Representative Barney Frank, who is not seeking re-election, gave a memorable exit interview this week to New York magazine suggesting that President Barack Obama “underestimated, as did Clinton, the sensitivity of people to what they see as an effort to make them share the health care with poor people.”
The Democratic Party “paid a terrible price for health care,” Frank said. “I would not have pushed it as hard.”
Frank’s take is self-serving. He argued that Obama should have proposed financial reform first, which is convenient considering that he was chairman of the House Financial Services Committee at the time and would have loved all eyes on his bill.
But the question remains: Is Frank right? We know what Republicans unanimously think. What’s surprising is how many Democrats, with the benefit of hindsight and speaking sotto voce, agree with Frank. Although they support the substance of the law, they are appalled by its political fallout and wish they had a do-over. Their thinking was summarized this week in the National Journal by Michael Hirsh, who wrote that by embracing health care reform amid the economic crisis, Obama confused his priorities and took his eye off the ball, much as President George W. Bush did when he invaded Iraq instead of worrying more about al-Qaeda.
This analysis has new resonance because of the recent Supreme Court oral arguments over Obamacare (a term, by the way, that the Obama campaign now embraces). Democrats are wondering if it was worth it to lose the House in 2010 and perhaps the White House in 2012 over a bill that may be declared unconstitutional, anyway.
The answer is yes. To understand why, we need to be clear about the purpose of politics.
It’s not to win elections — hard as that may be to believe in the middle of a campaign. Public approval as expressed in elections is the means to change the country, not the end in itself.
Insuring 30 million Americans and ending the shameful era when an illness in the family meant selling the house or declaring personal bankruptcy? Nothing to sneeze at, whatever the cost to one’s political career.