The ruckus around the Affordable Care Act rollout has been loud, and Republicans are beefing up the amp to rally voters this November. Democrats, meanwhile, are reverting to bad old habits by using the wind machine as an accurate gauge of public feelings. They fight the wind rather than turn the machine around. And, of course, that’s how they lose.
Timidity is a standard operating practice for Democrats fearful of sounding too liberal in what is described as a “right-of-center” country. If Democrats spend more time promising to save Obamacare than trumpeting what’s good about it, what they dread will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they don’t honor the program, why should the voters?
The botched early weeks of Obamacare did overshadow its virtues. But the problems are fading, and polls show that less than a third of the public wants it repealed. Some 13 million Americans are on their way to health care security.
Over the weekend, Bill Clinton criticized fellow Democrats’ tendency to avoid things they have done that were unpopular. This has “always (been) a terrible mistake,” Clinton said, as reported by columnist Joe Conason. Clinton urged Democrats to “embrace” controversy. They can’t “not deal with it.”
There’s a reason Clinton was and remains a political success — and in purple regions that have long since sent their frightened Blue Dog Democrats packing.
One of the ill winds being internalized by Democrats is the notion that they will get their heads handed to them in the midterms over Obamacare. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake could be right that low turnout will cause significant losses, including a majority in the Senate. A demoralized response to the party’s signature achievement is not a great way to boost turnout.
How many times have we heard Obamacare blamed for the Democrats’ beating in 2010 — and for the recent defeat of a strong Democratic candidate in a special election in Florida? So many other factors came into play, but the simplistic story makes it all about Obamacare.
In Florida’s 13th Congressional District, almost 27 percent of the population is over 65, as against 13 percent nationwide. These voters already have their government health plan, Medicare. Had Republican David Jolly spoken about Medicare (the more socialized of the two, by the way) as he did about Obamacare, he would not be a congressman today.
Odd how Democrats’ sharp losses in 2010 have been largely attributed to Obamacare and not the fact that the unemployment was high and the economy otherwise remained in the dumps. No, Obama did not magically erase the financial trauma unleashed two years before — even though he did help prevent total collapse, including that of the auto industry and, by extension, the industrial Midwest. These were feats for which he remains underappreciated.
Another factor was the unusually heavy Republican losses in 2008, even in GOP strongholds. Two years later, some of the anger over the George W. Bush mess had dissipated, and Democrats were holding the bag.
Democrats will do themselves a disservice if every time their opponents bring up an Obamacare sore spot, they quickly change the subject to income inequality or another crowd pleaser. That tells the public they don’t believe in Obamacare themselves. “Mend it, don’t end it” is hardly a rousing battle cry.
The electorate does want Obamacare fixed. Smart Republicans say they, too, want it fixed, and so ought Democrats. The difference is that Democrats should frame the work ahead not as salvaging a wreck but as getting the bugs out of a solid vehicle.
Listen to Bill Clinton. He knows a few things about running for office.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com