A number of sources are reporting that the “experts” on health care reform all seem to want to pass the current Senate “compromise,” while “activists” do not. The implied criticism, between the lines (and perhaps not even intentional), is that activists don’t know the substance of the debate, so of course “they” think the bill is bad. But the “experts” know better.
Maybe. But there’s another big difference between activists – or political experts, I’d call them – and policy wonks. Policy wonks have no sense of the possible in politics, they simply know their arcane issue inside out. Political experts know how to win issue campaigns, so they can smell weakness and missed opportunity faster than you can say “Yes we can.”
I would argue that the reason so many people are so upset with what the Senate did to the health care bill, at the bidding of the White House, is that we know that had the White House chosen to lead on health care reform, had the Congress not chosen to take a back seat to the White House’s non-strategy for victory, we could have had a significantly better bill, and it would have passed. It’s all well and good to say that the current bill still has some positive things in it – let’s be kind and give it a C. But when you could have had an A, and you started out the gate gunning for a C, you don’t get our praise.
George Bush never settled for a C.
And there’s another reason political experts are more upset about the capitulation to Joe Lieberman than are policy experts. Political experts know a thing or two about moral hazard – the concept in economics that says that if you cover someone’s ass, they’ll make the same mistake over and over again. If we let Democrats get away with being weak, with refusing to lead on health care reform, with refusing to defend and fight for the President’s own campaign promises, and instead settle for a mere shadow of what he promised, and what we could have had, then we should not be surprised when the same capitulation happens on immigration, climate change, gay rights, and every other issue that someone out there cares about. Any parent can tell you what happens when you reward bad behavior.
(I mean, hey, being 4/5ths a man is better than only being 3/5ths a man, isn’t it? And on gays in the military, how about we only let half of you serve openly, but we segregate you in separate barracks – I mean, George Bush would never have gone even this far, would he? And finally climate change – if we delay the destruction of mankind for 300 years instead of the current trajectory of, say, 150 years, I’d call that a victory.)
The White House and the Congress did a crappy job running the campaign for health care reform. And if we simply give them a pat on the back, and agree that “something is better than nothing,” then like the definition of insanity, we’re going to get the same half-assed results from the White House and Congress on every single issue from now until the day that Sarah Palin replaces Barack Obama in the White House.
If you don’t want Democrats to ever keep their promises, if you want Barack Obama to sell out your constituency from the git-go and undercut your effort to hold him to his promises every step of the way, then please do heartily endorse this health care reform “compromise.” I’m sure the bill helps some small fraction of Americans somewhere, maybe. But I know that it’s going to screw my people when our issue comes up for a vote, and it’ll screw yours too.