Democrats have long complained about the “wedge issues” that Republicans allegedly exploit to “divide” the country. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that these so-called “wedges” are the issues where majorities or large pluralities of Americans are at odds with “enlightened opinion” as defined by liberals and the media: Abortion, affirmative action and immigration, just to name a few. It’s now increasingly clear that Republicans have found an effective new “wedge” for the upcoming 2010 elections: Health care. Ironically, the Democrats are the ones who created it for them.
Here’s what happened. Rolling into Washington last January, liberals felt invincible. From the newly-elected President on down, Democrats believed that the election results signaled a sea-change in the American electorate – a new enthusiasm for activist, big government – rather than simple weariness with war and perceived GOP incompetence, coupled with the desire to “make history” by electing Obama. (In fairness, this conceit was amplified by the pro-Obama enthusiasm of left-of-center commentators and newspapers.)
Misreading the national mood (much as Newt Gingrich and congressional Republicans did in 1995), President Obama and congressional Democrats immediately embarked on an unprecedented spending spree. Much of it was for passage of a $787 billion “stimulus” that rewarded core Democrat constituencies like labor unions and government employees, while doing little for regular Americans even as unemployment shot into double digits. As a result of the unprecedented levels of spending, government outlays and the relative deficit have soared to post-World War II highs.
Although Americans have loudly voiced their worries about rising unemployment, skyrocketing deficits and rapidly-expanding government, President Obama and congressional Democrats are ignoring their concerns. Instead, they’re jamming through a highly unpopular, budget-buster health care bill that guarantees nothing but higher taxes, more government spending and inferior medical care.
As voters have learned about the details of the legislation, most have been rightly outraged. That’s not least because Democrat politicians are playing them for fools, insisting that it’s possible to rework 18% of the economy to expand health care insurance coverage, allow those satisfied with their care to keep it unchanged – and cut costs, too, all at the same time. Despite the palpable voter anger, the President and congressional Democrats march on in a breathtaking display of political arrogance, determined to pass the bill regardless of public opinion.
It’s hard to fathom what they’re doing without understanding the political dilemma Democrats have created for themselves. A new Daily Kos poll shows that Republicans and independents (who oppose the current health care legislation) are fired up and ready to vote, with 81% of Republicans and 65% of independents saying they will definitely or probably vote in 2010. Only 14% of Republicans and 23% of independents say they will probably or definitely not vote next year. In contrast, only 56% of Democrats say they will definitely or probably vote, while a whopping 40% report that they will probably or definitely not vote.
These numbers have created a troubling scenario for the President and congressional Democrats. They attribute the diminished level of enthusiasm among their base to the absence of a completed health care bill containing left-wing features like abortion coverage and a “government option” – and they’re probably correct. But while forcing through an expensive, unpopular and left-wing health care bill may inspirit their base, it will only exacerbate the opposition of Republicans and independents.
Being stuck on the horns of this kind of dilemma is an ugly place to be. But perhaps it’s the price that politicians in a democracy pay for ignoring voters’ most pressing concerns, and instead playing to their base with legislation that not only lacks bipartisan support, but is so sweeping and so extreme that it alienates a majority of independents, as well.
No doubt it was easy for the President and Democrats to campaign exclusively against George W. Bush – and for Barack Obama to style himself as a moderate to moderates, and a liberal to liberals. The only problem is that this approach raised expectations – among moderates and liberals alike – that would inevitably founder on the shoals of reality. Now, the President President and his party have been forced to choose between disgruntled competing constituencies in the middle and on the left.
By throwing in their lot with the left, the Democrats have divided America and created the perfect “wedge” opportunity for Republicans. If this “wedge” defeats them, the Democrats and their leader have no one to blame but themselves.