Sometimes, you can get everything right and still be wrong.

In February ’08 I wrote a column predicting the end of political parties.

I based this on the observations that:

A) Barack Obama could win the Democratic Party’s nomination, despite being unpopular with traditional, blue-collar Democratic voters. (check)

B) That John McCain was likely to win his party’s nomination despite being unpopular with hard-core conservative Republicans. (check)

C) Both of them were seeking votes inside their political parties by selling their ability to get support for their ideas from people on the outside. (check)

Yet somehow partisanship has survived, with the two model post-partisans leading the way.

“There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year,” McCain told an Arizona radio station and anyone else who would listen last week. “They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.”

And Obama, who is coming to town for a campaign-style event Thursday with no election in sight, dumped 15 recess appointments on a balky Congress to fill executive branch jobs that were ready for confirmation votes but have been left floating in the poison well.

Happy Easter.

Everyone agrees what happened: Health care reform, the biggest piece of social legislation in a generation was pushed through Congress without a single Republican vote. And both sides agree whose fault it is: the other party.

With few exceptions, the Republicans found that they had little to gain by working with the Democrats and a lot to gain by making health care Obama’s Waterloo. That gave us Sarah Palin, who has never promised to be bipartisan, turning end-of-life counselling into “death panels.” That was picked up by the alleged moderate Sen. Chuck Grassley, who chirped that Obama wanted to kill grandma. “You have every right to fear,” he told the folks back home in Iowa.

All the while Republican Olympia Snowe was still at the negotiation table, but she was the only one.

Other Republicans followed Grassley and joined the attack, calling what looks a lot like their party’s alternative to the Clinton health care reform plan in the 1990s as a government takeover of one sixth of the economy — even though they knew that there is no government insurance plan in the health reform law at all, and the government already pays half the nation’s health care bill through existing programs, so they can’t take over what they already have. It’s really some other fraction that they should be accused of “taking over.”

The Democrats responded by closing off debate and pulling every single lever available to them. Since pulling partisan levers isn’t done in public, wavering senators emerged from sealed rooms carrying special deals.

What changed? On a visit to the Press Herald editorial board this week, Snowe blamed the Democratic leadership, all but accusing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of lying to her about her ability to influence the legislation that she had, at one point, supported.

But she also said there was tremendous pressure from outside the institution, presumably the town meetings and demonstrations during the summer, that made fighting against the health plan a no-lose proposition for the people in her caucus.

It seems that after all that talk about reaching across the aisle and working together on the nation’s problems, people outside Congress really like partisanship, after all. Everyone wants the votes from other side, but they want something else, too. They want to win.

Obama may have come to office promising to work with the other party, but he made other promises as well.

When he came to the Expo for the first time in the fall of 2007, he told the audience a now familiar story about how his mother spent her last days arguing with her insurance company about whether the cancer that was killing her was a preexisting condition.

Obama promised then what he repeated again and again over the next three years, that he would be the president to sign a universal health care law. And he’s done it.

Snowe is right when she says that the law can be improved, but the law is now the starting place for improvements, and not the system that many of us have grown to despise.

When compromise proved impossible, the party with the most votes did what it had to do and delivered on the promises it had made. Some call it “tyranny of the majority” others call it democracy.

It turns out that we are still a deeply divided country, and that didn’t go away with the last presidential election.

Obama comes out of this as a highly controversial figure — like FDR and Ronald Reagan — and is pursuing an agenda that is going to keep him in the center of controversy. That will mean more partisan head-butting, not less.

But that would be a prediction, and I probably ought to stay away from those.

 

Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481, or [email protected]