Gambling Away a Second Term

By throwing in with House Speaker Pelosi, and resisting calls for smaller reforms, the president sharpened the partisan divide—and may have blown his shot at reelection.

Charles Dharapak / AP Photo

It will likely be years before we really understand the true policy impact of the health-care bill. But, we don’t have to wait to see the clear impact of the politics.

If you think politics have been partisan up until now, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The passage of this bill will only sharpen the divide. Now there is a clear hero and a clear enemy, something to fight for and fight against. The target now has a bull’s eye.

What until now has been a healthy political skirmish will now be a holy war.

President Obama finally has a clear narrative. The Democrats now clearly stand for something. It may be 10 pounds of ugly in a five-pound sack. But at least it’s a sack of something.

Republicans have been fighting a theoretical boogeyman. Now, they’ve got the real thing.

While Democrats will argue this bill is the most important health-care legislation since the enactment of Social Security and Medicare, Republicans will note that all those measures passed with significant bipartisan support. Medicare had the backing of 65 House Republicans and 13 senators, while Social Security was approved with 77 GOPers casting aye votes, joined by 14 senators.

More Daily Beast writers on the health-care vote.What until now has been a healthy political skirmish will now be a holy war. Politically, there will be no upside for Republicans in supporting the outcome of the legislation; in fact, they will seek repeal. Republican governors are already declaring they will try to exempt their states through constitutional challenges.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who had tried to craft a bipartisan bill, last June predicted, "If you... just pound it through on a partisan vote, you have people practically as soon as the ink is dry looking to have it repealed."

The real political winner is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She won the internal battle with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for Obama’s decision to stick with the current bill, rather than scrapping the effort and trying to move smaller, more manageable pieces of health-care legislation through the pipe. Emanuel understands that the path to reelection lies in the middle. Obama will now have a more difficult path to a second term, since he’ll now be branded as Pelosi’s liberal partner in crime.

Writing in The Washington Post, Michael Gerson said that Obama’s options in the end boiled down to looking “radical in victory or weak in defeat. It is no longer possible for Obama to be a president both strong and unifying.”

President Obama has made his stand on health care and said it may cost him a second term. Let’s give him kudos for candor because given the searing politics of this issue, he may be right.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.