Ever since he delivered his stemwinder on March 19 in Virginia, it's been clear that Barack Obama is going to win a historic victory on health care. But even as Democrats prepare to celebrate the passage of the bill, they should reflect on their own record over the past several months. Instead of focusing on their adversaries from the right, they've devoted much of their energies to assailing the president for either going too far or not far enough on the issue of health care. But the venom directed yesterday at John Lewis, Emanuel Cleaver, and Barney Frank by Tea Party protesters should serve as a wake-up call.
As the Democrats pass what is a fairly conservative program, the right is lurching further and further into the breakdown lane. At bottom, it cannot accept the legitimacy of Obama's election. Unable to assail his impeccable personal life, it's demonizing him as a socialist and communist instead.
But that looks mild compared to the abuse showered on Lewis yesterday. The epithets spewed by the Tea Party bigots are not protests. They are defamation.
They are also a sign of why the movement is likely to fracture into its constituent hatreds. No, not all members of the Tea Party are racists, but a number of racists are clearly members of the party. As they rant about Wall Street and the Federal Reserve, the only thing missing is complaints about Jewish bankers, but that's probably not far off.
Democrats should seize this moment to rally around Obama. Though the right is claiming that the passage of health care will ignite a firestorm of indignation and lead to renewed Republican control of Congress, it ain't necessarily so. In this case, the wish is the father of the thought. The swing voters may yet be swinging back to the Democrats, but only if Obama and Congress pass real financial reforms and if the economy continues to show signs of improving.
The key to a Democratic recovery, of course, depends on Obama and his formidable oratorical powers. As the midterm elections loom, the best defense remains a good offense. If he wants to go down in history for more than health care, he will have to stay on the offensive.