Like them or not, we're all pretty clear on what the Tea Party and the far right wing of the Republican Party stand for: opposing President Obama on everything and obstructing government.
What do Democrats stand for? Well, that depends. Democrats are fond of nuanced positions. And they'll run like scared cats at the first sign of trouble.
It's happened again with the Affordable Care Act. After surviving every kind of assault, from lawsuits to GOP threats of a government shutdown, the ACA is facing its worst foe: frightened Dems.
As President Obama's poll numbers slipped following the rocky rollout of the ACA website, leading Dems began distancing themselves from the law. Many were probably emboldened by Bill Clinton. The former president, not known for his good judgment, said Obama should honor his promise: let people who like their current health insurance plans keep them even if they don't meet the ACA's minimum standards.
After some Dems began jumping onto a bill proposed by Senator Mary Landrieu, which basically heeds Clinton's advice, a besieged Obama was left with few choices. He went before the public to try a little massage therapy on his broken promise, offering his own proposal: insurance companies can allow people who received cancellation letters to keep their old policies for a year.
But on Friday, a stunning 39 Democrats sided with House Republicans to pass Representative Fred Upton's "Keep Your Health Plan Act." While the vote was immediately labeled a damaging blow to Obama – and it was – the worst damage was inflicted on the American public.
The bill should have been called the "Keep Our Broken Health Care System Act," because it basically resurrects the status quo. It not only allows people to keep their current plan for a year, even if it doesn't provide good coverage, but it also allows insurers to keep selling those plans.
As frustrated as the public is with the ACA and the federal website, a recent international survey by the Commonwealth Fund is a stark reminder of just how broken the old health care system was.
The Fund's survey of 20,000 adults in 10 industrialized countries found that Americans pay more and get less for their health care than those in the other countries. Costs are so high that more than one-third of Americans in 2013 went without the care medical professionals recommended.
And about 23 percent of Americans had serious problems paying their medical bills.
Americans notoriously have a problem with long-term memory. Economist Lawrence Summers, a former Clinton and Obama administration official, recently framed the issue this way: Obama has tackled a problem that has been an economic drag on the country for nearly 50 years. Anyone who thinks that the system was working well prior to the ACA is wrong, Summers said. Premiums were rising at an unsustainable double-digit pace for much of the last decade, he said, and the ACA is already accomplishing more than what many people expected.
Obama has said from the beginning that he expected the law to be improved over time. But changes that don't require young people to buy insurance or that permit people to enroll in plans that are often no better than "sub prime" insurance plans do nothing to improve the ACA.
And opening the law up at this time with this Congress would practically guarantee killing it anyway.
Republicans have rushed to the airwaves to call the president a liar. And the vote on the Upton bill is certainly not an effort to improve Americans' health care. It's their latest attempt to derail the ACA. Who didn't see that coming?
A reversal on the ACA by Democrats at this point is entirely different, however. To come out now and oppose the ACA is cowardly. It not only tells voters that the GOP was right all along, but it also says that Dems are more interested in their own political well-being than the nation's. And this will haunt the party for years to come.