Dr. Schumer’s weak, retrospective prescription

Chuck Schumer has caused a bit of a stir by stating that the Democrats erred in pushing through Obamacare. “Unfortunately,” said Schumer “Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them [in the 2008 election]. We took their mandate and put all our focus on the wrong problem — health care reform.”

According to Schumer, Democrats should have focused on aiding the middle class in order to build confidence among voters before turning to revamping the health-care system. He also claims that he opposed the timing of the health-care vote and was overruled by other party members.

From a purely political standpoint, Schumer is correct. The Democrats would be better off today if they had eschewed comprehensive health insurance reform and had, in Clintonesque fashion, “focused like a laser on the economy.”

Schumer’s take is superficial, though. First, from a policy standpoint, it is foolish to suppose that the big government policies the Democrats might have pursued in the absence of the Obamacare fight would, in fact, have improved the economy or otherwise aided the middle class.

Second, there is no reason to believe that the Democrats could have “turned to revamping the health-care system” after addressing so-called middle class issues. The window on enacting Obamacare-style reform was rapidly closing. Had the Democrats not barely squeezed through it in early 2010, the opportunity would have been lost.

Finally, neither President Obama nor the Democratic base wanted a repeat of the Clinton presidency. Obama has stated as much.

The Democrats wanted to do big, transformatiive things. Obamacare is a big, transformative thing.

In Schumer’s alternative universe, the Democrats likely would have suffered big losses in 2010, as they did under Clinton in 1994. No magic “middle class” economic reform could have boosted the economy to a level that would have satisfied voters. Electoral defeat in 2010 would have meant, as it did in the real universe, an end to liberal legislative reform even if Democratic losses in 2014 had been minimal or non-existent.

Eight years with no major legislative accomplishments to point to would have left the Democrats in bad shape for 2016 — quite possibly in worse shape than they will be in having enacted Obamacare. The displeasure of the party’s base would have exceeded that which existed in 2000, when Al Gore’s candidacy was undermined by apathy and the challenge of Ralph Nader from the left.

It may be, however, that in Schumer’s scenario the Dems would have held the Senate in 2014. Schumer is all about power, not principle. So it’s natural that he would have been happier with a Clinton-lite presidency.

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