The right, healthcare, and political survival

THE RIGHT, HEALTHCARE, AND POLITICAL SURVIVAL…. Hilzoy had a great overnight item that I wanted to add one observation to.

U.S. News’ James Pethokoukis and Cato’s Michael Cannon believe that if Obama is successful in passing a national healthcare plan, Americans will not only like it, but will reward Democrats for having passed it. As a result, Pethokoukis and Cannon conclude, conservatives need to block the reform effort, whether it’s a good idea or not.

I’d just add that a certain leading conservative sketched out the exact same position 15 years ago. His name is Bill Kristol.

It’s largely faded from memory, but I’d argue one of the more important moments in the debate over the Clinton healthcare plan in the early 1990s came when Kristol distributed a memo to congressional Republicans in December 1993.

Leading conservative operative William Kristol privately circulates a strategy document to Republicans in Congress. Kristol writes that congressional Republicans should work to “kill” — not amend — the Clinton plan because it presents a real danger to the Republican future: Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party. Nearly a full year before Republicans will unite behind the “Contract With America,” Kristol has provided the rationale and the steel for them to achieve their aims of winning control of Congress and becoming America’s majority party. Killing health care will serve both ends. The timing of the memo dovetails with a growing private consensus among Republicans that all-out opposition to the Clinton plan is in their best political interest. (emphasis added)

Today, the circumstances are slightly different — Democrats are in good shape and don’t need their reputation “revived” — but with the Pethokoukis and Cannon analyses in mind, history may repeat itself.

Remember, for Kristol then and Pethokoukis/Cannon now, it’s not about the quality of the policy — it’s about political survival. If Democrats deliver, they’ll be positioned to win over a generation of voters. Blocking (or “killing”) a reform effort may undermine the public’s needs, but it would also block Democrats from winning a historic victory.

With that in mind, the right will likely aggressively resist healthcare reform because, as a matter of electoral strategy, conservatives probably don’t have a choice.