Tuesday, January 19, 2010

David Brooks is trying to trick you!

Dear President Obama --

Don't listen to this man! He is trying to trick you!

I know that David Brooks looks sweet and cuddly. Like the mild Jewish conservative who you could have a latte with and discuss Burkean philosophy. The "high minded" conservative -- a million light years away from know-nothings like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. The kind of conservative who could vote for health care reform, if the proper conditions were met -- and who probably voted for you over John McCain in the general election. But don't be fooled. If you listen to him, your agenda will be fatally poisoned.

I'm speaking today about his NY Times column -- which reads like a third grade teacher's report to a good (but flawed) student's parents.

I'm not so interested in discussing the meat of the column, but there was one throw away line, which (under no circumstances!) should President Obama and his advisers take seriously:

"Some [Democrats] believe they can still pass health care even if their candidate, Martha Coakley, loses the Senate race in Massachusetts on Tuesday. That, of course, would be political suicide."

Wrong. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. It would be political suicide to give up on the health care bill after Coakley loses (which, at this point, I'm sort of resigned towards.)

Brooks is right, there will be some short term political fallout. Republicans will crow about how Democrats are ignoring the will of the voters. But the far greater political failure would be not to pass healthcare after months of Congressional agony.

All right, let's address the substance of the charge that Democrats are ignoring the will of the votes: Democrats are losing one seat. One. They will have a 59 to 41 person majority in the Senate. That's not Democratic by you? Fifty nine seats is no longer a majority. Wait... it's no longer a major majority?

The Republicans have made it impossible for Democrats to get anything done unless they have a super majority. (They have used the filibuster in a truly unprecedented manner.) They are doing this for strictly partisan political purposes. If the Republicans are not going to negotiate in good faith, Democrats shouldn't either. They won't have this majority for long, but they should do their best to accomplish whatever they can with it. And, no, I think passing something by 59 votes does not subvert the will of the majority.

But on a political level, think about it: Every single Democrat voted for health care reform. Does Brooks really think it's a wise political move to say that with a 60 seat majority the Democrats still couldn't get anything passed? Will a vote for a failed healthcare initiative rankle any less (with individual congressmen and senators) than a vote for a successful one?

But the other thing that's sort of laughable is Brooks' use of the word "suicide."

Everything that the Republicans have done in the last year has smacked of the word "suicide." The country is drowning, and not a single member of the House GOP would vote for the stimulus package... everybody said it was a suicide move. Actually, it was a shrewd (if deeply cynical) ploy.

The GOP wasted months and months refusing to seat Al Franken. That didn't really seem to hurt them in the long run. Why shouldn't the same principle apply to Scott Brown?

Obama is not out of options on healthcare. (See Jonathan Chait and Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic.) When Coakley loses, he will have a lot fewer on the table than he did yesterday, but healthcare is still possible. (Provided the House Democrats man up.) The worst thing would be, however, to interpret this as a signal to do nothing.