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Democrats Can’t Turn Around Now

January 20, 2010

In an op-ed in today’s Washington Post Jacob S. Hacker and Daniel Hopkins, professors of political science at Yale and Georgetown universities, argue that the Massachusetts election wasn’t about the current health bill. The politics and process around it played a part of Brown’s campaign, but didn’t cause Brown to win. They warn that the only thing worse than passing a bill that Democrats vow to work to improve down the road is failing to pass on after a year of trying.

The real question is what message politicians and pundits will take out of the Massachusetts surprise. (As of this writing, we do not know whether that surprise will be a near-loss for Democrats or a GOP triumph.) Many argue it means Democrats should run from reform. But that would not just be disastrous for American health care. It would misread the results and ignore the lessons of history. Not passing health reform would guarantee that dire predictions about the Democrats’ fate will come true.

I think they’re right. Once the process is in the rearview mirror and the elements that the public supports are enacted, the important thing will be that the Democrats did something and it improved lives. Scale isn’t nearly as important politically as success or failure.

If there is a lesson in the Massachusetts vote, it is this: pass a bill. The nation needs reform. Democrats need an accomplishment. And Democratic activists and voters need a new cause: fixing reform, not abandoning it.

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