With so much on the line

WITH SO MUCH ON THE LINE…. In 1993, Bill Kristol privately advised congressional Republicans to do whatever it took to “kill” the Clinton health care reform initiative. It wasn’t that the policy proposal was a bad idea; it was that passage would help the Democratic Party for years to come. The GOP, he said, for the sake of its own future, couldn’t compromise or negotiate with the majority.

Sixteen years later, a wide variety of Democrats are working hard to convince Republicans to support reform, despite the built-in incentive for seeing reform fail. Mark Kleiman noted that a few too many Democrats seem to have forgotten the recent past, and worse, seem oblivious to the larger electoral dynamic.

For Gingrich and his allies, the health care debate wasn’t really about health care: it was about destroying the power of a Democratic President.

It’s not surprising that the Republicans have remembered that lesson, but it’s disappointing that the “centrist” Democrats have forgotten it. This bill is make or break for the Democratic Party….

Matt Yglesias added:

In 1993, we had a new president elected on a promise of providing access to high-quality affordable health care to all Americans. In 1994, that promise went down in flames. The result of that failure was not only substantively bad, but politically disastrous for Democrats. Now it’s 2009 and we have a new president elected on a promise of providing access to high-quality affordable health care for all Americans. It’s pretty clear that Republicans remember that dealing a humiliating blow to said president by blocking reform will be politically useful to them.

And it’s curious that many centrist Democrats — particular those now eager to delay action on a bill and give special interests and the right more time to kill it — don’t seem to remember this.

All of this sounds about right. Republicans don’t want to reform the health care system and don’t want President Obama to be the president who finally delivers the overhaul Americans have been waiting for over the last several decades. The GOP has every possible reason to see this initiative fail, but that hasn’t stopped some Democrats from a) insisting that Republican support for a reform effort they oppose is paramount; and b) making it easier to see their own party’s efforts fail.

It occurs to me, then, that there’s at least a possibility that “centrist” Democrats — Blue Dogs, New Democrats, Lieberman, et al — might not see failure as such a horrible option here. In other words, they may realize that coming up short on health care, letting this opportunity slip away, and hurting millions of Americans in the process may be devastating for the Democratic majority, but these same “centrist” Democrats may prefer a smaller majority, or perhaps even a GOP majority to “balance” the Democratic president. They may very well disagree with the party’s leadership on most issues, and think the best course of action is taking away their power by undermining the party’s agenda.

It seems odd that these “centrist” Democrats would forget the lessons of 1993 and 1994. But alternatively, are we sure they have forgotten those lessons, or have they learned those lessons all too well?