No, Republican Obstructionism Wasn’t Born Yesterday

A lot of progressives probably think of Bill Kristol, if they think of him at all, as a warmongering bloviator with a remarkable record of being wrong about a lot of things and still remaining the darling of TV bookers.

But as Ezra Klein reminds us by way of introducing Kristol’s thoughts on Obamacare, the Weekly Standard editor actually rose to prominence as the chief organizer of total Republican resistance to the Clinton Health Plan at a time when the general sentiment was the GOPers would compromise or at least present alternatives. Kristol’s arguments were (a) that once enacted a health care entitlement would be difficult to repeal, and (b) Republicans needed to sow and benefit from fear of change before unveiling their own health care “solutions,” which might upset even more people than Clinton’s. These arguments should sound very familiar to anyone listening to Republicans since early 2009.

Indeed, Kristol’s objections to, and strategy for “repealing and replacing” Obamacare break no new ground for him personally or for Republicans generally. It’s useful to think about for two reasons. First, for all the talk about Clinton’s “incrementalism” and “centrism,” the Clinton Health Plan (designed, lest we forget, under the direction of Hillary Clinton) was actually significantly more sweeping than Obamacare. And second, the idea that the Republican strategy of total obstruction set out by Mitch McConnell in 2009 was unprecedented is not at all true. Yes, Republicans cooperated with the elements of Clinton’s policy agenda they already agreed with–basically his two big trade initiatives–during his first term. And later on, after Clinton decisively won a p.r. win over Newt Gingrich on the budget, and even more notably after his re-election–which surprised Republicans just as much as Obama’s reelection in 2012–they found ways to cut deals with him, even as they tried to run him out of office. But the original idea was just to fight and obstruct, obstruct and fight, and it’s no surprise that’s how they’ve rolled the next time a Democratic president was elected.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.