Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Catch of the Day

CATO's Michael Cannon reads Ezra Klein's claim that Republicans "need a health-care plan" and asks: why? Cannon:
Exactly what political factors are forcing the GOP to put up or shut up? Their base is happy; it wants an all-out assault on ObamaCare and congressional Republicans are giving it to them...So why should Republicans all of a sudden stop attacking ObamaCare and start talking about their own refor--ohhhh...I see. Klein is trying to talk the dog off the meat wagon. Good luck with that.
Klein doubles down in response, saying that "By 2012, the party is going to have to be able to agree on something, because their presidential nominee is going to have to have a plan of his or her own." To which I'd say: why? The Republican presidential nominee will certainly need some health care rhetoric, but that's not the same as a plan. And it's easy to see what the rhetoric will be: the nominee will say that both parties agree about pre-existing conditions, and making health care accessible and affordable, but that Republicans will do that without the socialist Obama plans for mandates, regulations, taxes, and cuts in grandma's Medicare by using free-market, common-sense ideas. Republicans will empower individuals and the doctor-patient relationship; Democrats put all the power in politicians and Washington bureaucrats. And there will be a couple of pages of mumbo-jumbo on the web site about high-risk pools and selling insurance across state lines and other stuff like that. I don't know that they'll "need" that much, but they certainly won't need more -- if you ask the question "or else?", what do you get? Or else...serious policy wonks will say that they don't have a plan. Uh huh.

Actually, I do have something to say here. Platforms, especially in the form of detailed plans, are most needed for supporters, not opponents (who aren't interested) or swing voters (who are mostly low-information voters, and therefore also not interested). That is, swing voters, to the extent they want anything, want rhetoric. Partisans want details; they actually want and expect something to happen on certain issues, and therefore they really care about what the politicians they support plan to do. So one way you can tell whether a party really cares about something is by seeing whether their nominees are "forced" to developed serious policy proposals. Of course, this can get tricky...sometimes a party coalition really differs on some issue area, and then politicians must choose whether to take sides or to try to straddle the divide. All of which means that nomination politics is terribly important -- if you're interested in how democracy actually works, pay attention to how parties decide things, beginning with nominations. But it doesn't mean that pols must develop real policy plans on every issue.

The real question on this one is whether there's any pressure within the GOP coalition to develop a real health care plan, and it sure seems to me that there isn't.


  1. You forgot "get rid of regulations and red tape" and "malpractice reform."

  2. The distinction between the practical "need" (what they'll actually be forced to do) and the ethical "need" (what a reasonable person would feel strongly obliged to do) always seems to get stronger around Republicans.

    I would suspect Klein is speaking from the second perspective, but as far as I can tell, you're right about the Republicans only needing to deliver rhetoric.

  3. I don't know that they'll "need" that much, but they certainly won't need more -- if you ask the question "or else?", what do you get? Or else...serious policy wonks will say that they don't have a plan. Uh huh.

    Well, it's true that no one cares what "serious policy wonks" (or professional political scientists, for that matter) have to say about the parties' respective positions on complex policy issues. But what Klein is trying to say is that Republicans will be open to attack if they do not propose reforms that address Americans' widely-held concerns about the health care system. Klein quotes Frank Luntz as saying "if the dynamic becomes 'President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it,' then the battle is lost." With only "rhetoric" and no plan, the GOP opens itself up to this type of dynamic.

    Klein's broader point is that, in the past, Republicans have been able to avoid being cast as "anti-reform" because, in the past, they have actually advocated reforms. But every time the Dems scale back their reform efforts, the Republicans move away, and advocate even less meaningful reform. Now, four decades after Nixon proposed a form of government-regulated universal health insurance, there's nowhere left for the GOP move away to. Republicans either have to come up with a plan for reform, or admit that what they want to achieve is the pre-PPACA status quo, with all of its various injustices.

  4. Andrew,

    My point is that Republicans don't need a coherent plan to claim to be on the side of reform; they just need rhetoric.

  5. but won't the argument evolve to one in which the Republicans will be promising to take the benefits of the ACA away from voters? are you saying that the GOP can simply promise to give voters all the same benefits as "obamacare" while still advocating repeal?

    I don't know. I think the GOP's stance on the health care issue is much weaker than people seem to think.

  6. My point is that Republicans don't need a coherent plan to claim to be on the side of reform; they just need rhetoric.

    But the rhetoric has to at least suggest that there is a halfway-coherent plan lying under there somewhere, doesn't it? I'm not saying that general-election swing voters (in their infinite wisdom) need to see 100-page white papers on policy proposals, but at a certain point, voters who need to be convinced that the GOP has good intentions on health care will need more than just empty rhetoric.

  7. Andrew ("under there somewhere"),



    Yes, I'm saying that the GOP can simply promise to give voters all the same benefits of "obamacare" while still advocating repeal. That's what they did in '10; that's most likely what they'll do in '12.

    Look, people who really care about the issue are going to vote for Obama. Most of them are rock-solid Dem voters anyway. Now, I think health care on balance has traditionally helped Democrats, and that will continue to be true, probably, in '12. But if you lean GOP, watch FNC, generally trust conservative opinion leaders and distrust liberal opinion leaders, but think of yourself as independent and have a niece who's had trouble getting insurance because of a pre-existing condition...well, you might be tempted to support Obama because of health care (even though you oppose other things he's done). But pushing you back to the GOP candidate isn't going to take much; if you hear him say that absolutely he's going to solve the problem, that's probably enough.

  8. My guess is that health care will be big in the GOP primaries (especially other candidates beating up on Mitt), but will pretty much fade from discussion during the general election.

    After all, the people who would vote against Obama because of 'socialistic health care' are already Republicans, and they don't much are about health care policy to begin with. (They already have their Medicare!)

    Guns, gays, and birther dog whistles are better messages to pump up the GOP base, and relying on short memories about the economy is a better way to rile up swing voters.

    For that matter, Obama and the Dems also won't run on 'health care reform' in general, but on specific popular stuff in the ACA, targeted to the voter groups that specifically benefit from it.

  9. Thanks for answering my questions! I'm not convinced, and it'll be interesting to see what happens. I definitely see your point, but it seems like people tend to have very strong feelings about benefits. Even if the GOP candidate says he'll solve the problem, won't a lot of people be nervous if there's any ambiguity or uncertainty about his ability to do so?

    I guess maybe what I'm also asking is if you think Obama has any room to effectively attack the GOPer in such a circumstance?

  10. I think there's very little effective attacking, period, in presidential elections. Party loyalty, the economy, and presidential approval account for the overwhelming bulk of all voting.

    Now, if a party was to go off the deep end -- if e.g. Republicans were to say that they don't care if people just die if they can't afford insurance -- sure, then you would see some effects. But that rarely happens.

  11. Bernie,

    I agree with your analysis on this one. The Cons need only to criticize - not offer any sort of solution.

    Bernstein v. Klein. Feel like I should be reading this debate after first eating a nice bowl of matzo ball soup with a couple of Jewish grandmothers after a reading of the Torah and a few offshore donations to settlement construction in Judea and Samaria.

  12. The utter failure of Obamacare to address skyrocketing cost, but to accelerate them, make it easy for Republicans to adopt a "rhetoric only" strategy in 2012.

    Every time a shocking insurance premium renewal statement is recieved by the consumer from now until 2012, the failure of Obamacare will be validated. They own it.


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