In the early 1830s Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, a close ally of the Democratic president, Andrew Jackson, explained how his party would crush the Second Bank of the United States, and thus Henry Clay and his embryonic, progressive Whiggery: "attack incessantly, assail at all points, display the evil of the institution, rouse the people."
Benton-Jackson's political offensive against the "monstrous" Bank of the U.S. (originally, Alexander Hamilton's creation) was a brilliant archetype of inspired, backwater populism, a top-down mobilization of vast ignorance and acute paranoia--and it worked. It killed the Bank, along with young America's hopes of national "internal improvements" (what we call infrastructure) and more rapid economic development. Subdued rationality never stood a chance against incessant attacks, all-points assaults, creative displays of institutional evil, and the rabble roused.
The Bank, as though you haven't surmised this by now, was the Obamacare of its time. To Jacksonian Democrats--American politics' early 19th-century version of Tea Partiers--the Bank was the reservoir of all governmental wickedness, a tyrannical abyss, a corrupter of republican souls. It was also offensive to states' rights, which lay at the base of Jacksonianism's populist paranoia; it was as well a marvelous foil to Democrats, who could play The People's protectors against a ravenous and elitist despotism.
Compare this brief history with the NY Times top story, "G.O.P. Maps Out Waves of Attacks Over Health Law":
Republican strategists say that over the next several months, they intend to keep Democrats on their heels through a multilayered, sequenced assault. The idea is to gather stories of people affected by the health care law ... and use them to open a line of attack, keep it going until it enters the public discourse and forces a response, then quickly pivot to the next topic....
"Because of Obamacare, I Lost My Insurance." "Obamacare Increases Health Care Costs." "The Exchanges May Not Be Secure, Putting Personal Information at Risk." "Continue Collecting Constituent Stories".... Coming soon: a push to highlight people losing access to their longtime physicians and changes in Medicare Advantage programs for older people.... A new website, gop.gov/yourstory, is collecting anecdotes from each member.
In partial response the White House has "released a report showing that health care spending had grown by 1.3 percent since 2010 ... the lowest rate on record for any three-year period." Released a report. Oh my, that must have blown the opposition away.
What's more unsettling is that the WH indeed appreciates the power of the GOP's strategy. The Times quotes President Obama from earlier this month: "[I]t’s important for us to step back and take a look at what’s already been accomplished, because a lot of times it doesn’t make news. Controversies make news." Yes they do, yet the WH's appreciation of this enduring political reality seems to largely stop there, or, rather, at released reports.
The WH must create its own controversies. Because controversies make news. Responses to them do not. Hence the WH must assault Republicans as virtually unAmerican in opposing affordable and accessible healthcare, in opposing a jobs bill, in opposing immigration reform, in opposing presidential appointments and, again, and in general, in opposing America's success. Such lines of attack can't merely be mentioned every now and then; they must be jackhammered in a "multilayered, sequenced assault," which forces Republicans to defend against their Obama-highlighted unAmericanism.
For the moral to our little history lesson today is that Republicans can indeed win this Obamacare battle, just as the Whigs lost in incompetently confronting Jacksonian Democrats' ingenious demagoguery--a loss that kept them behind the philosophical eight ball for 30 years.