Few people actually care about partisanship
Unlike quite a few of my liberal fellow-travelers, I think Megan McArdle is a pretty decent econ-blogger. That said, she tends to stumble a little bit when it comes to political prognostication:
I now put the chances of a substantial health care bill passing at 75%, and the chances of the Democrats losing the house in 2010 at about 66%. […]
I think that ramming through the bill on a party line vote makes it very likely that the Democrats will lose the house in 2010; the American public doesn’t like uniparty votes, especially on something this controversial. A lot of liberals have gotten angry at me for saying this, but it’s not a normative statement; it’s an observation. IF the Republicans had been willing to push forward on a controversial bill with no Democratic cover, we’d have private social security accounts right now. But they weren’t, for a reason.
Megan’s right to say that the American people don’t particularly like party-line votes (which is why Obama found success railing against them and other forms of “partisan excess”), but she’s wrong to think that this has any bearing on the public’s electoral preferences. For the most part, voters are completely uninterested in the details of legislative action; in the eyes of most voters, how something is passed matters far less than whether something is passed. That is, voters regularly express their preference for bipartisan legislation, but in practice, they could care less about who is responsible for what. You can see this in how voters apportion blame/success for failed/successful policies: that the Iraq War was a thoroughly bipartisan enterprise had absolutely no bearing on the electoral consequences of the war. The war was started by a Republican president, and as such, voters hold the Republican Party responsible for its failures. Likewise, welfare reform was a political winner for Democrats despite the fact that it was largely a Republican initative.
If Democrats ram a health care bill through Congress, I really doubt that it will have any impact on their electoral fortunes, especially if the bill is successful in the short-term. In that case, any concerns about partisanship will be eclipsed by the fact that Americans really really want health care reform. Insofar that accusations of partisanship can ever be effective, it’s when the party in question is already unpopular. Voters will readily accept excessive partisanship as an explanation for failed policies, even if their original dissatisfaction had more to do with the failed policies than it did with any concerns over partisanship (see: Obama 2008).