Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Position Taking, Health Care, and Iraq

To Ezra Klein's argument that Barack Obama is a "moderate Republican from the early 1990s" because the roots of his health care plan and other policies can be seen in GOP policies of that time, both Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum have the correct pushback. Drum:
The individual mandate and cap-and-trade may have originally been "Republican" ideas in some technical sense, but they were adopted under duress. They never truly represented things that Republicans supported. The same was true of the Bush tax hike, which even at the time conservatives viewed as the work of an apostate. So it's only natural that they haven't supported any of these things under the Obama adminstration. They never really did, after all, and this time around they felt that flat-out opposition was politically feasible. So that's what we got.
See Yglesias here. I forget the policy area (was it guaranteed income? health care? Someone in comments will help me, I'll be) but I recall that there's a White House tape of Richard Nixon explicitly saying to Chuck Colson or Bob Haldeman or someone that his pretty liberal alternative to a Congressional initiative was just for show, and that if Congress actually agreed to it he'd have to veto his own plan, or something to that effect. But usually this sort of thing isn't venal; it's just the regular, healthy, ebb and flow of how politics and policy works. If you're afraid that the other party is going to pass something that hurts your party's constituency groups, you try to formulate an alternative that appears to -- and may actually -- reach the same goals but protects those groups.

For what it's worth, that's I think that's the best way to understand Democratic "support" for the Iraq war in 2002-2003. Yes, there were some Democrats who really wanted an invasion. But for the most part, Democrats were formulating an alternative that, had they actually been able to set the agenda, they would not have carried out. That is: a policy of inspections and threats eventually leading to an invasion was preferred by many Democrats to immediate invasion, but had a Democrat been in the White House Iraq would likely have been on the back burner if at all possible. Just as it was during Bill Clinton's presidency.

All of which goes back to something we've known at least since David Mayhew, which is that it's often tricky to tell the difference between the positions that politicians take and the policy they (would) make.


  1. To sound perfectly wishy-washy, I actually agree with all of you--to some extent.

    I realize that stuff like the '93 health-care plan, cap-and-trade, and so on, were Republican compromises to begin with. It's a point I've been making to some of Obama's critics from the left, that although Repubs have talked the talk on health care for a long time, they probably wouldn't have been the ones to pass it--and as proof, we only have to look at the six years in which the GOP had control of Congress and the White House.

    Nevertheless, I think columns like Klein's are important as an attempt to push back on the canard from conservatives that Obama has been governing from the left.

  2. I agree, politicians can be so unpredictable. They can be your friends one moment and an enemy the next minute. They can also easily change their colors. So what's new about the policies they are making?

  3. I'm reminded of how rightie types would point to some vague statement about regime change in Iraq that Clinton signed onto in 1998 as proof that he also believed in invading Iraq. It was obvious to me that Clinton was merely saying the minimum needed to shut up some neocons, and had no interest whatever in invading Iraq.


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