After the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts, the general consensus was that health care reform was going to be put on the back burner. Even President Barack Obama seemed to say as much by burying health care reform deep in his State of the Union address in January. Obama surrendered so much on comprehensive reform that his theme for 2010 within the speech was "jobs, jobs and jobs."
Health care was said to be President Obama's "Waterloo" moment, a point where his presidency would die from legislative overreach. With his victory in the health care debate, it is evident that the president has clearly avoided a major defeat of his presidential administration, leaving the Democrats in good shape for 2010. But has he?
The amount of arm-twisting and backroom dealing over this new law has all but destroyed the legacy of Candidate Obama, a man that promised open government, no earmarks and special deals, and a bipartisan direction to reunite America. What this health care debate has exemplified is quite the opposite. President Obama already rivals his predecessor George W. Bush as one of the most divisive presidents in modern history. With a growing amount of American political activism and disgust with government, no one is safe, including the man who walked into the White House two Januarys ago with more political capital than fellow Chicagoan Michael Jordan had basketball clout.
Many congressional Democrats also face political uncertainty after their egregious behavior to pass this bill. The level of upheaval in America may indicate that health care may indeed be a "Waterloo" for President Obama and many Democrats in 2010. Yet, they won the health care debate.
So perhaps it's "Waterloo" for the Republicans. The GOP on Capitol Hill staked its hopes for victory in 2010 on defeating the Democrats' partisan health care reform. By the end of last Sunday night's vote, it seemed clear that the momentum the Republicans had built through 2009 had suffered a blow. Obama's accomplishment in pushing through the legislation item that has been an enigma for decades left Republicans in danger of being cast off as obstructionists unworthy of winning in 2010.
The GOP is on the philosophical side of the most-active populist movement since the 1960s: the Tea Party movement. Its message resonates with the majority of Americans: "jobs, the economy, debt." This alliance created unlikely victories for the GOP in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts. With these wins and the still-growing Tea Party movement, the GOP is very capable of sustaining conservative passion until November. Miscalculations by the Obama administration on unemployment, the stimulus package and deficit spending have stoked the electoral fires in favor of the Republicans. The ramrod method of passing health care reform only feeds gasoline to those fires of dissent.
Republicans took a huge chance on stopping the passage of health care—and they lost. This leaves many wondering if this will lead to the decline of the GOP as foretold by pundits after the 2008 elections. Yet, conservatives seem to have the momentum of activism, passion and numbers on their side.
So perhaps it's "Waterloo" for the Tea Partiers. The Tea Party activists are taking multiple hits as reports surface of isolated incidents of egregious behavior. Reports of death threats to congressional offices, uses of racial and homophobic slurs, and spitting on members of Congress are being blamed on the movement, whether correctly or otherwise. These negative images highlight a stark reality that the movement must face: the stimulus package of 2009, the omnibus package of 2009 and health care reform of 2010 passed despite their visibly strong opposition. Perhaps this is a clear sign that the Tea Partiers are nothing more than rabble-rousers without power, a group whose 15 minutes of fame is ending with their "Waterloo in Washington" last Saturday.
Health care reform (and the controversy surrounding it) only brings more importance and relevancy to the Tea Party movement. It has gained mainstream media acceptance and has been a rally vehicle for conservatives for over a year, impressive for a movement that is barely a year old. Despite the fringe elements affiliated with the movement, the Tea Party's core message of political reciprocity and government restraint will resonate even more with Americans after the passage of Obamacare. The special deals and broken promises of President Obama and Democrats only serve as spurs to rally Tea Partiers. Furthermore, the Tea Party's lack of political affiliation allows it to remain an enforcer of accountability for both political parties. This provides an allure to independents who continue to disapprove of current American politics and what they perceive as two-party bickering and disappointments. The Tea Party lost three major legislative battles and suffered its "Waterloo in Washington," yet it has also won three major electoral battles since 2009 and has no signs of going anywhere anytime soon.
Perhaps the truth is that the health care debate was not Waterloo at all. Perhaps it was more like Normandy. All sides are claiming momentum. All sides are charged up. And all sides will be on the battlefields of the 2010 mid-term elections as the political wars continue.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the author of the book, Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative). He is featured regularly on outlets including CNN, Fox News and XM Radio. Follow him on Twitter.