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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Inverted Hubris

This item by Ed Kilgore was first published on March 19, 2010.
As we count down towards the health reform vote(s) in the House, it’s clearer than ever that there are two distinct but mutually reinforcing conservative takes on the bill. The most obvious, of course, is the bizarre construction of “ObamaCare” that the Right has been building for nearly a year now, based on distortions, fear-mongering, a few outright lies, and sweeping smears, all in order to make legislation pretty close to what moderate Republicans have promoted for years seem like a socialist revolution if not a coup d’etat. This is the hard sell, and it will continue up to and well beyond this weekend’s votes.
But then there’s the soft sell, beloved of today’s model of “moderate” Republicans, such as they are, which involves lots of tut-tutting at the unedifying spectacle of the health reform debate, constant if unsupported claims that there are plentiful opportunities for a bipartisan “incremental” approach, and above all, phony concern for what Barack Obama is doing to his party and his country. This approach typically ignores or rationalizes the hard sell that most conservatives have undertaken, and the lockstep obstructionism of the congressional GOP, and blames Obama and Democrats for all the problems they are encountering in getting this legislation done.
A pitch-perfect example of the soft sell is Peggy Noonan’s latest Wall Street Journal column, presumably her final pre-vote expression of contempt for the president in the guise of respect for the presidency, which alas, isn’t what it used to be when her mentor, Ronald Reagan, stood astride Washington and the globe like a colossus.
The column begins with an extended expression of horror that Obama would postpone a trip to Indonesia and Australia in order to lobby for this little domestic bill that would deal with the trifle of health coverage for 40 million or so Americans:

And to do this to Australia of all countries, a nation that has always had America’s back and been America’s friend.
How bush league, how undisciplined, how kid’s stuff.

It’s characteristic that Noonan does not mention that Obama is trying to give Americans the universal health coverage that Australians have and take for granted, or that final passage wouldn’t have been delayed until now if Scott Brown hadn’t come to Washington pledging to kill “ObamaCare.”
Noonan then engages, with the air of someone examining an especially loathsome insect, in a lengthy attack on the procedural issues involved in House passage of health reform, asserting that Obama’s trying to hide something in the legislation via the “deem and pass” (which she suggests sounds tellingly like “demon pass”) mechanism that House Democrats are apparently going to deploy this weekend. She endorses as self-evidently correct the complaint of Fox News’ Bret Bair, in his obnoxious interview of the president last week, that “deem and pass” means nobody will know what’s in the bill that’s “deemed” and “passed.” Like Bair, Noonan doesn’t seem to understand the simple fact that the underlying bill we are talking about here is exactly the same bill passed by the Senate in December–long enough even for Peggy Noonan to have gotten wind of it. The changes in the bill–namely, the reconciliation measure–were made available, along with a CBO scoring of their impact, before the votes were scheduled, and will be voted on explicitly by the House (and later the Senate). Yes, this is complicated, but you’d think someone with Noonan’s experience and pay grade would be able to figure it out, and again, Democrats would have never resorted to this approach if Republicans weren’t using their 41st Senate vote to thwart the normal process after a majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate had already passed similar legislation.
But whatever; Republican obstruction is never much mentioned in Noonan’s stuff on health reform. And so it is entirely in character that Noonan concludes her column by blaming Obama for the rudeness exhibited by Bair in last week’s interview, and hence for diminishing the presidency! Ah, if only we had a real president like you-know-who:

[W]e seem to have come a long way since Ronald Reagan was regularly barked at by Sam Donaldson, almost literally, and the president shrugged it off. The president—every president—works for us. We don’t work for him. We sometimes lose track of this, or rather get the balance wrong. Respect is due and must be palpable, but now and then you have to press, to either force them to be forthcoming or force them to reveal that they won’t be. Either way it’s revealing.

I’d say it’s hardly as revealing as Peggy Noonan’s inveterate habit of not only ignoring conservative hubris, but attributing it to its victims.

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