“Silly Season” – March 21, 2010

One of my favorite Obama phrases is “silly season.” Dating back to December 2007, when Obama was fighting Clinton for the nomination, he would deflect those ridiculous questions from reporters and attacks from opponents with something like, “Come on now, guys. That’s silly season. Let’s get back to the important stuff.”

David Frum, a conservative speech writer for George H.W. Bush, called the passage of health care reform the Republicans’ Waterloo. He argued that because, last summer, the opposition allowed extreme voices and opinions to dominate (death panels! socialism!) and influence public opinion, Republicans left themselves in a position with no leverage and no room to negotiate. Frum wrote

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

Tonight, as this landmark legislation moves just inches from the goal line, we see a president who looks serious and republican lawmakers still engaged in silly season. Watching C-Span, I listened to one Democrat after another celebrating the expanded coverage, rejoicing the new controls over insurance companies, while one Republican after the next bemoaned the government takeover of health insurance and the loss of our freedom. I wondered, “How could they possibly be talking about the same bill?” What the Republicans in the House and Senate neglect, though, is that the Democrats were elected to majorities in the House and Senate, and to the White House in a modern-day landslide. This is why we elected them. To enact reform, to be a voice for the voiceless. If we wanted Republican ideas and policies, we’d be deferring to Speaker of the House, John Boener, and leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell. We’d be saluting president John McCain. As George W. Bush would say, elections have consequences.

The G.O.P. right now looks unserious. Without negotiating in good faith, they remove themselves from the conversation and thus cannot influence policy. While Republicans are moaning and groaning about a government takeover of healthcare, the Democrats are expanding healthcare coverage to 32 million more Americans.

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