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The Caddell Calculus


Erstwhile Democratic pollster Pat Caddell, a former senior adviser to Pres. Jimmy Carter, tells NRO that “the whole health-care debate has suffered” with the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy missing from negotiations. “It probably would have been a done deal if he was around. He would have worked with Republicans and compromised,” says Caddell. “There’s no one to replace this vacuum of leadership.” Kennedy “knew how to get things done,” Caddell adds. “He worked across aisles, like when he worked with President Bush and produced No Child Left Behind.”

Caddell is also discouraged with both President Obama and Republicans for their lack of leadership on health care. “The president? I don’t know where the president is on health care,” he says. “The great problem here is that the president has never had his own bill. We keep saying ‘Obamacare,’ but we don’t know what it is. He’s not exerting leadership, just giving speeches. His people make deals with drug companies, then attack drug companies. Does anyone know what the president is for? It’s very frustrating. His chief of staff wants a bill regardless of what you have to sell out to do it. The Democrats don’t seem to understand that buying off interest groups — which killed Hillarycare in 1993 — gets you nowhere.”

Caddell sees the Democrats’ wavering on the public option as part of the party’s “chicken mentality.” Democrats, he says, “see a deal as a victory. It’s not. The American people will not be carrying a scorecard into the election booth.”

With health-care legislation now on “life support,” says Caddell, Democrats face the added problem of staggering deficit numbers. “The numbers on the deficit are devastating,” he says. “The American people want the spending to stop. The argument I’ve heard from the White House is Orwellian — that the way to solve the deficit is to spend another trillion on health care and saying ‘we know how to do it.’ President Obama said he would veto anything that wasn’t deficit-neutral. Does anyone believe that? He’s in great danger on that question. It’s something he should worry about.”

Though critical of Obama and Democrats, Caddell sees the GOP as a party just as bereft of leadership. “Tom DeLay led Republicans to the slaughterhouse, him and George Bush. Now the Democrats are driving their own base away, deserting their principles.”

Caddell does see a glimmer of hope in the town-hall response to Obamacare. “The American people rose up,” he says, admiringly. “The fact of the matter is that the American people see the political class as in business for themselves. That’s what’s going on here. A tide is coming. The political process has tried to squeeze out any new, fresh blood, so it’s a revolt. People being called mobs by the DNC, Republicans pretending to be conservative — everyone’s saying, ‘Enough with this.’ The best thing the president could do is call a halt to this and have a Ronald Reagan moment.”

With Obama slipping, should the GOP reap any award? No way, says Caddell. “The Republicans are responding to the health-care debate in their normal, brain-dead way. When I say brain-dead, I really mean brain-dead. Why? Now, with the drug companies giving the majority of their money to Democrats — who cut a deal that violated everything Obama stood for in his campaign — the GOP still can’t show any political guts. The Republicans should go after the health-insurance companies and fight for competition. Yet they sold out to the same interest groups. It reminds me of Casey Stengel’s quote during the 1962 Mets season: ‘Can’t anybody here play this game?’ The Republicans are truly useless in this debate. Senator Jim DeMint said he would help destroy the president. Really, the Republicans don’t have any principles to stand on.”

What does this former Carter White House wunderkind think should be done? Take the debate out of the hands of politicians: “Doctors are doing amazing and innovative things at the primary-care level for low cost,” says Caddell. “Yet there are no new ideas in this debate. This is all the old stuff. The American people’s attitude is that we wouldn’t trust government for anything and we’re not willing to give up more money.”

Besides, he adds, “Republicans are just as bad as the Democrats with their earmarks. President Obama had the chance to stand for principle and threaten to veto the appropriations bill — only to let both sides take care of themselves.”

A final verdict? “The American people are disgusted with them all,” says Caddell.


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