Tuesday, March 23, 2010

From Now to November

According to pundits, Americans will be marking time for eight months, waiting to vote next fall in "a referendum on the most significant social legislation enacted in half a century."

But like most conventional wisdom, that's too simplistic a view of the political landscape in a confused, angry and volatile time.

As the President prepares to sign an interim bill and the Senate girds for its bound-to-be-ugly vote, the health-care battleground with all its smoking wreckage has only days left as the center of partisan conflict.

After that, other issues will predominate, and the sad spectacle of a disintegrating two-party system will move on to butchering them--Democrats reaching and probably overreaching for legislative solutions, Republicans locked into a solid opposition that is betting on gridlock as a winning strategy.

Looking at the challenge "to save this country from stagnation and fiscal ruin," David Brooks, while not exonerating the GOP, despairs of Democrats: "With the word security engraved on its heart, the Democratic Party is just not structured to cut spending that would enhance health and safety. The party nurtures; it does not say, 'No more.'”

Yet voters, persuaded that both parties are more motivated by politics than policy disagreements, may not be susceptible to arguments about ideology.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel sees the President's victory this weekend in visceral terms: "Part of the test here at the end wasn't this policy or that policy. It was 'Did he have the capacity to deliver?' That question mark around him and the presidency has been answered."

In any case, the electorate will not be in a state of suspended animation over this spring, summer and fall. No matter to how high a pitch Republicans can raise their rhetoric ("Freedom dies a little bit today" and "baby killer"), they will eventually have to engage on the substance of such issues as immigration and controlling Wall Street or risk losing the support of Independents not suffering from brain damage.

Meanwhile, it's much too early to start counting November votes.

Update: The post-passing of the bill begins with Gallup now showing "By Slim Margin, Americans Support Healthcare Bill's Passage," a reversal of last week's polls. The twists and turns between now and November will be many and varied, and anyone who tries to predict what will happen then should run his crystal ball through a car wash.

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