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Bad Medicine, Bad Politics

7:54 PM, Dec 19, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Sean Trende has an excellent piece pushing back against the conventional wisdom that passing something is better than nothing:

Health reform is shuffling toward its endgame, and even though the bill's popularity resembles George Bush's circa 2007, Democrats seem determined to push the bill through. Browse through certain liberal blogs, or listen to Democratic leadership speeches, and you'll read the same justification again and again: However bad passing this bill might be, politically speaking, not passing it would be much, much worse.

I've been skeptical of this line of argument for quite some time. This summer, I showed that Democrats from Republican-leaning districts who supported President Clinton's agenda fared significantly worse in the 1994 midterm election than those who did not. It seems almost certain that an additional vote for Clinton's then-wildly-unpopular healthcare bill would not have helped these Democrats any; passing ClintonCare almost certainly would have made 1994 even worse for the Democrats. Likewise, after taking tough votes on the stimlulus package and cap-and-trade, it seemed unlikely that a vote on the then-mildly-unpopular health care bill would help Congressional Democrats.

Nothing has changed my mind since then. Rather, as events have unfolded I've become increasingly convinced that there is little political upside for Democrats in passing this bill, and much, much downside. For one thing, the "failure is not an option" argument makes little sense at a very basic level. It's the equivalent of arguing that what the GOP really needed to do to save its majority in 2006 was to sign an immigration bill that deported illegal immigrants; maybe it should have pushed through private accounts for social security, just to show the country that the GOP was capable of "governing," and to give the base something to get excited over. The problem is that the public doesn't want to see a party simply "governing" or pushing through major legislation. They want to see a party "governing well," and pushing through major legislation that the public wants.

Read the whole thing.