Frum: Conservatives Blew It On Health Care

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As the debate about health care has stretched on, I’ve argued that it wasn’t smart for Republicans to be so strident about the Dems’ proposals. Better to have a seat at the table and argue for more cost cutting measures, different ways to fund it than tax hikes, etc. Instead, they said “NO!” at nearly every turn, and thus put themselves in a very bad strategic position, especially since it was always likely that some type of legislation would pass.

Because, after all, this isn’t a radical bill. In fact, the ideas in it have been presented as solutions by Republicans (or even implemented in some cases) and they know that.

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum agrees:

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

And back to that point about the rhetoric from the right. Well, it nearly worked. Characterizing it as a government takeover of health care did fire up a lot of conservatives/libertarians who would at least show up to rallies and argue with politicians. True, they had a lot of misconceptions, but they were passionate enough to gain worldwide media attention and that takes some doing. But they are a VERY small base of people who most likely would have voted for Republicans anyway. And the more Republicans catered to these folks, the more they back themselves into a corner where any sort of compromise would have been impossible.

Again, Frum agrees:

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

Or, to put it more bluntly…

How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?


Folks, if you want to know why bipartisanship failed, don’t look to Democrats. Look to Boehner. Look to Palin. Look to Rush. Look to Hannity. Look to McConnell. Look to Beck. Look to Fox News. Look to the Tea Party.

Democrats came to the table ready to deal. What they weren’t ready to do is develop a health care bill that was based almost solely on Republican economic philosophies. Still, they eschewed a public option, even when their base was crying foul and demanding it. But Republicans made the political calculation that defeating the legislation was more important.

Fair enough, but Frum thinks that this bill represents the biggest legislative defeat for Republicans since the 60s. Because, even with all of this talk of repeal, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to sell the idea of jacking prices back up on prescription drugs, reinstituting the pre-existing conditions clause and a whole host of other things that this current legislation addresses.