Nobody knows who first said “the best defense is a good offense” – perhaps Sun Tzu, or Machiavelli, or Vince Lombardi – but here in 2014, Democrats should tie the aphorism to Obamacare.
Let me put it another way: In politics, you never win by campaigning from a fetal position.
It’s conventional wisdom these days that the Democrats will get hammered in the November midterms, and probably lose the Senate. That sounds about right. As I’ve written before, a president’s party is typically hammered in the sixth year of a two-term tenure (Eisenhower in 1958, Reagan in 1986, junior Bush in 2006). And here in the Obama era, the voters who typically turn out heaviest in midterms (older white people) are not Obama fans, while the voters who have supported Obama the most in presidential elections (young people, and people of color) are typically less inclined to cast midterm congressional ballots.
Plus, we have the Obamacare factor. As one news report noted this weekend, “Many of those helped by the health care law – notably young people and minorities – are the least likely to cast votes that could preserve it, even though millions have gained health insurance and millions more will benefit from some of its popular provisions. ‘The angry opponents are more mobilized than the beneficiaries,’ said (ex-Obama adviser) David Axelrod.”
So if that’s the deal this year, the Democrats have a choice: They can either stay in the fetal position on Obamacare – thus confirming the Republican claim that the health reform law is a debacle catastrophe disaster apocalypse, thus giving the Democratic base even more reason to stay home in November; or, they can stand tall and fight affirmatively for the law, highlighting the many historic benefits that the Republicans want to erase.
Hey, why not play offense? How else can Democratic candidates expect to rally the beneficiaries – including swing-voting women – and trump the GOP base? As the president said Thursday, when he announced the eight million health exchange signups amidst a spate of good news (lower-than-expected costs, bullish insurers): “I don’t think we should apologize for it. I don’t think we should be defensive about it. I think there is a strong, good story to tell.”
If the billionaire Koch brothers can bankroll ads featuring average citizens who claim to have been hurt by Obamacare (at least one such ad has turned out to be a crock), then it should be a cinch to feature average citizens who have benefited. Like perhaps a guy who was denied coverage because he had preexisting diabetes – and now he’s covered, thanks to Obamacare. Or perhaps a mom whose young adult son has a dire, costly illness – but she’s able to keep him on the family plan until age 26, thanks to Obamacare. Or perhaps a senior with a chronic condition who got his coverage canceled because he’d busted the company’s “lifetime cap” – but now he’s covered again, thanks to Obamacare’s ban on capped coverage.
Yo Democrats: Spotlight the benefits that Republicans want to repeal. Only if you play offense can you hope to pin your foe on defense. A pro-Democratic group, Senate Majority PAC, has actually figured this out. The PAC has been financing ads in Michigan, attacking GOP Senate candidate Lynn Land for her opposition to Obamacare. If Land got elected and joined with other Republicans to successfully repeal Obamacare, the ad warns, “insurance companies will be able to deny you coverage when you get sick. Women’s access to preventive health care would be cut…”
Paul Begala, the ex-Clinton adviser, framned it succingly in a recent Washington Post online interview. In his view, a Democratic candidate “should be saying, ‘My opponent wants to repeal your rights. He wants to take away your right to be protected against discrimination because you have a preexisting condition. He wants to take away your right to be protected against discrimination for being older or being a woman.'”
Then you frontally challenge the Republican candidate – perhaps in autumn debates – by asking, “Since you want to repeal Obamacare’s benefits, what would you do for the millions of people whose benefits would disappear? What are your health reform ideas?” But as we know from long experience, Republicans don’t have squat. As one conservative commentator lamented last month, “Most GOP lawmakers have yet to reconcile themselves to the reality that they need to rally around a meaningful alternative.”
Democrats in 2014 have no choice but to own Obamacare. Can they really blunt a November tsunami by taking the offensive? Hard to say – but at least they’d have a fighting chance to bring out their voters. There’s no percentage in timidity. As legendary football coach John Madden used to say, “All a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.”
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