Ezra Klein’s Mood Swings


By Joe Campbell
August 12th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Ezra Klein has been far and away the most insightful blogger so far during this health care battle – snagging interviews with key Senators, from Lindsey Graham to Johnny Isakson, and even more importantly wrestling with the issues and politics in the frank manner that, of all mediums, only blogging allows (and perhaps talk radio.)

Through this August, Klein seems to be oscillating between two conflicting positions. This Monday, for example, Klein wrote that:

We have an unfortunate tendency to think of policy reform as episodic rather than continual. The process of reform is sold as a legislative Big Bang rather than an ongoing effort with lots of different policies all building on one another.

As reform is continual, he concludes that:

[T]he relevant question is not just whether they are an improvement on the status quo – they unquestionably are – but how they contribute to the next set of reforms. Health-care reform doesn’t end if we pass a bill in 2009. It begins.

I consider this a fairly optimistic take. We may not get everything we want done, but reform is a continual process and the bills under consideration “unquestionably are” an “improvement on the status quo.”

By Tuesday, he had a different take, saying, “It Is Democracy, Not Health-Care Reform, That Is Sick.”

Members of Congress are terrified of voter backlash and industry opposition. They are leaving virtually the entire health-care system untouched. They will scuttle the bill if a rural hospital in their district doesn’t receive sufficient reimbursement or if a local device manufacturer is harmed. Yet there is a certain portion of the country that believes that Max Baucus and Mike Ross are willing to vote for death panels and defend them before their constituents in the following election…

In a healthy relationship, such madness is simply unthinkable… Similarly, the relationship between the protesters and the government is not healthy. The protesters believe the government capable of madness.1

But Klein’s swings aren’t without cause. Anyone following this issue closely can see each modest attempt at progress is quickly submerged by an inundation of non-coherent nonsense. Klein is right when he says that whether or not our democracy can act quickly to deal with the long-term and long-put-off issues of health care reform and climate change is a test of whether our political system is still relevant. But he should remember that our system has had some successes relatively recently – with Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil coming together to shore up Social Security and with Bill Clinton and the Contract With America crowd coming together on welfare reform. These attempts were successful because they steered clear of the Charybdis of deficit politics.

The challenge for progressives, for liberals, for those fighting to keep our political system relevant and to avoid the leeching of power by technocratic and not quite accountable institutions is to break this deficit politics that not only is preventing us from tackling these serious issues but that is also keeping us from reducing the deficit. On the positive side, there are reasons to hope that the tide is turning – at least regarding health care reform.

[Image adapted from this image by myglesias licensed under Creative Commons.  The same license applies to this adapted image.]

  1. He express regret about this specific formulation later on Tuesday. []