08/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hoping Obama Fails

Days before President Obama took office, hate radio talker Rush Limbaugh, the de-facto leader of the Republican Party, summed up his desired outcome for the Obama presidency in four words: "I hope Obama fails." Just days after he uttered that statement, Limbaugh told his audience, "There's one thing we gotta stop is health care. I'm serious, now. If they get that, then that's the tipping point." Nearly eight month's later, the right wing's approach to health care reform remains guided by Limbaugh's vision -- they simply hope it fails. And so the conservative movement is increasingly banking on a political strategy of opposing health care in the hopes that it will help resurrect the political fortunes of the struggling Republican Party. During a recent appearance on right-wing radio show, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) bluntly stated that defeating Obama's health care agenda is "going to be a huge gain for those of us who want to turn this thing over in the 2010 election." In a separate radio appearance, Inhofe -- speaking for the right wing -- explained, "We are plotting the demise on a week by week basis of where Bill Clinton was in 1993 and where Obama is today and his demise ratio is greater than Clinton's was in 1993."

Speaking on a conference call with "tea party" activists, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) let slip why he hopes that health reform fails: "If we're able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) half-admitted the truth about conservative opposition to health reform, telling CNBC that the balance between opponents' desire to express disagreement with the President and their desire to exploit a failed bill for political gain is "probably 50-50." Yet even as conservatives plot to leave tens of millions of Americans without health care in order to score political points on Obama, they refuse to release a single new idea to address the health care crisis. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), head of the "House GOP Health Care Solutions Group," at first announced that his group would not be releasing a health care plan because they believe doing so would be a waste of time, only to have Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) follow up that statement by saying that Republicans will have an alternative healthcare reform bill to offer, "but [he] did not say when it would be ready." For his part, DeMint introduced a bill which appears to be plagiarized from the McCain-Palin health plan that voters soundly rejected last November.

: DeMint is not the only conservative recycling old playbooks in the hopes of breaking Obama. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who knows something about exploiting a failed health care bill for electoral gain, endorsed DeMint's "Waterloo" statement, proclaiming that "this could be the bill that drags [Obama's] whole presidency down." During the Clinton-era health care debate in the '90s, right-wing strategist Bill Kristol urged conservative lawmakers "to defeat any Democratic health reform bill" as a political strategy to "send them to voters empty-handed" in 1994. Sixteen years later, Kristol is offering the same advice, urging conservatives to "[r]esist the temptation" to compromise and "[g]o for the kill." Much of the right's substantive rhetoric is also plagiarized from past efforts to kill health care reform. Nearly fifty years ago, when members of Congress first proposed the bill that became Medicare,opponents of reform distributed a recording called "Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine." Similarly, conservatives created a disingenuously complex chart of the Clinton health plan to defeat reform fifteen years ago. Unsurprisingly, conservatives are now waving a similarly fabricated chart in an effort to discredit Obama's plan.

Despite the right's tightly-controlled strategy to place political gain ahead of the American people's health, some cracks are starting to form in their coalition. Most importantly, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) distanced himself from Kristol's advice to "go for the kill," worrying that "there have been some Republicans who haven't been looking at the polls." Specifically, Grassley referred to a poll showing that if health reform fails, "voters would assign blame 30 percent to the health industry, 22 to Republicans, 11 percent to Democrats and only 4 percent to Obama." Despite his insight, however, Grassley is "under immense pressure from Republican colleagues not to deal at all," and he has agreed to brief his entire caucus before agreeing to compromise with supporters of health care reform. In addition, Grassley apparently informed Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) that he "cannot sign on to a bill if it is supported by only one other Republican." In other words, the nation's health and the health of the economy will rest, not on the needs of the American people, but on whether conservatives instead decide that they care more about their own selfish desire to see Obama fail.

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