The Economist is far and away one of my favorite magazines – providing insightful commentary and analysis from a normally steady perspective on the world as well as America. But the podcast I heard today entitled, “The Democrats lose Massachusetts” featuring a conversation between Adrian Wooldridge and Christopher Lockwood was atrocious – combining terrible analysis with factual inaccuracies – suggesting that the participants hadn’t actually paid any attention to the health care debate they were commenting upon, but instead had gathered clichés from the 1990s to bat around.
The single most frustrating portion of the conversation was this description of what how Obama approached the Republicans during the health care negotiations:
Had Obama not got himself into a position to ram health care through on a straight party line vote using his 60 seats in the senate and saying, “Okay, fine, we’ll do it without any Republican votes.” There might have been the possibility of making a deal but essentially he’s the man who says, “I’m not going to pay attention to you. I’m going to do it my way. Oops, I can’t. Can we come back and do it your way now?” And they say, “Sorry, you had your chance. You could have dealt with us. You could have given us more of what we wanted: proper cost control, and things like tort reform. But they didn’t do that.” And now for them to turn around and say, “Well, okay, sorry, we got that wrong.” They are more likely to say, “It’s too late for that. The midterms are on their way. Why should we get you out of the hole in which you dug yourself?”
This is wrong on so many levels! Most dramatically, Obama bumped his first deadline in order to satiate the demands from Republicans that he slow down. He courted Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Olympia Snowe and any other Republican senator who showed a willingness to support legislation. The administration was willing to re-write the bill to get their support. Max Baucus crafted a bill largely with these Republicans – cutting out the progressives in the Senate from the process. And in all of this, even the more progressive House bill is a slightly beefed up version of what Republicans have been suggesting all along – a bill focused primarily on cost control. But Orrin Hatch stopped negotiating. And then Grassley began to continue to negotiate in private while condemning the bill in public – declaring that he wouldn’t support the bill even if he got everything he wanted in it if the party wasn’t behind him. Even then, Democrats continued to negotiate with him. And finally, Snowe remained on the fence until the Republican leadership chased her back into the fold. It was at this point that Obama finally decided to say, “Okay, fine, we’ll do it without any Republican votes.” After the bill had been amended to satisfy Olympia Snowe – and Chuck Grassley – and Ben Nelson – and Joe Lieberman. But the pressure on the Republicans was too great – so they bolted.
It is also claimed that, Democrats said: “We’re not willing to annoy one of our constituencies – the tort lawyers – for the public good.” Yet the Democrats and Obama explicitly said they were willing to do this if Republicans would only support some form of the bill – and even without their support offered pilot programs to test different methods of government intervention into this area. To attack a component of their base while Republicans offered them no support would be political suicide!
And then of course, there was the inexplicable statement that, “To say you need to have pilot programs and study it is just really an insult to people’s intelligence.” This is an incredible comment coming from an organization that supports limited government. Pilot programs are exactly the modest approach that the Economist should be supporting – as they can help determine what works and what doesn’t with the minimum disruption to the market. Would they rather Obama offer bold ideas and implement them nationally, with fingers crossed hoping that the unanticipated consequences don’t do more harm than good? The type of tinkering that pilot programs are indicative of are exactly what a capitalist, free market approach should support – especially as they later deride the Obama administration as consisting of, “pointy-headed intellectuals with their big social engineering plans.” Eliminating or curbing the rights of patients to sue regarding their medical care is right wing social engineering – which the Economist apparently has no problem with because of who it will benefit.
So, in conclusion, Woolridge and Lockwood of the Economist maintain that Obama’s health care plan was too big and ambitious and so should be scrapped and that it wasn’t big enough to do what they wanted; that they are mystified how Obama took so long to pass health care reform as he rode roughshod over the Republicans. The first is contradictory – and the second betrays that they weren’t paying attention to health care until recently. Which perhaps explains why they come to the conclusion that the Democratic response to the election of a “conservative Republican” (actually a moderate Republican who is pro-choice and supported the Massachusetts model of health care that Obama’s plan is similar to) is that: “They have to overinterpret this result!” and abandon reform.
[Image by Arenamontanus licensed under Creative Commons.]