Will Democrats Come Out Swinging?

[ Posted Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 – 17:04 UTC ]

Examining the politics of the recently-passed healthcare reform legislation is tough, at this point, because the game is in the immediate process of changing. President Obama's team likes the term "game-changer," and it is rare indeed to be able to identify such game-changing while it is still in process. Usually these things are only apparent after the fact, when viewed in retrospect. But, for better or worse, passing healthcare reform has indeed changed the political game for this year's midterm elections.

If the bill had failed to pass, the entire Republican campaign strategy would have been completely different -- by definition, changing the political game. Their emerging strategy is mostly comprised of knee-jerk-ism ("Repeal!") right now, but could gel into a coherent political strategy soon.

Democrats, for once, may not wait for the Republican talking points, but instead charge onto the field and come out swinging with their own campaign strategy. For better or worse, it is actually refreshing to see Democrats go on the offense in this fashion.

The fact that it's the only viable political choice for them is largely immaterial, because Democrats have been known to blow such chances in the past. Before the bill passed, Democrats were going to get beat up on the campaign trail without having anything to show for their efforts. "Democrats can't govern" would be the key attack made against them, quite validly. Now that the bill has passed, Democrats (at least the ones who voted for it) pretty much have to get out there and defend it to the voters.

But instead of a weak defense, Democrats seem to be preparing a strong offense. This will be led by President Obama himself, who will soon embark on a tour around the country selling the plan as a good thing and a legislative victory which is historic in scope. The talking point of "Obama hasn't done anything," which the Right has been fond of for the past few months, is now useless. Like it or not, Obama has indeed now done something big.

So Republicans are hunting for a new set of attacks to use. Their first reaction was "Repeal!" but saner heads in the party will likely soon realize that this is a non-starter for the general election (although it may be used quite a bit in the primaries). The fact that Republicans have been terrified of all along is that there are several things in the bill which will become immediately apparent, and which the public is going to like. The sky, in other words, is simply not going to fall by November. This is why they fought so hard against the bill, because it's always easier to caricature what might happen than to examine what actually does.

Which leaves an opening for Democrats. While the Republicans are busy having primary fights (the Republican Party is in the midst of a pretty major fratricidal fracas, in trying to determine whether the Tea Party folks are driving the bus or not), Democrats can be out there playing offense on the healthcare issue.

Representative Chris Van Hollen is itching for this fight. Which is important, because he's the chair of the Democratic Party committee in charge of getting Democrats elected to the House. An unenviable job this year, perhaps, but a lot easier a job today than it was a few days ago.

Here is Van Hollen, quoted in the Huffington Post today:

"It's very important that people take responsibility and go on the offense," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) on Sunday evening. "People should be proud of what they have done because what they did was respond to the stories that they were hearing in their districts about people who found that the current system didn't work for them... [The Republicans are] the ones who win from the status quo and the American people lose from the status quo."

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), urged Democrats to continuously remind voters in their districts just what they will gain from health care reform's passage. Calling the vote "historic", he framed it as a major breakthrough for the party's fortunes in the 2010 elections. By aggressively defending the bill, candidates can portray the Republican Party as either unsympathetic or unserious.

"This is going to be a turning point of this issue," Van Hollen said. "Because what people are going to find out is all the scare tactics, all the overheated rhetoric about how this was going to bring down the country are going to be shown untrue. Just today, John Boehner, the Republican leader, said this is going to cause Armageddon... So after the president signs the bill, people are going to see that the world did not come to an end."

"They based their strategy on the fear-mongering working," he added. "And what happened is the story of the American people prevailed over the fear-mongering."

From the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs echoed this sentiment:

"If people want to campaign on taking tax cuts away from small businesses, taking assistance away from seniors getting prescription drugs, and want to take away a mother knowing that their child can't be discriminated against by an insurance company -- if that's the platform that others want to run on, taking that away from families and small businesses, then we'll have a robust campaign on that."

While these statements will lift the hearts of Democrats who would enjoy seeing the Democratic Party play offense for a change, it remains to be seen whether the rank-and-file members of Congress can manage to actually do so.

The political situation for Democrats can be summed up as: "The bill passed, so we might as well get out there and tell people why it's a good thing." There's simply no other way to play it, assuming you want to win elections. Republicans can be pretty much counted on to go completely overboard in the rhetoric department, which makes it that much easier for Democrats to appear to be the party of adults who wants to get things done, facing the party of "No!"

Also, the election is quite a ways in the future. Conventional wisdom now is going to probably appear silly in November, because voters may care about some other issue a lot more than healthcare reform. "We're so tired of hearing about this, can't we move on?" may be a common sentiment among independent voters by then. Political candidates (and parties) who focus on the future are always received a lot better than those who focus on taking us into the past, as a general rule. Maybe the Democrats could even manage to steal Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" outlook, to show how completely Republicans of today would have likely tossed Reagan out in a primary battle rather than elect him (Ronnie was a lot more moderate than is acceptable in the party today, a fact which most Republicans are absolutely blind to now). But Ronnie knew that cheerful, sunny optimism sells a lot better on the campaign trail than bitterness, fear, and doom-and-gloom.

Democrats have the chance to present some cheerfulness and sunny optimism this year. Healthcare reform is one of the major ways they will have to present this to the public -- especially if the "Repeal!" voices win the day over in Republicanland. If Democrats do a good job of putting up a good offense right now (while Republicans are distracted by their own primary battles), they could frame the entire debate for the rest of election season on their terms (for once).

Will the Democrats "come out swinging for the fences?" It's too soon to definitively say. But, so far, the signs are good. If enough congressional Democrats (and Democratic candidates trying to upset Republicans in the midterms) follow the advice of Van Hollen and Gibbs, then this could be a whole new ballgame. One played (if you'll forgive all this way-too-early-baseball-metaphoring) on the Democrats' home field, for once.


-- Chris Weigant

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


19 Comments on “Will Democrats Come Out Swinging?”

  1. [1] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Amen - I hope they keep setting the agenda! And keep the hope coming!

    It may also bode well for Democrats that there are many signs the economy is starting to pick up.

    S&P 500 is up 10.8% for the year.

    The Chicago Board of Index Options' Volatility Index - Wall St's fear gauge - is below 17, the lowest since May 18th, 2008

    But the best news I've seen is how so many people seem to be completely ignoring all the ruckus and "noise" and conspiracy government takeover theories.


  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    Democrats are going to be too busy fighting legal challenges to CrapCare and justifying their YES vote on this piece of garbage legislation to do anything but take called strikes.

    CrapCare is simply un-constitutional.

    1/4th of the States will have to pay 100% of CrapCare for all 50 states.

    How can CrapCare be sustained under those conditions?

    Answer. It can't..

    Yea, I think that Dems are going to be too busy fighting for their political lives to worry about doing any more damage to this country.


  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    While it pains me to say this, your posts here have become wholly non-serious.

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    While it pains me to say this, your posts here have become wholly non-serious.

    Could you specify??

    Because my posts are as serious as a heart-attack.

    What facts do you dispute?

    That CrapCare is crap??

    That over 75% of the states in the US have pending legislation allowing them to Opt out of the pay requirements for CrapCare??

    That CrapCare is unconstitutional??

    I have supporting facts for everything I have stated.

    So, where's the beef?? Or more accurately, where's your beef? :D


  5. [5] 
    akadjian wrote:


    According to a recent Harris poll ...

    - 67% of Republicans believe that Obama is a socialist
    - 57% percent of Republicans believe that Obama is a Muslim
    - 45% of Republicans agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president"
    - 38% of Republicans say that Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did"
    - 24% of Republicans say that Obama "may be the Antichrist"

    This leads me to believe that at least 40% of Republicans have been greatly misled :)


  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:


    Yea and how many people in the country believe in angels??

    You may ask what is the relevance to CrapCare.

    So am I... :D

    For someone who says this is not a Right vs Left issue, you seem to be down on the Right quite often... :D


  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    It appears that the Republican party may be primed for self-destruction.

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    It appears that the Republican party may be primed for self-destruction.

    Geee, that was what was said about 6 months ago..

    Yet, the GOP is STILL being blamed for all of the ills facing the Democratic Party..

    Ya'all really need to get yer stories straight...

    Either the GOP is irrelevant and on the road to "self-destruction"...

    Or the GOP is the "Party Of No" and is messing everything up...

    Which is it???

    Once again, I have to ask...

    Isn't it even *SLIGHTLY* possible that it's the Democratic Party who is at least PARTIALLY at fault here???


  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I'm sorry, Michale ... we were discussing the latest Harris poll.

    Let me know when a quarter of polled Democrats say they believe the president is the anit-Christ, okay?

  10. [10] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I think that the Democrats need to make sure that everyone knows that they [the public] are better off with this healthcare bill than without it. Then they [the Dems] need to move on to the next item on the agenda. They need to avoid falling into the trap of responding to the crazy claims of the GOP who now that they have lost are behaving like very bad losers.


  11. [11] 
    akadjian wrote:


    It is really interesting what has happened w/ the Republican party.

    David Frum - not exactly a liberal by any means - wrote a good column about the harm he thinks all the heated rhetoric has caused the Republican party.

    His basic argument was that they went "all in" and as a result didn't even have a seat at the table.

    I'd go further to say I think they're pushing independents away. All the socialist BS is great for riling the base, but a lot of it really turns off independents.

    It will be interesting. Because there is still a lot of money backing Republicans, they have a fanatical base, and they still have some of the best messaging going. But they might be living in a different world then the one where they could always count on their messaging machine.

    What makes it hard to tell is that the media makes it sound as if all of America is up in arms about healthcare and all the horrible things Obama is doing.

    But I don't see nearly as much of this on the ground. It seems like a classic example of the magnifying power of the media.


  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    Let me know when a quarter of polled Democrats say they believe the president is the anit-Christ, okay?


    More than HALF the polled Democrats thought that Bush was the anti-christ..

    You see the point??

    Left hates Right...

    Right hates Left...

    There is NO DIFFERENCE between your Democrats and the Republicans..

    That's the point that you and David and Nypoet and (to a lesser extent) CW keep missing over and over and over and over again....


  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:


    I think that the Democrats need to make sure that everyone knows that they [the public] are better off with this healthcare bill than without it.

    And therein lies the problem..

    The *fact* is that Americans are WORSE off with CrapCare than without it...


  14. [14] 
    akadjian wrote:

    I think that the Democrats need to make sure that everyone knows that they [the public] are better off with this healthcare bill than without it. Then they [the Dems] need to move on to the next item on the agenda.

    Amen, Stan!

    I was glad to see Obama in Iowa today still promoting and explaining the healthcare bill.

    And, Robert Gates made the bold announcement today that financial reform is next. Believe he said they hoped to accomplish this in a couple months.

    Imagine the Republicans trying to stop this without sounding like complete corporate shills!

  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:


    You are confusing me...

    I thought you were against CrapCare??

    Hell, it's YOU that came up with the term....

    Please tell me exactly why the American people are better off with CrapCare than without?

    Or, are you saying that the Democratic Party is better off with CrapCare than without..

    And, Robert Gates made the bold announcement today that financial reform is next.

    I thought that JOBS was the next program??

    Another Obama lie... {{{ssiiiggghhhh}}}

    Believe he said they hoped to accomplish this in a couple months.

    And you BELIEVE that?? They said the same thing about CrapCare....


  16. [16] 
    akadjian wrote:


    I believe the healthcare bill does a lot of good and is a first step in reform. Does that mean it can't be better? Nope.

    I'm just sorry you see so much hate from the left and from the right. Does somebody need a hug? :)


  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:

    I believe the healthcare bill does a lot of good

    For example........?????????

    Does somebody need a hug? :)

    More likely a swift kick in the arse...

    Strange how, when there is all this call for bi-partisanship and all the claims that the GOP do have some good ideas, not ONE of those "good ideas" made it into the final version of CrapCare...

    Why is that??


  18. [18] 
    Michale wrote:

    More likely a swift kick in the arse...

    Of course, I wasn't referring to you, David.. :D

    It's the Democrats who need the swift kick in the arse to get them to actually LISTEN to the American people, rather than pursue their own agenda...

    Just had to make sure that was clear..


  19. [19] 
    akadjian wrote:

    For example........?????????

    Michale, we've rehashed this again and again over the past year so I'm not going to spend a lot of time here. But here's a quick couple points:

    - Getting rid of pre-existing conditions and the ability for insurers to deny coverage
    - Making it possible for the uninsured to get insurance

    We all know how you feel about the bill though - you don't like it. We get it. Really, we do.

    So I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

    It's done and I'd rather spend my time congratulating the folks who made it happen and working to help them get re-elected then talking about something that occurred in the past.


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