Noonan: The Risk of Catastrophic Victory

Obama is in the midst of one. Can the GOP avert one of their own?

Peggy Noonan
The Wall Street Journal
January 8, 2010

Passage of the health-care bill will be, for the administration, a catastrophic victory. If it is voted through in time for the State of the Union Address, as President Obama hopes, half the chamber will rise to their feet and cheer. They will be cheering their own demise.

If health care does not pass, it will also be a disaster, but only for the administration, not the country. Critics will say, “You didn’t even waste our time successfully.”

What a blunder this thing has been, win or lose, what a miscalculation on the part of the president. The administration misjudged the mood and the moment. Mr. Obama ran, won, was sworn in and began his work under the spirit of 2008—expansive, part dreamy and part hubristic. But as soon as he was inaugurated ,the president ran into the spirit of 2009—more dug in, more anxious, more bottom-line—and didn’t notice. At the exact moment the public was announcing it worried about jobs first and debt and deficits second, the administration decided to devote its first year to health care, which no one was talking about. The great recession changed everything, but not right away.

In a way Mr. Obama made the same mistake President Bush did on immigration, producing a big, mammoth, comprehensive bill when the public mood was for small, discrete steps in what might reasonably seem the right direction.

The public in 2009 would have been happy to see a simple bill that mandated insurance companies offer coverage without respect to previous medical conditions. The administration could have had that—and the victory of it—last winter.

Instead, they were greedy for glory…

…Republican political professionals in Washington assume a coming victory. They do not see that 2010 could be a catastrophic victory for them. If they seize back power without clear purpose, if they are not serious, if they do the lazy and cynical thing by just sitting back and letting the Democrats lose, three bad things will happen. They will contribute to the air of cynicism in which our citizens marinate. Their lack of seriousness will be discerned by the Republican base, whose enthusiasm and generosity will be blunted. And the Republicans themselves will be left unable to lead when their time comes, because operating cynically will allow the public to view them cynically, which will lessen the chance they will be able to do anything constructive.

In this sense, the cynical view—we can sit back and wait—is naive. The idealistic view—we must stand for things and move on them now—is shrewder…

The article continues at WSJ.

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