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Paul Krugman: "The Conscience of a Liberal"



Illusions and Bitterness


Paul Krugman, The New York Times
December 16, 2009, 5:42 pm


There’s enormous disappointment among progressives about the emerging health care bill — and rightly so. That said, even as it stands it would take a big step toward greater security for Americans and greater social justice; it would also save many lives over the decade ahead. That’s why progressive health policy wonks — the people who have campaigned for health reform for years — are almost all in favor of voting for the thing.

The argument about the evil of the individual mandate is, as Jon Cohn says, all wrong. It was wrong during the primaries, when Obama unfortunately used it to demagogue his rivals — helping set the stage for problems now. And it’s still wrong.

And the truth is that health care reform was probably doomed to be deeply imperfect. As Ezra Klein pointed out a few weeks ago, we’re basically in a hostage situation: progressives really, really want to cover the uninsured, while centrists whose votes are needed can take it or leave it. So the centrists have a lot of power — which in the case of Joe Lieberman means the power to double-cross and indulge his pettiness.

Now, in a hostage situation there are times when you have to just say no — when giving in, by encouraging future hostage-takers, would be worse than letting the hostages perish. So the question has to be, is this one of those times? I don’t think so, given the history: as Kevin Drum points out, health reform has come back weaker after each defeat. I’d also point out that highly imperfect insurance reforms, like Social Security and Medicare in their initial incarnations, have gotten more comprehensive over time. This suggests that the priority is to get something passed.

But what’s happening, I think, goes beyond health care; what we’re seeing is disillusionment with Obama among some of the people who were his most enthusiastic supporters. A lot of people seem shocked to find that he’s not the transformative figure of their imaginations. Can I say I told you so? If you paid attention to what he said, not how he said it, it was obvious from the beginning — and I’m talking about 2007 — that he was going to be much less aggressive about change than one could have hoped. And this has done a lot of damage: I believe he could have taken a tougher line on economic policy and the banks, and was tearing my hair out over his caution early this year. I also believe that if he had been tougher on those issues, he’d be better able to weather disappointment over his health care compromises.

So there’s a lot of bitterness out there. But please, keep your priorities straight.

By all means denounce Obama for his failed bipartisan gestures. By all means criticize the administration. But don’t take it out on the tens of millions of Americans who will have health insurance if this bill passes, but will be out of luck — and, in some cases, dead — if it doesn’t.


So here's the lineup:

On one side we have Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, Nate Silver, and Kevin Drum. These four men emphasize gradual progress and want very much for the proposed Senate HCR bill to pass while we have the momentum, adding that improvements can be made following the bill's passage.

On the other side, we have Dr. Howard Dean, Markos Moulitsas, Keith Olbermann, and Senator Bernie Sanders. These four men are pushing for reconciliation, which would require only 51 votes and allow 10 more years for the Senate to work out the kinks in the current HCR proposal before a bill can become a law.
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