Plus these factors: Democrats hope the opposition to the health law will wither away much the way the opposition to Social Security disappeared over time. The GOP ran against Social Security in the 1936 election and their nominee, Gov. Alf Landon of Kansas, lost all but two states.
The difference, however, is that virtually everyone paid into Social Security, giving almost all Americans a stake in the system and, eventually, benefits from the system, an advantage not replicated in the health law.
In addition, the people who dislike the Obama health law have a higher level of political intensity and involvement than do the people who support it.
Obama and his allies will portray the plan as a success, arguing that 15.6 percent of Americans now are uninsured, down from 18 percent a year ago. (Within March alone, according to Gallup, the rate of uninsured dropped more than a point.)
True — but as recently as the beginning of the 2008 general election, when Obama was the Democratic nominee, the rate was even lower (14.4 percent). Team Obama is going to have to have an answer for that.
In fact, the Democrats may continually have to provide health care answers, or a series of revolving answers. There is every indication that the Republicans who hope to ride into a Senate majority on the health care issue also hope to ride into the White House on it. Most of the likely presidential candidates have stated unequivocal opposition to the Obama health care bill.
All this raises a vital strategic question for the Republicans: Might it actually be better for the GOP to fall just short of a Senate majority in November than to win a majority in the chamber?
The answer may be yes. If they inch up against the Democrats but don’t actually seize Senate control, they’ll have little hope of overturning the Obama plan or, given the president’s certain veto of any repeal legislation, substantially weakening or defunding it. They will force Democratic senators who supported the legislation to squirm as they affirm their 2010 vote and leave the health care plan in place as a pinata: something they can bludgeon to their advantage in the 2016 primaries and the presidential general election.
The Republicans can win by losing. And the Democrats can lose by winning. It’s a cynical outlook, to be sure. But it is perfectly suited to an age of cynicism.
North Shore native and Pulitzer Prize winner David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.