View Full Version : Did Clinton's failure on healthcare cause the 1994 Republican landslide?
People will probably correct me on historical details, but, as I recall things, healthcare reform was a major issue in both the presidential and congressional election of 1992, that brought Bill Clinton to power, with a Democratic majority in both houses of congress strongly pledged to healthcare reform. For the next two years, although things did not reach the levels of insanity we have seen lately, the effort to pass healthcare reform legislation remained the most prominent political news story in the U.S. until just a couple of months before the 1994 congressional elections, when the Clinton's and their supporters in Congress finally gave up the effort as hopeless. The elections that followed were a landslide for the Republicans.
No doubt there were other causes in play, but it has always seemed to me that the main cause of the Republican landslide must have been the very failure of the healthcare initiative. People did not switch their votes to the Republicans in order to prevent healthcare reform (after all, it already was not going to happen by then, and presumably anyone firmly against reform had voted Republican in 1992 anyway) but because the congressional Democrats (and the Clinton's) had shown themselves to be a bunch of incompetent losers in failing to pass it, whereas Republicans, by contrast, looked strong and competent because they had managed to stop it, despite being in the minority. The 1994 vote, then (the part of it that had switched sides to the Republicans, anyway) was not so much an expression of support for Republican principles, and a fortiori it was not a vote against healthcare reform; rather it was an expression of disgust with the incompetence of the Democrats.
It seems to me that many people, especially that majority who do not have strong ideological views either way, will vote for those whom they see as strong leaders over those who seem weak, even if they actually prefer the policies and even, on the whole, the principles of the weak seeming ones. (In 1980s Britain, I can recall people telling me that they supported, and voted for, Margaret Thatcher because she was a strong leader, even though they disagreed with most of what she stood for.)
Likewise, it appears to me that Obama's recent slide in the polls is surely not because many of the people who wanted healthcare reform (or other promised reforms) last year have now decided they hate the idea, but because they are disappointed with his apparent ability to make it happen. The failure to deliver on his promises makes him (and the Congressional Democrats) look weak and incompetent once again.
Is that a fair (if simplified) account of what happened in 1994? Is it happening again? Can we expect another Republican landslide in 2010 if meaningful reform does not pass (and, contrariwise, do the Democrats have a much better chance of holding onto congress if it does pass)? Are the "Blue Dog" Democrats once again destroying their own party's electoral chances (and perhaps throwing away their own seats into the bargain)?
09-26-2009, 02:56 AM
If 3% of the electorate consists of members of the democratic base who stay home out of disappointment because of failed legislation and 3% of the electorate is independents who voted dem in 2006 and 2008 switch to the GOP because they are stronger leaders, then that is a net loss of 9% for the 2010 election.
I don't have the article onhand, but I remember an author saying a part of losing in 1994 was just apathy on the part of dems. Similar to what we have today, there was a feeling of 'if they can't get things done with majorities, whats the point in electing them'.
09-26-2009, 04:00 AM
It would not surprise me if the Blue Dogs manage to throw away their own seats by opposing health care reform. A lot was recently made of the report in the Washington Post that fundraising by the DCCC and DSCC was lower recently. Why would someone who believes in a public option (or perhaps even single-payer) want to give money to a group that might then turn around and give it to someone like Conrad or Lincoln or Carper in the Senate or Cooper or Ross (among others) in the House? Much better to donate money directly to a candidate and the Internet can generate a lot of money very quickly. Look at the money Obama was able to raise, often in a matter of hours, during the primary and the general campaigns. Look at how much money went to Rob Miller in the 24 hours after Joe Wilson's outburst.
That said, has anyone run the numbers and decided what the approximate makeup of the Democrats in the House would be if there was a landslide along the lines of 1994? The Republicans picked up 54 seats in 1994. That many would put them comfortably in the majority in the House by 31 votes (compare with the current 77 vote majority for the Democrats.) Does anyone know of any analysis where those seats would be lost and how much of the Blue Dog coalition that would knock out?
09-26-2009, 04:05 AM
I think that you give the average voter too much credit. In 1994, you had an energized Republican base fighting health care reform and the assault weapons ban that had just passed. There was also the House Banking Scandal and the House Post Office Scandal that had happened in the previous two years.
The Dems had control of the House for the previous 40 years and their supports were apathetic. The GOP voters were energized on election day and came out in record numbers.
The same thing happened with Obama v. McCain in 2008. Obama voters were excited. McCain voters held their nose and pulled the lever.
The mistake that each party makes is in thinking that there was some sort of shift in the electorate that happens when they win. They become arrogant and then the other side has a turn.
09-26-2009, 11:25 AM
Interestingly this exact topic was addressed in the latest "The Week" magazine. Dole recently made a surprisingly candid comment that the health care plan died in part because he wanted to be President and played a no holds barred game of political brinkmanship to destroy the health care initiative and weaken Clinton to make Clinton more vulnerable in the next election.
He apparently (now) feels some regret he did this and is pushing for a national health care plan.
09-26-2009, 12:07 PM
People are confusing principle with politics. The repubs know damn well the health care system is broken. But they work for huge corporations and would not have the guts to face them down. They also know if a decent health care system gets put in ,the party who did it will get a lot of love. They are hanging on by a thread now.
They can not allow the dems to make it happen. Just the humanity of it would expose the callousness of the repubs. Countries with a decent health care system love it.
The repubs are acting out of self preservation. They can not allow it to come in on Obama's watch. But they work for health company and insurance campaign donations. So they are trapped into doing the wrong thing.
09-26-2009, 12:30 PM
I think it was Clinton's general inability to get along with Congress, alsong with, as has been mentioned, the various congressional scandals (the Post Office scandal, the Banking scandal), and Republican promises to reform Congress. If you look at the Contract with America, of the 18 promises the Republicans make, 7 of the 8 rule changes promise to make Congress more transparent:
1. Requiring Congress to abide by the country's laws
2. Have an independent audit of Congressional waste and abuse
3. Cut the number of House committees and committee staff
4. Limit the terms of committee chairs
5. Ban proxy votes in committee
6. Require committee meetings to be open to the public
7. Implementing zero-baseline budgeting
and one of the ten bills they promised to bring to the floor, to impose term limits on members of Congress.
I think a lot of the Republican victory was due to the public perception that the Democratic congress was corrupt, out of control, and non-responsive to the public.
09-28-2009, 10:56 AM
No cite, but I recall reading that the 1994 "landslide" involved a national aggregate Pub vote for Congress less than 1/2 of 1% greater than the national aggregate Dem vote. But the winner-take-all single-member-district system has a force-multiplier effect on small majorities.
09-28-2009, 11:11 AM
His failure the first time, no, I don't think it did. His failure to follow up with another try, hell yes, that hurt him. Let's hope Obama has learned from that - I'm sure Clinton has talked with him about it.
09-28-2009, 11:18 AM
His failure to follow up with another try, hell yes, that hurt him.
How do you see that playing out? After the fairly spectacular failure to pass health care that first time, I can't see that a second attempt would have done any good, especially because the opponents of health care reform were already organized and fresh off a victory, and the supporters were bloodied by the failure of the first one, and in no shape to fight a new campaign.
09-28-2009, 11:27 AM
How do you see that playing out?I never said it would be easy.
It would have taken not accepting the failure of the first time, leading to a straight-to-the-public TR-type campaign including denunciations of the vested interests, and direct discussion about what lack of a program has cost us. Obama seems to be doing that right up front, but the stiffness of his spine is still not yet demonstrated.
Bill Clinton always seemed to me to be too content to hit singles, and to be too willing to pass up chances to hit home runs, like health care would have been. Hillary, having been the most directly bloodied by the "Harry and Louise" crap and having the least illusions about the oppositionist party's interest in constructive compromise, would certainly have been less susceptible to such illusions and with no question about her ability to push it through, but hey, that discussion is for the "Why are Democrats such pussies?" thread.
09-28-2009, 12:29 PM
It would have taken not accepting the failure of the first time, leading to a straight-to-the-public TR-type campaign including denunciations of the vested interests . . .
Or, better still, an FDR-type campaign. (http://www.newamerica.net/publications/articles/2009/can_obama_give_em_hell_its_too_late_17211)
09-28-2009, 01:51 PM
One element of 1994 was that there were still a lot of Democratic Representatives who represented electoral districts in the South that were now far far to the right of the Democratic party. A big part of the swing was those districts electing representatives of the party that actually represented them better.
09-28-2009, 03:57 PM
There was a perception that Clinton was overreaching way too far to the Left, his Health Care plan "nationalizing one-seventh of the economy" being the most prominent of such efforts, but he was also seen committing one public relations blunder after another. STILL, people liked him personally while disliking both Hillary and the Democratic Congress.
Gingrich, with his Contract with America, was in a way Bizarro-Clinton, dynamic & likable but in tune with America's conservative pulse and the perfect counter-balance. He and the 1994 Congress were seen as dragging Clinton to the center, with their biggest accomplishment being Welfare Reform. That and the economic recovery saved him to be re-elected. Alas, then gridlock set in, then Monica-gate pissed people off to where the 2000 election result was a repudiation of Clinton while GOP Congresional inaction & hypocrisy pissed people off to begin chiseling away at the GOP Congress, which took six years to finally collapse.
Obama needs a Gingrich to help get something done. And this time, it may by God be some type of health reform. Or perhaps he just needs a Speaker of the House who doesn't trigger the same anger that 1992-94-era Hillary did. Yeah, Nancy Pelosi does that.
10-02-2009, 11:53 AM
Pelosi and Reid are screwed.They are in a businessmans position. They have to balance a more progressive agenda the party wants with a more conservative one their big donors demand. They can please nobody. It is a balancing act that gets them criticism from both sides. I don't know why anyone would want that job.
This time health care is easier. The repubs ran on changing it because the numbers show it is destructive to the economy. They agreed it needs to be fixed. Now they throw monkey wrenches into the process at their own peril. Just say no was Nancy Reagans theme. It was dumb then too.
10-02-2009, 12:53 PM
There was a perception that Clinton was overreaching way too far to the Left . .
I never could understand that perception. UHC is not very left-radical at all, neither is gays-in-the-military, and what else was there?!
10-02-2009, 01:33 PM
I never could understand that perception. UHC is not very left-radical at all, neither is gays-in-the-military, and what else was there?!
In American politics, having a Federally run healthcare system IS left wing.
Gay rights has been a Left Wing issue as well, and Don't Ask Don't Tell was seen as a Left wing action.
Clinton also had his 1994 gun control law, and the NRA grabbed that and ran with it. The 1994 and 1996 elections were strongly influenced by the NRA's attacks on the Clinton gun-control actions.
10-04-2009, 09:51 AM
First Clinton won so big because Perot diluted the normal two party vote, had Perot not run, Clinton would've won most likely, but the mandate wouldn't have been as big.
Clinton came in with a "I'm gonna change things." Similar to Jimmy Carter, and now Mr Obama.
But Washington doesn't like outsiders. They don't mind if you work in the system but not to go in an push them out.
The 94 electons were a slap on the wrist to Clinton who had the attitude I won I don't have to work with anyone. Well even if you're right you have to learn to work with others.
The problem is most people see the Republicans and Democrats as strict parties divided by strict lines. This is simply wrong. The parties aren't really that far apart on most issues. And particularly in the Senate, a representative of a state, will do what's best for his state not which party he belongs to.
This is WHY you have to work with everyone, especially in the Senate where each state is equal.
Unlike Jimmy Carter, Clinton got slapped on the wrists with Healthcare and Gays in the Military but he LEARNED from those slaps on the wrist, Carter didn't.
And that's not to rap Carter. He campaigned as an outside and an end to the "royal presidency" And he held to his beliefs to change the system as an outsider. I respect him for that, but it didn't work. Principals are nice to have but you can't cut off your nose to spite your face.
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