NOTE: You'll see Sen. Sherrod Brown's tweets embedded throughout this column for a reason, which is explained about two-thirds of the way down.
For 30 years or so, the Democrats have often been what I call the “well yes/but of course” party.
As in: Well yes, we support a tax for infrastructure investment, but of course it’ll be a modest tax. Well yes, we believe in a woman’s right to an abortion, but of course we think it should be rare. Well yes, we believe in government, but of course it must be lean and efficient.
Since the age of Reagan and the rise to power of modern conservatism, this has been a frequent posture. Yes, we stand for this thing, but we stand for it thoughtfully, responsibly, and kind of apologetically. I’d be the first to say that it’s sometimes been understandable. If you’re young you probably can’t appreciate this, but in the 1980s the then-freshly created conservative agitprop mill did such a ruthlessly effective job of discrediting the word “liberal” and the idea of government that Democrats simply could not go on as they had been.
But this this health care fight is different. Democrats, this is when you stop being the “well yes/but of course” party and become the “hell yes” party. As in hell yes, this is what we believe, and this time we make no apologies for it whatsoever.
I see that the man whose name adorns the 2010 law called on the Democrats to show “courage” and fight the Republicans on Obamacare repeal tooth and nail in his speech at the Kennedy Library on Sunday night. I see also that an ad blitz has already been launched by progressive groups calling out Republicans in moderate districts who cast votes for the Republican bill last week. The ads target representatives in Alaska, Arizona, Maine, Nevada, and New Jersey.
That’s a start. But there are lot more people where those five came from. I wrote previously about the 23 House Republicans who won their races in districts that Hillary Clinton carried over Donald Trump. It turns out that 14 of those 23 voted for the bill. One of them, Martha McSally of Arizona, is being targeted by the just-launched ad campaign. The other 13 surely deserve their day in the sun. They include seven Californians, three of whom represent districts Clinton carried by at least seven points. There are another dozen or more who represent districts where their aye vote could hurt them.
But for it to hurt those Republicans, the Democrats have to stand their ground. They have to do something they haven’t done very often in recent history. They have to stay united—which so far it looks as if they’ll manage to do on this Senate vote—and they have to play nothing but offense. Fine, admit that Obamacare has some problems, in a sentence or two. But stop there and switch back to attack.
And attack on the main point: People will die. The Republican bill is sentencing people to death.
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown had the right idea in his recent committee diatribe railing against the bill. He ticked off 90 pre-existing conditions covered under Obamacare that insurance companies could discriminate against under Trump-Ryancare (and, as you can see here, he tweeted them). Now that’s playing offense! That should be a meme, in fact. All 90. Make sure that within a month, any American who isn’t an idiot knows that number.
The natural Democratic reflex, these past 30 years, has been immediately to consider the risk inherent in any political strategy, especially an aggressive one. If we go too far out on a limb for blacks on such-and-such a topic, how many whites will we lose? That’s one obvious example. Again—it’s not an indefensible instinct. The Democratic voter base is genuinely diverse, while the Republican one is not. So the Democrats do have to think about things the Republicans don’t. And there’s certainly never any fear that the Republicans are going to go too far out any limb for African Americans.
But this is not the time to sit around fretting about risk. There is no risk! If they lose, they lose. They don’t have the numbers (in the Senate, I mean), so sad to say the chances are that they will lose. So go down fighting.
Or, just maybe, once they fight like dervishes and show the American people that they stand for something come hell or high water and they’re not the least bit afraid of what those mean Republicans are going to say about them, and they galvanize the electorate in a few key states to agree with them, well, then just maybe they’ll scare some Republican senators for a change and win!
This is the fight of your lives, Democrats. This is why you have the job you have. Most of you will never work on a legislative fight more pivotal to who you are and what your party purports to be, to say nothing of more materially consequential to more Americans, than this one. Moving toward making health care a basic right is the great unfinished project of American liberalism.
It’s the right goal, for the right reasons. No apologies needed.