From “socialism” to “death panels,” it should be clear to anyone who makes an honest approach to the issue that the Republican strategy, from day one, was nothing but a scorched-earth rhetorical assault, light on substance to the point of complete avoidance. Any real clash we saw occurred at the existential level: “small government” is good, “spending” is bad, government regulation is “unconstitutional,” etc. Consequentially, although, as noted during closing debates, the final health care bill includes over 200 Republican amendments, it lacks any real allusion to Republican principles. That’s not a function of our refusal to accept input — Obama offered concessions, but was rejected at every turn — it’s a function of the Republicans’ complete refusal to bargain in good faith. Now they’ll pay for it, in a couple significant ways.
Despite this, Republicans seem happy. To discern why, we might attempt this post hoc thought experiment: what, if anything, did Republicans gain for their efforts?
Two things: time, and the death of the public option.
The former comes as proof positive that to the GOP, obstructionism is a value. The latter is odd because of this point: the public option would’ve cost somewhere in the ballpark of $850 billion, and saved $110 billion over ten years. The current plan will cost over $940 billion — while resulting in larger long, long term savings. By screeching about “socialism” and “fiscal restraint,” the GOP torpedoed a bill that was more effective, in terms of both cost and coverage, and re-injected a dose of paranoia and irrationalism into the public discourse.
Even if we give the Republicans the benefit of the doubt, and imagine that the latter is just a means and not the end itself, that’s a pretty terrible result. At the beginning of this long struggle, Democrats could reasonably have wondered if any victory would, by the end, look largely Pyrrhic. Now we have to ask whether Democrats haven’t just dealt the Republican Party a defeat, but a total defeat, the kind from which an ideology, or a particular method of governing, never truly recovers. Not a Waterloo, but a Zama. To see if they’ve learned anything, I imagine we’ll have to wait for the next controversy.