true believers. Others may have to be coerced to vote for a package they know could cost them their seats. Still others may be seduced by the argument that in the end, voters will come to savor the Democratic sausage regardless of their temporary outrage at the way it’s made.

Today’s congressional Democrats seem prepared to sacrifice it all for a flawed ideology and as a consequence may succeed in at least temporarily forcing their views on a skeptical public. Henry Hyde would have given them points for courage but wondered at the willingness of seemingly intelligent men and women to sacrifice themselves for so foolish a vision without realizing that if enough of them go over the cliff in November, the accomplishments they deem worth the ultimate political sacrifice may well be repealed or gutted by the Republican majority their actions may call into being.

Keene is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental
consulting firm.