What Will Democrats Do Without Lieberman Vote?

Wednesday, 16 Dec 2009 10:39 AM

By Susan Estrich

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Whatever it takes.

Whatever Joe wants.

That's the short answer to what the Democrats will do to get healthcare reform passed. If Joe Lieberman doesn't want 55-year-olds to buy into Medicare, they won't. Poof. Gone.

There is only one number that matters right now, and that number is 60. Anything that would cost the Democrats 60 votes will have to go. The perfect is the enemy of the possible. The possible is the art of politics. This is not about getting a perfect bill — just one that can pass.

Opponents of reform have taken to the airwaves. The ads are great, really. If you haven't seen them, watch them. Once. Too many times and you may start worrying. Forget Harry and Louise, who shot down Hillary and Bill. Barack and Harry and Rahm have their work cut out for them.

The ads are moving numbers. They're convincing undecideds, jolting Democrats and confirming Republicans' worst horror-show scenarios. If you're wondering why even some of those most likely to benefit from the Democratic plan — people who don't have insurance or have terrible plans — are worried about what Harry Reid is doing, you have to do no more than turn on the television to understand. Whoever you are, there's a story to scare you.

And if you don't think that scares politicians in marginal districts even more, you need medicine.

This is not, for many Democrats, an easy vote. If the bill passes, the potential for those who voted for it to be blamed for anything that goes wrong with everyone's healthcare forever is both real and undeniable. Imagine how much Hillary would have been blamed for everything that went wrong had her plan actually passed.

But the only thing scarier than the current campaign that is turning people against healthcare reform is the price Democrats will pay, starting with the man on top, if they can't get something through. The Obama administration has gotten closer to achieving this major step than any prior administration, notwithstanding their best efforts. But that, potentially, only makes failure harder to swallow.

This is not horseshoes. You don't get credit for getting close. Quite the contrary: The closer you get the more scorn gets heaped onto you for losing. Then it's really your fault. Vince Lombardi could have run political campaigns. Democrats cannot go to voters in the midterm elections campaigning on a platform of failure: Good news, we couldn't do it. And by the way, big war!

So the numbers are falling. So be it. Democrats can't afford to pay attention. They will fall even more if they fail. Failure is even less popular than healthcare reform.

Fortunately, there are some good signs for Democrats, even as the ads warn of a terrible future where everyone gets healthcare. For one thing, whether the recession is over or not, things are definitely on the up. There is not a sense of relief, but there is at least less of a sense of impending doom. The banks are back to making money instead of borrowing it. The market is back. Any day now, there might even be more jobs, which counts for more than anything else.

And the Republicans, God bless them, will do everything in their power to steal defeat from the jaws of victory. At a time when they are actually succeeding in convincing the country of their fears about healthcare, much, much more of their energy is going into attacking each other. Taking a page from the book of the Democratic Party of my youth, they seem to be more interested in being right than in winning, which almost always leads to failure.

After all, the perfect really is the enemy of the perfectly OK.

© Creators Syndicate Inc.

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