Or, Matthew Continetti on the Health Care Debate Part II
[digg-reddit-me]I spent the first part of my response to his recent article pointing out some inaccuracies as well as pointing to a lack of clarity of purpose in the piece. But the reason I chose to write about it is this part at the end:
The upshot has been liberals who cavalierly demean and degrade the sentiments of the people. Liberals contemptuous of democracy and ready to embrace from-the-top, one-size-fits-all, technocratic solutions. For such liberals, the failure to obtain their policy preferences calls into question the very legitimacy of the American polity. In August, the Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein–who normally tries “not to question the motives of people with whom I don’t agree”–found himself, like Howard Beale, mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore: “Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers,” he wrote, have “become political terrorists.” Last week in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote that America’s “one party democracy is worse” than China’s “one party autocracy,” because in China “one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.” In this week’s Time magazine, Joe Klein worries that “the Limbaugh- and Glenn Beck-inspired poison will spread from right-wing nutters to moderates and independents who are a necessary component of Obama’s governing coalition”; after all, if the moderates and independents knew what’s good for them, they’d support Obamacare.
Isn’t it possible, though, that the moderates, independents, and “right-wing nutters” who traveled to congressional town halls and voiced their opposition to the president’s big-government initiatives doknow what’s good for them–or, at least, know that Obamacare may turn out to be bad for them? That it might be too costly and too onerous for an American economy with high unemployment and staggering fiscal imbalances? That today’s reform, like others in the “history of our progress,” may lead to unforeseen distortions and crises down the road? Fixated on its attempt to manipulate the economy in ways that produce its desired social outcomes, the White House has neglected the only real “public option”: listening to the public. Determined to pass health care reform even over the objections of popular opinion, the Democrats are practicing a hubristic and antidemocratic politics.
And they will come to regret it.
The reason I highlight this section is that Continetti almost asks several questions which would likely be seen as prescient if he had posed them honestly. For example, inherent in this conclusion is the question:
- “Might the vocal minority that opposes health care reform know that it will turn out to be bad for them?” or as Continetti puts it, “Isn’t it possible though, that the moderates, independents, and ‘right-wing nutters’ who traveled to congressional town halls and voiced their opposition to the president’s big-government initiatives do know what’s good for them–or, at least, know that Obamacare may turn out to be bad for them?”
Continetti is unable to acknowledge the majority support for reform – or the plurality support for even Obama/Pelosi/Reid-branded plans for reform when they were little understood at all but for a few weeks at the nadir of the debate. He thus reverses the poll results, coming up with this sentiment: “Determined to pass health care reform even over the objections of popular opinion, the Democrats are practicing a hubristic and antidemocratic politics.” This inability to pose questions that are consistent with reality undermines any intellectual seriousness he may pretend to. These types of questions – this type of piece – might be appropriate, or at least understandable – in an op-ed in some small-town paper or in a forum where Continetti was trying to influence others. But instead, in a magazine that is supposed to be for the intellectually serious and right wing, ideology trumps seriousness.
Here are some other questions almost raised by Continetti that seem worth exploring:
- “Might health care reform be even more costly and onerous for an American economy with high unemployment and staggering fiscal imbalances than the status quo which already is too costly and too onerous for most Americans and is getting worse?” (Continetti fixes this question by deleting the reference to the status quo.)
- “Might health care reform lead to unforeseen distortions and crises down the road?” (This general doubt survives intact. A conservatism of doubt based on this sentiment would be an extremely valuable part of America’s political landscape. Unfortunately, we have a right wing of certainty that seeks to remake the world otherwise.)
- “Is it really fair for liberals to claim their failure to obtain their policy preferences calls into question the very legitimacy of the American polity?”
- “How do technocratic solutions undermine our democratic institutions?” becomes “Liberals [because they are] contemptuous of democracy [are] ready to embrace from-the-top, one-size-fits-all, technocratic solutions.” (Never mind that liberals seem rather quick these days to accept federalist solutions to vexing issues – including most recently on the public option. I’ve tried to explore this question already in a few pieces: Is Obama Leading Us To A Technocratic Dystopia? and An Encroaching Technocracy.)
Continetti – though clearly intelligent enough to understand where these various liberals and progressives are coming from – manages to elide the truths behind their critiques. He conveniently never mentions in his piece that public opinion (even among Republicans) is strongly in favor of a public option and various other aspects of “Obamacare.” This was one of the core reasons for the critiques of Pearlstein, of Friedman, of Klein. But Continetti, in what is a familiar technique for those reading his piece with some independent perspective on what he writes of, once again inserts a malicious motive in place of an honest assessment of what his opponents believe.
Continetti seems aware of legitimate questions about Obama’s policies and politics – but he chooses instead to invent strawmen positions to oppose which conveniently unite the fractious right-wing. Reading the piece, you can feel his mind at work trying to create a synthesis of the traditional view of conservatism as William F. Buckley standing athwart history yelling, “Stop!” with the populism and identity politics of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. He is able to balance the rhetoric of each adequately, to appeal to each without undermining his argument, but at the cost of ignoring reality. This consensus is less about any particular policy, as it is about anti-liberalism. Instead of proposing conservative policies or even dealing with the pragmatic liberal agenda Obama has pushed, Continetti chooses the only argument left to him: he demonizes the opposition.
Continetti, like much of the right wing (except for libertarians and paleo-conservatives), seems aware of legitimate questions about Obama’s policies – but chooses to invent strawmen positions to oppose as a reality-based approach would fracture the anti-Obama coalition.