If this health-care-reform thing happens, people will find Reasons Why It Happened. Look at what happened when Scott Brown won in Massachusetts: people tried to look for a Large Trend or whatever that explained why the Republicans were taking over. Brown won with 52% of the vote — certainly a solid lead, but not exactly a landslide. Many things could have caused a three-percent swing in votes. Coakley could have been a better candidate, for instance. But once Brown won, journalists had to opine on What It All Means — because it had to Mean Something.
Now here we are on the eve of what looks like the greatest progressive victory since Medicare. I, for one, am incredibly excited. I’m excited both because 32 million of the least fortunate Americans will have a safety net beneath them that’s a bit stronger; and because I hope that this will energize progressives toward future victories.
So now the press will have to come up with explanations. Health reform succeeded because Nancy Pelosi is one of the greatest Speaker in House history, for instance. The Republicans failed because the Tea Party movement, while important, was ragtag and ill-focused. Etc.
But we were all alive over the last year. We saw where this could have failed any number of times. It could have failed if House Democrats had fallen apart after Scott Brown’s victory, as it looked like they would. It could have failed last summer if the Tea Party thing had freaked people out more than it did. Had it failed at any of those moments, the press would be looking for reasons. Nancy Pelosi would still be the Speaker, but now she’d be the worst Speaker in House history — squandering a massive lead, etc., etc. Flip a few Congressmen the other way, and suddenly the narrative changes massively.
I’m not saying that this victory — should it happen — is entirely arbitrary; of course it’s not. What I *am* saying is that, if it were as inevitable and foreordained as the narrative will make it out to be, then no one would have panicked over the last year.
I like simple explanations as much as anyone else. I like, for instance, the Larry Bartels model that predicts presidential elections on the basis of macroeconomic factors like the unemployment rate. So far as I know, there’s no such model predicting victory in this health-reform debate. The only explanations that people can advance are post-facto ones.
Which doesn’t bother me a bit, in this case. My side looks like it’s going to win. (If it doesn’t, I will do the appropriate amount of crow-eating.) If this will have any effects, they will be positive effects for my side. Victory is like that.
What I’m curious about is how long-lasting the effects of a victory — any victory of this magnitude — are. It’ll help us, but for how long?
What would people like to attack after this? Financial-system reform?
One of the many things I can’t stand about the newsmedia is their propensity for injecting “What Does It All Mean NRRRRRGH HRRRGH WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS EVEEEEEENT” into every god damn flutter in the American political sail. “In a stinging referendum on Obama’s healthcare initiative, Bo the First Dog was seen emitting poop from his asshole on the White House lawn.” I want to build a Journalist’s Prison and then send people there. It will not be a friendly place.