Tuesday, March 23, 2010

None of the marbles


I read this last night and smiled. Reading it today makes me smile even more.

Follow me as I daydream. Is it possible the Republicans have done themselves more damage with this fiasco than it seems? While I'm no big fan of the final health care industry giveaway, it does do some good things and it is a foundation for further legislation. But as Frum said, this was all the marbles for the Republicans. They staked everything on this: reputation, power, authority. They were so arrogantly convinced that they could block any kind of health reform that they figured dealing was beneath them. The Republicans had lost their grip on power and it unsettled them to where they grasped for it at all costs. So, to be really vulgar about it: did they shoot their wad? Was this everything?

It's hard to imagine whipping up their supporters into this kind of tea-party frenzy again. With all the months, the energy, the focus, the rage, the organization, the indignation, and with the long, hard fight this was--leaving them with *nothing*--I find it hard to imagine that even the True Believers, the right wing rage zombies who made this such a torturous battle, summoning up the will for another year-long battle over something as dry as cap-and-trade legislation. It was easy to put health care into fighting terms: death panels, killing grandma, take away your Medicare, and so on. This issue was made for sound bites, and the sound bites failed. More arcane policy battles are not going to lend themselves to chants in the park.

This may have been *their* Waterloo. Worse than failing, they've embarrassed themselves. At the very end, they have almost nothing of consequence to show for all their sound and fury. They think this will turn into electoral rage. It might; I won't discount that. One thing we know is that they'll be flogging this horse all the way to November. But other than the core that would have voted their way anyway, and would have showed up to vote out any Democrats who dared challenge the right-wing lock on power, they're not going to get a lot of voters. Certainly they've lost a lot of the independent voters due to their viciousness and uncompromising fury. (That may have gained them a few votes, but I doubt it's balanced out.) My guess is that a number, probably small, of right-wing voters will stay home, resigned to second-tier status in the next Congress. Quite possibly a number of right-leaning independents will too, mollified by the benefits of the health care bill and by what is almost certain to be some improvement in the economy. (As Frum said.) But what they have lost is their cachet of power, their tough-guy take-no-prisoners M.O. that served them well in the Bush years. They went to the well for it and lost. They're not invulnerable anymore.

I just don't think they can manage the pitch of rage they've had during the health-care debate. Without that lightning rod, what will they do? Work themselves up into town hall meetings over immigration reform? Cautiously, hopefully, I'll venture that they're spent. I think they've been defeated and won't recover from it easily. But then, if there's one thing the right wing in this country has shown, they have an almost infinite supply of offense and righteous indignation. The left can celebrate over the biggest legislative victory in 45 years, but cautiously. You can't take your eyes off these guys.