So what just happened? How is it possible that Democrats cruised to a huge victory on Election Day in November 2008 and are yet again unable to make good on their top legislative priority? Why are the ghosts of Bill Clinton’s 1994 healthcare reform debacle suddenly flitting about Capitol Hill? What happened was the Great Recession, the political impact of which the Obamacrats completely misunderstood. Oh, they knew the financial and economic crisis helped sweep them to office. That part they got just fine.
But they also assumed that the downturn would create such a sense of economic insecurity that time would be ripe for the sort of expansive, government-led healthcare changes that the party has been dreaming of for two generations. Instead, the Great Recession made healthcare less of a priority for voters than economic recovery — as fast as possible, please — and job creation. A recent spate of polls shows concern about healthcare (and climate change and pretty much everything else) lagging concern about unemployment. Healthcare lags concern about the shocking enlargement of the federal budget deficit, which has grown partly due to government actions — such as the $800 billion Obama stimulus package — to deal with the recession, as well as by the decline in tax revenue caused by the downturn itself.