Yes indeed, with a big assist from a “mule-headed” President, the Democrats have indeed figured out that kids' health care is a.) really popular, and b.) a shillelagh with which to pound the GOP in 2008:
Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard School of Public Health who helped design a recent poll on SCHIP, said the debate has “made this a very good election issue,” one that largely favors Democrats.
“Most people didn't know what SCHIP was. It was really noncontroversial,” Blendon said. “But what has happened with the Democrats fighting for it, and the president attacking it, is that it's become a poster child for the broader debate on whether government should guarantee coverage for people.” [my emphasis]
(Let's remember that SCHIP may well have already saved Niki Tsongas' bacon here in MA — again with an assist from a stubborn and frankly foolish resistance from an opponent.)
If the Dems have lacked a political killer instinct, this issue is begging the Democrats to draw stark contrasts on an issue of basic decency. It's expedient, it's easy, and it's the right thing to do. But taking the next step — to guarantee health care for all people, not just kids — will take a bit more doing to create a bipartisan consensus, even though the polling is pretty overwhelming on that point, too.
But for all the supposed perils of health care politics, that too should be taken as a terrific opportunity for the Dems. I think we can safely ignore Romney's or Giuliani's “socialized medicine” cant on this issue. The ground has moved under our feet: No Democratic President or Congress will be able to avoid the issue of universal care in 2009, should we get the trifecta. Individual Republicans may well be able to neutralize the issue in their individual races (as Ogonowski could well have done), but they'll be operating under a new set of assumptions. Welcome aboard, I say.