Republicans may have provided Democrats with an ideal closing narrative for health care...but only if they have the guts to use it. The GOP has obviously chosen to focus on process for the end game, shouting from the rooftops that Democrats are trying to "ram through" reform by manipulating the rules of Congress. Democrats respond by cogently explaining that they're not really ramming health care through, that these procedures are commonplace...but, in doing so, they're missing the larger narrative and falling into a trap.
While Dem lawmakers are busy frantically proclaiming their innocence, Republicans are actually bragging about their own ability to manipulate Congressional rules and obstruct legislation. They want to make sure the public knows how hard they're fighting to win. Take heed, Democrats.
This week's New York Times profile of Mitch McConnell highlights just how much Republicans have embraced their own obstructionism:
Before the health care fight, before the economic stimulus package, before President Obama even took office, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, had a strategy for his party: use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.
Mr. McConnell, 68, a Kentuckian more at home plotting tactics in the cloakroom than writing legislation in a committee room or exhorting crowds on the campaign trail, has come to embody a kind of oppositional politics that critics say has left voters cynical about Washington, the Senate all but dysfunctional and the Republican Party without a positive agenda or message.
But in the short run at least, his approach has worked.
McConnell brags to the Times about his ability to short-circuit Obama's efforts at bipartisanship:
"It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out," Mr. McConnell said about the health legislation in an interview, suggesting that even minimal Republican support could sway the public. "It’s either bipartisan or it isn’t."
Mr. McConnell said the unity was essential in dealing with Democrats on "things like the budget, national security and then ultimately, obviously, health care."
Even Mr. McConnell’s fellow Republicans say somewhat admiringly that he can be a secretive and coldly calculating tactician with an eye for political openings, someone more consumed by political strategy than ideology or philosophy.
The extent of Republican unity to date is attributable to some degree to Democratic missteps, as well as to the rise of the Tea Party movement, which has exerted tremendous pressure on Republicans not to do anything that might give comfort to the president and his party.
But it is also testimony to how Mr. McConnell has been able to draw on 25 years of Congressional savvy to display a mastery of legislative maneuvering.
Why are McConnell and cohorts being so open about this strategy, while at the same time complaining that Democrats are manipulating the rules to ram through health care? Because they expect and want the Democrats to make excuses. It makes them look weak. Think about that. Republicans openly admit to manipulating legislative rules and Democrats deny that they would ever resort to such tactics. What's wrong with this picture?
This isn't just about appealing to the American public directly. It's also about influencing those who construct and convey narratives. It's about catering to the Village Idiots who love nothing more than horse-race, inside-baseball, king-of-the-hill coverage. Republicans are smart enough to feed them the kind of narratives they want.
My message to Democrats is that it doesn't really matter how much or how little you're manipulating legislative rules to pass health care reform. What matters is how you respond to the narrative. Own it. Proclaim that "Hell yeah, we're ramming it through. We're going to use every possible tactic and bend any rule necessary to ram this through Republican obstructionism and ram it through the firewall of health insurance lobbyists."
The media morons and the American public don't really care if you use reconciliation or deem-and-pass. But they want you to fight and win. They want you to crush the Republicans and put on a good show while you do it. Bread and Circuses.
The health care reform closing narrative is already established. Democrats are ramming it through. Republicans are doing everything possible to stop it. Don't act guilty and offer mealy-mouthed explanations. Own it. Ram it through and be proud. The voters will reward you for passing health care reform and they'll reward you for doing it unapologetically.