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On Health Care, ‘Obstructionist’ Charge a Big Miss

The Democrats have seriously misjudged public opinion in calling Republicans insincere with their opposition to ObamaCare.

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August 28, 2009 - 12:54 am
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As ObamaCare’s prospects continue to sink, there’s a lot of blame going around. Although Democrats hold such huge majorities that votes from congressional Republicans shouldn’t be needed for the legislation’s passage, a few Republican “ayes” would certainly help — especially since the moderate wing of the Democratic Party has made it clear it can’t be counted on to vote in favor of the bill either.

But despite the obvious rifts among the Democrats, it seems to be better politics to blame the other party. As a result, much Democratic commentary involves the castigation of Republicans for what’s characterized as their stubborn rejection of the administration’s “bipartisan” outreach on the issue of health care reform.

Democratic Party leaders and Obama have an odd notion of legislative bipartisanship, however. The term used to mean the crafting of a bill with input from both sides and almost invariably involved concessions that would include the dropping of provisions either side found too extreme. But the new definition of bipartisanship seems to be: “We get to write a controversial bill exactly the way we want to, and you get to say ‘yes’ to it.”

ObamaCare as it currently stands — especially with the inclusion of the public option — is not just any old bill that Republicans are reflexively fighting just for the sake of throwing a monkey wrench into the Democrats’ works. It is far more radical than that; many of its proposals go against the basic principles for which the Republican Party stands. And even though in recent years that party hasn’t always acted as though those principles were at all important, they still do mean something.

But it’s rare to hear Democrats (with the exception of the more moderate Blue Dogs and their supporters) admit that there could be any valid principle at all behind the Republican opposition.

Typical of the Democrat Party line — expressed in this piece by Salon’s Thomas Schaller — is the characterization of Republican objections to ObamaCare as “the reflexive Republican biting of Obama’s extended hand.” It’s difficult to know how much of this simplistic picture of Republicans as purely and nakedly obstructionist is a deeply held belief on the part of liberals and the left, and how much is mere rhetoric to fire up the base.

Whichever it may be, Democrats are certainly fond of characterizing Republicans as being “the party of no,” a catchy phrase that has sometimes seemed true. The charge is correct on the subject of the public option on health care; Republicans have indeed voiced a loud and resounding “no” to it. At the same time, Republicans have hardly been united in offering the “yes” of a coherent alternative to ObamaCare, although various proposals have been floated.

But there’s a difference between a “no” for the sake of obstructionist opposition and one that happens to align with sincere conviction. Republicans are certainly political animals, and there’s no doubt that many of them are motivated at least in part by a strong desire to frustrate the plans of Obama and the Democrats. But in the case of their opposition to the current health care reform bill, their refusal to support it has the added characteristic of being ideologically consistent with their long-held and oft-stated belief in less government control, as well as being popular with their constituents and the majority of the American people.

Most people can see that. It is for this reason that Democrat accusations that Republican objections are merely obstructionist in nature don’t sound very convincing, except perhaps to the Democrat choir.

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