Many Democrats think that, regardless of the polls, they need to pass Obamacare to avoid electoral disaster in November. As inherently contradictory as this view might sound, don’t be too quick to dismiss it. Its two chief advocates are the most formidable Democrats of the past quarter-century: President Obama and former-President Clinton. Each says that, politically, the Democrats would be better off passing Obamacare than not passing it.
The problem is that both men have strongly self-interested reasons for advancing this view. The Democrats either got clobbered in 1994 because President Clinton unwisely advanced Hillarycare, or because congressional Democrats unwisely rejected it. Which answer makes Clinton look better? Meanwhile, President Obama wants to see himself pictured in the history books next to FDR — not next to Clinton. And he knows that whether he gets there or not will have everything to do with whether Obamacare passes and nothing to do with whether 100 congressional Democrats lose their seats this fall.
The best indicator that we have of whether Obama and Clinton are providing solid or self-serving advice, is the 1994 election. So, did the Democrats lose in ‘94 because they failed to pass Hillarycare, or because they tried?
In most elections, moderate Democrats do worse than run-of-the-mill Democrats, because they run in more competitive districts. In fact, over the past ten elections aside from ‘94, moderate Democrats have lost 67 percent more often than the party’s typical members. But in 1994, that turned around completely. That year, typical Democrats lost 56 percent more often than the party’s more moderate members. So, in comparison to typical Democrats, moderate Democrats did great, and Republicans also did great. Does that sound like voters were punishing members who kept Hillarycare from passing? — or were rewarding them?
The truth is, the 39 congressional Democrats who voted “no” on Obamacare are on the road to reelection this November. As with moderate Democrats in 1994, voters will go easy on them for courageously standing up to their party’s leaders, resisting a bad bill, and doing what the American people want. Meanwhile, Democrats who voted “yes” on Obamacare better hope that they represent extremely liberal districts or states — preferably more liberal than Massachusetts. Otherwise, when they lose in November, it’s unlikely that they will get a call from Clinton or Obama apologizing for having been wrong.