Fear is a powerful motivator

FEAR IS A POWERFUL MOTIVATOR…. Ryan Grim has an interesting item this morning, noting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comments on the political impact of health care reform, and her apparent belief that electoral fear is helping drive Republican opposition.

“When the democrats — and hopefully bipartisanly — pass this health care reform, this is bigger than anything most of us have ever done in our political lives,” Pelosi said.

Stopping health care reform could indeed be the Democratic “Waterloo,” as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) recently put it. But its successful passage it could be a similar catastrophe for the GOP because they will be seen as the party that opposed the most significant legislation of decades.

“Republicans know that passing real health care reform, meaningful health care reform for the American people, which is relevant to their lives [and] solves their problems, is politically powerful, and they must stop it,” she said. “[T]hey will do everything they can to stop it, not only because they disagree philosophically, but because they know politically that this is so very powerful.”

Grimm noted that by some estimates, about 100,000 Americans per congressional district would get coverage who currently lack it. And that kind of “direct improvement to people’s lives” tends to shape political attitudes. GOP lawmakers, the Speaker explained, “know this is the most noticeable initiative that Congress can take, that improves the lives of the American people, and they must stop it.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa argued the other day that the public would likely blame Republicans if reform efforts fall apart, but Pelosi’s vision of the landscape strikes me as more plausible.

Let’s put the polls aside, at least for a moment, because they can be misleading. Generic questions about whether Americans support “health care reform” produce encouraging results, but there’s a degree of superficiality to the numbers — a few dishonest television ads can sway opinions fairly quickly.

Instead, consider the idea that the consequences of passing reform, after a few generations of attempts, would almost certainly be a huge boon to the majority, especially once the changes take place and unfounded fears prove baseless. It’s why Bill Kristol demanded that Republicans block reform 15 years ago; it’s one of the reasons why the right is fighting so hard now; and it’s why negotiating with the minority in good faith seems like an enormous, and likely counter-productive, risk.

It creates an obvious incentive for the GOP — kill reform or suffer electoral consequences — and fear is a powerful motivator.