The Do-Nothing Party

Joe Klein has an interesting article in Time on the Democrat’s boxed-in political position. Indeed, Klein is really on to something with this argument.

Name one major Democratic policy initiative in the last few years.

Don’t worry, I can’t either.

The fact is that the Democrats have one play in the playbook: obstruct everything they can. They’re obstructing on judges, their obstructing on the energy bill, they’re obstructing on Medicare and prescription drugs. In other words, the Democrats are confusing petulance with policy yet again. As Klein puts the Medicare debate:

The Democrats’ opposition to the Medicare bill was both tortured and intemperate. Some of the gripes are legitimate—the proposed drug benefit is complicated and in many cases insufficient. But Ted Kennedy voted for that benefit last summer. The sticking points now involve matters of Democratic Party theology, and they require a brief explanation. Medicare currently is a fee-for-service program, which means it works the way old-fashioned medicine did—essentially, you get whatever services you request. This is fabulously expensive and bound to grow more so as the baby boomers retire. Most Republicans and many moderate Democrats want to restrain costs by moving toward a system of managed care—which is what most nonelderly Americans now receive through HMOs and preferred-physician networks. The Medicare bill contains a six-city test of managed care, which would begin in 2010. This tiny experiment is what sent the Democrats up a wall. “We’re not going to let seniors be herded into HMOs,” Dick Gephardt harrumphed. Their alternative? Well, they don’t have one. “Medicare should be left alone,” said Howard Dean, who used to be more creative—and honest—about such things.

The vehemence of the Democratic assault was astonishing. The AARP, formerly a linchpin of the liberal coalition, was trashed by various liberals as a den of insurance-peddling moneygrubbers. House Democrats told me that minority leader Pelosi was twisting arms with unprecedented avidity—anyone who voted in favor was “no longer a Democrat,” and plum committee assignments would go only to loyalists. I suspect this reflects desperation as much as principle. The Bush Administration is outsmarting the Democrats at every turn. The economy seems to be recovering. If Iraq is stabilized—a huge if—what will the Democrats run on? Their intellectual cupboard is bare, and the election may be slipping away.

The Democrats are becoming increasingly desperate, and it shows. Even liberal Senators like Diane Feinstein are abandoning the Democrat’s obstructionism on Medicare. Nancy Pelosi’s shrill attacks on her own party didn’t avail her in the House – Bush’s Medicare plan still passed with a narrow margin due to Democrat defectors.

In many ways, it would be preferable if the Democrats won the Medicare debate in the Senate, even though that seems highly unlikely. The Democrats would crow about their “victory” until they realized that they’d lost the senior vote and were facing ads featuring angry seniors. The Republicans would then also no longer have to deal with fixing the many problems that would result from adding a $400 billion entitlement to Medicare down the road. However, it looks like the President will get his bill, which is good for him politically if not in policy terms.

The Democrats, in the meantime, are now being shown to be spiteful, vituperative, and on the wrong side of a major issue that appeals to millions of people. The images of Tom Daschle waving his lemon sign will be repeated throughout the campaign. Moderate Democrats may start to reconsider their place in the party as Sen. Zell Miller already has. The shrillness of Pelosi and Daschle will not be forgotten, and if they have to resort to such measures to keep their party together, it does not bode well.

The Democrats are berift of ideas but full of roadblocks. On national security their policy is do nothing. On Medicare their policy is do nothing. On energy their policy is do nothing. The Democrats have become the “do nothing” party – and that is not a position that wins elections.

6 thoughts on “The Do-Nothing Party

  1. DHS was mainly a Bush win, as it was his proposal after September 11. (Although to be fair the Hart-Rudman Commission report made a recommendation to create a Homeland Security agency the year before.) It was a bipartisan win, and certainly an idea that needed to be done, but politically the Democrats can’t make much hay from it.

    The Democrats are in the same position the GOP was in 1996 – faced with a popular President, a lackluster group of candidates, and no particularly strong vision for their party. I have a feeling the results will be much the same.

  2. Methinks you overestimate the popularity of the President. If nothing else, I think we’ll see a highly polarized election year, since this President is one of the most divisive (whether intentional or not) political figures America has had in a long time.

  3. If nothing else, I think we’ll see a highly polarized election year, since this President is one of the most divisive (whether intentional or not) political figures America has had in a long time.

    That’s probably a safe bet. I doubt Bush will win in a landslide, and it could well be a very close election. (Although I doubt it will be as close as 2000…)

  4. Mentioning Medicare brings up an interesting point: this was a pretty bad move for the GOP, when you think about it. On the one hand, they’ve successfully taken a Democratic issue and made it their own, like Clinton and welfare reform. On the other hand, the issue they took is not a popular one, and polls still seem to show opposition to this particular Medicare bill among both the general public and seniors. For all the years of griping about how bad a program Medicare is, it seems strange that the GOP is putting their eggs in the basket of “fixable problems.”

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