Gut check time for the Democrats [updated]

Do the Democrat colors (pink?) run? We’ll soon find out.

The Hill reports on a raucous meeting of House chiefs of staff yesterday. The room, it says, was “seething with anger over the immense damage being done to the Democratic party” by Obamacare. One chief of staff declared, “this either gets fixed or it could be the demise of the Democratic Party.”

It’s not unheard of for politicians and their agents to conflate their fortunes with those of their Party. We’ve seen plenty of that from Republicans.

Another aide spoke more plausibly, and with only slightly less melodrama, when he described the mood among Democrats as “probably the worst I’ve ever seen it”. A third chief went so far as to say: “Is [Obama] even more unpopular than George Bush? I think that’s already happened”.

The comparison to Bush is inevitable and instructive. Congressional Republicans did not really bolt on the Iraq War even after the disastrous election of 2006. Some Democrats seem to be contemplating a bolt nearly a year before next year’s off-year elections.

Bush, though, was able to offer a plan to significantly improve the situation in Iraq, namely the troop surge. So far, Obama has only offered promises to fix the Obamacare website, plus an insurance “fix” that was not calibrated, and may not genuinely have been intended, to solve the problem of insurance policy cancellations.

Fixing a website should be easier than turning the tide in a war gone bad. We’ll see. But making palatable an ill-concieved, structurally unsound takeover of a vast and crucial chunk of the American economy may prove impossible.

No wonder Democrats are seething.

But should they be seething at Obama? Yes, if the concern is the troubled website. But a bad website can’t remotely threaten the demise of a political party that’s been around for two centuries.

The most politically threatening aspects of Obamacare stem from the legislation itself, which congressional Dems took the lead in drafting. Yes, Obama’s regs on “grandfathering” made things worse. But Republicans flagged this problem and offered legislation to overcome it. Congressional Dems thwarted the attempt. Presumably, they understood that the regs were part-and-parcel of the redistributionist intent of the legislative scheme.

The real frustration with Obama has a deeper cause. He offered them the hope of radically changing America — a mission as to which they had been stymied for decades — at little or no political cost. His enormous skill at packaging, branding, and misdirection made this dream seem possible. This was the real meaning of both “Yes we can” and the constant talk about “false choices.”

The Democrats now see that the choice between radically remaking the health care system and retaining power may not be a false one. This means it’s gut check time for a Party that, thanks to a charismatic, sweet-talking president and a friendly media, has not faced such a check in a long time — and failed the last such test when it voted for going to war with Iraq.

UPDATE: To me, it’s an interesting question whether Obama believed that radically transforming things like our health care system would entail only a small political cost. Obama has great faith in his shrewdness and powers of persuasion. But he also thinks America has a substantial dark side. So I believe he understood the potential political cost of his agenda better than congressional Democrats did.

I also believe that Obama passed his own gut check, which occurred after the 2010 elections. He did not “triangulate” like Bill Clinton after 1994, nor did he back down. If anything, he moved leftward. Obama is a conviction politician and a relatively courageous one.

To what extent is this true of congressional Dems? As I said, we will soon find out.

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