Truman lost but nonetheless redefined the terms of debate, setting the stage for Medicare (which is why Johnson honored Truman when he signed it into law). Compare him with Clinton, who walked away from the wreckage of his health care plan and rarely mentioned the subject again. This allowed opponents to gain control over the spin and history, so that the Democrats’ signature cause slipped out of political sight for a decade.It is, of course, true that Clinton didn't bother sending up a DOA universal health care plan to the Republican Congresses elected in 1994 and the remainder of his term. And none of the Democratic presidents between Clinton and Obama put together a health care plan; neither did any of the Democratic Houses between 1995 and 2006.
Back in the real world, however, Bill Clinton talked a lot about health care after 1994: first, he staked his opposition to the Newt/Dole Congress on a defense of Medicare and Medicaid from GOP cuts in the epic budget showdown in winter 1995 -- his talking points during that time were Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment. In other words, he mentioned health care all the time. Once that defensive battle was largely won, Clinton returned to health care, going on the offensive and managing to get a new program, SCHIP, through a Republican Congress.
Democrats didn't quit there, either; they moved on to the next issue in their piecemeal approach, which was expanding Medicare with a prescription drug benefit. In fact, Democrats made this such a central issue that George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress passed a bill to neutralize the issue. It was obviously not the bill that Democrats wanted or would have drafted, but it was hardly the fault of Democrats in Congress or in the White House that they didn't insist on a more comprehensive approach at that time. After Medicare Part D passed, Democrats continued to run on health care in 2004, 2006, and 2008. When they finally had the power to call up bills in Congress after winning majorities in 2006, the Democrats immediately tried to expand SCHIP, only to be thwarted with a veto. Finally, the next real chance the Democrats had to move a comprehensive bill showed up in 2009, and guess what? It's at the top of their agenda.
Because it has been all along, in good times and bad. Their opponents didn't "gain control over the spin and the history," they gained the votes in Congress and the White House to put a stop to Democratic priorities.
Blaming Clinton or Congressional Democrats for failures in 1993-1994 is fair game. Blaming Clinton or Congressional Democrats for emphasizing incremental, rather than comprehensive, reforms after 1995 is fair game, although any such complaints have to deal with the successes of the incremental strategy. Blaming Clinton and Democrats for ignoring health care after 1994 is just nonsense. It never happened.