During the Obama-thon that occurred yesterday on the Sunday morning news shows, I caught the President's performance/interview on This Week (see the video here). Most interesting to me was this quote from the President:
“Now there are some who are, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right,” he told ABC News. “And I think that that’s probably the biggest driver of some of the vitriol.”The interesting aspect of this quote was, as I spoke about in my last post, the way the President defines those who oppose his policies. He states that our fundamental concern is "...whether government can do anything right..." and that our distrust of all things government is the reason for the heated opposition.
This is a brilliant, if dishonest, political maneuver. By defining the opposition's anger as a mistrust of all government he at once makes the opposition seem unreasonable and lowers his standard of proof. The clear antidote to this mistrust is to scream at the top of your lungs about the things government has done well and, through analogy, suggest that government can tackle this problem too. At the end of the day, it seems to the average viewer that the President is being reasonable and it is the opposition who is being ludicrous.
However, things aren't always as they seem. Importantly, there are two difficulties with this vision of the debate: (a) it buys the President's viewpoint without question and (b) it ignores the history of government involvement with Healthcare and the way that these plans have been sold. So that said, we need ponder what we are really debating and ask, can we trust how the administration is selling Healthcare reform?
What are we really debating?
Contrary to the President's view, I think the fundamental question the opposition asks is not "whether government can do anything right," but rather, "what can government do well?" The opposition to Obama's healthcare plan is not hell bent on anti-government protest simply for the sake of anti-government protest. Rather, the vast majority of us are concerned because the government does not have an encouraging history of reforming, performing or regulating healthcare in tension with economic realities (see this tragic example of a Federally run hospital).
This isn't to say that government - and the Federal government in particular - is bad at everything. It is simply to suggest that the government is not well suited to being a healthcare provider (for these reasons). The Federal government certainly can do somethings that will improve the current situation. For instance, eliminating waste and fraud in Medicare, pressuring states to eliminate protections of the monopolized insurance agencies and even enacting consumer protections on insurance advertisements seem to be good ideas. If you told most conservatives about these ideas, they would agree to with them (most people are in favor of saving money, more competition and better information). The difficulty that Conservatives have is when the Federal government begins to mandate behavior for all, eliminate insurance options, and use Federal monies to subsidize poor alternatives and risky options (all of these are in the present Obama proposal).
In essence, this isn't a debate about whether government can do anything. Rather, it is a debate about what government should be doing. By suggesting otherwise the President is politically manipulating the conversation and falsely portraying the opposition as unreasonable.
So, why not have a debate about what government should be doing? Why not actually address the oppositions concerns and talk candidly about the role of government in our lives? Perhaps because when people recognize the full scope of this government oriented plan, they get a little queasy.
Can we trust what the Administration is saying about Healthcare?
The President has taken enormous freedoms with the concept of "truth" in trying to sell healthcare, including most recently yesterdays dubious assertion that an "excise tax" is not a "tax". However, the politics of telling people what they want to hear and dealing with the consequences later is nothing new. Interestingly, people have misrepresented figures before in hopes of passing monumental Healthcare reform.
LBJ suppressed the true costs of Medicare in order to get the program passed through the Senate. While pretending to be open and honest about what the program would cost, he duped the Senate into passing what is arguably the second most burdensome tax on American workers. As an expert on the presidency of LBJ opines:
"We believe, after looking at the evidence, my co-author [David Blumenthal] and I, that if the true cost of Medicare had been known — if Johnson hadn't basically hidden them — the program would never have passed..."Today, we have the assessments of the CBO to estimate how costly plans will be. Unfortunately, the government's projections are rarely reliable. It's most recent projection - Cash for Clunkers - was off by only 100% (estimating the program would last twice as long as it actually did). The consequences of this mistaken projection are still being felt.
This isn't necessarily to say that there is malfeasance behind these projections. There probably isn't. It is to say that projections are just that: projections. Like any other unknown, we should not be making huge policy decisions based on dubious numbers.
The bottom line here: based on political practice and recent history, we cannot trust the numbers coming out of Washington.
What should reasonable people attend to? I would advocate common sense.
What has the Federal government done well in the past? Then, let's let them continue to do that.
What has Federal government done poorly in the past? Then, let's keep them from fouling it up again.
Arguing for a plan within this framework is reasonable, but the President insists on distorting the debate. Nor does the Obama plan fall within these common sense boundaries. It imposes unnecessary government expenditures and control over the lives of average Americans in the vain hope that the Federal government can become instantly better at things it has routinely failed to do well.
For this simple reason, common sense conservatives are opposed to the President's plan and refused to be duped by political rhetoric and "cunning". My only hope is that Senator Snowe and other Republicans will continue to be wary of the President's political gamesmanship. (Encourage Sen. Snowe to stand fast against the President's plan by calling her today).
Reform should be reform minded and a policy discussion should be reasonable and honest. The President has called for this, now if he could only live up to his own expectations.