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)?