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He. Didn’t. Even. Try!


On my twitter feed, someone alerted me to professional Green Laternite vastleft defending the idea that the ACA was, in fact, the same as the Heritage plan, because all political rhetoric is to be taken at face value as sober policy analysis. Although I should have known better, I noted the radical dissimilarity of the ACA and the Heritage Plan. Since continuing to defend the idea that replacing the ACA with a requirement to buy nearly worthless catastrophic insurance while eviscerating Medicare and Medicaid wouldn’t really change anything is not only impossible but makes it very difficult to sustain a leftier-than-thou pose, this led to vastleft and various of his followers repeating the familiar sequence of goalpost-moving. We can summarize:

  • Compare the ACA not to the status quo ante but single payer.
  • Imply that Obama could have gotten single payer if he wasn’t a sellout to insurance company interests.
  • When called out on that, claim that the idea that single payer could have been passed is a strawman.  Use the phrase “Overton Window” again and again to avoid explaining exactly what you think could have happened.  (I don’t mean to be an armchair green lanternite, but in the future I would recommend varying things a little by also throwing “mandate” and “political capital” out there; makes the bullshit a little less obvious and sounds all serious pundity and stuff.) Also — and this is important — don’t let dismissing the possibility of passing single payer in 2010 as a “strawman” stop you from making single-payer the baseline comparison for the ACA. Those goalposts won’t move themselves!
  • Argue that someone who really understood negotiating would have made a completely empty threat to pass single payer, which would have totally produced a better outcome. Because if you walk into a car dealership and offer $500 for a new Cadillac, the dealer will have no choice but to sell it to you for $2,000.  Clearly, you understand negotiating much, much better than Reid, Pelosi and Obama, who succeeded where Clinton, LBJ, and Truman failed, and I would like to subscribe to your consultancy services.
  • Remarkably assume that when legislation passes without a single vote to spare, with at least 10 conservative Democrats plus Joe Lieberman each having a veto over the final bill, that the burden of proof is on people who think that it was probably the best viable legislation, not on those who think substantially better legislation could have passed.  (In fairness, at least nobody seems to be making the “Obama should have threaten to primary people who weren’t running again” argument yet.)
  • And, finally, rather than arguing that Bayh, Lieberman, Nelson et al could have been on board for destroying the American health insurance industry, you can ludicrously argue that absent the ACA the health insurance industry would have just dissolved on its own, allowing you to pretend that your preferred strategy of Obama using the bully pulpit to favor single payer rather than actually getting legislation passed is actually a path to single payer, rather than an a de facto endorsement of the morally monstrous Republican offer to the working poor and uninsured: i.e. “nothing.”

The one thing that runs through these various strands of bad argument, I think you’ll notice, is the apparent belief that what’s in Obama’s heart matters more than anything else.  This is perhaps the most fundamental misconception of all. Again, the White House isn’t where political transformation starts; it’s where it ends.  If you think Barack Obama is the primary barrier to Medicare-for-all, you’re never going to achieve anything.

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