Waterloo Or Verdun?

The Republican Party has found a model to base its restoration upon: the British Army.

Last week Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) said defeating the Democratic health care agenda would be President Obama's "Waterloo," the epic battle that between the British and Germans against the French that ended Napoleon's reign.

But Obama is committed to making this battle his Verdun - a miraculous victory from what looks like certain defeat.

Enacting sweeping health care reform that primarily provides universal coverage and lowers costs has been part of the Democratic and liberal agenda since at least the Truman administration. DeMint apparently thinks Obama cannot suffer this defeat lightly, considering the issues' proximity to Democratic hearts and its presence as a core campaign item for Obama. 

Extending DeMint's analogy, it seems Republicans think if health care can be defeated then Obama's presidency will limp along into the 2012 elections before the GOP delivers the coup de grace of a White House win.

Obama seems determined to impersonate not Napoleon but Philipe Petain.

Petain commanded French forces during the Battle of Verdun in World War I. A massive German offensive meant to break the stalemate on Western Front was focused on Verdun and planned to draw the French into this part of the battlefield and bleed them white. (Think of the Republicans as Germans, Democrats as the French, health care as Verdun, and high poll numbers as blood.)

The French indeed threw everything into the breach at Verdun and promised the Germans that "They shall not pass!" The demand for French soldiers and supplies was so intense that men were brought in from Paris via taxis. (Organizing for America?) The supply road was exalted as the Voie Sacree, or the "Sacred Way."

The Germans were turned back at great costs to both sides and Petain became a national hero.

However, both of these analogies don't take into account Obama's real problem: desertion. Neither Napoleon nor Petain faced dissention in the ranks that threatened to undermine their (military) agendas at either battle. In war, deserters can be shot; in politics, you're stuck with intransigent party members until either of you leave office.

Obama is trying to rally his troops to win the health care fight and then on to more battles. Clearly both sides see this slugging match at as a turning point in America's never-ending political war.

Presented by

Justin Miller was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 to 2011. He is now the homepage editor at New York magazine. More

Justin Miller was a associate editor at The Atlantic. Previously he was an assistant editor at RealClearPolitics, a political reporter in Ohio, and a freelance journalist.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In