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Frankly Wrong About Health Care Reform

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I greatly enjoyed Jason Zengerle’s interview with Barney Frank, but I’m puzzled that Frank continues to take the Rahm Emanuel line on health care reform:

When Obama made the same mistake Clinton made. When you try to extend health care to people who don’t have it, people who have it and are on the whole satisfied with it get nervous.

You think Obama overinterpreted his mandate with health care?
The problem with health care is this: Health care is enormously important to people. When you tell them that you’re going to extend health care to people who don’t now have it, they don’t see how you can do that without hurting them. So I think he underestimated, as did Clinton, the sensitivity of people to what they see as an effort to make them share the health care with poor people.

I think we paid a terrible price for health care. I would not have pushed it as hard. As a matter of fact, after Scott Brown won, I suggested going back. I would have started with financial reform but certainly not health care.

And if you’d done it with that sequencing, you could have still gotten health care before 2012?
I’m not sure, but I think you could have gotten some pieces of it. And yeah, if we’d held the House, we could have gotten it.

1)The assumption that the Democrats may have held the House had they not pursued the ACA is extremely implausible. It may explain why they did even worse than could have been expected, but there was essentially no chance of holding the House in that context.  Moreover, presumably the same political logic would apply after the imaginary successful 2010 midterms, only worse because it’s a presidential election year.

2)This is — uncharacteristically — essentially an argument against most progressive change. Anything that challenges privilege and disrupts the status quo carries risk and disrupts people’s sensitivities.

3)If not then, when? Comprehensive health care reform has failed repeatedly. Political conditions as favorable as 2009-10 are pretty rare. Essentially, Frank is arguing that the Democrats should just abandon serious health care reform, which I think is very wrong.

4)Even if the assumptions discussed in point 1 is true, at some point, so what? The point of majorities is to do things. Maybe the Democrats would have held the South longer had they not passed the CRA, but (and I stress that I’m not comparing it to the ACA in terms of impact) that’s no reason not to do it.

5)The only way this argument works is if leaving health care for the next generation would have allowed for a similarly important goal to be addressed.   But it’s hard to see how this could be true.   The most obvious candidate — climate change — got no traction at all, which puts the burden of proof on those who think that different sequencing would have led to major climate change legislation.   And it’s hard to see how it would have made sense to dump health care to focus on it.   Given the uniform Republican opposition, it’s a substantially less promising political arena than even health care — the benefits more diffuse and long-term, the powerful opposition broader and harder to buy off.    I would estimate the chances of passing major climate change legislation at roughly zero no matter how much Obama prioritized it.   I also very much doubt that a significantly stronger financial reform bill could have been passed, and even if it could it would be much easier to reform and evade than a major new entitlement.

I admire Frank, but I think he’s pushing risk-aversion too far here. Whatever other mistakes Obama made on healthc are he was right to keep pushing even after the Brown election.

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  • Joe

    I recall his nervousness at the time and was annoyed at it. Meanwhile, others — who may not be as beloved or respected by some on the left — stuck with it. Millions of people have better health care now. I wonder if he thought civil rights was worth it in the ’60s. That — unlike the stupid meme that ’10 was merely some referendum on the PPACA — surely resulted in a major cost to the Democratic Party’s success at the polls.

    • Barry

      I think that it’s this (and below). Frank was not 100% behind it, and so he sees the flaws and feels the amount of effort expended upon it.

  • I think Frank was saying that health care reform took priority over the regulatory reforms of Dodd-Frank– that they could have accomplished more on that front if ACA hadn’t been diverting legislative attention. Basically he is being peevish because he didn’t get as much as he wanted on his thing. I think that he is wrong about that, but I don’t know what kind of horse-trading was going on. The time was right to do a number of things, and it is probably true that Congress got bogged down on ACA, but I’m not sure I see what could have been done to prevent that, given the institutional rules that were in place. It’s a good interview– Frank is candid about what legislators do and how they do it, and that’s pretty rare.

    • KLM

      The House passed Frank’s bill. The Senate stripped the $18B in taxes on large financial institutions and weakened some regulations but passed similar legislation.

      If Frank wanted a better bill, he should have wrote one.

  • joe from Lowell

    I’m loathe to dismiss Barney Frank’s ideas about legislative strategy and politics – he is the smartest person on Capitol Hill – but I just can’t see sacrificing HCR once the Democrats had the chance to actually pass it. They’ve been pushing it for so long, and it had become the core, defining issue for the party, and for the party faithful. Even if we grant Frank’s assertions about the short-term politics, missing that chance would have been devastating for the Democratic Party’s standing. It would have been a massive betrayal.

    • Glenn

      Not sure I can agree that Frank is “the smartest person on Capitol Hill” but no question he thinks that, and that’s what this is all about. I think it’s a shame that he’s choosing to go out that way. Especially since his argument is the lamest sort of unknowable counterfactual scenario.

      • Slocum

        Actually, he’s been voted the smartest by his congressional peers a couple of times, I think. Not that it makes him right in this instance.

        • no

          There was never an actual vote. CQ has surveyed members and had a various lists of ‘the smartest members’ and there have been several similar surveys of Congressional staffers.

          The 60 Minutes profile of Frank did not cite any source but instead stated ‘Barney Frank has been called the smartest guy in Congress.’

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Three Points:

    1) I agree entirely with you rather than Frank (or Emanuel) here.

    But it strikes me that what drives the Frank argument is holding-on-to-power for its own sake. This is, I think, implicitly his answer to your #5: the point is that (according to Frank) without HCR, the Democrats hold the House in 2010. Period.

    2) I think it’s far from obvious that Frank is right about these politics. To a great extent, when analyzing the 2010 elections, “it’s the economy, stupid.” Things were going badly and the party in power was going to get blamed, with or without HCR.

    3) That being said, to the extent that HCR hurt the Democrats in 2010 (beyond the hit they were going to take from the economy itself), the problem was the Democrats failure to frame the HCR in politically helpful ways. They were largely getting beaten in the public debate in 2009. And then they more or less gave up defending it at all after the ACA became law.

    • Regarding 3): I don’t see much evidence that it’s all that possible to promote a major legislative reform in such a way as to not make it inherently controversial. Simply put, people don’t pay much attention to the minutia of policy, so large scale change makes them inherently nervous, particularly when there’s no elite consensus that the change is a good one. Beyond that, I think it’s worth pointing out that most people aren’t going to see a bill that primarily benefits the poor and other marginalized segments of the population (including people with pre-existing conditions, frankly) as something that has tremendous benefit for them. The one thing that Frank unquestionably gets right here is that people see these things zero sum games, so if you take people with good employer based healthcare plans and/or Medicare and tell them you want to use the government to expand coverage, they (wrongly) assume this must mean this expansion is coming at their expense.

      • Joe Bohemouth

        I think the history of ACA show it’s pretty much impossible to simultaneously a) privately negotiate a bill with small-state legislators (esp. senators) who are primarily concerned special concessions and kickbacks, and b) publicly sell the bill to voters in general.

        • Well, I think the mere fact that bog standard concessions to marginal legislators of the type that have a) gone on forever and ever and b) aren’t particularly scandalous in any notable way were even able to be turned into some sort of irredeemable outrage shows you how much of a hole Democrats started in on the messaging front here.

    • mark f

      I agree completely all the way up to #3, to which I can only give partial concurrence.

      Certainly the Democrats could’ve done better. But those town halls were totally nutty. Consider Brian Baird, who tried to explain the popular provisions of the bill, only have a Marine or something pretty much call a traitor and all but threatened him while the crowd cheered wildly. And the media, with few niche exceptions, treated it all as if it were totally reasonable. “Boy there’s a lot of anger out there! Who could ever sort it all out?” When regular people are losing their minds because a federal bill has a lot of pages, well, I think you have very few options for winning the messaging battle.

      Which is why you and Scott are right, and Frank is wrong.

    • Scott Lemieux

      But it strikes me that what drives the Frank argument is holding-on-to-power for its own sake. This is, I think, implicitly his answer to your #5: the point is that (according to Frank) without HCR, the Democrats hold the House in 2010. Period.

      Sad, but true. Even if you grant his implausible assumptions it’s not very convincing.

      On #3, my position on the “framing” arguments are on the record, and I don’t think it’s plausible that “messaging” is the major problem.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        I actually agree with you, Scott: messaging was not the major problem. The major problem was the economy. But politics is won or lost on the margins and parties and politicians can only control what they can control. Assuming (as I think it’s fair to) that there was not much that the Democrats (in the White House or Congress) could have done to make the economy dramatically better in the fall of 2010, messaging (about both Democratic economic policies and the ACA) was one thing that they could actually do to affect the outcome. And they didn’t do it very well.

        • I think this, and most other complaints how Democrats being “bad at messaging” drastically underestimates

          A) The extent to which a substantial number of people react to messaging in purely heuristic ways.

          B) The way this gives them a strong bent towards maintaining the status quo in the absence of elite consensus on change.

          C) The extent to which the inability to keep the Democratic caucus united on major policy questions substantially undermines the party’s efforts in this regard. When two parties are barking at each other, it’s just politics. When the opposition is unanimously opposed to the President and the “moderates in his own party” are saying “well, maybe the Republicans have a point,” you’ve already lost the war for the people who are primarily reacting to elite signaling when they form their base opinions.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            On A and B: Yes, but in practical terms, messaging isn’t about changing the minds of the many people absolutely opposed to a party’s policies. It’s about motivating the base and moving the swing voters.

            On C: I couldn’t agree with you more. See the Democrats’ inability to put together a coherent position on the Bush tax cuts in the fall of 2010, when huge majorities of the public favored extending the middle-class cuts and letting the cuts for the wealthy lapse.

            • It’s the swing voters who by and large react purely on heuristics, and also have a pretty strong status quo bias.

              • mark f

                Agreed. Anecdotally, several swing voters I know seem to think that status quo bias is an apolitical position.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks

                  Tho’ 2010 swing voters furious about a bad economy and in a throw-the-bums out mood aren’t exactly primed to endorse the status quo.

                • mark f

                  The point is well taken, but I think their preferred solution the short-to-medium-term issue — putting someone with the right “common sense” skills in charge, as if it’s analogous to a ship captain or something — has a strong inherent long-term status quo bias.

                • “Tho’ 2010 swing voters furious about a bad economy and in a throw-the-bums out mood aren’t exactly primed to endorse the status quo.”

                  This a) confuses policy status quo with partisan status quo and b) only reinforces the point about basing opinions on heuristics. Obviously swing voters who went for the GOP over the state of economy weren’t taking their anger out on Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe for watering down the stimulus bill or the rest of the GOP for opposing any sort of stimulus outright.

          • Cheap Wino

            It also underestimates just how vile the GOP messaging machine was is. Screaming loud anti-everything Obama or democrat, no questions asked, no quarter given. Very tough to overcome when the media is either not doing it’s job or the one blatantly doing the screaming.

            • Plus, there’s the media’s turn away from that silly antiquated notion of reporting and towards the infotainment of having opposing “strategists” constantly “debating’ each other on teevee. By substituting constant argument and a “opinions differ, who knows what the truth is, now let’s go find out what the 27 people who took our online poll think” model of “journalism” for actual, authoritative, reporting of facts, the media has only increased the amount of noise and confusion, and made people even more prone/dependent upon retreating to heuristics and their own preconceived assumptions and biases to form their opinions.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              Citing the success of GOP messaging is not a very coherent argument against the importance of messaging.

              • Holden Pattern

                Both sides don’t do it?

              • Well, only if you decide to ignore the relative space being staked out by each side, I guess. The Democrats had a fairly significant “messaging success” when they were defending the Social Security status quo back in 2005 too.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks

                  Absolutely. But I don’t see how that is an argument against better messaging in 2010.

                  To take the ACA example, rather than present it as a vast transformation of the healthcare system, present it as a way to allow people to be able to continue to afford to see the physicians of their choice in the face of rising medical costs that would otherwise make your medical care worse.

                  I totally agree that people fear change and respond to appeals to their base instincts. But facts such as these don’t obviate (or render impossible) effective messaging campaigns; instead, they describe their shape.

                • “Absolutely. But I don’t see how that is an argument against better messaging in 2010.”

                  It’s an observation that it’s a lot easier to have “messaging success” when you’re resoundingly defending the status quo in the face of change that makes people nervous.

                • mark f

                  it’s a lot easier to have “messaging success” when you’re resoundingly defending the status quo in the face of change that makes people nervous.

                  Right. Republican messaging often seems effective because it’s really just expressing base prejudices, usually “Why should MY MONEY be given to LAZY POOR (and/or black) PEOPLE?!?!?” Democrats just got lucky that the SS issue was “Why should MY MONEY be given to RICH PEOPLE?!?!?” in a much more direct way than in, say, arguments about tax rates.

                • chris

                  Or, in other words, there’s no such thing as good messaging, only the truthiness or lack thereof of the position you’re trying to sell.

                  The positions Republicans are still successfully defending are the ones that very successfully appeal to emotionally biased lazy thinking. That’s a heck of a hill to get up armed with nothing more than reason.

        • joe from Lowell

          The 2010 Congressional elections were not lost “on the margin.”

  • Nora Carrington

    I made a similar argument over at Ta-Nehisi’s place a week or so ago, and I think you’re slightly mischaracterizing what Frank is saying. ACA wasn’t the wrong move because it upset people who already have insurance, ACA was the wrong move because there were more important things to spend that political capital on and pushing ACA resulted in a lot of people being upset.

    Reasonable people can disagree with that assessment, but it’s not a stupid idea and I don’t think running the numbers and concluding that finance and banking reform together with tax reform (for example) were more important as the country teetered on the edge of an abyss we’re not out of yet is evidence of a lack of political courage.

    • What things were more important? Frank says financial industry regulation, but that’s his bailiwick, and I think it would be difficult to make that a signature accomplishment– by definition it is “Washington red tape”, and easy to run against. Keeping your kid on your health insurance? Easy sell.

      I suppose greenhouse gas regulation is, long-term, more important, but what’s the path that gets you there? ACA was the attainable goal, and it should have been sold better.

      • gaz

        That one issue on ACA was an easy sell. The attempt at health care passage by Clinton would indicate that it’s at least reasonable for a pol to think that health care wasn’t going to be an easy sell. Clinton couldn’t sell it, and he was pretty popular. I think I tend to agree with Nora in this instance. It’s fair to understand that someone in the senate might question the political calculus of attempting to pursue healthcare reform.

        • gaz

          I should probably add that my statement was not meant to be interpreted as tacit agreement with Senator Frank. I think he’s wrong, FTR, but I fully understand why he takes the position that he does. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for him to do so.

    • That’s how I see it too. The first and most important job was to fix the economy. That meant a proper stimulus and serious reform of Wall Street and the tax structure. Had the Administration done these, I believe the political capital would have still existed for HCR.

      • Scott Lemieux

        The stimulus had already been done as the ACA was being deliberated. I never really know what “political capital” means but after the 2010 midterms the Democrats wouldn’t have had the ability to pass anything worth passing.

        • Besides that, the notion that reforming one of the largest sectors of the economy and one of, if not the, biggest sources of financial distress for working and middle class families is wholly independent from dealing with the economy is a rather strange way of looking at things.

        • mpowell

          I’ll agree that financial reform would not have earned any short term political benefits (though it may have been a good play), but I’ll disagree that the stimulus that was passed was sufficient. I don’t know if this is even related to the ACA, but if the stimulus had included massive aid to the states preventing a shrinkage in the state employment sector, I think the 2010 elections could have looked a lot different.

          But I don’t have any real conviction that this is just a matter of applying ‘political capital’ in one area or another. For one thing, it is very unlikely that Obama’s first preference for the stimulus package would have been sufficient to save that house majority in 2010. He just didn’t get it.

          • “I don’t know if this is even related to the ACA, but if the stimulus had included massive aid to the states preventing a shrinkage in the state employment sector, I think the 2010 elections could have looked a lot different.”

            And, not coincidentally, Snowe, Collins, and Specter made sure to get rid of that before agreeing to vote for the stimulus.

          • Scott Lemieux

            I’m not saying that the stimulus was economically sufficient. I’m saying that 1)there’s no reason to believe that abandoning health care reform would have led to a better stimulus, and 2)since stimulus was first in the sequence the insufficiency of the stimulus wasn’t a product of the ACA.

            • mpowell

              Yeah, I didn’t think that’s what you were saying. I was just pointing out that they could, in theory, have done better and this could have actually been pretty valuable politically as well as being the right thing to do. I don’t think extra stimulus is what Frank is talking about, though.

              A point worth making there is that political capital isn’t actually fungible. So giving up on ACA and going back for stimulus round 2 or something wouldn’t have necessarily worked anyways.

              • chris

                I was just pointing out that they could, in theory, have done better

                What’s the theory that leads to this conclusion?

                ISTM perfectly possible that the stimulus was the most that could politically be achieved with the Congress that was there, and also inadequate from an economics point of view. Because recessions cause big scary deficits that low-information voters and the Congresscritters that represent them react to by instinctively lurching towards contractionary austerity, and revulsion to a plan that would make the deficit even bigger and scarier.

                If you’re taking office after four years of steadily worsening conditions under Hoover, maybe you’re in a good position to make the point that this approach is not working, but if belt-tightening hasn’t been tried yet, it’s very, very hard to talk people out of it. In a political battle of rational argument supported by evidence versus emotional prejudices, emotional prejudices will win every day of the week.

                A point worth making there is that political capital isn’t actually fungible.

                Or spendable, or even existent…

        • Yes, of course the stimulus had been done before the ACA. My point is that the stimulus was inadequate.

          Fixing the economy tends to make you popular as President; hence “political capital”. In my view, campaigning on tax reform and Wall Street reform back in 2009 would also have been popular; Obama apparently agrees on the former because he’s doing it now.

          Political success makes the opposition party less certain about challenging you. If the economy had been recovering more quickly in early 2010, people would have been much more willing to trust the Dems on HCR.

          • joe from Lowell

            campaigning on tax reform and Wall Street reform back in 2009 would also have been popular; Obama apparently agrees on the former because he’s doing it now.

            What election was Obama campaign for in 2009?

            The difference between now and 2009 is that 2009 was a period when he was actually working to pass things through Congress, while now he has no chance of passing anything, and is campaigning for office. Moving legislation is very different from winning over voters.

            Political success makes the opposition party less certain about challenging you.

            I’ll draw your attention back to the first half of 2009. Did the Democrats’, and Obama’s, political success in the elections, and their absurdly-high levels of public support, make the Republicans less certain about challenging them?

            • As I said in response to Brian below, moving legislation and winning voters are related. I agree that the overlap isn’t complete, but they are related. A good legislative program does both; that’s what a democratic form of government entails.

              Yes, I do think the Republicans were uncertain about challenging Obama in January 2009. I think this would have been still more true if he had made a larger stimulus a sine qua non for economic recovery. He let them off the hook.

              • joe from Lowell

                As I said in response to Brian below, moving legislation and winning voters are related. I agree that the overlap isn’t complete, but they are related. A good legislative program does both; that’s what a democratic form of government entails.

                The “winning voters” part of passing bills through Congress in 2009 happened in 2006 and 2008. The “winning voters” part gives you the legislature you deal with. Once that’s in place, you finagle some language through.

                Yes, I do think the Republicans were uncertain about challenging Obama in January 2009. I think this would have been still more true if he had made a larger stimulus a sine qua non for economic recovery.

                Wow.

                OK, I can see how, if you remember 2009 that way, the rest of your argument follows from that.

                • The “winning voters” part didn’t stop after the 2008 elections; it’s a perpetual process in a democracy.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Going back and forth between winning elections and governing is, indeed, a perpetual part of democracy. This doesn’t change the fact that those are two different tasks, requiring different means, and requiring more attention at different times.

                  Your observation, that public politics are an eternal part of democracy, does nothing to back up your claim that public politics is effective at getting the legislature you have at a given time to pass bills. Drinking and breathing are both “perpetual parts” of human life. I don’t recommend trying to do both at once, and I don’t recommend inhaling as an effective method of hydration.

                • All of the best presidents were best in large part because they understood that elective politics is absolutely essential to legislative politics. Think Lincoln’s public letters and speeches or FDR’s fireside chats.

                  A claim that they’re separate strikes me as hard to defend.

                • joe from Lowell

                  No, they didn’t Mark. This is a popular myth about how politics work.

                  Think Lincoln’s public letters and speeches or FDR’s fireside chats.

                  Neither played the slightest role in their legislative efforts. Two entirely different things.

                  There has actually been quite a bit of research on the efficacy of public messaging on presidents’ success at getting their legislation passed. We don’t have to depend upon how the notion “strikes us.”

                • joe from Lowell

                  Just a reminder: Your original claim was

                  In my view, campaigning on tax reform and Wall Street reform back in 2009 would also have been popular; Obama apparently agrees on the former because he’s doing it now.

                  If you wish to hold to the Aaron Sorkin narrative of the political process, go for it. I’m just pointing out that not everyone feels that way, and that Obama’s decision that tax reform is an effective campaign message in 2012 most certainly does not demonstrate that he “agrees with you” that it would have been a smart thing to do when he was working to pass legislation in 2009.

                • Putting aside my disagreement with you on the lessons of both history and political science, fatalism is a guaranteed loser as a political tactic.

                • “fatalism is a guaranteed loser as a political tactic.”

                  Actually, I dare say that it’s your view that makes no logical sense, unless you simply reject the notion that there are ever factors at play that are out of your control. Given the actual nature and patterns of American politics, Democratic Congressional losses in 2010 were about as guaranteed as the sun coming up in the east tomorrow morning, so not worrying about what would happen then and instead taking advantage of a generational Congressional majority to enact as much of your legislative agenda while you have the chance is the obvious thing to do.

                • mpowell

                  It’s not fatalism Mark, it’s just about putting your energy where it makes sense. Get more and better Democrats elected. But don’t imagine that voters perference’s matter in the first year after elections. Do some research on this issue- there has been a lot written on this blog on the point. JFL is right.

                • “Actually, I dare say that it’s your view that makes no logical sense, unless you simply reject the notion that there are ever factors at play that are out of your control. Given the actual nature and patterns of American politics, Democratic Congressional losses in 2010 were about as guaranteed as the sun coming up in the east tomorrow morning, so not worrying about what would happen then and instead taking advantage of a generational Congressional majority to enact as much of your legislative agenda while you have the chance is the obvious thing to do.”

                  Of course there are factors which are out of one’s control. Politicians control nothing, just like the rest of us. That doesn’t mean they should stop trying or fighting.

                  Sure losses were probable in 2010; that’s the historic pattern. But the extent of those losses is what the real debate here is about. Basically, Obama did it your way and the result was pretty awful. It’s kind of odd to reject out of hand suggestions that different tactics might have produced a less awful result. That’s what I mean by fatalism.

                • “That doesn’t mean they should stop trying or fighting.”

                  Well, yes. But fighting for what? Fighting to maintain control of some relatively solid red districts in an of year election seems rather pointless to me, while fighting to pass significant chunks of your long term policy agenda seems much more worthwhile.

                  “Basically, Obama did it your way and the result was pretty awful.”

                  I don’t really consider passing the most comprehensive healthcare reform act Democrats have ever managed to enact after 50+ years of trying to be “awful,” but your mileage may vary, I guess.

                • I don’t really consider passing the most comprehensive healthcare reform act Democrats have ever managed to enact after 50+ years of trying to be “awful,” but your mileage may vary, I guess.

                  Straw man.

          • John

            For your argument to work, you’d need to demonstrate not merely that the stimulus was insufficient, but that a stimulus which was sufficient was politically possible.

            • Agreed. My basic view is that in times of crisis presidents get what they loudly insist on. Had Obama demanded a stimulus at $1.8T, we’d have seen similar maneuvering and negotiation at the margins just as we saw at $800B and the bill would have passed with the same votes.

              • Holy Jeebus.

              • Furious Jorge

                I really, really doubt this.

                In fact, nothing that cracked the $1 trillion barrier ever had a chance in hell of passing. That word – “trillion” – is just way too powerful and frightening.

            • mpowell

              Well, I’d agree that the argument probably doesn’t work in it’s entirety for this reason.

      • joe from Lowell

        serious reform of Wall Street and the tax structure

        It seems quite a stretch to think that public opinion would have been meaningfully different if Dodd-Frank had met your criteria for seriousness.

        Instead of a financial regulatory bill that very few people understand, we would have had a different financial regulatory bill that very few people understand. In both cases, the public defaults to pro- vs. anti-Obama, Democrat vs. Republican, and liberal vs. conservative.

        • The public is and was very ready to be anti-Wall Street. And as I pointed out above, Obama apparently now believes tax fairness is a winning issue; it would have been one in 2009 also.

          • You confuse being a winning issue on the campaign trail with making a difference of any kind with respect to Congressional action.

            • I’m not confusing them, I think they’re related — if Members think they’re on the wrong side of an issue that can be used against them in the election, they’ll be less likely to oppose you.

              • That describes the behavior of approximately zero Republicans during the last two Democratic administrations, but sure, any day now, right?

                • Then you campaign on the issue until you defeat them at the polls.

                  I’m curious, though — if running on popular issues isn’t a formula for success in your view, what is?

                • “Then you campaign on the issue until you defeat them at the polls.”

                  So at what point do you stop prioritizing obtaining more and more legislative seats and start prioritizing doing something with those seats, in your view?

                • I’ll answer your question even though you ducked mine.

                  It isn’t a matter of “prioritizing” when it comes to the major issues. All you can ever do is (a) pass the bill you can after (b) making the opposition pay as steep a political price as you can exact for opposing it. Obama’s approach to the stimulus failed to exact any price.

                  Just to be clear, that doesn’t make Obama history’s greatest monster. It means he made a mistake.

                • “Obama’s approach to the stimulus failed to exact any price.”

                  So we’re just going to assume a world in which everyone agrees that a massive government spending package is the proper response to a recession? Okay then.

              • joe from Lowell

                Why would any Republican who managed to still be in Congress after the 2006 and 2008 elections think that opposing a Democratic policy effort would put them on the wrong side of their voting public?

                • I think what you say is basically right when it comes to the House, but not the Senate. And the Senate was where the issue was.

            • mark f

              Also ignores JFL’s point and confuses, as a campaign issue, the legislative quality of congressional action with the stated purpose of the same. It’s a feedback loop of confusion!

          • joe from Lowell

            The public is and was very ready to be anti-Wall Street.

            Certainly: the question is whether a different financial regulatory bill would have done a better job of rallying that anti-Wall Street sentiment. When we’re talking about actual law and regulation, not sloganeering, we’re getting pretty far down into the weeds. It seems likely to me that the same people would have all been making the same arguments about the bill, regardless of what was in it.

            • Citizen Bacillus

              And you are correct about that, but Obama could have staked out a stronger ‘anti-Wall Street’ position through non-legislative means.

              Now, I want to be clear that I share Scott’s skepticism about bully pulpits and political capital. However, a president’s influence over, say, the Justice Department is very real. Indicting some of the worst offenders in the mortgage meltdown would have been both a bulwark against voter anger, and a more effective means of reining in stock market excess.

              Forget congressional ‘inquiries.’ The public needed to see a couple of those assholes in front of a grand jury. Would it have made a difference with the ACA? Seems unlikely, but it never hurts to fluff your approval rating when you can pursue a good policy at the same time.

          • John

            Do you think raising taxes in 2009 would have been a good idea?

            • On whom? On the public generally, it would have been a terrible idea. On the wealthy, it probably wouldn’t have affected the recovery much if at all. But in any case tax reform doesn’t have to implemented immediately. It can be set up in advance and with different triggers.

              • So now we’re also going to assume that the public en masse is well versed in the minute details of policy as well? Interesting.

  • BradP

    2)This is – uncharacteristically — essentially an argument against most progressive change. Anything that challenges privilege and disrupts the status quo carries risk and disrupts people’s sensitivities

    I don’t agree with this. I think the argument can certainly be made that financial reform (at least in the US) would be more set up for progressive reform than health care.

    First off, he has a point that health care was dangerous because most of the people have some skin in that game already. I don’t think you would have had near as much pushback against financial reform, because most people see bankers as an insular little group.

    To build off of that, I think he also has a point that health care reform was extremely costly. It is not an anti-progressive argument to point to how costly a particular policy push is or was, and say that other progressive policy movement could have been more effective.

    I know folks on here are not ready to bail on the great health care reform victory, but it really wasn’t much of a progressive concession there. Yes, coverage was expanded, but the inefficiencies and rents that were pricing people out of insurance markets and enriching insurance companies remain fundamentally unchanged.

    Furthermore, looking at economic demographics, one can see that out of control financial manipulation has largely been responsible for the economic growth, inequality growth, and resulting crash. I’m not sure how much good spreading health insurance coverage out does if this greater problem is not fixed as well.

    • “I don’t agree with this. I think the argument can certainly be made that financial reform (at least in the US) would be more set up for progressive reform than health care.”

      Sure…so long as you don’t know anything about American politics.

      • BradP

        And how is that?

        • If you couldn’t even get a more progressive bill on the Democratic Party’s singular issue for over half a decade passed through the Senate, in what way are you going to get the Blue Dog wing to support a more progressive package on financial reform which a) much more directly impacts their monied masters and b) does not have the sort of binding power on the caucus that healthcare does?

          • BradP

            “Were gonna get those bankers” sells a lot better than “We’re gonna make radical changes to the health insurance system that most of the population gets their coverage through”.

            As Frank says, the public was always going to be extremely skeptical of changing the coverage that they already have, while the public generally hated the financial sector.

            If anything, you are killing hope of progressive change, cause every industry has both parties on the line. The only way change can really happen is through popular support that gives forces some politicians to separate themselves from their masters.

            A motivated public can enact change, even through somewhat disinterested proxies.

            • ““Were gonna get those bankers” sells a lot better than “We’re gonna make radical changes to the health insurance system that most of the population gets their coverage through”.”

              With Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh? I rather doubt it.

              • BradP

                With Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh? I rather doubt it.

                I find it very hard to believe that those individuals are any more willing to sell out monied health care interests.

                • And yet, they both voted for the ACA. QED.

                • BradP

                  And yet, they both voted for the ACA. QED.

                  Well since I have been pretty plain in calling the ACA a handout to health care’s monied interests, I am not surprised.

                  In the end, when we talk about alternative possibilities, its all gonna come down to what we think about the what actually occurred.

                  You are much higher on the ACA than I am, and we can’t really escape that divide in this discussion.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Well since I have been pretty plain in calling the ACA a handout to health care’s monied interests, I am not surprised.

                  But you think a financial regulatory bill that those two would have voted for would be more rip-roaringly progressive?

                • BradP

                  But you think a financial regulatory bill that those two would have voted for would be more rip-roaringly progressive?

                  I think public opinion could have been used much more effectively in coercing them in the progressive direction.

                • Both were retiring in the face of extremely difficult re-election campaigns in red states. Why would they have cared about public opinion? Or, more appropriately, why would they have cared more about public opinion than the security of the corporate sinecures they were set to cash in on?

                • joe from Lowell

                  I think public opinion could have been used much more effectively in coercing them in the progressive direction.

                  Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh do not have long histories of being coerced into embracing progressivism by the publics of Indiana and Nebraska. In fact, it was their willingness to piss off progressives that helped make them so bulletproof in those red states.

            • Besides, let’s not pretend that anti-bankster outrage is all of a piece. There’s plenty of nominal anti-Wall Street sentiment amongst right-wing populists, but it’s not like they were lining up to support major regulatory reform or hanging out in Zuccotti Park, now was it?

              • BradP

                Its also not likely that the public would have been so receptive to conservative narratives about the horrors of financial reform.

                • Hogan

                  But they’ve been pretty receptive to the narrative that the financial collapse was inflicted on the bankers by CRA and Fannie/Freddie.

                • Really? Must have missed that huge groundswell of support for bailing out homeowners with underwater mortgages.

                • BradP

                  But they’ve been pretty receptive to the narrative that the financial collapse was inflicted on the bankers by CRA and Fannie/Freddie.

                  I never got the impression that the financial collapse was inflicted on bankers, whereas the government engaged in policies that encouraged and enabled the sort of investments.

                  Perhaps I am wrong, but the bankers don’t come off too well in either narrative.

    • Joe

      Coverage expanded helps millions of people. This is not really that trivial. The law in fact DID start to address the costs issue though clearly some will debate how much good it did. No one law, like no one civil rights law, is going to do it all. You have to start somewhere.

      “great health care victory” comes off as snide. It was a real victory but in no way the end. The law itself comes out in installments.

      • BradP

        “great health care victory” comes off as snide.

        It was snide.

    • David W.

      Yes, coverage was expanded, but the inefficiencies and rents that were pricing people out of insurance markets and enriching insurance companies remain fundamentally unchanged.

      Um, that’s not true. The requirement that insurers pay out at least 80 to 85 percent of their premiums on health care along with the subsidies given to pay the premiums of lower-income individuals and families was a BFD, at least on the insurance end of things. We still have to grapple with the rising cost of health care itself, of course. But the ACA still is a good thing overall in terms of addressing disparities in health care.

      • Also, the primary factor “pricing people out of insurance markets” is the high cost of procuring healthcare services. So…yeah.

        • BradP

          There is ABSOLUTELY no doubt that the absurdly high cost of medical care is unique to the American system. You cannot possibly deny that the US has an extremely cost inefficient health care system.

          • David W.

            That’s because we still pretend we have a pay-as-you-go market for health care while providers are faced with having to provide care via the ER to the indigent and then hike the bills for those who do pay them to make up for it. There’s a lot of that sort of cost shifting going on that doesn’t happen in single-payer systems.

            • Well, no, it’s mostly because the purchasing of healthcare is more diffuse in this country, allowing providers to charge higher rates, and also that there isn’t any political will for slashing these costs, since the providers are obviously opposed to that and consumers assume this means they won’t be able to get a needed treatment and will be sentenced to death by a bureaucrat at some point in time.

              • David W.

                The Mayo Clinic begs to differ with you:

                Like most academic medical centers, Mayo treats a fair number of patients who cannot afford to pay their bills. In 2007 it spent $182 million providing charity care and covering the unpaid portion of Medicaid bills—plus another $352 million on “quantifiable benefits to the larger community” which included “non-billed services, in-kind donations and education.”

                That year, 100,000 benefactors gave the Clinic a record $373 million—enough to pay for the benefits the Clinic provided for the community, but far from the amount that would be needed cover the charity care Mayo provided.

                Although its $1.6 billion endowment gives Mayo a stable base, it is not awash in money. In 2007 it operated on a relatively slim margin of 2.9 percent; that year revenues grew by 9.6 while expenses rose by 8.5 percent, “due in part to Mayo investments in patient care and research activities, as well as information technology infrastructure,” the annual report explains.

                • Really?

                • BradP

                  The Mayo Clinic has a $1.6B endowment that has grown by a billion over the last decade.

                  Call me crazy but I don’t think charitable health care and community investments totalling 161M over charitable donations is really hitting them that hard.

                • joe from Lowell

                  How is this blockquote an argument that providers are willing to see see costs controlled?

                  Am I misunderstanding what the quote is supposed to demonstrate?

            • BradP

              This states that uncompensated care amounts to about 3% of total health care spending.

              There is certainly a good amount that health care costs can come down with improved access and usage of preventative measures and early responses. I’m not entirely sure the ACA will lead to more efficient use of health care, but things could certainly be done.

              There’s a lot of that sort of cost shifting going on that doesn’t happen in single-payer systems.

              Agreed, but this is not much of a move towards single payer, nor does it provide any real counteraction to the priveleged oligopoly health insurers enjoy and the cost problems that status quo creates.

              • I’m willing to bet that the surplus value providers are able to charge, especially specialists, relative to the markets in other countries accounts for quite a bit more than 3% of healthcare costs.

              • David W.

                It may be more like 8% according to this article from the Center for American Progress, and when it’s broken down by state it can run into thousands of extra dollars per year on a families’ insurance premiums:

                Cost-Shift From Uninsured Increases Premiums in Every State

                • The problem with the cost-shifting argument should be relatively obvious: it doesn’t explain increases in total spending.

                • David W.

                  Well, it isn’t as if health care costs aren’t also rising elsewhere, as this graph on Canada’s heath care expenditures shows:

                  Total health care expenditures in 1997 dollars (CAN)

                  It’s not just due to the population increasing either, but a genuine desire for more and better health care.

                • chris

                  The problem with the cost-shifting argument should be relatively obvious: it doesn’t explain increases in total spending.

                  What, you think those costs just shift themselves? It takes work to push costs around, and that work becomes another cost to be added to the pile.

                  Furthermore, when someone delays getting health care because they fear the cost may be pushed onto them if they don’t obtain HMO preapproval and the HMO is dragging its heels hoping the cost will just go away, their actual health condition may worsen in the meantime, making it more expensive to deal with when someone finally gets around to it.

                  On the other hand, David W.’s point is also valid: health care costs rising faster than GDP is the normal pattern everywhere, it’s just the degree of extra cost growth that is unusual.

      • R Johnston

        Considering that Medicare spends 97% of its outflow on health care, that’s baking in a whole lot of inefficiency to the system.

        80%-85% may be an improvement on the status quo ante, but is still sucks and it still means we’ll be paying far more for health care than we should. Keeping insurance companies in business despite the phenomenal inefficiency of spending only 80%-85% of premiums on health care is precisely why we didn’t get a public option.

        • Well, not, we didn’t get a public option because there weren’t enough votes to enact one. Presumably health insurance companies would have still existed alongside a public plan, so that doesn’t appear to have anything to do with it.

    • Hogan

      I don’t think you would have had near as much pushback against financial reform, because most people see bankers as an insular little group.

      You wouldn’t have had as much pushback in public opinion. You would have had much more pushback among powerful elites who do business in some seriously blue states, and that matters.

      out of control financial manipulation has largely been responsible for the economic growth, inequality growth, and resulting crash.

      That’s certainly one narrative out there. It has its competitors.

      • BradP

        You wouldn’t have had as much pushback in public opinion. You would have had much more pushback among powerful elites who do business in some seriously blue states, and that matters.

        What am I supposed to do at this place?

        When I stick to my libertarian guns I’m a dogmatic hater of all things government. When I try to express a more progressive friendly viewpoint, all of a sudden the democratic party is Renfield.

        All I can tell from this blog is that the state is at all times omnipotent and powerless, magnanimous and malevolent.

        • Hogan

          That’s because you think the state is more coherent and disciplined than a blog comment section. Welcome to the US. There’s coffee and bagels on the sideboard.

          • joe from Lowell

            Exactly. He thinks of “the state” as a single entity whose actions and motivations can be meaningfully described and understood that way, as opposed to an arena in which the competing interests of numerous actors interact and produce an ultimate result.

            • BradP

              He thinks of “the state” as a single entity whose actions and motivations can be meaningfully described and understood that way,

              No, I think that every action the state takes is backed by the threat of violence and thereby it all avoids a great deal of the costs that getting people to volunteer would have. Therefore it ALL requires a skeptical look.

              I also think monopoly creates a slave/master relationship, and that states deal in monopolies.

              75% of the threads I get involved in deal with me saying that government cannot be trusted to maintain against economic pressure and benefits of power. These go in circles for days as people try to think of different ways that good politicians overcome those systematic malincentives.

              The other 25% of threads I get involved in are me saying democrats shouldn’t be doing what they are doing, or should have done something when they did nothing, and those threads go on for days as people try and convince me that malincentives rendered them powerless to do the right thing.

              At this point to me, it seems like government and democrats are benevolent and trustworthy when it comes to policies folks on here like, but powerless and trapped by corrupt system when it comes to policies they don’t like.

              It manifests itself in this discussion by the insistence that financial reform would have been gutted by monied interests, and a pretty stout refusal to acknowledge the same thing happened to health care reform.

              • BradP

                No, I think that every action the state takes is backed by the threat of violence and thereby it all avoids a great deal of the costs that getting people to volunteer would have. Therefore it ALL requires a skeptical look.

                To reinforce this with an example, I don’t believe all cops are bad, but I do believe all cops should be observed and treated with skepticism because of the position they are put in.

                There are certain traits that every action the state takes on share, and they necessitate a vigilent and skeptical public.

                • joe from Lowell

                  That’s all well and good, Brad, but completely irrelevant. One can be skeptical, or not, of a coherent, singular “state,” as well as of a “state” whose behavior is the outcome of interest-groups interacting and competing.

                  Your snarky comment about the state being “at all times” contradictory things has nothing to do with your argument for skepticism. You’re whining because we characterize the behavior of the state differently in different situations, as if there’s something wrong with thinking that government can, and does, act inconsistently.

                • BradP

                  Your snarky comment about the state being “at all times” contradictory things has nothing to do with your argument for skepticism.

                  You aren’t being fair here. You were the one who started this line of discussion by describing what I think.

                  You’re whining because we characterize the behavior of the state differently in different situations, as if there’s something wrong with thinking that government can, and does, act inconsistently.

                  This is also a mischaracterization. I am “whining” because I think there is drastic disconnect between the way progressives tend to view the past behavior of government, and the way they expect the government to handle the responsibilities of future policy.

                  And yes, there are vitally important characteristics that all state laws share.

              • I also think monopoly creates a slave/master relationship

                So you think that there are reasonable analogies that can be made between the services AT&T provided prior to 1980 (and I’ll stipulate how sucky they were) and plantation owners in the antebellum South?

                • BradP

                  Without being versed in telephone company behavior before I was born, I will say that chattel slavery is unique in degree, but not in kind.

                • Hard to believe that libertarianism does not thrive among the African-American community…

                • Hogan

                  You must remember the civil war we had to fight in order to make the world safe for MCI and Sprint.

                • BradP

                  Hard to believe that libertarianism does not thrive among the African-American community…

                  I don’t mean to downplay the horror of chattel slavery, but whether you control a person as much by withholding as you can by threatening violence.

                  If I have a gun and you don’t, there is little difference between forcing someone to do something at the barrel of the gun, and forcing them to do something in exchange for subsistence.

                • Please tell us how payroll withholding is the moral equivalent of slavery, differing only in degree.

                • BradP

                  Please tell us how payroll withholding is the moral equivalent of slavery, differing only in degree.

                  The threat of starvation is just as compelling as the threat of a gunshot.

                  The populations of some company towns were enslaved by necessity and legalized withholding.

                • Hogan

                  The populations of some company towns were enslaved by necessity and legalized withholding.

                  And private-sector gunshots.

                • joe from Lowell

                  I don’t mean to downplay the horror of chattel slavery, but whether you control a person as much by withholding as you can by threatening violence.

                  This is precisely why the libertarian claim that economic pain and disparity are benign is such bullshit.

                  “Hey, I’m just letting him starve, not starving him myself.” “Hey, Sweet Tits can always just find another job. Nobody’s holding a gut to her head and making her work here.”

                  You control a person as much by withholding as you can by threatening violence, Brad.

                • The populations of some company towns were enslaved by necessity and legalized withholding.

                  And the monopoly of legitimate violence held by the state eventually, and belatedly, solved that problem that the allegedly free market created.

                  I note you seem to have changed the topic away from monopoly service providers. Can I safely assume that was because you realized your position was ridiculous?

                • BradP

                  This is precisely why the libertarian claim that economic pain and disparity are benign is such bullshit.

                  “Hey, I’m just letting him starve, not starving him myself.” “Hey, Sweet Tits can always just find another job. Nobody’s holding a gut to her head and making her work here.”

                  You control a person as much by withholding as you can by threatening violence, Brad.

                  While you are fair in making that point, I doubt you have seen many such arguments posted under my name.

                • BradP

                  I note you seem to have changed the topic away from monopoly service providers. Can I safely assume that was because you realized your position was ridiculous?

                  Certainly not!

                  We seem to have arrived at a point where we both agree that one can enslave by denial as easily as by imposition.

                  From there we seem to be able to make an easy step to say that someone in position to deny a necessity has power over another person proportional to how dire that particular need is.

                  If I have a monopoly over, say, water, and thus can deny you water, it doesn’t matter much whether you are my property or not.

                  If we can agree up to this point, I doubt that I need to go on.

                • If I have a monopoly over, say, water, and thus can deny you water, it doesn’t matter much whether you are my property or not.

                  And when some vital service is naturally provided as a monopoly, for whatever reason, history shows that the monopoly should never be held by any entity other than the government. Water actually being a good example. Company script being another.

                • BradP

                  And when some vital service is naturally provided as a monopoly, for whatever reason, history shows that the monopoly should never be held by any entity other than the government. Water actually being a good example. Company script being another.

                  Here we are on the same page. Otherwise I would be an anarchist.

                • chris

                  Without being versed in telephone company behavior before I was born, I will say that chattel slavery is unique in degree, but not in kind.

                  ISTM that “without being versed in chattel slavery behavior before I was born” would have been a much more relevant qualifier here.

              • “and a pretty stout refusal to acknowledge the same thing happened to health care reform.”

                Wait a second, who in the bloody blue hell does this describe? Because it seems to me that one thing everyone here agrees with is the notion that HCR involved sellouts to monied interests. The “real true porgressive” set thinks the whole thing was a sop to insurance companies, while others note that concessions had to be made to pharmaceutical and (especially) provider interests for political reasons.

        • Bill Murray

          well it’s mostly Brien Jackson you’re arguing with and he usually finds it necessary to argue with every one who criticizes any policy of Obama’s.

          • Interestingly enough, David Mizner and I seem to mostly be in agreement here. Your mind, it is blown.

          • all about the $$$

            guy works hard for his OFA dollars

  • I think Frank answered the question himself by mentioning financial reform. That was Frank’s area, after all, and he seems to be saying that he would have preferred to focus on that first, when the Democrats had a larger majority and more political capital to expend on it, rather than making healthcare reform they’re first major agenda item after the ARRA. I too think he’s wrong, from the standpoint of both progressive policy and Democratic coalition politics perspectives, but it’s not hard to see how the guy who’s name was on the financial reform bill that ultimately passed might think that the party should have prioritized that more during the 11th Congress.

  • david mizner

    He’s mixing up two different ideas here. You can reasonably claim that the Obama admin should’ve done Wall Street reform first (earlier, it might’ve turned out stronger than Dodd-Frank) but he’s also arguing that the Obama admin should’ve given up once Scott Brown won in January, after pushing it for, what, nine months?–that’s just silly.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yeah, the first is at least colorable, although for the reasons stated I would still gave preferred to prioritize health care even if a marginally stronger Dodd-Frank would have passed. But the second, as you say, is bizarre. It’s hard to see how trying to pass health care reform and failing would even have been better politics.

      • Davis X. Machina

        It’s hard to see how trying to pass health care reform and failing would even have been better politics.

        You don’t read many progressive blogs, do you>

        • Heighten those contradictions, Comrade!

        • mark f

          +1

          • mark f

            (Assuming it was a joke)

        • njorl

          Having no clue about politics doesn’t necessarily make one progressive.

          • John

            Having no clue about politics but making a living off writing about it does make you Matt Stoller, however.

  • Rarely Posts

    1) I like Frank, but I’d pick Pelosi over him any day of the week.

    2) Obama actually had an unusually clear and focused legislative agenda: ACA and Cap-and-Trade. He campaigned on them and he threw his weight behind them. The fact that Congress only got so much done suggests that he was wise not too expand that agenda, but there’s no reason to think narrowing it any further would have helped.

    3) I don’t know the merits of Dodd-Frank very well, but I know that it was a marketing nightmare–i.e., the Democrats (including Frank) failed to sell any of its provisions to the public. Even the relative wonks of the blogosphere barely have written about it, and almost none have had much enthusiasm. Frank needs to take ownership over the fact that Dodd-Frank (1) may not be a great bill and (2) certainly didn’t win over any eager, vocal supporters. The failure to sell Dodd-Frank is even more egregious given context–the banking system triggered a massive global recession, the worst since the great depression. If the liberal Democrats on the Hill couldn’t write regulatory provisions to address that crisis in a way that captured wonk and/or popular support, then they need to own their failure.

  • Joe

    Another bit that got some people upset:

    If you care deeply about a cause, and you are engaged in an activity on behalf of that cause that is great fun and makes you feel good and warm and enthusiastic, you’re probably not helping, because you’re out there with your friends, and political work is much tougher and harder

    He then comes off (in the opinion of some) as trivializing the current value of pride days. In the past, it was revolutionary, coming out. Now it has “no political role,” it is just fun. That sounds exaggerated.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      He then comes off (in the opinion of some) as trivializing the current value of pride days. In the past, it was revolutionary, coming out. Now it has “no political role,” it is just fun. That sounds exaggerated.

      I get the point he’s trying to make — I sometimes get nostalgic for the mad-as-hell days of ACT UP — but he’s way off-base with this.

      What sets the fight for LGBT equality apart is that there is no equivalent to the closet in most areas of political struggle. Barney Frank knows as well as anybody that in the context of the gay rights movement even the most seemingly trivial (or “fun,” if you prefer) acts can carry enormous political significance, precisely because it’s always been a fight against invisibility and erasure.

      “We’re here, we’re queer” isn’t just a catchy chant…it’s been the very essence of the gay rights struggle from the beginning. And even if many of us in the big cities have the luxury of living almost 100% out lives, we should remind ourselves that this is a privilege that a hell of a lot of our fellow LGBT citizens don’t enjoy.

      Does Pride Weekend in NYC or San Francisco still carry the same overtly political charge that it did in the first few years after Stonewall? No. Does that mean that everyone participating is 100% out in all contexts of their lives? Of course not. Go talk to the kids marching with the gay South Asian or Latin American contingents and you’ll quickly be disabused of the notion that it’s all just a big pink fluffy party.

      And how about the Pride celebrations that are now taking place in towns all over the country, including places where it would have been unthinkable as recently as 10 years ago?

      Will & Grace and Modern Family notwithstanding, the closet is still a reality for people in vast swathes of this country, and Barney Frank knows it.

      OK, sorry for ranting…descending from soapbox. And just to be clear, while he may be wrong about this and any number of other things, Barney Frank is awesome.

    • BradP

      If you care deeply about a cause, and you are engaged in an activity on behalf of that cause that is great fun and makes you feel good and warm and enthusiastic, you’re probably not helping, because you’re out there with your friends, and political work is much tougher and harder

      How far does a legislator have to be up his own ass to think that politics and law is the leading edge of social change, and that grassroots attempts at openly trying to shift public perception are not only secondary, but not helping.

      Barney Frank seems to have a mentality that government is there to lead and save, rather than to serve and protect.

      And that is a rather incomprehensible position considering what he said about health care and financial reform.

      • Joe

        As someone said, he’s both a noticeably net value to productive government AND human, and this includes long term legislator bias.

        It’s forgivable. After all, Thurgood Marshall was known to be negative about street protests in the midst of the civil rights movement. Still, it’s a bit hard to understand how such a public means of showing numbers and passion in a cause is just seen as “fun.”

        In fact, wasn’t he a bit gun shy about the whole Occupy movement? When change doesn’t come, even with people of good faith in office, his conservative nature (sic) suggests what we have to go up against.

        And, he’s FOR these things as a matter of policy. The last votes comes from those who don’t care or are negative about them.

      • Uncle Kvetch

        How far does a legislator have to be up his own ass to think that politics and law is the leading edge of social change, and that grassroots attempts at openly trying to shift public perception are not only secondary, but not helping.

        Brad, capital-P politics can very well be the leading edge of social change — it really depends on the issue at hand. I think Frank is off-base with respect to LGBT rights (for reasons I explained in my comment) but in other areas I don’t think it would be uncontroversial to see legislative/electoral politics as primary over grassroots activism.

  • Joe Bohemouth

    I think this just demonstrates that even Our Progressive Heroes are human, too.

    Scott Brown carried Barney Frank’s district.

    That’s basically the whole story. Scott Brown carried Frank’s district, and it scared the living bejeezus out of him. More importantly, it gave his (many) enemies in the state leg. even more of an excuse to redistrict him out of a seat. Probably would have happened anyway, but this made it easier.

    So, even though Barney Frank is one of Our Progressive Heroes, this episode made him fear almost he’d never feared before – certainly not since he was outed, maybe in a way even more so – and put him out of a job.

    I’m sure deep down somewhere he knows the ACA was the right thing to do, but he’s human.

  • David W.

    The Democrats in the Senate were cutting bait for months until they passed their ACA bill in late December 2009, but they had to go fishing after Brown was elected in MA. I thing we would have seen more back and forth between the House and Senate otherwise. As Steve Benen put it back then, pass the damn bill.

    • This is what is often forgotten.

      It was one thing to wait until Franken’s seat was certified, but the minute, and I mean, the minute he took his seat, HCR should have been in committee and working its way through the system.

      • Richard

        I dont think that would have made much difference. Yeah, the Dems lost points because it took so long to get the bill passed and because so much was revealed about the sausage making procedure but the fact is
        1. Most people in this country have health insurance through their employer (or Medicare) so the ACA will have very little effect on them (and could hurt them if their company plan is found to be a Cadillac plan)
        2. It is a cardinal rule of human nature that most people don’t care about and are wary of government programs that benefit other people and not themselves

        3. All the polls(before passage of ACA, after passage and now) show that the majority of voters who call themselves independent don’t like the legislation. I don’t see any messagingor other strategy that would change that.

        • Joe

          What happens when the people lose their jobs (somewhat topical), have their premiums rise because of cost shifting or want to put their twenty two year old on their plans when they once could not, to name but a few things?

          The law helps a broad range of people. It’s one charm of it. The idea it only helps “them” is a messaging problem, perhaps, but it isn’t really true.

          • People by and large simply don’t think about it that way.

          • Richard

            I agree. I think the act does a lot of good things (even though it doesn’t affect me much at all because I now have Medicare plus another insurance plan provided through my wife’s retirement) But that is not how people look at it. And I don’t think messaging would help. The fact is most people (I think the stat is 65% or so) get their medical insurance through their employer and don’t believe they will lose their job (or fail to promptly find another one with medical coverage). And another 10% are on Medicare. So the currently employed and covered dont have much to gain by ACA unless they are persuaded that they are about to lose their jobs and not find comparable employment. Even if you have a doom and gloom ad campaign directed at the these people (emphasizing the temporal nature of their job and that they could be fired or laid off tomorrow and therefor without insurance coverage), I don’t think most people would be receptive to that message.

            • Joe

              There are two things here.

              What people feel and how people are actually affected.

              As to the second, the ACA isn’t just about “them.” Health costs need to be addressed and even if you have an employer based plan, if it is not, you will be harmed.

              Many people do lose jobs, including those who don’t expect it. The last few years underlined that, unfortunately.

              Many people (no idea how many, but noticeable, I assume) now can cover kids under 27 they once could not.

              Even those on Medicare are helped because the doughnut hole was addressed.

              This is more “gain” for many people on a concrete level than much legislation such as let’s say the end of DADT.

              • Richard

                I dont disagree. ACA is a good thing. But the majority of the people in this country are not effected by it or, if effected, are only effected in the future if certain things should happen. that makes it a very hard sell.

                • Joe

                  How many things affect a “majority” in this sense at all? And, looking thru Jonathan Gruber’s graphic summary alone, I don’t really buy it anyway. There are many things that “effect” people now and if you add it all up, I think a majority very well might be effected now, even in that restrictive way.

        • Well, lemme see if I can deconstruct your points a little:

          1) 48 million people sort of put paid to your “most people” theory: Plurality, perhaps, but far from a level where we can safely say there’s adequate coverage. I think this was reflected in polls taken since the 1990s, in fact. And it was probably more like 50-53 million at the height of the first wave of layoffs in early 2009.

          2) The messaging was way off, to be sure, but by the time HCR was actually passed, those talking points had already been rebutted pro forma by the noise machine of the right. Pass it in a timely fashion and we can have an actual debate on the merits of the policy.

          3) Independent voters also didn’t like Social Security, Medicare, and welfare until they saw how it impacted people they love (parents, friends, and so on). Again, a more timely debate would have gone a long way to staving off the resistance that was thrown up against it.

          In the election cycle forward, I am certain Obama will spend a lot of time talking about the very real successes of HCR, like insuring all children have access to health care and the pre-existing condition barrier. Independents will come around, maybe not on HCR per se, but they will see Obama as a man who can be trusted to implement the rest of HCR fairly and without too much pain.

        • chris

          2. It is a cardinal rule of human nature that most people don’t care about and are wary of government programs that benefit other people and not themselves

          Swedes aren’t human?

          It’s a common thought pattern in present-day America. That’s not the same thing.

  • joe from Lowell

    Maybe it’s just me, but most of the arguments for giving up on HCR after Scott Brown was elected seem to carry an air of relief, as if Democrats wanted to jump off that train because it became unpopular or they had higher priorities, and were using Brown as an excuse to do so in a graceful manner.

    • David W.

      That assumes there would have been even one Republican vote in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. When even Snowe took her vote back after she’d helped pass the ACA in committee, I don’t think it would have happened. So the House went along with the Senate version of the ACA that they had rather than the version they wished they’d had.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I think this is right. As I say, Frank’s argument is just an argument that health care shouldn’t be a substantial progressive goal.

      • joe from Lowell

        I think that goes too far, and it would probably be better to say that Frank’s argument is that health care reform should have been bumped down in priority as a consequence of the Great Recession, in favor more immediate economic issues.

        Not that I agree with him.

        • Richard

          And it seems to rest on an assumption that financial reform and a larger stimulus would have achieved immediate results that would have saved the Dem majority in 2010. Just not true. Financial reform did not/could not motivate the voting public. And even if there were the votes for a larger stimulus and even assuming that a larger stimulus would have led to a more robust revival, that revival would not have been immediate and would not have been apparent before November of 2010. Frank doesn’t get the somewhat fundamental premise that the severity of the recession meant that any recovery plan would take time and that an incumbent administration would not get credit for the old college try as long as unemployment wasn’t going down.

          • Scott Lemieux

            This is also a crucial point. The economy could not have been “saved” in politically consequential ways by 2010, and in particular the effect of better financial regulation is more long- than short- term.

            • More bluntly, financial regulatory reform would have had exactly zero effect on the economic state of individuals and households during the 2010 election cycle.

  • I think you’re third point is blindingly obvious and it’s telling that Zengerle, who has a reputation as a decent reporter, didn’t follow up on it: on an issue as contentious as healthcare reform, how could you pass up an opportunity with what was nearly a supermajority to pass it?

    • *you’re

      Obviously, I need a supermajority of coffee today.

    • Joe

      The level of confusion put forth regarding this law is as amazing as it is depressing, including a repeated failure to express basic aspects of it and the moronic name given to it like one person is behind the damn thing.

      It is just goes to show how damn hard it is to push for major change.

      • mark f

        the moronic name given to it like one person is behind the damn thing

        Worth remembering that the “Obamacare” care name, like “Hillarycare” before it, was created by Republicans as a pejorative. That it’s now an almost universally used shorthand for the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” is a useful reminder of the volume of the Republican noise machine.

        • Holden Pattern

          Can’t be true. Messaging doesn’t work.

          • mark f

            I don’t think the term “Obamacare” did the bill much damage, except perhaps among a few habitual Republicans who may have been inclined to support some its provisions. If the law survives SCOTUS and ends up popular, “Obamacare” will be a touchstone for Democrats the way the New Deal was, thus making the “success” of Republicans’ messaging a lot more like a failure.

            • Not very many Republicans running around calling Medicare “LBJCare” these days.

        • Joe

          I’m told sometimes that I shouldn’t really be so concerned, in fact, should seize it (“Obama cares” and all that).

          Lemons/lemonade and all that, don’t really buy it. The name, e.g., promotes the idea it is some big liberal thing (putting aside Obama is a moderate) when the big “horrible thing” people talk about (which is but one aspect of the law) was a REPUBLICAN IDEA.

          It also attacks a basic principle of Obama’s presidency — the ability to join together and agree on certain things. Naive or not, labeling something “Obama” makes it all about him or at best the party.

          And, this is but ONE thing reform is up against. No wonder it takes so long.

          • Except that Romney can be tarred with the same brush. I call this one a draw, and sadly for the GOP, it’s about the only card they can play.

          • If Republicans can win de facto messaging victories merely by attaching recycled nicknames to something for the dozenth time, we might as well just give up now. Thankfully, anyone who makes up their mind about the ACA simply because Republicans predictably took to calling it “Obamacare” is either a) already a Republican or b) too stupid to remember where they’re supposed to vote on election day anyway.

            • Joe

              Recycled nicknames?

              And, it is not that “anyone” is “making up their mind” on this one thing. Really? The issue is it is just one more thing, a major framing job that has to be dealt with along with other stuff, to deal with. And, REPUBLICANS aren’t the real problem here. It is that the media etc. adopts it as in effect a neutral term along with other b.s. (“everyone” has to “buy” etc.) and it is so very tiring.

  • wengler

    Every Democrat I see on TV always make me think they wish, wish, wish they had the sort of sociopathic outlook to be a Republican, but guilt of conscience is pulling them back to only the semi-psychopath position.

    I think there was a lot of jealousy from Democrats when Republicans were going wild during the Bush years. Several of them probably thought ‘when we get in power, it will be our neverending party!’ They wanted to coast and enjoy the perks of power without making any major decisions. Too bad for them 2009-10 was not a time they could do that.

    If they voted for Obamacare or not it really doesn’t matter, the economy sucked and Obama was still black, so the Republicans very much were able to get the most out of ‘taking my country back’.

  • Joe

    The PPACA is still in the process of being enacted. The minimum coverage provision doesn’t even have teeth (the tax penalty) for a couple years yet and then it is put in over a few years. The big bad contraceptive mandate itself also won’t be in place for religious institutions for over year.

    It is really early, isn’t it?

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  • Gluon1

    I’m rather late to this game and it probably doesn’t matter much but: Mr. Lemieux writes, “Maybe the Democrats would have held the South longer had they not passed the CRA,” and I’m nearly certain that he means the Voting Rights Act and not the Community Reinvestment Act, a difference of one key on the keyboard but rather worlds of difference in point.

    • Malaclypse

      He means the Civil Rights Act.

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