Will Wilkinson comments on Ezra’s Klein’s frustration with Rahm Emanuel’s being willing to compromise on specifics of health care legislation as long as the key goals are met (which I discussed earlier). Wilkinson wrote:
Bush couldn’t reform Social Security because his plan was unpopular. Obama won’t be able to deliver a health-care bill ideological Democrats want, because what they want is unpopular and legislators know it. So Congressional Democrats want something they can cast as “victory” while doing nothing that could hurt their noble struggle for ongoing political self-preservation. Right now, strongly ideological media liberals like Klein have to decide whether they’re going to (a) act as enforcers, sending the signal to the powers-that-be that they will vocally and publicly count a “trigger” plan as a pathetic failure, or (b) sigh and prepare to declare whatever legislation passes a profound victory for ordinary Americans that shows just how great Democrats are.
I’ve noted many times before, there is widespread support in polls for health care reform, including a public option. Wilkinson is also at least partially correct in commenting:
Reform is very popular in the abstract. Even a government-run system. But most people are quite satisfied with their current plans. So support for systemic changes turns out to be shallow. This is what Clinton learned. As soon as people get the sense a new policy will force a change in their own situation, they break off. That’s what Obama’s people are worried about, and why the constantly return to the “you won’t have to change anything” refrain, even though the goal is to have everybody change into the government plan sooner or later.
When we write about the need for health care reform it only makes sense to concentrate on the millions who are uninsured, under-insured, or have been screwed by the insurance companies. The fact remains that millions of other people are happy with their current plan and prefer to remain in their plan as opposed to being forced into a government-run plan. They might be wrong, such as in thinking they have good coverage only because they have not yet run into a situation where their insurance company has tried to deny coverage, and they might be falling for untrue claims about government-run plans, but they will still vote based upon such beliefs.
A public plan could be advocated either as a way to keep the insurance companies honest or as a back door path to a single payer plan. Those who are pushing for it as a way to get to a single payer plan are unlikely to compromise. For those of us who are more concerned with changing the behavior of insurance companies, it makes sense for Emanuel to stress goals rather than drawing a line in the sand with regards to the public option.
The “strongly ideological media liberals like Klein” might only have the two options Wilkinson mentioned. Personally I chose an alternative option. I have long suspected that we will wind up with a compromise which falls short of what the progressive wing of the Democratic Party wants. The question is not whether they get everything but whether we have a bill which has positive results with regards to improving access to health care and making it more difficult for insurance companies to deny coverage. Even a watered down plan is likely to be far more comprehensive than what the Democrats were running on in 2004.
It isn’t a matter of declaring victory or proving “just how great Democrats are” but in being realistic in hoping for some improvements without expecting perfection. Our political system was set up to prevent the ideological extremes from usually getting everything they want. Sometimes this might be frustrating, but this reality was also beneficial when George Bush was in office.