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The American Prospect's Evolving Thoughts on Political Compromise

Pete Spiliakos calls our attention to Paul Waldman's uncompromising ideas about a health care compromise.  Writing for The American Prospect's blog, Waldman rejected the idea that Democrats should even consider anything beyond token concessions to get some Republican votes for a health care reform bill. 

"Democrats are the ones in charge," writes Waldman. "They won the last election. The starting presumption ought to be that they have a right to implement their agenda. If there's compromising to be done, Republicans ought to be doing most of it. After all, they're the minority, not the majority. They're the ones who lost the last election. Why is that so hard to understand?"

Well, there are at least two reasons for the world's stubborn refusal to see what's screamingly obvious to Waldman.  One of them is noted by Ross Douthat of the New York Times.  Waldman, he says, is writing as though the political situation in February 2010 is indistinguishable from the one in February 2009.  It isn't.  Barack Obama's approval ratings have dropped below 50%, Republicans have won big victories in the blue states of New Jersey and Massachusetts, and public opinion polls show the Democrats' health care proposal has more opponents than supporters.  All of these signs argue the mid-term elections are going to be unpleasant for the Democrats.  It's easy for writers to tell politicians to ignore the next election and think only about the mandate conferred by the last one.  The problem is that the sort of politicians who take that advice either don't get elected to Congress, or don't stay very long once they arrive.

The second problem is Waldman's magazine had a less sweeping view on the prerogatives of the majority in the ancient days of 2005.  In 2004 a Republican president won a second term; Republicans gained three seats in the House of Representatives, securing a 232-202 majority; and four seats in the Senate, where the GOP held a 55-45 majority.  I don't recall lots of liberal journalists looking at those numbers five years ago and saying that if there are any compromises to be made, Democrats ought to be the ones making them.

Instead, the American Prospect was applauding the evidence that Senate Democrats have "already been very impressive in using their leverage to make points and cause a little mischief when the opportunity arises," and that they discovered this capacity because they "resisted the myth that 'obstructionism' is politically deadly and to be avoided."  When some Capitol Hill Democrats did indicate they might look for a compromise on Pres. Bush's Social Security reforms, the Prospect was contemptuous: "Democrats are winning this fight, and should accept nothing less than surrender."

In February 2010 Republicans believe that the Democratic approach to health care reform is fundamentally flawed as a matter of policy, and unalterably disliked by a majority of the people as a fact of politics.  They believe, in other words, that they are winning this fight and should accept nothing less than surrender.  Why is that so hard to understand?

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