Friday, February 26, 2010

Win for the White House

Paul Krugman's got a great column this morning on yesterday's health care summit. It's worth a read and makes the obvious point that it has set in motion the best prospects yet for passage of a bill. The Huffington Post reports that 3.9 million people streamed the summit on their web browsers, so it was clearly a closely watched affair. For my part, I found it tremendously refreshing to catch a glimpse of the old Barack Obama. This is the guy we voted for: sharp, intelligent, a very strong debater with legions of facts at his fingertips ready to refute dishonest GOP talking points. As a former college professor, this style of open but managed debate is clearly his strong suit. He is in his element at the front of a class, making an argument, fielding questions and disabusing students of erroneous beliefs and mis-perceptions. Faced with lies and distortions about the Democratic health care plan, he never flinched, never lost his cool, and simply responded by disabusing Republican leaders of their errors (as when schooling Lamar Alexander on his dishonest claims about premium increases) or brought them back on track when they started to go off on irrelevant tangents (as when chiding John McCain for acting more like a campaigner than an honest broker trying to solve a problem for Americans).

This is how liberals win the war of ideas: by staging an open debate in a respectful forum charged with defending claims and counter-claims by appeal to facts and reasoned argument. Contrast this with the way in which conservatives do: last summer Tea Party activists descended upon Democratic healthcare Town Hall meetings and yelled insults at participants, shouted down speakers and made claims about planned bills that had nothing to do with what was actually contained in them.

My only worry is that Democrats, through their cowardice and inability to come together around a single bill for so many months may have damaged their brand to such an extent that they will face devastating losses in 2010 elections. It would be a real irony if Democrats rescued an economy that Republicans nearly destroyed, and gave the American people real, workable health care reform, only to find a mended nation handed back to the GOP for governance. It would be like a hospital discharging a victim of brutal spousal abuse back to her husband as soon as she's well enough to go home.

Sadly, if this happens, it's the feuding, unmanageable and sometimes cowardly Democrats themselves who will be largely to blame.