The right’s clueless gloating: Democratic civil war is only in their dreams

Sure, they can celebrate Obamacare's setbacks if they like. But conservatives' glee is unwarranted and premature VIDEO

Topics: Video, Obamacare, Affordable Care Act, Government shutdown, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Mary Landrieu, GOP, Democrats, The Right,

The right's clueless gloating: Democratic civil war is only in their dreamsMichele Bachmann (Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

The proximate political goal of President Obama’s “you can keep your plan fix” was to calm restive congressional Democrats before they did anything rash …

… and it appears to have served that purpose.

That’s not to say everything’s fine now. But they’re off the ledge. The clarion calls from politically vulnerable Dems to do something, and do it fast, have subsided for the moment. And the hope is that in this window of relative repose the administration can get the website working, increase enrollment, and calm the public outcry.

At the same time it exposed the unctuousness of the right’s concern for people whose plans have been canceled. Republicans, who have been demanding a comparable legislative fix, are suddenly skeptical that this plan will work, and conservatives are torn between hoping Obama’s plan fails — that everyone’s plans remain canceled and they continue to blame him for it — or that it works too well and damages the law in the longer run.



But the fix hasn’t taken the shine off the right’s schadenfreude party. If you were expecting conservatives to react to the Democrats’ mad scramble with anything less than unrestrained glee you … well, I guess you don’t understand the politics of Obamacare.

Everyone’s entitled to a little gloating, I guess. But I do think conservatives — who just last month spilled gallons of ink explaining why conservatism wasn’t in collapse — are engaging in a bit of premature celebration.

Obamacare has a real problem — an enrollment bottleneck created by Healthcare.gov’s failure — and the truth is the wave of cancellations wouldn’t have been easily brushed off even if the website had been working perfectly. Together they’ve driven some Democrats into conflict with one another.

But the conflict isn’t especially deep. Ask congressional Democrats whether they support Sen. Mary Landrieu’s bill to require insurance carriers to reinstate canceled policies. Some will say no, some will say yes, some will have a different plan that they like better. Deep down they know that a ham-fisted solution shouldn’t become law, but they don’t feel like they can be caught supporting nothing either.

Ask them, by contrast, if they support the Affordable Care Act, or think it should be repealed, or regret their votes for it, or believe it can be fixed, or anything like that, and they’re unanimous.

You don’t have to squint very hard to notice that these divisions are about equal to, but opposite, the divisions within the Republican Party that resulted in a government shutdown last month. Every Republican agrees Obamacare is an excrescence that should be wiped off the books. But some of them had different ideas about how to respond to its imminent launch.

The difference is they chose the maximally self-destructive option. Maybe they wouldn’t have if they knew how badly the rollout would go. But that’s what they did. Conservative and moderate members openly attacked each other; grass-roots and establishment groups continue to do battle. Democrats, by contrast, are tranquil. They haven’t followed their desperation into a burning furnace.

Not yet, anyhow.

We’ll know Democrats are warring with each other, or in full retreat from the law, when Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi can’t restrain rank-and-file members from forcing legislative sabotage on Obama. That hasn’t happened yet. Obama’s administrative fix staved it off for the time being. But the scenario’s not outside the realm of possibility if the relaunch isn’t smooth, and enrollments fail to reach escape velocity.

Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at bbeutler@salon.com and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

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