The superlatives are justified. The passage of comprehensive healthcare reform is this country’s most momentous social reform since the creation of Medicare more than 40 years ago. And in my view the new law is at least that long overdue. It beggars belief that a nation as rich as the United States could have tolerated for years a healthcare system which every other advanced economy would reject out of hand, one which left tens of millions without health insurance, and under which serious illness could very well mean financial ruin. The new law finally confronts the problem, and takes bold steps towards fixing it.
Sunday’s vote is also a political triumph. Scott Brown’s unexpected win in Massachusetts–a Republican in a liberal state, running against this bill–stunned the Democrats and caused many to think the effort was dead. Barack Obama bravely chose not to back down. Without that commitment, the bill would have failed. The same goes for Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi: they did not deviate. In parliamentary terms, the Democrats made the whole venture more dramatic than it needed to be. It is absurd that getting the Senate bill through the House should have been such a struggle. But the main thing is that they succeeded. It is a success that eluded all their predecessors. They are entitled to celebrate. They have their places in history.
Remarkable as it may be–and welcome, too, as I believe–it is nonetheless a tainted victory. Brown won in Massachusetts for a reason. The Democrats had failed to make their case for this reform to the American public. They pressed the case for some sort of reform, but that was easy: the country was already there. What the country dislikes is this particular bill, and the Democrats, intent on arguing among themselves, barely even tried to change its mind.