August 27, 2010

Personal Responsibility is Owning Your Vote Much has been (and will be) made about the partisan nature of the healthcare vote. Republicans, proud of their unanimity in opposition, delight in casting blame for this unanimity at the feet of the Democrats; as if Democrats are ultimately responsible for how Republicans choose to vote. The New York Times comes as close as it can to pinning the blame on Obama himself: ...there is no doubt that in the course of this debate, Mr. Obama has lost something - and lost it for good. Gone is the promise on which he rode to victory less than a year and half ago - the promise of a "postpartisan" Washington in which rationality and calm discourse replaced partisan bickering. Never in modern memory has a major piece of legislation passed without a single Republican vote. Republicans can (and should) receive credit for maintaining party discipline, but we have an obligation to recognize that this discipline is an institutional feature of coalition government designed to serve the political interests of members of a particular caucus, and not, as some would have us believe, an intrinsic service to the larger polity of constituents. Far from signaling that certain legislation may not be in the best interest of the country, party-line votes tell us absolutely nothing beyond the obvious: that the issue at hand is both political and polarizing. If one wishes to avoid party-line votes, therefore, the only clear course of action would be to avoid polarizing issues altogether - hardly a good strategy with which to accomplish meaningful change. But let's get back to this business of zero Republican votes and what that means. It's hard to take seriously the idea that Obama and the Democrats are responsible, given the avalanche of concessions and obsequious gestures offered to the GOP as the bill was being built. A more plausible explanation is that over the last few administrations conservatism's right wing has become a sideshow of fringe extremists, with the healthcare vote finally pulling the veil off of this foul excrescence. Eight long years of George W. Bush, concomitant with the final touches being applied to the cultish myth of Reagan, created a GOP that is indistinguishable from the most authoritarian, martial, bloodthirsty snarls of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove; this is not the boring conservatism I grew up with. Healthcare didn't garner any Republican votes because Republicans are no longer interested in dialogue with their colleagues across the aisle. Their better, more moderate judgment has been hijacked by pundits, bloggers and teabaggers. The legacy of this transformation, now that this historic bill has been passed, will be a huge embarrassment to future Republicans trying to widen their appeal... especially since future generations will owe their gratitude for equitable healthcare exclusively to Democrats.

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