Monday, January 18, 2010

Never Mind Waterloo. Obama, Health Reform and Moscow: An Uncanny Resemblance

Back in July, North Carolina's Senator DeMint announced the Republicans were going to use a 'Waterloo' strategy to defeat health reform and 'break' President Obama's aura of invincibility. After watching the liberal Juan Williams sullenly defend the current status of health care reform on a January 17 evening Fox News panel, the Disease Management Care Blog pronounces that plan a failure. It's not a Waterloo, but it is sure looking like a Moscow. Too bad the DMCB didn't think of the allegory first, but it makes sense. The latest news from the front is dismay over unfairly shielding high-cost low-value 'Cadillac' plans from paying their fair share plus a surprise revolt by the Independent voters in Massachusetts.

Recall the Battle of Waterloo was Napoleon's last ditch effort at holding onto power in the face of a coordinated attack by British and Prussian forces in Belgium in 1815. It was a pitched three day clash of the grand armies of Europe involving epic charges, huge personalities and high strategy. When it was all over, there was a clear winner and a loser. With a clear outcome and happy ending, no wonder the tale evokes such lust from political strategists.

Contrast the Waterloo allegory with Napoleon's earlier 1812 star-crossed invasion of Russia and the taking of Moscow. The British were preoccupied by a war with the U.S., Spain refused to submit but was contained, and conquering Russia, for a variety of economic and military reasons, looked like a good idea at the time. Backed by a huge coalition with considerable treasury and hundreds of thousands of soldiers, the French Empire crossed into Russia in June. What followed was a long drawn out campaign of Russian retreats in an increasingly inhospitable terrain with occasional battles and, as the months went by, the arrival of winter. Napoleon's Pyrrhic victory was consummated by a horse ride through the Russian capital's deserted streets. What followed next was a disasterous slow withdrawal through an unpacified countryside. It certainly didn't ''break' Napoleon but it turned out, even though Moscow was taken, to be an epic disaster.

To the amateur historian DMCB, there are some compelling similarities to the present day political landscape. At the start, Napoleon was at the height of his power and was favored by overwelming power (controlling both the U.S. House and Senate). While there were many issues to be dealt with, 'Russia' (health care) emerged as a worthy campaign with a good prognosis of success. However, instead of a single climactic battle, the French were slowly bled by a scrappy enemy (Republicans) and hostile civilians (Tea Baggers) while Napoleon himself seemed hesitant. Even though he could technically claim victory (some sort of bill is likely to pass), the months that followed culminated in a growing disaster in thanks to continued attacks, the lack of support in large parts of the countryside (grumpy approval ratings) and the change in seasons (Winter is still upon us and the 2010 elections loom).

Could it work out this way? While only those who actually read history are the ones condemned to see it get repeated, the DMCB fears things are getting to the point where victory on passage of a health care bill could result in a lonely Democratic ride through a virtual Moscow.

The DMCB hopes not.

1 comment:

Robert said...

DMCB did not mention that fiscally, Napoleon was unalterably opposed to national debt and deficit spending. I'm sure there's a message in there somewhere.