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Dan Sweeney Headshot

Don't Blame Conservative Democrats' Woes on Their Vote for Health-Care Reform. Blame Their Attempts to Kill It.

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I don't know where most of you folks go for your daily dose of conventional wisdom, but I go with Morning Joe. When the alarm goes off at 7 a.m. and I laugh at my wife for having to get up that early, Joe Scarborough's face is often the second one I see, after the inexplicably angry face of the aforementioned Mrs. Sweeney.

On this morning's episode, Scarborough discussed the current woes of Sens. Landrieu and Nelson, of Louisiana and Nebraska, respectively, saying, "Landrieu voted for the health-care bill, in trouble in Louisiana. Ben Nelson, voted for the health-care bill, in trouble in Nebraska."

Like I said, conventional wisdom. In this case, the conventional wisdom states that, had Landrieu and Nelson opposed this bill and killed health-care reform, they wouldn't be having such electoral woes.

This, of course, is one of those instances in which conventional wisdom and bullshit occupy the same space. So let me throw out a little unconventional wisdom that seems to have escaped Joe and most of the chattering class of which I am, admittedly, as a HuffingtonPost blogger, a peripheral member: Senators such as Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson are not in trouble because they voted for health-care reform. They are in trouble because they did their damnedest to kill it and, when they saw that killing it would be ill-advised, they strung it along as long as possible, watered it down as much as possible and, in the end, extracted as much blood money as possible before signing on.

As is typical with Washington babblers, Scarborough fails to remember that most independent voters are not political ideologues. They just want stuff to get done. Republicans are in charge and everyone's getting huge tax cuts? Great, get it done. Democrats are in charge and everyone's getting health care? Great, get it done. So, when Max Baucus draws out the health-care debate to interminable lengths, Ben Nelson refuses to sign on until he's given such a sweetheart deal that even Nebraskans oppose it, and Mary Landrieu only accepts a reform bill after it includes hundreds of millions of dollars for her state, independents start to get upset. When all of these things happen after months upon months of dithering, independents get livid.

The point, and the nugget of unconventional wisdom, is this: Had the Senate passed a real reform bill with a strong public option back before the August recess, the original deadline, Landrieu and Nelson would be coasting toward re-election.

That may seem powerfully counterintuitive to folks like Scarborough (at this point, I should probably point out that I don't mean to pick on poor ol' Joe. Like I said, I watch the guy's show most mornings.), but it can be pretty easily backed up with poll numbers. I could point to literally dozens of polls showing that the public favors the choice of a public option, of course. Some polls even have a plurality of Republicans favoring it. Now, couple this indisputable fact with the equally unassailable fact that, just before the 2008 election, Democrats made up more than half of registered voters in Louisiana, while Republicans accounted for just a quarter of them, according to figures from the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

With more than half of the voters in Louisiana Democrats, and an overwhelming majority of Democrats supporting a public option, it doesn't take a genius to realize that, from a purely political perspective, Mary Landrieu made a massive error in not supporting a public option. The numbers aren't as great for Ben Nelson, but when you add in support from independents, it's just as stupid for him.

It comes down to what the president so often refers to as the "same old Washington." They were never interested in real health-care reform, they were interested in extracting as large a concession as possible, which has become embarrassing in these YouTube-ready, politically aware times we live in. So, sure you can blame Landrieu and Nelson for the situation in which they now find themselves. But it's absurd to blame their "aye" votes for health-care reform. Instead, blame what it took to get them to say "aye."