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Landrieu playing well her hand on health care debate

In contrast to the grave difficulties that Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon is having in trying to pull off the balancing act of supporting liberalism in the face of a conservative constituency, his co-partisan Sen. Mary Landrieu has weathered the buffeting of the radical attempted overhaul of U.S. health care policy politically much better.

Landrieu solidly has provided support for liberal initiatives in her dozen years in office, yet has been able to spread the perception that she is moderate enough for conservative Louisiana. Melancon has tried to do the same thing but has gotten caught out because he has not been as politically astute as Landrieu (who does have the advantage of being a senator and whose greater seniority amidst these fewer competitors allows her to carve out attention) in finding a presumed moderate approach on a signature issue.

She struck gold with her stumping for the Wyden-Bennett “Healthy Americans” version of health policy reform. While still very liberal in that it would reduce competition through forced standardization and increase government oversight of health insurance that it makes it worse than the present regime, it is the least radical of all the Democrat plans being floated about. She has gotten great traction out of this since she signed on to it prior to Pres. Barack Obama’s taking office and subsequent Democrat attempts to stuff more radical plans down the American peoples’ throats.

If when all the dust settles the plan now supported by Landrieu is close to what gets enacted into law, if anything does, she’ll get that electoral gold mine. No matter what liberal votes she casts over the next six years, she will be able to claim she stopped radical health care reform and did something about the issue at the same time. Even though her preferred solution is on the liberal side, it is the contrast with what might have been that will benefit her, and it is something that will stick in people’s minds and override within most voters’ cognitions any number of liberal votes she makes.

Even if liberals blame her for scuttling truly radical changes, they will be placated by her other liberal votes. And, where else can they turn? She’ll get their support because the nature of liberalism first and foremost emphasizes the acquisition and use of power, and they’ll therefore always place politics over principle.

Of course, if somehow radical Democrats in the White House and Congress get a more radical plan to a vote, then it will be tougher on her. But she’ll probably think six years will be enough time to try to make people forget about her vote for that and she’ll take that route. All in all, she has positioned herself well politically on this issue.

This is why Landrieu is willing to brave genuine public appearances while Melancon will not, and why now Melancon’s political career is becoming jeopardized while hers seems untroubled.

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