04/05/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Are Congressional Democrats Irrational?

I spend a good chunk of my time studying, researching, contemplating, wondering about, and talking to Islamists (the nonviolent kind). They usually don't really surprise me (that much), though they certainly do their share of stupid things. And when they do something I find objectionable, I can usually understand why they do it. They are, in the end, thoroughly rational actors, sometimes surprisingly so. They operate according to a discernible strategic logic. Congressional Democrats on the other hand...

Congressional Democrats -- perhaps Democrats in general -- surprise me, baffle me, enrage me -- and, well, a lot of other things. Most baffling of all is their penchant for self-destructive acts, for a kind of all-encompassing, and even occasionally awe-inspiring, political self-immolation. If I ever come to doubt -- I mean, really doubt -- my fundamental belief that most political actors act in more or less rational ways, it will be because of Democrats.

If Democrats give up on health reform, then I suspect it will be the dumbest political act in the recent history of American politics. I've read endless accounts of what Democrats think or should think and I still can't find any even mildly convincing rationale for surrendering on what would otherwise be the most extensive and far-reaching enactment of social policy in a generation. Are Democrats punishing themselves? Is this an act of penance? They've all already voted for it. They're all already intimately associated with it in the eyes of the public. They've spend God knows how many months (decades?) working on it. Obama's first year is seen as a failure without it and would have been at least a mild success with it. Republicans will be emboldened by its failure. And its failure will confirm what many Americans have long suspected -- that Democrats might be nice people. They might be competent. They might have their hearts in the right place. But, they lack the courage of their convictions. They don't believe in anything strongly enough to really fight for it. Instead, they apologize for who they are and what they believe, as if being liberal was something to be ashamed of, rather than a coherent and defensible set of political beliefs.

I don't get it.

What's weird, too, is that the calculus isn't as distorted as it might be in, say, Egypt. America is a democracy, so, presumably, political actors are operating with a good amount of political information. In other words, Democrats can easily find out what Republicans are thinking strategically, and they can also get a sense of what the public is thinking through public opinion polling. This would seem to suggest that Democrats would be better able to take in and understand their political environment and make smart decisions accordingly (independent of whether you agree with those decisions or not).

If someone can shed some light on what appears to the great political mystery of 2010, I'd be really grateful. Because it's really, really frustrating me.