Joan Walsh is the editor of Salon, and she’s really good. If you’ve ever seen Joan on TV, or read any of her writing, she’s a great progressive thinker and ally, (and she’s particularly adept at taking on Twitter trolls).
But even Joan met her match recently when she penned a piece criticizing liberals for so-quickly declaring Obamacare a train wreck because of the faulty Web site rollout of the federal exchanges.
The reaction to Joan’s piece was blistering, disproportionate, rude and sexist. (My title, “Joan Walsh is a bad, bad man” is a play on the “you’re a bad man and I’m outraged!” ethos that has infected a few too many on the left, who seem almost giddy when they find some reason, any reason, to declare a longtime friend a foe.)
Again, (Ryan) Lizza and (Ezra) Klein are describing real problems with the Healthcare.gov site, and it’s enough to make those of us who wanted a single-payer system say, “I told you so.” All the biggest problems with the ACA have to do with its commitment to working mostly through the existing patchwork of private insurance programs. That’s also the only way it could have gotten through Congress in 2010, though, so saying I told you so is satisfying but politically irrelevant.
And so is much of the liberal hand-wringing. Does anyone think if the website worked perfectly, dishonest conservatives wouldn’t be pointing to other alleged problems? The sight of people from Sen. John McCain to wingnuts on Twitter, who didn’t want the government to help the uninsured get health insurance, now lamenting the trouble those uninsured are having navigating a new website – well, it would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad and corrupt.
I think the part of the essay where Joan tips her hand as to what’s really bothering her, is this:
Robert Frost famously said “a liberal is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel.”
And she’s not entirely wrong. There’s something to be said for gauging to what degree your criticism may help the other side. While many of us are journalists, we’re also partisans. AMERICAblog is admittedly a journal about progressive news and analysis. We will not lie to our readers. But we also admit up front that our writing is part of a larger progressive agenda. And we don’t post stories that don’t further that agenda.
But sometimes, you further the agenda by criticizing your own. That’s what we did in holding President Obama’s feet to the fire on gay rights all these years, and it worked. I made a calculation that we needed to hold the President publicly accountable for his gay rights promises if we were going to see those promises fulfilled. So we did, and it seems to have worked.
But there’s the rub. I actually did a cost-benefit analysis in my head before writing the gay rights stories in question.
And I can’t speak for Joan, but I wonder if, looking at that Robert Frost quote, this isn’t part of her concern. That some aren’t thinking before they speak, and that they aren’t even considering whether their criticism might end up helping the Republicans, and hurting the cause of health care reform.
I know when I wrote my pieces critical of the federal exchange site, I thought long and hard about whether I was simply helping the Republicans. But I decided that it was important to point out some of the specific problems that I felt weren’t getting enough attention; everyone was focusing on the software glitches, rather than the actual layout and design of the site that does not permit you to easily browse health care plans (as I’d written before, you can easily browse the DC exchange plans). And even now, CNN just reported that when you call the 800 number to browse plans by phone, you can’t. They need one to three weeks to confirm that you are who you say you are before even giving you the prices and details of the plans. That’s utterly ridiculous.
I worry that these missteps with the federal exchange Web site are what give Republicans fuel to attack Obamacare. And I worry that things won’t get fixed in a timely manner because the very design of the site – and of the phone call-in center – suggests that no one thought it important for people to be able to easily browse health care plans, and that, I believe, is a huge mistake.
The best way to sell people on Obamacare is to let them have easy access to all the pricing and plan details, now. And yes, you need to figure out a way to factor in the subsidies many people will be getting, so you don’t scare them off with the sticker shock of the unsubsidized plans. (How about a chart that shows the average subsidy for each income category, that people can check out, before you give them the full non-subsidy prices of the plans?) There are ways around this problem that don’t entail not giving people the information they need to make an informed decision.
When CNN called the other day, and asked me to walk through with them, on camera, my rather horrific experience with the federal exchange, I declined. In my mind, it’s one thing to write a story expressing my concerns, it’s another to go on TV and kvetch about it. For me, going on TV felt like crossing a line from constructive critic to basher. And I’m not here to bash, I’m here to help.
Though sometimes, you help by being critical of your own side. But it’s admittedly a fine line. You just have to know, and care, when you’re crossing it.