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The Clinton Counterfactual


The post below reminds me that I had been meaning to blog about these Dana Milbank speculations about how Clinton might have been better. He bases this around some discussions with Clinton campaign operatives — let’s call them “Park Menn.” Exactly how would she have been better? Rather than going the route of dead-enders who assert that this life-long DLC centrist would have been the new Eugene Debs had she prevailed in the primaries, Mr. Menn argues that Clinton would have been better…by being much worse:

Clinton campaign advisers I spoke with say she almost certainly would have pulled the plug on comprehensive health-care reform rather than allow it to monopolize the agenda for 15 months. She would have settled for a few popular items such as children’s coverage and a ban on exclusions for pre-existing conditions. That would have left millions uninsured, but it also would have left Democrats in a stronger political position and given them more strength to focus on job creation and other matters, such as immigration and energy.

So we’re supposed to believe that Clinton would be better because she would have abandoned the only chance to significantly reform health care for decades, and in the kindest construction would have urged passing a slightly more protective band-aid in the form of a 90-day foreclosure moratorium. (Not necessarily a bad idea, but…then what? How many of the people who were foreclosed after day 91 would have been enthusiastic Clinton supporters?) And all of this based around the highly implausible idea that trying and failing to pass health care reform would be political gold for the Dems? Sure.

But while the sheer awfulness of Clinton’s top non-brain trust underscores that it is extremely unlikely that she would have been a more progressive president than Obama, I also don’t believe Mr. Menn when he claims that she would have been much worse. Giving away the show, although Milbank doesn’t notice it, is the assertion that Clinton would have settled for “a ban on exclusions for pre-existing conditions.” The obvious problem, as Clinton correctly said throughout the campaign, is that you can’t pass such a policy without a more comprehensive plan including an individual mandate, because it would completely blow up the insurance industry. Which is why Obama inevitably adopted Clinton’s position, and one reason why the ACA isn’t going to be repealed. So while I can’t prove that Clinton wouldn’t have foolishly abandoned health care reform, the word of her advisers on the subject couldn’t be less credible.

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