Klein vs. Sullivan (and Malkin)

When he hasn’t been fighting with Michelle Malkin this week (and having a debate challenge turned down), Ezra Klein has been arguing with Andrew Sullivan regarding the problems with HillaryCare. Andrew Sullivan began with a post which was hard on the Clintons, but not unfairly so:

Yes, I remember. I was an unillusioned Clinton supporter in 1991 and 1992. As editor of The New Republic, I helped guide the magazine toward an endorsement of the guy. Heck, I edited Sid Blumenthal’s coverage of the campaign and wrote the editorial that endorsed him. And I absolutely understand that the hard right was out to get them regardless. That remains the greater failing, I’d say. And I gave the hard right hell in the Clinton years, and opposed convicting Clinton in the impeachment. But to argue that the Clintons were innocents – or didn’t give their enemies enormous and needless ammunition – is far from the truth. Read Bernstein’s book. Or “Primary Colors” again.

I witnessed the following eight years close-up. I was lied to repeatedly, as all of us were. (For a brief reprise, Hitch’s book, “No One Left To Lie To” is helpful.) The lies were not as bad as Bush’s – WMDs and torture. But the stakes were much lower. The arrogance and condescension of the healthcare debacle were revealing of a classically bad left-liberal mindset on Senator Clinton’s part. She knows best; she always has; everyone else is part of the VRWC. (You just saw a flash of that in Iowa – but her main lesson of the last eight years has been not to change but to better disguise who she is. MoDo, who also endured those eight years, has her number today.) Watching the Clintons pivot off homophobia – while pretending to be civil rights pioneers – really sickened me (although not as much as the gay establishment symps who rolled over and begged for more. They’re still at it, of course). Then the wagon-circling over the sexual harassment suits; the firing of the Travel Office staff; the dissembling over legal records; the smearing of enemies; the enabling of preventable genocide in Bosnia … maybe being forced to cover them day after day made me swear off the Clintons for good. Or maybe watching them close-up gave me a false perspective and we should just chill and let them take over the government again. But I would be remiss if I didn’t write that the idea of restoring the two of them for two more terms on top of the two they have already had fills me with dread.

The man was a perjurer and an abuser of women; she was deeply complicit in all of it, and ultimately used it for her own political advantage. This is who they were. I don’t think they’ve changed – and God knows what psychodramas the right-wing press has in store for us next spring if she wins. That the Clinton presidency was immeasurably preferable to the last six years I do not dispute. As I wrote continually at the time, their co-presidency was in many respects a substantively admirable one, although I doubt it would have been half as admirable if the Congress hadn’t reined them in. But it came at a severe cost – to the polarized country and to the integrity we have a right to expect in public figures. She has re-earned her credit as a national leader in the Senate, and she deserves respect for that. I think she’d make a great Supreme Court justice for the left. But she is still part of that co-presidency aiming for another eight years; and she is still part of that ruthless machine. She may be preferable to many Republicans (who isn’t, at this point?); but it amazes me she is given such a pass on her past, especially since she has already wielded national power through her husband for two terms. We still have alternatives. If this blog can help remind people of that, and of what we already know about her and her co-president-in-waiting, so much the better.

Klein, I fear, has bought the myth that HillaryCare was shot down solely because of unfair attacks from the right:

Check that passivity! As if the “healthcare debacle” was simply a result of the Clintons’ “arrogance and condescension,” and had nothing to do with a broad, coordinated attempt to smear, misrepresent, and, in Sullivan’s own words, “torpedo” their health care plan…Maybe if articles like No Exit hadn’t been published, and editors like Sullivan hadn’t been out to get the Clintons, the Clintons wouldn’t have acted as if articles No Exit were being published, and editors like Sullivan were out to get them.

Sullivan responded:

It’s odd that Klein still supports a plan that Clinton herself has now conceded was misbegotten. Her current plan is far more market-friendly and less bureaucratic. At the time, The New Republic editorialized in favor of universal coverage, but endorsed plans that were much more similar to the one that Clinton backs today. I think the magazine’s refusal to be mau-maued by the Clintons at the time – and Hillary was threatening blue murder against anyone who so much as dared to criticize her – is a feather in the magazine’s cap. We weren’t “out to get the Clintons.” Some of us – well, two of us – were merely worried that America’s excellent private healthcare system would be hobbled by too much government regulation. I am glad we helped head off the Clinton-Magaziner behemoth. Proud, actually…

Clinton’s Cheneyesque refusal to debate healthcare openly, her sequestering of experts to draw up an overhaul of the entire heathcare system in secret for months, her contempt for anyone who dared ask what was in it, and her arrogance in dumping it on Washington in one fell swoop and then demanding we endorse it or be labeled evil … these tactics were deployed long before we published “No Exit”. We didn’t create her paranoia. Ask Bill Bradley. I don’t blame Ezra for not knowing this. He was nine years old at the time. But I would add that Clinton herself has conceded that she acted like an arrogant, paranoid self-righteous prick during this debacle. TNR tried to rescue universal healthcare at the time by proposing an alternative. Clinton’s refusal to allow alternatives killed off the project once and for all.

I was significantly older than nine years old at the time. While I couldn’t see things up close as Sullivan did, my recollection is pretty close to what he describes. I recall the promises of seeking many opinions to develop a plan, and then was disappointed to see this all occur behind closed doors. Even worse, I was amazed at how bad the result was. It was a bad plan which deserved to fail.

There’s no doubt the Clintons were the recipients of a lot of unfair attacks from the right, but this is a poor example of that. Even Barack Obama, hardly a member of the vast right wing conspiracy, has criticized Clinton for her secrecy in drawing up the plan.

Klein subsequently argues that there were alternatives and disagrees with Sullivan’s final line quoted above. While alternatives were offered, I do not believe that the Clintons were willing to seriously consider anything other than Hillary’s plan, causing Congress to give up on the effort.

Sometimes I agree with Sullivan and sometimes I disagree. In this case, if Andrew Sullivan really had a role in shooting down HillaryCare, he deserves to be proud. The full exchange is well worth reading, as is the more amusing (even if less consequential) exchange with Michelle Malkin (which primarily left me wondering why an insurance company would deny her their preferred rate for being underweight, if otherwise healthy, unless this was a sucker rate which few were actually offered.)

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