The DNC has released a memo that is based on such fantasy and manipulated statistics that it’s hard to believe the points are being repeated without question.

The memo says “of all the factors that contributed to Republican gains in the Congressional elections, the President’s health care reform does not appear to have been the significant drag on Democratic candidates.”  Ruy Teixeira makes a similar claim, saying “it is also worth noting that the election did not appear to be repudiation of the new health care reform law. About as many said they wanted to see it remain as is or be expanded (47 percent) as said they wanted it repealed (48 percent).”

I’m not quite sure how you get from “only 48% want it to be repealed” to “does not appear to have been a significant drag.”  The most important issue cited by voters across the country in numerous polls was the economy.  People don’t feel the Democrats did enough.  Instead, they watched TV every night for a year and saw backroom deals, bungled political plays, endless posturing and disingenuous statements about health care.  The fact that only 48% want the bill repealed is not a statistic you promote to prove support for anything.  And it certainly doesn’t address those in the other 47% who may not want the bill repealed, but lost confidence in the party’s competence by watching the inept way they went about executing health care reform.

Moreover, the fact that 47% of voters across the country don’t want the bill repealed is a completely meaningless statistic for evaluating what happened in this election.   It doesn’t matter what voters in San Francisco think, because the health care bill was never going to seriously impact the results in districts with a high concentration of Democrats.  Those who were at risk were those in swing districts.  Which was why we polled in swing districts on the health care bill in January, and set off the alarms when the results were so dire.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll taken shortly before the election found that nation-wide, 52% were more likely to vote for a candidate who either wanted to keep the bill the way it is or amend it, while 45% said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who wanted to repeal the law and start over.  But those figures were flipped in the 92 House districts considered most competitive, with 42% supporting candidates who wanted to work with what they had and 55% for those who wanted it repealed.

So the important question to ask in evaluating the health care bill’s impact on the election is:  what was the impact in swing districts? The Times notes:

Virtually every House Democrat from a swing district who took a gamble by voting for the health law made a bad political bet. Among 22 who provided crucial yes votes from particularly risky districts, 19 ended up losing on Tuesday. That included all five members who voted against a more expensive House version last November and then changed their votes to support the final legislation in March.

The DNC memo, however, implies that voting for health care actually helped candidates:

  • Among those Democrats who faced competitive races, those who voted for the reforms fared significantly better than those who voted against it.
  • Among the 93 competitive races (as rated by either the Cook Political Report) that have been called, 67 featured Democrats who voted for reform and 25 featured Democrats who voted against reform.
  • 35 Democrats who voted for reform won re-election, while 32 did not, for a win percentage of 52%.
  • 8 Democrats who voted against reform won re-election, while 16 did not, for a win percentage of 33%.

That is just stunningly dishonest.

Barney Frank was considered one of Cook’s “competitive races.” His district has a Democratic partisan voting index of +14, and Barney crushed  his GOP opponent, 61-36.  So no, it’s not really fair to compare what happened to Barney Frank to what happened to say, Chet Edwards in an R+20 district.

Of the 53 Democrats who hailed from districts with a Republican partisan voting index of +1 or more, only three who voted for the health care bill survived:  Joe Donnelly, Bill Owens and Nick Rahall.

William Saletan may not understand the distinction, but Ruy Teixeira certainly does.

If the health care bill was amazing and brave policy reform, it might be (as Saletan says) worth suffering such staggering losses.  But if it was in fact all of those things, people would be experiencing the benefits and Democrats would have had the ability to point to those individuals they helped to justify their votes.  Instead, the bill was poorly written and overly influenced by insurance industry lobbyists, such that even those who were supposed to have receive relief by this time haven’t.  Of the 375,000 people who were supposed to have been covered by high risk pools by now, only 8011 have enrolled due to both the high cost and the overly high bar to entry, something the insurance industry lobbied heavily for.

If there’s one takeaway from this election, it’s that good policy is good politics.  The health care bill was neither, and its failures cannot be cleanly segregated from the Democratic losses in 2010 as the DNC tries to claim.  But I will agree with one thing — the bill itself isn’t responsible for the wipeout.  It’s the irresponsible leaders of the Democratic party who crafted the bill so poorly, lied to their  members about what it would mean and then forced them to vote for it who deserve all the blame.

Paths of Glory, indeed.