Last week, Derek Thompson made a point countering the man he calls “the wonderful Hendrick Hertzberg” of The New Yorker. Hertzberg had claimed that the health care bill is “Ideologically and substantively… centrist. It has Republicans, and Republicanism, in its family tree.” Thompson counters this:
So health reform adheres to the Republican platonic ideal, even if no flesh-and-bone Republicans vote for it? Maybe. Or maybe it doesn’t adhere to Republicanism at all because it’s garnishing a decidedly liberal goal with conservative touches. Maybe saying “it’s already bipartisan” is like a steakhouse saying its filet mignon is vegetarian, because it’s served with quite a lot of carrots.
He uses Representative Paul Ryan’s principled dissent from Obama’s health care reform as the counterexample disproving Hertzberg’s claim.
But this doesn’t really acknowledge Hertzberg’s point – also made here and throughout the liberal opinionosphere. Obama’s health reform bill has more in common with previous Republican attempts to reform health care than with previous Democratic ones. It seems like a genuine attempt to fuse the ends Republicans focused on and the methods they used with the social justice issues Democrats were concerned with. The Republican opposition has been far from principled – as they have used every populist and procedural and inside tactic to block this. They have defended Medicare; they have attacked Medicare; they have attacked every cost-cutting measure and then railed against the bill for failing to cut costs (which it still manages to do); they have claimed it is radical while at the same time claiming it doesn’t go far enough. Ideology seemed to have little to do with this knee-jerk response – and the rhetoric attacking it had very little to do with the bill itself. Aside from the widely debunked death panels and such, there is the constant claim that this bill will increase the deficit and represent a “government takeover of 1/6th of the economy.” The government takeover claim is so ridiculous as the bill would leave most of the health insurance market untouched (including those portions already controlled by the government to popular acclaim such as Medicare.) And yet the “government takeover” line has proven so effective that Republicans have started to brand everything as “government takeovers.” (Net neutrality legislation is now the “government takeover of the Internet” according to John McCain.)
But Thompson (who I often enjoy reading – he’s a good and often fair commentator) wants to find some good faith disagreements. There are some. Republicans tend to favor less government involvement. When the Democrats proposed an intrusive regulatory system, they proposed something similar to Obama’s plan. Now that Obama has proposed this, they demand – if we are to accept Paul Ryan as their representative as Thompson does – that the government pull back from health care entirely and dismantle Medicare and other such programs. Except you wouldn’t know that from what most of them say. They are out there attacking this bill for cutting Medicare. They are attacking the bill as a sellout to the insurance industry. They are attacking the bill with everything they can think of. Which is why it is hard to give credence to any principled reason for the unanimous Republican opposition.
There are reasons to oppose this bill – and some people do so for principled reasons. Paul Ryan is likely one (though as was evident when Ezra Klein interviewed him) he often stoops to disingenuous talking points to do so.
Some people have fundamental disagreements that prevent them from supporting Obama’s moderate, centrist, tinkering health care reforms. Paul Ryan objects now to measures that increase the deficit (it bears repeating that he voted for all the Bush measures that exploded the deficit.) But he also objects to measures that decrease the deficit while increasing the role and size of government too. And he likes to keep claiming that this health care bill will increase the deficit, not because he thinks it does, but because it increases the size of government. This isn’t a principled objection. This is a political calculation that harping on the deficit plays into people’s anxieties about government overreach.
In other words, contra Derek Thompson, Paul Ryan is a man who decided to become a vegetarian when Obama became the chef. The other Republicans meanwhile are demanding the kitchen using animals for food while simultaneously defending the right of every elderly individual to have bacon cheeseburgers. Obama’s health reform would be a well-balanced meal – with some vegetables, some steak, and some tofu, a nice salad, a fruit dish and a scoop of ice cream for desert. It’s a mish-mash with something for everyone except the pure carnivores and vegetarians which no one is claiming is vegetarian – only that it’s got something for everyone. That’s bipartisanship.
P.S. Has it occurred to anyone (I’m sure it has) how Paul Ryan became a star?
First, Ryan unveiled a budget counterproposal that proposed radical changes to America’s social bargain.
Then Obama singled Rep. Ryan out at the Republican Congressional Retreat saying that Ryan “stud[ied] this stuff and [took] it pretty seriously” and that he had “made a serious proposal” to cut the deficit.
Then Ryan made a point to Obama during the bipartisan summit that was about the only one Obama didn’t demolish (which most pro-Ryan partisans took as gleeful confirmation that their man could do no wrong.)
Ryan’s star in the Republican Party has been rising – seemingly because he was singled out by Obama for praise, and because Obama didn’t go after some of the figures Ryan used in a later event even though pundits after the fact were able to do so easily. Ryan seems principled and telegenic. However, his ideas are so radical, only a tiny portion of Americans would agree with them.
I wonder if the White House doesn’t see Ryan as the perfect face for the good and principled side of the Republican Party, as opposed to the ugly partisan one Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin don.
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