In her “conversation” with David Brooks, Gail Collins manages to capture in two sentences how not to think about legislative change:
I’m with you on the single-payer option. If only the president had not taken the path that was touted by several generations of Republican deep thinkers.
The first problem with the “Republican thinkers” bit we’ve discussed extensively — the “generations” of “Republican thinkers” who have wanted to greatly expand Medicaid and substantially tighten restrictions on the health insurance industry don’t actually exist. But let’s imagine an alternate universe in which the Republican offer on health care has not consistently been “nothing,” and 30 years ago a lot of Republicans sincerely favored something like the ACA. What implications follow from this, exactly? Roe v. Wade had 5 Republican appointees in the majority with only 2 Democratic ones, with the two dissenters evenly split on partisan lines. Does this make Roe a fundamentally “Republican” decision Democrats should reject? Should Everett Dirksen’s support for the Civil Rights Act cause us to construe it as a sellout? John Chafee, I am assured by many commenters and people on Twitter, defined “Republican” health care policy circa 1993. So I assume that Chafee’s 1993 proposal for a federal handgun ban is also a “Republican plan” liberal Democrats should reject if it was politically viable?
Anyway, apart from the fact that it’s false and would be irrelevant even if it was true, the “ACA was a Republican plan” is a great argument.
On the second point, the argument that the choices of Barack Obama are the reason single payer didn’t pass should by all rights be a strawman, but it’s not. (In fairness, I assume that given more space to elaborate, Collins would have phrased it in the more typically weaselly manner: “I’m not saying it was guaranteed to work, but we’ll never know if stalwart liberals like Joe Lieberman and Kent Conrad and Ben Nelson would have supported single payer because Obama didn’t. even. TRY! Bully Pulpit! Overton Window on Steroids! Change the Game by Doubling Down!”) Anyway, let’s say Obama had chosen 2009 to initiate a “national conversation” on single payer. Allow me to dramatize the outcome:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Dammit, Harry. I know neither Hillary nor myself nor Edwards even ran on it, but I’ve decided that eliminating the American health insurance industry is the only way to go — American political institutions naturally gravitate towards optimal policy outcomes, right? I’m guessing that going public like George W. Bush on Social Security will put us over the top, but how do things look in the Senate right now? I figure that at worst, Congress would have to meet us halfway, just like Bush on Social Security and Clinton on health care.”
MAJORITY LEADER REID: “Thank you for your very serious proposal, Mr. President. I have a whip count in my desk somewhere that my intern typed on her imaginary typewriter. Let me get it for you.”
PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Great, thanks!”
[Instrumental version of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" plays]
PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Hello? Is there a bad connection?”
[Instrumental version of "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" plays]