Noonan's 'Catastrophic Success' Argument Was Better When Matthew Dowd Originally Made It

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In today's Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan is a-flutter with concern that "passage of the health-care bill will be, for the administration, a catastrophic victory." Her basic argument is that if a health care reform bill passes, this will be terrible news for the Obama administration. Indeed, years of reading political punditry has forced me to conclude that legislative victories are always the Achilles heel of the Democratic party, or at least that the reigning pundit class believes this to be true. Certainly, Noonan subscribes wholesale:

What a blunder this thing has been, win or lose, what a miscalculation on the part of the president. The administration misjudged the mood and the moment. Mr. Obama ran, won, was sworn in and began his work under the spirit of 2008--expansive, part dreamy and part hubristic. But as soon as he was inaugurated ,the president ran into the spirit of 2009--more dug in, more anxious, more bottom-line--and didn't notice. At the exact moment the public was announcing it worried about jobs first and debt and deficits second, the administration decided to devote its first year to health care, which no one was talking about. The great recession changed everything, but not right away.

Obviously, I have a lot of disagreements with the merits of this argument: insofar as Americans are riven with concern over "deficits," they are limited to their own looming deficits, and the hopes of health care reformers is that they can get a bill passed that would alleviate them. The current measure has fallen out of favor because it no longer contains the strong cost-control features they were promised, like the public option. On the whole addled idea that working on health care has been a de facto opportunity cost to national security, I'll refer you to Andrew Sullivan, who disputes this amid calling Noonan's column "a fantasy, a dream, a weird incantation."

President Obama needs an exit strategy. I am not referring to Afghanistan or Iraq (though there are quite a few similarities between the situation Obama is in on health-care reform and the political difficulties President George W. Bush faced on Iraq). Congressional Democrats and Obama are headed toward a "catastrophic success" politically if they pass health-care reform in its current legislative form. And catastrophic success was a term then-President Bush used on Iraq when he acknowledged the great initial victory but didn't take into account the long-term calamity and costs.

Even Noonan's bearish take on the GOP is basically a rewrite of Dowd, with more purply prose. Here's Noonan:

Which gets us to the Republicans. The question isn't whether they'll win seats in the House and Senate this year, and the question isn't even how many. The question is whether the party will be worthy of victory, whether it learned from its losses in 2006 and '08, whether it deserves leadership. Whether Republicans are a worthy alternative. Whether, in short, they are serious.

Here's Dowd:

Yet before Republicans cheer that they may defeat this effort, they should beware what they wish for. A vast majority of Americans still believes that we need fundamental health-care reform. If the legislation fails, Democrats can blame Republicans by saying reform was in sight and the GOP blocked it without offering a real alternative to decrease costs and increase access.

Again, I would dispute the merits of large parts of this argument, I'd just rather take up the dispute with the argument's original author.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]