Mar 8th 2010

Memo to Republicans: Want to Vote Against Health Care Reform? -- Go Ahead, Make My Day

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on

Over the last several weeks various pundits - and Republican talkers - have fanned out across the airwaves to proclaim that Democrats face grave political danger this fall if they are so bold as to pass health care reform in the face of united Republican opposition.
For Congressional Democrats, the source of this advice should be enough to make it completely suspect. And in fact, history shows that just the opposite is true - and many Republicans know it.

Republicans do not win when Democrats are successful at making fundamental progressive change. They win when they stop Democrats from making fundamental progressive change.

As a progressive Democrat, I would be thrilled if every Republican votes against a health care reform bill that passes Congress and is signed into law by the President, since history shows they will pay a steep price for their united opposition to progressive change.

All you need to do is look at the last century of American politics. When has the modern Democratic Party been most successful? When it delivered on fundamental progressive change.
After Roosevelt delivered Social Security, the right of unions to organize, the regulation of Wall Street through the SEC, the reorganization of the banking system and FDIC, public works programs, and by massively increasing the share of taxes paid by the very rich, Democrats maintained huge margins in Congress and the Presidency for two decades. They also lay the foundation for the most robust period of economic growth in the history of humanity.
When President Johnson and the Democratic Congress passed Medicare and Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act and the War on Poverty - and later the Democratic Congress created the EPA -- Democrats had majorities in the House for three and a half decades that outlasted the conservative Reagan revolution of the 1980s by 14 years.

It wasn't until 1994 - largely because of the failure of Congress to pass the Clinton health care reform plan - that Republicans gained control of the House.

Why do Democrats do so well when they make fundamental progressive change? Because those policies benefit the vast majority of the voters rather than the tiny super-wealthy minority - the top 2% of the population - that are the chief beneficiaries of Republican status quo economic policies.

Ask any senior, or person with a disability, how they feel about Medicare and Social Security - policies that were passed by Democrats and opposed tooth and nail by Republicans. Even some Tea Party activists carry around signs that read: "Hands Off My Medicare." Ask most everyday Americans how they feel about child labor laws, or the minimum wage, or the Food and Drug Administration that protects consumers from unsafe food and medicines. Ask any consumer how she feels about the Federal Trade Commission, or federal laws that protect us from unsafe products. Ask anyone who breathes how they feel about laws that cleaned up our air and water.
Ask virtually anyone in America how they feel about public education - or a woman's right to vote.
All of these fundamental changes in American society were fought by the conservatives of the time, and once passed they all came to define the high political ground.

Americans are not disgusted with Washington today because of the bold initiatives it is considering. They are disgusted, in considerable measure, because it appears gridlocked and unable to deal with the problems confronting the nation, and their stagnant standard of living. They are tired of politicians who see politics as a "gotcha" game instead of a way to deal with the problems and opportunities that confront their families. They hate the idea that their political leaders are in bed with Wall Street, the oil companies and the insurance giants - that campaign contributors have more sway than the voters.

They want decisive action to make fundamental change every bit as much as they did when they elected Barack Obama a little over a year ago.

When Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) said last year that Republicans could make the defeat of health care reform "Obama's Waterloo," he understood that it was great politics for Republicans to prevent fundamental reform, not the opposite.

If, once it is passed and signed into law, the Republicans want to campaign to repeal health care reform I say, go ahead, make my day.

As a Democrat, I love our odds if we can campaign against Republicans who voted against allowing ordinary Americans to have the right to buy the same kind of health care that is available to Members of Congress.

Something like: "Republican Congressman Mark Kirk is happy to let the government pay for his health care, but Congressman Kirk voted against requiring that ordinary Americans be eligible to buy the same health insurance as Members of Congress.
Congressman Kirk may enjoy being an important Member of Congress, but when it comes to his health care, he should be no better than the rest of us."

When Congressman Roy Blunt runs for the Senate in Missouri this fall, I can't wait to see ads like:

"When it came to health insurance reform, Congressman Roy Blunt knew which side he was on.
Blunt voted against reining in the power of health insurance companies to raise rates - by thirty nine … fifty… even sixty percent.

He voted to oppose preventing insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

He opposed requiring that insurance companies spend at least 80% of our premiums on medical care instead of CEO salaries, lobbyists, exploding profits, and armies of bureaucrats that do nothing but deny claims.

In fact, Congressman Blunt stood up for the insurance companies every time he had a chance. Isn't it time we had someone who stands up for us?"

The pundits who are blathering on that passing the health care bill is bad politics for Democrats either don't know what they're talking about, or are running a deliberate misinformation campaign to persuade swing Democrats to vote no.
Democrats are already subject to whatever down side they will get for voting for health care reform. That isn't going to change. But if they pass the bill they will get a big up side for actually delivering change.

And Democrats in Congress can't be confused that the voters will "punish" them for "jamming the bill through" or other procedural issues. First, it is impossible to "jam the bill through" with a majority vote. That's what we do in a democracy - a majority rules. We believe in up or down votes.

But just as important, no one ever votes based on "procedural" issues - or even remembers them. Who knows or cares what procedures were used to pass Medicare or Social Security. What people care about is the impact policies have on their lives - not procedural bickering.
One of the reasons the public support for "health care reform" in general has dropped is the focus of news stories on the procedural "sausage making" of Congress. The voters still strongly support the components of reform, and those are the questions that will be issues in the upcoming election.

The fact is that when Democrats act boldly to pass fundamental progressive change, we win. That's why changing the Senate filibuster rule is fundamentally good for Progressives. Some say, "Oh wait until the Republicans are in the majority, then you'll wish you had a filibuster to stop their policies." The problem is that we are the party of change, and they are the party of the status quo. We win when we have the ability to make fundamental change. They win by stopping us. In addition, it turns out that when we actually make change, we don't lose our majorities.

Sunday's New York Times ran a story about Obama Senior Adviser David Axelrod. It was part of a continuing analysis by the media attempting to place "blame" on various members of the Obama inner circle for the difficulty of creating fundamental change.

In general, I find these stories irritating for two reasons. First, they ignore the real reason why it has taken longer than hoped to pass health care reform, climate change legislation, financial reform and immigration reform: real change is hard to do. When you take on the wealthiest vested interests in America they don't just give up. They pressure members of Congress, they lie to the public -- they do everything in their power to stop reform dead in its tracks.

Second, these critiques generally rely on the opinions of a pundit chattering class in Washington that has never run a political or issue campaign, much less made fundamental change. These pundits are rarely held responsible when their predictions or analysis turns out to be completely off-base. And often they behave like the little schools of fish you see in the shallow waters at the seashore: the entire school turns on a dime - first going this way, then another - all as a group. Like the little fish, that kind of "schooling" mentality may help them protect them within the safety of the pack - but it does nothing to promote accurate analysis or political insight.
David Axelrod is one of the most accomplished political and message strategists of our era. Along with David Plouffe, he crafted the best-run presidential campaign in American history. He happens to also be dedicated to fundamental progressive change.

Axelrod doesn't always get it right, any more than anyone who is actually in the arena trying to make change happen. But I'd trust our success at making that change - the strategy for making that change - to David Axelrod any time compared to virtually any of his critics.
The political problem facing Democrats in the Mid-term elections has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of leadership from people like David Axelrod. It has everything to do with actually delivering change.

In the next two weeks, Democrats in Congress must come together and pass health care reform.

Robert Creamer's recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on

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