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The new, new conventional wisdom on health care

Report by Chris Graham 

Jody Grogan thought, like a lot of hardcore health-care reform advocates, that Congress was thisclose to passing … something.

“I’m one of these real cynics about Congress now,” said Grogan, a retired teacher who lives in Staunton, and worked locally last summer as an organizer on the reform effort, and is now among the de-energized in the Democratic Party progressive base.

The conventional wisdom on health care and its impact on partisan politics has been evolving for months. The initial wisdom was that the early surge of interest in the Tea Party movement was a sign that moderates had shifted from backing the Democrats as they had in 2006 and 2008 as a reaction to the push from President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats on health care. Then it shifted to, OK, the Tea Party folks have had their fun, but the real shift isn’t moderates jumping the Democratic Party ship to join the Tea Party, because that’s not happening in an impactful way, but a sizable number of progressive Democrats breaking from the party fold, not to vote Republican, though if they were to sit on their hands before an election and stay away from the polls on Election Day, they might as well be voting Republican, for the effect.

The new wisdom, from polling done on the national political climate, is that we’re basically back where we started on Election Night in ’08, in terms of where votes would stack up on an Election Night if one were upcoming this week, or this month.

“The bottom line is, it makes no difference,” said Dean Debnam, the president of Public Policy Polling, which found in a recent poll that Democratic voters still by and large back the Democratic Party and will in November no matter what happens on the health-care issue, and that Republican voters still by and large back the GOP and will in November regardless of what happens with health care, and that there has been little change in the size of the Democratic and Republican voting groups since the 2008 presidential election.

The suggestion there is that Democrats at least hold their level of support from ’06 and ’08 if they move to pass health-care reform. “And that the only way for Democrats to mitigate any of the political damage that has already been done is to pass it and prove what Republicans are saying to be false,” said Debnam.

The mitigation effort would be to reach out to the disaffected in the progressive wing of the party on health care, a relative sliver of the overall voting population, but still an important segment of the Democratic Party electoral coalition, akin to the anti-abortion and anti-gay rights segment of the Republican base.

Even if the new conventional wisdom is that the majority of progressives will come back into the fold come the fall, it’s the disaffecteds like Grogan and Sherry Stanley, who ran twice in the 1990s for the House of Delegates in the 25th District as a Green Party candidate, and later worked for Democratic candidates Sam Rasoul and Greg Marrow in recent election cycles, who do a disproportionate share of the heavy lifting for party committees and campaign committees.

“I’m back where I started when you first met me,” Stanley told me last week. “I’m not going to work with the two-party system anymore. And a lot of people who are interested in single-payer are there with me. We’re giving up on the Democratic Party. We just can’t keep going.”

Augusta County Democratic Committee Chairman Marshall Pattie noted the ongoing discussions among the party faithful on the direction on health-care reform, but said also that the local committee has had excellent turnout at its recent meetings, comparable to attendance figures in the heart of a campaign season.

Pattie and others point out that it’s not just Democrats having to endure the rigors of pressure from the base of the party structure.

“Republicans are going through their own issues right now,” Pattie said, the case in point being the seven-candidate race for the GOP congressional nomination in the Fifth District, which has the six conservatives in the race alternatively beating each other up in the battle for the title of the darling of the Tea Party and also beating up on moderate frontrunner Robert Hurt, to the likely detriment of Hurt should he get the nomination as expected.