Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Political Wildernesses of Fact and Lore

Judging from the profusion of citations (e.g. one, two, three, four, five, six, etc.), the health care reform bill that President Obama signed into law today required that each person crippled with an interest in politics shall, at least once, cite these remarks of lugubrious conservative David Frum. As I am no anarchist, I hereby comply:

This time, when we [the right] went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.
I think everyone would do well to stop making confident declarations about the state of voter sentiment months from now. Not so long ago, the GOP was doomed to wander a 'political wilderness' forever hence -- naked and bedraggled, clutching a dog-eared Ayn Rand novel and a tattered Bible, pecked at by crows, rummaging through trash bins digging for scraps. Today, the Democrats are similarly doomed in November. Yawn.

If he weren't one of history's greatest monsters, I might feel a twinge of pity for David Frum (I probably wouldn't, but I might) because he seems to be awash in the notion that the GOP gives a damn about public policy. And they do, if by "public policy" one means nothing more than de-secularizing the laws of the land, reducing the taxes paid by wealthy people, and sending others' sons and daughters to fight, maim, be maimed, kill, and be killed in foreign lands.

Glum Frum also seems to have missed the fable of Br'er Rabbit, who begged and pleaded with his captors not to throw him in the briar patch. To state that in non-fable terms: David Frum appears to have stated, and yet to have missed, that for all its histrionic wailing about socialist death panels and obstinate refusal of good-faith policymaking, the GOP got a great deal of what their standard-bearers have long said they've wanted in the way of health care policy (when pressed, by the exigencies of election season, to mention something other than god, tax cuts, and war). Whereas this new law is far from the aspirations of those of us who have been advocating for reform from the liberal-left.

He's right to say, or rather imply, or perhaps betray, the true source of the right's caterwauling all these many months: the passage of health reform, modest and imperfect as it is, stands an excellent chance of validating the radical idea that people can, from time to time, benefit from public policy in concrete, straightforward, important ways. He is also right to say that repealing this law seems far-fetched, but as I said, we should pause before the temptation to make predictions in politics.

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