David Frum’s item about the tactical and strategic blunders involved in the GOP’s handling of the Affordable Care Act has gotten a lot of attention. But hearing it mentioned on NPR this morning it occurred to me not only has it gotten a lot of attention because it’s smart and insightful, it’s gotten a lot of attention because—remarkably—in the whole vast conservative firmament Frum seems to be the only person interested in being critical of the way the right handled the whole thing. It’s a great example of how much less self-critical the right is in the United States than the left. We hit the tiniest snag in the road and everyone wants to start penning the “this is what everyone is doing wrong” piece. They lose the most important legislative fight in decades and just whine about Democrats being mean.
Heck, Frum can’t even keep his own team all on message. John Veccione has a point-missing Frum Forum post up all about how mean ol’ Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi were never interested in compromise. I think it’s quite true that Pelosi was never interested in compromise. As I alluded to earlier, I laughed out loud when Pelosi tried to tell some of us last week that bipartisanship is important to her, earning myself a chastising punch in the shoulder from the Speaker.
That said, the issue isn’t whether Pelosi wanted a compromise or even whether Obama wanted a compromise. Can Veccione seriously tell us with a straight face that Max Baucus wasn’t interested in compromise? That Blanche Lincoln is a party-line liberal? That Joe Lieberman never breaks with the Democrats? That Ben Nelson cares only for the Democratic base?
Senate Republicans had two distinct opportunities to lock a less-liberal policy into place. One was during Baucus’ attempted “Gang of 6″ negotiations when a bloc of 5-6 Republican Senators could have brokered a deal for a more centrist vision of reform (less generous subsidies, narrower definition of insurance, less progressive tax base) with moderate Democratic Senators. A second was in the wake of Scott Brown’s win, when many Democrats were eagerly casting about for a health care exit strategy that would involve a “scaled down” bill. But in neither case were any Republicans prepared to deliver any concrete votes for anything. It became clear to the kind of Democrats who like to cut deals that there was no deal to be cut.
Now it’s true that had a deal been cut the White House might not have gone for it. Or that Pelosi might not have gone for it. But then health reform just never would have passed. You would have a bunch of liberal Senators talking up the House bill with its public option, and you would have a bipartisan group of about two dozen Senators talking up the Baucus-Lieberman-Grassley bill, with maybe Ron Wyden and Bob Bennett off in another corner.