A Historic Achievement

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"A Historic Achievement"

File-Lyndon_Johnson_signing_Civil_Rights_Act,_2_July,_1964

I don’t think the arguments mounted by Pat Caddell and Douglas Schoen that Democrats will face political disaster if they pass health reform hold water. Or, rather, I think they disingenuously fail to consider the alternative. If reform passes, Democrats will almost certainly lose a whole bunch of seats in November. But if reform fails, Democrats will also almost certainly lose a whole bunch of seats in November. At the margin, passing reform helps the party’s prospects in the midterms in my view, but the midterms outlook is just bad and there’s nothing to be done health care-wise at this point to change that.

A larger question any member of congress reading the op-ed ought to ask himself is “so what?” If reform passes and is signed into law, then immediately Barack Obama’s position in history is secured. When people look back from 2060 on the creation of the American welfare state, they’ll say that FDR, LBJ, and BHO were its main architects, with Roosevelt enshrining the principle of universal social insurance into law and Obama completing the initial promise of the New Deal. Members of congress who helped him do that will have a place in history. Nobody’s going to be very interested in a story like “Mike Ross served a bunch of years in Congress and people were impressed with his ability to win a relatively conservative district; he didn’t achieve very much and one day he wasn’t in Congress anymore.”

Which is just to say that nobody lasts in office forever, no congressional majority lasts forever, and no party controls the White House forever. But the measure of a political coalition isn’t how long it lasted, but what it achieved. From the tone of a lot of present-day political commentary you’d think that the big mistake Lyndon Johnson made during his tenure in the White House was that by passing the Civil Rights Act he wound up damaging the Democratic Party politically by opening the South up to the GOP. Back on planet normal, that’s the crowning achievement of his presidency.

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