Intolerance And The Derailing of Health Care Reform

There’s some more ridiculous Obama-bashing on health care in the blogosphere today, this time starting with a post by Mike Lux at Open Left. The complaint is that Jim Cooper advocated more moderate health care reform than Clinton while in Congress and he is now a health care spokesman for Obama. The twisted logic here is that Cooper was more moderate than Clinton on health reform in the 1990’s and therefore Barack Obama is not serious about health care. This argument is taken to its absurd extremes by Paul Krugman, who continues his ongoing attacks on Obama:

This fits in with my sense, based on everything we’ve seen in this campaign, that Obama just isn’t all that committed to health care reform. If he does make it to the White House, I hope he proves me wrong. But as I’ve written before, from my perspective it looks as if a dream is dying.

This is typical of the logic of the Clinton camp to ignore everything which Obama has actually said about his dedication to health care reform and instead fabricate a case based upon disapproval of a surrogate. Even if everything negative they are saying about Cooper was true, it would still be Obama’s views and not Cooper’s which ultimately matter.

There are also other problems with the attacks on Cooper. The reason we did not achieve health care reform in the 1990’s is the fault of Hillary Clinton, not Jim Cooper. Clinton proposed a poor health care plan. She showed then, as she shows now, that she simply does not understand economics or health care delivery. Politically Clinton made the mistake of demanding her plan without being willing to compromise. Others, such as Cooper, attempted to propose plans which might actually have passed in Congress. As Brad DeLong writes:

What Mike Lux, “veteran of the Clinton health care wars,” knows–but is very careful not to tell you–is that in 1993-1994 health care reform needed 60 votes in the Senate in order to defeat a Dole-led filibuster, and that Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) was vote 55. “undermin[ing] Clinton’s health care plan by… [working] with former Senator and current lobbyist John Breaux” translates as “working on bills that might actually pass the senate.”

Cooper’s plan might have passed with bipartisan support. David Brooks recently described Clinton’s opposition to his plan:

In the weeks and months following that meeting, the Clinton administration reached out to Cooper. As David Broder and Haynes Johnson wrote in “The System,” their history of the health care reform effort, President Bill Clinton invited Cooper to go jogging and play golf. Others in the Clinton White House thought Cooper was right on the merits, and privately let him know.

But Hillary Clinton set up a war room to oppose Cooper, who was planning to run for the Senate in 1994. As the Broder and Johnson book makes clear, Clinton and her aides believed Cooper was pursuing his own political agenda. They accused him of crafting his plan in order to raise money from the insurance and hospital industries. They said he was in league with the for-profit hospitals to crush competitors and monopolize the industry. They did this despite the fact that Cooper’s centrist health care approach was entirely consistent with his overall philosophy.

At one meeting in the West Wing, a source told Broder and Johnson, Clinton “kind of got this evil look and said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this Cooper bill. We’ve got to kill it before it goes any further.’ ”

Reading further provides more evidence of what many of us fear about Hillary Clinton, and provides reason why Cooper would have been more attracted to backing Obama as opposed to Clinton this year:

Cooper, who, not surprisingly, supports Barack Obama, believes that Clinton hasn’t changed. “Hillary’s approach is so absolutist, draconian and intolerant, it means a replay of 1993.”

He argues that her more coercive approach would once again be a political death knell. No Republican will support it. Red state Democrats will face impossible pressures at home. It’s smarter to begin by offering people affordable access to coverage and evolve from there.

Ultimately whatever one thinks of Cooper means little as what really counts is the views of Obama as opposed to his supporters. In this case the attack from Obama also comes from Clinton supporters as opposed to from Clinton herself, and if this was the only incident we could not blame Clinton for the poorly reasoned attacks of her backers. However, as recently as yesterday I noted that Clinton was being dishonest in the attacks on Obama coming directly from her campaign. The campaign is sending out a mailer which asks, “Barack Obama, Which of These People Don’t Deserve Health Care?” The implication is that Obama would leave people out while Clinton’s health plan would include them. This is misleading as the only people who would be left out by Obama are those who choose not to have coverage.

On a conference call yesterday, Ted Kennedy responded to Clinton’s charges:

“They both effectively have universal health care programs,” Kennedy said. “The point of this ad is to undermine people’s belief that Barack Obama is committed to universal health care, and that is simply a distortion, a misrepresentation… that is the kind of distortion that we had back in 1994.”

Will the Clinton supporters now question Ted Kennedy’s devotion to health care reform as they are questioning Cooper and Obama?

To be precise on this, Obama’s plan might not be called universal as people have the option not to participate. However if Obama’s plan is not considered universal, then Clinton’s plan could not be called universal either as not everybody obeys government mandates. Robert Reich has argued that Obama’s plan would actually cover more people:

She says his would insure fewer people than hers. I’ve compared the two plans in detail. Both of them are big advances over what we have now. But in my view Obama’s would insure more people, not fewer, than HRC’s. That’s because Obama’s puts more money up front and contains sufficient subsidies to insure everyone who’s likely to need help – including all children and young adults up to 25 years old. Hers requires that everyone insure themselves. Yet we know from experience with mandated auto insurance – and we’re learning from what’s happening in Massachusetts where health insurance is now being mandated – that mandates still leave out a lot of people at the lower end who can’t afford to insure themselves even when they’re required to do so. HRC doesn’t indicate how she’d enforce her mandate, and I can’t find enough money in HRC’s plan to help all those who won’t be able to afford to buy it. I’m also impressed by the up-front investments in information technology in O’s plan, and the reinsurance mechanism for coping with the costs of catastrophic illness. HRC is far less specific on both counts. In short: They’re both advances, but O’s is the better of the two. HRC has no grounds for alleging that O’s would leave out 15 million people.

Whether there are mandates is a matter of opinion, but regardless of where one stands the implication being made by the Clinton campaign that people will involuntarily be left out is untrue. The Clinton attack that Obama is being dishonest in calling his plan universal is also itself dishonest if they consider Clinton’s plan to be universal. Incidentally, mailers like this have become quite common this election year. They include mailers which lied about Obama’s position on Social Security and mailers which distorted Obama’s views on abortion rights leading Lorna Brett Howard, the former President of Chicago NOW, to drop her support for Clinton and back Obama. I hope everyone has checked out the videos from Howard and why she supports Obama. Another video everyone should see which compares the two candidates was made by Lawrence Lessig, with both video and transcript here.

Clinton started her campaign by promising a conversation with American on the issues. Instead we are having two different conversations going on at once, with neither side communicating. While Obama is offering real solutions on important issues, Clinton and her supporters respond with dishonest and specious attacks to avoid any meaningful discussion of the issues in the hopes of picking up some political points. This early video has turned out to have correctly predicted the course of the Clinton campaign. The intolerance showed by Hillary Clinton in the 1990’s prevented health care reform from being successful. The same intolerance from Clinton and her supporters threatens to prevent us from achieving success in the future.

Cross posted at The Carpetbagger Report

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