Page last updated at 18:03 GMT, Monday, 22 March 2010

Healthcare sets battle lines for mid-term elections

Protest in Washington DC
The healthcare issue has inspired many to protest outside the Capitol

By John Zogby

With the passage of healthcare reform, the battle lines are firmly drawn for the congressional elections in November.

This will be a classic ideological war, the like of which we have rarely seen in the US.

Republicans not only refused to vote for this package, their opposition was passionate and, at times, shrill.

They sense that President Barack Obama and the Democrats have crossed the line of fiscal responsibility and even common decency by adopting procedures rarely used for major legislation to pass the bill and offering perks to some recalcitrant Democrats to win their support.

Democratic voters have been mixed in their reaction to healthcare reform.

But I suspect that now an actual bill has been passed - and with Republican opposition so firm - the intensity of Democratic support will rise.

Without stronger sentiment, voter turnout for Democratic candidates will not match what is expected to be a high-intensity Republican vote.

Republicans will still have to go before voters in November and show they did something more than hold up a stop sign

As for now, make no mistake about it, President Obama has won a huge victory with healthcare reform.

He showed that he can steer his way through obstacles from both right and left and deliver on one of the changes he promised.

Just how big is this?

Can anyone remember just one representative who stood up and shouted down Social Security (1935) or name someone who took to the House floor and argued against Medicare (1965)?

There is no statue in the capital to the late Senator Strom Thurmond, who filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

That's the point.

Mr Obama has done what no president has done before him - a gallery that includes two Roosevelts, Harry Truman and Bill Clinton.

Republicans will still have to go before voters in November and show they did something more than hold up a stop sign.

This is just at the same time that seniors will be receiving rebates to pay for prescription drugs and parents will see that their children cannot be prevented from getting healthcare coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

But not all changes will go into effect immediately and there will be increases in both taxes and premiums in the short term.

Obama supporter in Washington 9.3.10
Barack Obama campaigned on a programme of change and reform

The president and the Democrats will have to work strenuously to sell a fait accompli, something they have not done sufficiently up to now.

Republicans have an advantage on jobs and the economy - no-one is suggesting that unemployment will significantly change by the fall.

The Tea Party [conservative] movement is also here to stay through November and the healthcare bill will fuel its charge of socialism against Mr Obama.

But I am a historian, and "socialism" was the cry of opponents of the New Deal and Social Security, and it was the outcry against Medicare.

There are moments in history when decisions are ultimately made that transcend the charge of socialism in the American political consciousness.

This president was elected because he promised to be a problem solver and a consensus builder.

Thus far, he has moved towards solving a significant problem.

He has shown his supporters they can believe in his promise of change.

What remains to be seen is whether he can build a national consensus on what he has done.

John Zogby is chairman and chief insights officer of Zogby International, a polling company. He is the author of The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the transformation of the American Dream.

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