President Obama's narrow and partisan victory on health care reform caused a time warp. Suddenly, it is early 2009 all over again, with liberals trumpeting Obama as the herald of a new liberal era, with the media and some conservatives cautioning Republicans against opposing the president, and above all the perception that Obama is a strong leader.
Did the Republicans suffer? No, they did not. Their reward was Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and a strong showing on the generic congressional ballot. As his agenda became clear and the economy continued to underperform, the public became increasingly divided over the president. Independents now disapprove of the president by an eight point margin. A center-right coalition is taking shape.
Are we to dismiss all this because Nancy Pelosi was able to muscle health care reform through the House? Of course not. Yes, just like in the 2008 election, Obama's victory on health care was decisive. But it is not permanent. Conventional wisdom, which assumes current circumstances will continue indefinitely, warns the Republicans against a campaign of repeal. Conventional wisdom urges cooperation with the Democrats and capitulation to their agenda. But the polls suggest otherwise.
Here, then, principle and public opinion lead to the same injunction: Fight the power.