For many years, progressives have admired the strategic and rhetorical unity conservatives always manage to achieve whenever a new debate emerges. The fact that Republicans and their allies seem to speak with one voice -- making the same arguments, repeating the same talking points over and over -- gives them a leg up whenever the two sides are trying to persuade the public. Democrats and their allies, in contrast, are more often a cacophonous jumble of competing and contradictory messages, shooting off in all directions.
I have a confession: I just can't get enough of Sarah Palin. I say this as an aficionado of both the culture war – in which Palin was rapidly promoted last year to four-star general – and spectacular political flame-outs. When she gave her impossibly weird statement announcing that she would be leaving the governorship of Alaska, it was like your favorite band's farewell tour. You got to hear the old hits (Man, I hope she does "I'm Being Oppressed by the Liberal Media Elite"!), but the whole thing was touched with the melancholy that comes from knowing that there probably won't be any new albums.
Health-care wonks worth their salt will tell you that the big issue in the current effort to reform our abysmal health-care system is cost control. They say if we don't do something to rein in the spiraling cost of health-care, it will eventually bankrupt us all. This is also a key argument made by advocates of what has become the ideological fulcrum of the health-care reform debate: the public option. Those who want to give Americans the choice of a government insurance plan have talked a lot about the public option's potential to save money over private coverage.
Reps. Henry Waxman, George Miller, and Charles Rangel take part in health care news conference on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo)
Talk to progressives on the subject of health care, and you will find they've gotten more and more nervous in the last couple of weeks. They are acutely aware that momentum for health-care reform seems to gain sufficient speed to make real change a possibility only every 15 or 20 years. Screw it up now, and it'll be a long time before there's another chance at it.
Why the gathering gloom? In part because the legislative process is so complex, anyone looking for reasons to be pessimistic as the reform effort wends its way through Congress need not look far. A Congressional Budget Office score here, a newly unified Republican message there, and it begins to seem as though the stars will never align for reform to succeed.
In December 2007, with the first contest of the 2008 primaries approaching, Prospect Executive Editor Mark Schmitt wrote what would become one of the most influential articles of the campaign. In the piece, Schmitt contended that voters were witnessing a "theory of change" primary, in which Democratic voters were making a choice between three competing theories about how you get things done in Washington. Hillary Clinton argued that it was about being prepared and working hard; John Edwards argued that it was about confrontation; and Barack Obama contended that he could bring all parties to the table and achieve reform by treating everyone as though they were operating in good faith.