Reflections on Medicare and the Democratic Party

Take a look at this bit of fascinating analysis of the Medicare fight by the Washington Post:

For Democrats, A Wake-Up Call

Democrats have owned the Medicare issue for nearly 40 years. But this week, the Republicans climbed into the driver’s seat and mashed the gas pedal. In closed-door sessions that excluded nearly all Democrats, through rule-bending roll calls, dishing out goodies to friends and twisting arms of the recalcitrant, the Republicans passed $400 billion worth of changes. Democrats spent the day picking carpet fibers out of their hairdos and sorting out their reactions.

Should they be outraged or envious in the face of GOP audacity and discipline? Disheartened or energized by President Bush’s latest victory? This inability to choose a voice, to stick to one path, was a worrisome sign for many Democrats — especially after such a disorienting year for the party.

Longtime party strategist Harold Ickes was at a loss to see any upside to a Republican victory in an area Democrats have always owned. He said he was flabbergasted that key Democratic senators, led by John Breaux (La.) and Max Baucus (Mont.), went along with it… “We just don’t have the discipline on our side that’s needed.”

Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future blamed Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) for the collapse. In the House, he said, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) held the line so effectively that Republicans had to hold open their middle-of-the-night vote for nearly three hours on Saturday — the longest flouting of the 15-minute rule in House history — just to eke out a win. After which the Democratic filibuster in the Senate swiftly collapsed.

“There’s clearly an absence of forceful leadership at the top of the Senate,” Borosage said. “In the Senate we saw the difference between the other side’s discipline and our lack of it, and I think Democrats are disappointed in the extreme.”

The piece suggests that people in Washington are getting used to the idea of Republican dominance for the foreseeable future. I have to say, after this week, I’m starting to see why. This story reminds me of the Tory party in Great Britain – a party that, as the years have gone by since Tony Blair first defeated it, has gone from moderate losses to huge losses, from disorganization to utter disarray, and from being the party of the loyal opposition to being virtually irrelevant. Could the same fate be store for the Democratic party?