Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Sep/10

24

Will November be a Pyrrhic victory?

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Matt Yglesias explains his recent shift toward liberaltarianism:

It was suggested to me by a number of parties this week that I should give some explicit account of why the blog has turned in what you might call a more “neoliberal” (though I don’t really like the term) direction of late. There’s a couple of reasons. One is simply product differentiation—I don’t think just writing the same posts as Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein and Jon Chait is what the world needs from me, but we obviously all have similar political opinions. The other is the point I’ve made before, namely that with the passage of the Affordable Care Act the long struggle to expand the scope of the welfare state is largely over.

Last spring Jonah Goldberg observed that if the Democrats passed health care reform:


1) They would suffer negative consequences in the fall elections and in the short term Republicans would benefit.

2) In the long term the Democrats would have won policy-wise because they would set the tone of the discussion from that point on, as the question would the nature of the new expansion to the welfare state, not its existence.

Let’s grant that the Republican victories have some relationship to Democratic policy overreach. If you could eliminate many of the policy changes enacted in the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, at the cost of indefinite Democratic control of Congress, would you? If you are a person of the Right I assume you’d accede to this. After all, in theory the ends of a political ideology are to shape the nature of the political economy, not win elections, which are just means.

But the fixation on polls, calculations of the margin of Republican victory, as well as the Democratic panic and ennui, seem to neglect these facts. After the likely losses in the fall the pundits will talk about what Obama needs to do to win back the nation, etc. But the fact is that he’s already changed the nation, by shifting health care policy in a direction broadly consonant with liberal Democratic values. That’s really what matters, and what will echo down through the generations. The Democratic victories of 2006 will be forgotten very soon, and to some extent those of 2008 will be too. But the policies enacted by the Congress of 2008 will impact us in our day to day lives for generations. They already are.

I don’t begrudge the Republicans their exultation after their likely victory in November. But this isn’t professional sports, it’s more than just a game, and it’s even more than just an avenue for professional advancement and self-glorification. Winning isn’t everything; it’s just a vanity which appeals to our baser animal instincts.

25 comments

  • John · September 25, 2010 at 1:40 am

    Exactly. Now, anytime there is something wrong with the health care system, people will say, “We just need to spend more money”. Anyone who says, “We need to repeal the laws telling insurance companies who they can cover.”, he will shouted down as a heartless extremist. If you had told Pelosi in 2008 that the cost of the health care bill was losing the house in 2010, she probably would have taken the deal. I’d be willing not to win it back in exchange for it not passing.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 25, 2010 at 2:09 am

    my post was prompted by the frustration about gleeful tea party folk, because i sense in some of the more intelligent liberal pundits an awareness that though they’ll lose, they’ve already won. they aren’t quite equanimous, but the historical record in the USA is that entitlements enacted tend to “stick.” conservatives are feeling empowered right now, and some people are imagining grand rollbacks of the power of the gov. i just don’t believe that they’ll be able to do nearly what some of them think. in the end they’ll modulate implementation of the democratic programs on the margins, but the terms of the game were set by the democratic congress of 2008-2010.

  • Mercer · September 25, 2010 at 3:55 am

    I think the GOP passage of the Medicare drug law was the Pyrrhic victory. It helped them win in 2004 but it destroyed their long term goal of limiting government. The GOP refused to raise taxes to pay for it then but eventually taxes will have rise to avoid default.

    Using the tactic of labeling attempts to slow Medicare inflation as “death panels” was also a shortsighted strategy.

    “fixation on polls, calculations of the margin of Republican victory, as well as the Democratic panic and ennui, seem to neglect these facts. After the likely losses in the fall the pundits will talk about what Obama needs to do to win back the nation, etc. But the fact is that he’s already changed the nation, by shifting health care policy in a direction broadly consonant with liberal Democratic values. That’s really what matters, and what will echo down through the generations”

    I agree.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 25, 2010 at 5:05 am

    I think the GOP passage of the Medicare drug law was the Pyrrhic victory. It helped them win in 2004 but it destroyed their long term goal of limiting government. The GOP refused to raise taxes to pay for it then but eventually taxes will have rise to avoid default.

    i agree. the issue is that it seems clear that the tea party rebellion isn’t just against obama and his era, but also against bush’s big gov. conservative. and like the democrat’s health care reform i don’t think we’re going to roll the bush expansion of gov. either.

    meanwhile after the republicans win big they’ll claim some awesome victory.

  • CONSVLTVS · September 25, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    This is spot on. For all the cheering now on the Right, there is no fixing what the Left has done. The balance point has shifted Leftward again, to now include yet another set of unspoken assumptions in every future debate. “No, of course I don’t think we should abandon people who can’t pay their own health insurance, it’s just that….”

    My fantasy is that the gluttonous entitlement programs will force a realignment some day. Even in Europe the conversation has shifted a bit in the past two years (but cf. the riots in Greece over entitlements). We do know, at least, that the fiscal perpetual motion machine doesn’t work with human beings. Seems to work fine for ants, though.

  • Dain (Mupetblast) · September 25, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    John Sides looks at the probability of a major act of legislation being repealed over time. The gist: Likelihood of repeal maxes at (merely) 13% at 10 years on, after which point it becomes decreasingly likely.

    http://www.themonkeycage.org/2010/08/the_probability_that_health_ca.html

  • Panglos · September 26, 2010 at 4:34 am

    This discussion is moot.
    Representation without taxation is untenable
    Pretty soon you run out of other peoples money and raising taxes
    at these confiscatory levels will actually eliminate the tax base

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 26, 2010 at 5:42 am

    pangloss, a bunch of vacuous bullshit. to waste my time and express the obvious: european societies have shown that you can maintain a very high share of gov. expenditure of GDP for decades. in the long run we’re all dead. so?

  • Lorenzo from Oz · September 26, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Absolutely the correct response to Panglos’s nonsense. It is tedious, how few Americans bother to consider seriously outside examples. A sort of big-country narcissism.

    Of course, I come from a country which avoided having a recession, or a financial meltdown, absorbs proportionately a rather high level of migrants with less angst than the US and, nowadays, has a lower ratio of government expenditure to GDP than the US with universal health coverage and is the only country to provide military forces to support the US in every significant conflict since 1945. But what would we know?

  • mike · September 26, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    To be fair, Lorenzo, the USA’s “migrants” are mostly NAMs. Australia’s aren’t.

    Also, your “white australia” policy ended a decade after the USA’s immigration insanity began.

  • kurt9 · September 26, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    Completely repealing ObamaCare and other bills of the current congressional session will be the acid test of the tea party movement. Will they have the balls to step up to the plate and do a complete repeal of ObamaCare? Only time will tell.

  • Bruce R. Gilson · September 27, 2010 at 12:35 am

    kurt9: You can’t do a repeal og Obamacare as long as Obama is President. Even if the Congress votes to repeal it, Obama will veto, and no matter HOW well the GO does in November, they are not going to have the 2/3 of each house you need to override a veto. The best anyone can hope for is to refuse to fund some of its parts, and the law would still be on the books even then.

  • Sully · September 27, 2010 at 4:01 am

    Conservatism is about rowing against the current that eventually takes all societies over the falls.

    Yes, the terms of the health care debate now favor eventual adoption of single payer system. But delaying that eventuality is itself a worthy goal both for fiscal reasons and because the most damaging of its effects will be to put a brake on pharmaceutical and medical device innovation.

    Not to mention that Cap and Trade and many other “progressive” goals are also up for decision by the next congress.

  • Polichinello · September 27, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    The health care bill was more of a massive regulatory act. We’ve had periods of deregulation before, initiated by people like Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, no less. Given the massive debt we face, further movement in the NHS direction is unlikely. The CATO option of a high-deductible insurance is going to be the most likely outcome.

  • Polichinello · September 27, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Of course, I come from a country…

    Which would barely rank as large state in our country, has no land border, has benefited from over a century of restrictive (almost eugenic) immigration, and probably couldn’t seriously defend itself from most it neighbors in the event of a real war.

  • kurt9 · September 27, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Actually, a repeal of ObamaCare would not be that difficult. Attach a repeal ObamaCare rider in every single appropriations bill in the next congress.

  • Mercer · September 27, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    From the GOP pledge page 27:

    “Health care should be accessible for all,
    regardless of pre-existing conditions or past
    illnesses. We will expand state high-risk
    pools, reinsurance programs and reduce the
    cost of coverage. We will make it illegal for
    an insurance company to deny coverage to
    someone with prior coverage on the basis of
    a pre-existing condition, eliminate annual
    and lifetime spending caps, and prevent
    insurers from dropping your coverage just
    because you get sick. We will incentivize
    states to develop innovative programs that
    lower premiums and reduce the number of
    uninsured Americans.”

    There is no way to honor this pledge without keeping the individual mandate or a massive amount of government subsidies to insurance companies. This GOP document makes it look likely to me that Obamacare will endure.

  • Polichinello · September 27, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    I think the state high-risk pool is supposed to be an out, but you’re still right. There will need to be some sort of safety net for the indigent and hard cases.

  • kurt9 · September 28, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    I have already contacted the GOP candidates about repealing ObamaCare, or at least the individual mandate. They say they will push for it.

    The individual mandate is offensive. I know what my medical risks are and will be in the future. They are 1) trauma injury (most likely car accident), 2) cancer, and 3) anything cardiovascular (heart attack and stroke). Being self-employed, I have a high deductible catastrophic policy that will cover these things minus the initial $7,500. This policy is optimized for my needs. If the mandate was only for a catastrophic policy that I just described, I would have no problem with it. It is not.

    Instead, the mandate requires that I pay to insure for stuff that I have absolutely no need for. This enrages me to no end.

    As a customer, I should be the one to decide what kind of health care coverage I want to insure for. Not the government.

    I stand by my point that a repeal of ObamaCare, or at least the mandate portion of it (which would effectively gut it) is the acid test of the Tea Party movement. If the GOP fails in this task, it will be up to the tea party to find new candidates to replace them in ’12.

  • Mercer · September 28, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    “I stand by my point that a repeal of ObamaCare, or at least the mandate portion of it (which would effectively gut it) is the acid test of the Tea Party movement.”

    The individual mandate exists because the insurance industry wants it. I think, when it comes to actual legislation, GOP congressmen will follow the industry’s wish and give the Tea Party empty slogans.

  • Polichinello · September 28, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    I wouldn’t bet the farm on the individual mandate. Yes, the insurance companies want it, but the only way a concentrated interest like them can win is if the larger, diffuse interest (i.e., the American people) don’t notice the burden. This burden they’ll notice, especially when it forces them to buy more insurance than they want.

  • colby · September 28, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    “Actually, a repeal of ObamaCare would not be that difficult. Attach a repeal ObamaCare rider in every single appropriations bill in the next congress.”

    That only works if you think a Democratic President won’t risk shutting down the government by vetoing Republican appropriation bills. History isn’t kind to that assumption (And in that case, the Republicans weren’t even trying to eliminate something with the President’s name on it!)

  • Caledonian · September 30, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    european societies have shown that you can maintain a very high share of gov. expenditure of GDP for decades

    Of course it’s theoretically possible. The real question is whether the American government can manage that.

    As many aspects of Europe’s governmental systems seem to be more efficient than our own, I suspect our attempts to manage such a system will be rougher than the Left believes. And yet the EU is still having problems. We’ll probably prove to be more like Greece than Germany.

  • Patrick · October 3, 2010 at 3:09 am

    Exactly. Now, anytime there is something wrong with the health care system, people will say, “We just need to spend more money”. … AND WE WILL ANSWER “BLAME OBAMACARE”, until the day when that monstrosity is repealed root-and-branch.

  • Patrick · October 3, 2010 at 3:14 am

    “The CATO option of a high-deductible insurance is going to be the most likely outcome.”

    This is indeed the ONLY way out … Obamacare is such a cluster-F of health insurance that it actually affords an opportunity, as it destroy private health insurance like acid, to have a new revolution: The GOP will HAVE TO REFORM IT AWAY FROM mandate-driven health insurance or the system will stay broken. Solution:
    – Health Savings Accounts plus high-deductible catastrophic health insurance as the ‘new model’ and pass incentives to level the playing field away from employer-based model to protable model

    – eliminate health insurance mandates to allow choice and lower-cost health insurance
    – provide govt subsidies for catastrophic healthcare for those with pre-existing conditions, to address this tear in the ‘safety net’
    – create a level-playing field for self-insured and for health savings accounts

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