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Are Democrats Trying to Follow Past GOP Leaders Off the Cliff?

When the GOP controlled Congress and the White House, many Democrats and their allies in the media complained that Republicans were more interested in pursuing a narrow ideological agenda intended to transform government and society rather than in solving the nation’s problems.

Whether you agreed with that assessment, the charge wasn’t completely unreasonable. Tax cuts to strangle government, deregulation for the sake of deregulation and social policy to advance the conservative agenda at any cost (e.g., Terri Schiavo) seemed among the rules of the day, no matter what the problem or the public’s desire.

During 2007 and 2008, Capitol Hill Democrats were careful not to emulate the approach of GOP Congressional leaders in 1995 and 1996. But since President Barack Obama’s election, those same Democrats seem to have forgotten what happened when Republicans pushed too far, too fast for change.

Increasingly, party leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue seem more interested in pushing an ideological agenda to transform the nation and the federal government rather than in dealing with the nation’s problems.

Until a handful of Senate Democrats negotiated a new health care reform deal that does not include a public option, that seemed more important to Democratic leaders than portability of insurance, ending denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions and a variety of proposals to lower costs and expand coverage.

Some have argued that only something as dramatic as a public option will truly deal with the nation’s health care “crisis,” but that’s hard to swallow considering the sizable Democratic opposition to the idea in the House and the newly crafted Senate package.

Yes, we have seen this before. After the 1994 elections, GOP leaders interpreted the results as an invitation — even a demand by most Americans — to change the country fundamentally by cutting government.

Of course, that wasn’t the case any more than last year’s presidential and Congressional elections were a mandate for a public insurance option in health care reform or a cap-and-trade bill or the enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Normal people don’t think that way, but politically active ideologues do, and after a sweeping election victory those elites try to impose their collective will on the American people, couching their proposals as the public’s.

Then-Texas Republican Reps. Tom DeLay and Dick Armey’s arrogance allowed President Bill Clinton to “triangulate,” and he was re-elected two years after the Republican tsunami that was supposed to change how Washington worked. Even Clinton’s re-election victory didn’t convince the GOP’s leaders that their constant pedal-to-the-metal strategy was the wrong approach, and DeLay, in particular, continued to look for ways to move his revolution forward on Capitol Hill until he left Congress.

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