I wrote yesterday that I don’t think Republicans have been “moving right” on health care policy over the decades, they’ve just been changing their tactics. And I really do think it’s worth emphasizing that they’ve changed their tactics so as to make them less effective. The old strategy of “block progressive healthcare proposal by offering moderate alternative to split the Democratic coalition” worked really well. And it probably would have worked in the difficult winter of 2009-2010. But their determination to brook no compromise ultimately kept the Blanche Lincolns and Ben Nelsons and Evan Bayhs of the world onside and in favor of an incrementalist-but-progressive health reform bill.
So needless to say I agree with Kevin Drum that overall the idea that Barack Obama is a Republican from 20 years ago is misleading:
What conservatives want hasn’t changed all that much. They want government out of the healthcare business; they want minimal environmental regulation; and they want to keep taxes low. What has changed has been purely tactical. In the early 90s it seemed likely that Democrats could push through single-payer healthcare and a command-and-control solution to acid rain.
I think this is particularly interesting on the climate change issue. After all, not only is it true that 30 months ago plenty of conservatives seemed on board for some form of cap and trade, but 30 months ago all the sensible liberals I know (myself included!) took it for granted that a legislative compromise would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its mandate to implement command-and-control curbs in greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. But we took that for granted in part because we thought conservatives would stick to cap-and-trade as an alternative. As soon as the right yanked the rug out from under that tactical response to command-and-control, support on the left for moving ahead with command-and-control skyrocketed. It’s true that there’s now a movement afoot in congress to repeal the Clean Air Act and thus eliminate the threat, but every progressive I know is now seriously committed to defeating such efforts when just a little while ago most of us took it for granted that this would have to happen as part of a compromise.
Which is to say that, again, I think the uncompromising tactical turn on the right has brought some political benefits but the jury’s really out as to whether or not it’s working. Thus far the immediate consequence of killing cap and trade has been to resurrect support for command and control air pollution regulation.