Alex Massie

Obama & Napoleon

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Historical analogies are always fun! Health Care reform was going to be, as Senator Jim DeMint argued, "Obama's Waterloo". Now that it haspassed conservatives are having to rethink that. The eternally optimistic Bill Kristol winds the clock back a bit and argues that, actually, HCR is Obama's Borodino*:

Last night’s victory was the culmination of Obama’s health care effort, which has been his version of  Napoleon’s Russia campaign. He won a short-term victory, but one that will turn out to mark an inflection point on the road to defeat, and the beginning of the end of the Democratic party’s dominance** over American politics. Last night was Obama’s Borodino. Obama’s Waterloo will be November 6, 2012.

But what it Obama isn't Napoleon? What if, instead, the part of Napoleon has been played by health care reform's opponents? After all, they've had the upper hand for many years and it's the advocates of reform who have wondered, often despairingly, whether they might ever prevail against an implacable, seemingly unbeatable foe that has dominated the political map for decades. (And, actually, invading Mesopotamia might be thought akin to invading Russia...)

Viewed from that angle you might think that Obama has played the part of Arthur Wellesley leading the allied (Democratic) forces in the long, grinding, stubborn Peninsular War that eventually would force Napoleon from the field and into exile. That too was a major, if incomplete, victory.

The advantage of looking at like this is that it allows one to fit Republican gains in November into the narrative. That would be akin to Napoleon's return from Elba and the (ultimately Pyrrhic) glory of the Hundred Days which, for a moment, threatened to redraw the map all over again. There was plenty of panic then too. But that was before the final showdown at Waterloo in 1815.

That was a damned close run thing itself. But if we're playing this game of Historical Analogy then it seems to me that it's the Republican party playing the part of Napoleon and Obama that's Wellington. Like the Iron Duke, one of Obama's great strengths is his patience.

So let's give Kristol half a point: November 6th 2012 will indeed be the Waterloo moment for all concerned. But perhaps not quite in the way he thinks.

*Link via Dave Weigel who joins the Washington Post next month. Congratulations Dave!

**Would that make the Republican party the Bourbons? Maybe! So much history, so much fun to be had, so little of it to any real point whatsoever!

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias has more.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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