Healthcare reform in the US, which was already heavily compromised as a result of having to make so many concessions to right-wing Democrats in the Senate to secure the 60 votes necessary for a filibuster-proof majority, now seems set to sink without trace because of the shock Republican victory in the Massachusetts Senate by-election.
However, the current healthcare reform bill has already passed the Senate - so if the House of Representatives were to pass it as is, it wouldn't need to go back to the Senate. The Massachusetts result would be irrelevant.
At this stage, surely you would think that the great hope of progressive US politics - Barack Obama - would push hard to get the bill through. After all, it's pretty much all he's focused on for 12 months in office and its failure would make that first year look completely pointless.
Instead, as Paul Krugman has pointed out, what progressive America got from Obama was this:
I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on. We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people. We know that we have to have some form of cost containment because if we don’t, then our budgets are going to blow up and we know that small businesses are going to need help so that they can provide health insurance to their families. Those are the core, some of the core elements of, to this bill. Now I think there’s some things in there that people don’t like and legitimately don’t like.
Where's Barack been for the past twelve months? Why does he not seem to realise what he's up against here?
As I've said before on this blog, the whole "bipartisanship" thing is a pile of crap. The Republicans are, pretty much to a person, right-wing extremists. Like the Terminator, they can't be bargained with, they can't be reasoned with, they don't feel pain or pity and they absolutely will not stop - EVER - until they have turned America into a fascist state. (Ironically, the original Terminator, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, is considerably more moderate than almost anybody on the Republican side in the Senate.)
It seems to me that Barack Obama expects the Republicans to play nice party politics, and simply doesn't realise the ferocity of the opposition he's dealing with. It was the same with Jimmy Carter in 1980. He underestimated just how insane the Republican base was and what Ronald Reagan was stirring up, played the nice guy who was worried about the environment - and got his ass kicked.
I don't think Obama will go down after one term like Carter did, unless things get a lot worse. His newly announced banking reforms (if he can get the legislation through without being terribly watered down) should help. But he really does need to learn something about the dirty tricks school of politics - and fast. George W Bush was in his element with this stuff - as was Bill Clinton. I'm not always positive about Clinton, but if he was in office at the moment, in these circumstances, health reform would probably be on its way through. Obama needs to sit down with Clinton - who knows what the Republicans are capable of more than anyone - and get some advice over a couple of beers.
Why are the Democrats so weedy? It's a mystery to me (and, it seems, to Paul Krugman), so any enlightenment from US-based readers would be very welcome. Certainly, British politics doesn't seem to work like this. Labour politicians may have many faults, but an inbuilt assumption that the Tories are nice people who will always play by the rules is not one of them.
Come on Barack - you can do better than this. Or did you never want to in the first place? If so, America, like the UK, is f***ed.