Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Apples and Oranges

Nelson W. Polsby used to be very upset at the cliche about apples and oranges: Of course you can compare them! They're both fruit!

Which is pretty much how I feel about liberal outrage about comparisons between Healthcare.gov and Bush-era fiascos including Iraq and Katrina that have been making the rounds this week -- here's Oliver Willis tweeting a graph showing deaths from the three while saying "why you shouldnt compare obamacare to katrina or iraq, in one chart. cc: all pundits"

Well, no, not really. And not just because, in fact, this is a self-refusing argument; posting the graph is in fact making the comparison -- just that it's basing the comparison on one particular variable. An important one, to be sure, and one where the launch of Healthcare.gov looks good. But a comparison, nonetheless. (And a silly one: was Iraq really a much better policy than WWII? Were Watergate and various Red Scares no big deal?)

Regardless: my real point here is that of course you can and should compare presidential decisions, and government execution of policy, with other presidential decisions and government execution of policy.

Now, there's also a lot of foolish talk among Republicans about how Barack Obama's popularity is going to be destroyed by Healthcare.gov, just as Bush's was destroyed by Iraq and Katrina. That's probably wrong, but it's not a wrong question to ask. Just as it isn't wrong to question whether as policy implementation Healthcare.gov could turn out to be similar to other fiascoes, even if failure in this case won't (directly at least) lead to death.

In other words: yeah, there's a lot of junk out there. But "people died" is no reason to shut down careful thought. For the most part liberals seem to be handling this fairly well, but just remember: The antidote for junk analysis is better analysis. Not more junk.


  1. Thing is, it's not junk analysis. It's just a sort of parodic way of making the point that one president brought us a decade of death, destruction, and economic ruin, while his successor brought near-universal health care with a lousy web site. It's not intended (I hope) to be trenchant analysis, just a latter-day political cartoon.

    1. It's not only a completely valid political response to an attack by Republicans, but it's a pretty compelling one at that (and I'm no fan of the ACA).

      Of course, as Morgan points out below, the Democrats have considerably more responsibility for Iraq than they'd like to admit.

  2. There is still a slight chance that Iraq will turn out well. It arguably helped trigger the Arab Spring, which might eventually lead to a more liberal, democratic Arab society, etc, etc... One can dream. :-) But, for the moment, let's accept the likely result that it is a disaster.

    The Iraq disaster had bipartisan support. Many mainstream Democrats supported it. The Clinton administration bought into the Iraq has WMD story.

    ACA had no bipartisan support. The Republicans have made it a keystone of their policy to oppose it. Now, this is largely political, not based on particularly rational policy decisions. But *if* Obamacare goes horribly wrong it may be worse for Obama than Iraq was for Bush, because the Republicans can all legitimately say that they were all opposed to it from the start.

    1. Morgan, you're glossing over a lot of details. Bush drove the invasion of Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11, when the country had united after a brutal attack. He still had to make up a bunch of lies in order to whip up support for invading the country of his choice, as opposed to the one that hosted the group which attacked us.

      After a brutal financial meltdown, Obama chose to pursue medical insurance reform because health care inflation looked like it would eventually destroy the federal budget. Republicans swore enmity to Obama's agenda before he was even inaugurated, so it really didn't matter what he decided to do - they were against it already.

      But in terms of the outcomes of Obamacare, I think we can use Kentucky as a bellwether. If lots of Kentuckians sign up for insurance through their exchange, and it's cheaper and better and they like it, well, Democrats will reap all the rewards.

    2. Iraq war costs = $6T



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