Two years and one month after it passed -- and two years and three months after it might have proved useful -- Democrats are regretting the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Now that we know it is nothing if not unaffordable, the act is itself the main danger from which they seek political protection and shelter.
Why now? Perhaps to get a jump on things before the act is ruled unconstitutional, or before it causes even more Democrats to lose in November, or before President Romney repeals it in 2013. "I think that the manner in which the issue was dealt with ... cost Obama a lot of credibility as a leader," said Sen. James Webb, D-Va. Webb, who voted for passage and is retiring after one term, added that if Obama had gone for a small, simple measure, he could have won some Republican votes.
Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., who is also retiring, remarked that "[w]e would all have been better off if we had dealt first with the financial system" and said Democrats wasted time and political capital creating problems that dragged the economy down.
Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., who is also retiring, said the bill should have been done in "digestible pieces," and they should have 'figure[d] how they were going to pay for the bill, and then figure[d] out what they could afford."
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., of all people, says the Democrats should have stopped after Scott Brown won his election.
Former Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., who lost a gubernatorial primary after voting against it, got it right when he said "the Affordable Care Act is the single least popular piece of major domestic legislation in the past 70 years."
Two years after passing their dream legislation, Democrats are in a bad place. They lose if the Supreme Court leaves it alone and gives the Republicans their dream of an issue. They lose if the Supreme Court calls it unconstitutional, as that would mean they wasted two years of effort and lost the House in exchange for nothing at all.
How did the Democrats get themselves in this position? Jonathan Alter explains: "Democrats are wondering if it was worth it to lose the House ... and perhaps the White House ... over a bill that may be declared unconstitutional," he said last week in his column. "The answer is yes."
"We need to be clear about the purpose of politics," he explains further. "It is not to win elections. ... Public approval as expressed in elections is the means to change the country, not the end in itself." So the purpose of politics is to change the country in ways voters cannot stomach, while telling terrified congressmen it's their moral duty to stiff their constituents by enacting a bill they abhor.
Alter and friends spent 2009 and 2010 telling doomed members of Congress it was an honor to lay down their jobs for their party. Alter kept his job, so he has lots of time to praise them for courage. Perhaps Democrats should have paid some attention when the Tea Party rose, independents deserted and an unknown Republican in blue Massachusetts won the "Ted Kennedy seat."
The purpose of politics is to build a base of support under your programs that will tend to sustain them. It is not to use a transient majority to force bills down the throat of a howling public, which will subsequently take all possible steps to undo them, having in the interim kicked in all of your teeth. If you doubt this, Gen. Pickett has a charge he would like you to lead.
Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."