For example, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is quoted as saying, “The Republican leadership has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama’s health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day.” It’s a neat little sound bite, made to order for the left-wing of the Democratic Party. It’s got all the proper elements: Republicans motivated by negativity, vindictiveness, and a hunger for power, aware that ObamaCare would solve the health insurance problems of America but nevertheless callously rejecting it. Oh, if only those Republicans weren’t so mean and ornery!
The only problem is that it’s unlikely to persuade most moderate Americans, the very people Obama and Pelosi and Reid will need to convince of the wisdom of ObamaCare and the public option in order to gain the support of those moderate Democrats in Congress whose votes are required to pass the bill. Moderate Americans themselves (much like Republicans) tend to be understandably and sincerely wary of an increase in government intrusion into a matter as personal and central as health care choice, and tend to be more inclined to credit Republicans with a similar sincerity when they oppose it.
Emanuel may indeed be so deeply cynical about Republicans that he truly believes they have no principles other than their own selfish drive for power and the need to favor the special interest groups that reward them financially (although come to think of it, the same description could fit Emanuel at least as well as it would his opponents). But if Emanuel and other Democratic leaders truly believe their own rhetoric about Republican opposition to the current health care reform plan, they are committing the cardinal error of discounting an argument of substance that resonates with a great many thinking Americans.
What’s the origin of this error? Perhaps Democrats are not eager to debate their case on the merits. After all, ad hominem arguments are easier, so why bother? Perhaps they think the American people are so stupid they could not understand their arguments if they did mount them — or perhaps they think they’d understand them only too well and find them wanting. Or perhaps Democrats are so convinced that big government is the answer to the health care problems we face that they fail to credit that anyone could genuinely see it otherwise.
There are some very good reasons to be cynical about politics and politicians, both on the left and on the right. But utter cynicism about the opposition is not always a good ploy. Sometimes it means you underestimate the other side, and this can be a fatal miscalculation.