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Obamacare Is Not the Cause of Republican Insanity

Drew Angerer/Getty Images New/Getty Images

As everyone knows, when liberals are faced with rabid insanity they tend to look for root causes. Thus, I have embarked on a quest to find out why large elements of the Republican Party have completely lost their minds. One place I looked was Todd S. Purdum's big story in Politico today, portentously titled 'Obama's Price of Victory.' I am certain you have read the argument before: Obama pushed a health care bill through Congress without Republican support, and this partisan action hurt America's democracy. But Purdum builds on this thesis by blaming Obamacare for the government shutdown.

Purdum begins by saying that Obama was warned about the cost of pushing Obamacare through Congress without the GOP, and then writes:

We now know what happened: Obama’s bill made history—and caused all-out political war. For this president, that’s the price of doing business in a hyperpartisan culture. No one in Washington can really pretend the game is any longer on the level: Over the past few years, the Supreme Court stepped in to settle a presidential election by a 5-4 partisan vote, Obama’s predecessor launched a reckless war in Iraq on specious grounds, and a Republican-led House held the attorney general in contempt for the first time.

This paragraph manages to combine two unique forms of nonsense. The first sentence is as good a misunderstanding of causation as one could wish for. Obama spent over a year trying to gain Republican support on a health care bill. He incorporated Republican ideas. He gave Congress endless time to negotiate. And he still got no Republican help. In most universes, this itself would count as "political war"—and one initiated by Republicans. In Purdum's world, Republican insanity was caused by Obama's decision to push ahead on health care despite their opposition. (I seem to remember rumors of death panels well before Obamacare passed and started destroying small businesses). If the GOP had been acting like a sane opposition party, some Republicans would have supported the bill from the outset. Moreover, does Purdum believe that if Obama had caved the GOP would be snuggling up to him? Perhaps Ted Cruz and Obama would be working together to solve America's problems. (I am aiming for the Purdum style here).

Meanwhile, I have no idea what any of this has to do with the rest of Purdum's paragraph about Bush v. Gore and the Iraq war. If he is arguing that those were also examples of political war, then clearly Obamacare isn't what's driving the general trend towards partisanship. Purdum continues with a go at even-handedness:

The president has fair ground for accusing the House GOP of shutting down the government “over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans,” as he did on Tuesday. But he could have predicted that his own crusade to bring them coverage would unleash the political whirlwind that is now likely to last for years to come—whatever the merits of his cause.

The last clause here is special in its way, highlighting as it does Purdum's desire to separate the concepts of merit and blame.

Purdum may be unique in blaming the government shutdown on a party-line vote held three years ago, but he isn't unique in castigating Obama for pushing through the health care bill. The problem with these complaints is that no one has proposed a good alternative. Purdum concedes that Obama did try to work with Republicans, and even seems to understand why Obama did not want to let his health care initiative die. The president had no choice but to rely on Democratic votes. The reasons that he had to do so are the "root causes" of our pathetic status quo.