On One Hand

March 23, 2010

Healthcare Reform: Post-Mortem

Filed under: culture,elections,policy — ononehand @ 1:05 am
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Two comments; first: Yeah! We did it! Change!

And then: what the hell happened?

We had a popular new Democratic president with outstanding rhetorical skills, elected with the biggest percentage of voters in 20 years – largely on plans to reform healthcare – allied by the biggest Democratic majority in congress since 1976 – and in spite of that it took a year-long, caustic and fierce battle to the brink of political suicide to enact a bill that is so moderate and incremental that a liberal Republican could have thought of it. Indeed it has key elements John McCain supported in 2008 and looks somewhat like what Mitt Romney enacted in Massachusetts.

I’ll say it again: “Obamacare” is moderate and incremental. It doesn’t go as far to cover everyone as we will need to go in the future, and some will say it doesn’t even go far enough for now. Yet we’ve come out with a country more divided, with a more fearful status-quo, than we have seen since the Civil Rights era.

Lets create a scale of government involvement in a healthcare system for perspective. A totally government-run and non-optional healthcare system where all doctors and healthcare workers are government employees – say Cuba’s system – is ranked as 100 in government involvement. A totally unregulated “Ayn Rand’s Dream” free-market system where you only get what you can personally pay for even if you’re dying, and providers can set whatever price they want, will be a 0 in government involvement.

That would mean “Obamacare” moved us from about a 25 to a 35. Most of the developed world is between 50 and 90.

The National Health Service in the U.K., in which the government employs all doctors but a small minority of citizens still choose private plans and there are small fees for most services, would be a 95. Canada’s government-insured system where the government pays for care but you get it from private doctor’s offices and hospitals, would be about a 60 with some government and some market. A private insurance system that contains one “public option” letting people buy insurance from the government if they want – a true balance letting individuals opt for a government or private system – would be about a 45. Switzerland’s system with compulsory health insurance from nonprofit private companies (banned by law from earning a profit on their services) would be about a 40. America’s pre-2010 system, which guarantees care in worst-case scenarios where you are broke but dragged to the hospital bleeding, and provides mostly-free care to seniors, some poor people and veterans – but is mostly market-run and leaves many uninsured – would be about a 25. The new system, when fully initiated after 2014, will ensure that anyone can some level of routine care if they want it and enforces penalties to encourage everyone to do so, but from private companies that earn lots of profit for providing care. It’s a 35.

The changes will make a big difference for many uninsured and under-insured Americans, but the post-“Obamacare” American healthcare system is still one of the most right-leaning and market-oriented systems in the developed world. And the right-leaning half of the country is treating it like the plague.

So, what the hell happened!?

One word: politics. (more…)

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January 20, 2010

Take a Deep Breath, Folks: Brown’s Victory Does Not Spell Disaster for Democrats

Filed under: elections — ononehand @ 8:00 am
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There is a lot of sensationalism in the media right now, especially among progressives. That is because a Republican, Scott Brown, just won the remainder of Ted Kennedy’s senate term in sparkling-blue Massachusetts in a special election yesterday. The narrative is reading: Democrats Failing, America Tilts to the Right; electorate punishes Democrats for liberal agenda.

Take a deep breath. America isn’t going down the tubes. We are not embarking upon a resurgence of Republicanism. Does anyone believe, even for a second, that Massachusetts voters are actually tilting conservative? Trust me, folks: if you haven’t suddenly tipped to the Right, neither has Massachusetts.

Something else is going on.

Obama’s rise to power was as much about demographic changes in the United States as it was a repudiation of Bush. Black, Asian and Latino Americans are becoming populous enough in many states that Democrats can lose by huge margins among white people but still win the election – minority groups are reluctant to vote for a party that is all about protecting privilege, which they don’t have, and the Republican party is, indeed, all about privilege. The young people turning 18 right now are more liberal than their still-voting grandparents by huge margins; if only people under 25 could vote, gay marriage and legalized marijuana would already be a reality. That has been an incredible benefit to Obama and the reason why he won in so many states in 2008.

But young people don’t vote in special elections – and the special election for Kennedy’s seat was no exception – so what you run with on January 19, 2010, a special election, looks more like the electorate of 1992.

Most liberals say they “would consider voting for a Republican,” even if it’s only a half truth, but for those who were being straightforward, Scott Brown happened to be one of the ones they would consider it for. In Massachusetts, 22 percent of Democrats chose Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley. Brown is more liberal that most Republicans nationwide and is now the single most liberal Republican in the Senate – he would not win a GOP primary for president unless he tacks far to the Right after arriving in the Senate, which would incidentally kill him in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Massachusetts voters are, quite reasonably, put off by the Democrats’ line: “we can’t do anything with our meager 20-seat majority” so are saying, shit guys, quit being babies and put up with 59 seats.

If Obama weren’t the president or if the Democrats only had a 50 or 55 seats in the Senate, Massachusetts voters would not have sent a Republican. But most people do like the idea of “balance” in government and aren’t buying the line that Democrats are totally crippled by the Republican minority – remember, Republicans got an unpopular war and a fiscally disastrous tax cut under the Bush administration, with much smaller majorities.

Some angry liberals who wanted a more progressive healthcare bill voted for Brown out of spite of the Democrats. Brown is also really, really good-looking, once modeled nude for Cosmo (which makes him seem tempered in socially-liberal Massachusetts), and yes, that has an effect on voters. He is not a “radicalized” Southern-style Republican, he matches the culture of Massachusetts, and even then, he would not have won had Coakley not really messed up and arrogantly assumed the election was over at the primary.

Saying this election spells doomsday for Democrats is like saying “the roads are too icy for ANYONE to drive” after a passed-out-drunk driver driving a car with no brakes plowed through a broken stoplight and hit a fence in March.

This narrative is even good: the media like to view everything through the lens of massive trends, and will begin looking favorably on a party or coalition after it has hit some sort of painful, rhetorical “rock bottom.” I’m glad that Democrats’ “rock bottom” is happening during a 1-race special election rather than a midterm or presidential election year.

This doesn’t dictate what will happen in November 2010. President Obama is going to give his State of the Union Address in two weeks and re-set the agenda in light of this (painful) learning experience. For the next 10 months we are only going to be seeing Democrats bring up issues that at least 55% of Americans approve of, and they’re going to move through them more quickly so they can actually show some progress – something progressives and hard-up middle-class Americans can mutually celebrate.

If Democrats don’t do that, they absolutely deserve to be voted out of office for incompetence – but I have more optimism than that.

January 15, 2010

How Harry Reid could Keep his Senate Seat

Filed under: elections — ononehand @ 4:48 pm
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It’s not looking good for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is up for re-election in November despite polls that show him trailing major potential Republican candidates.

Democrats in general have seen a precipitous drop in favorability in Nevada since the 2008 elections. The tourism-based economy and rapid population growth Nevada experienced over the last decade set the state to be hit especially hard by a national economic downturn, and unemployment is considerably higher than the national average. That isn’t really the Democrats’ fault and certainly isn’t Harry Reid’s fault, but voters almost always punish the incumbent party for economic woes – and Barack Obama, who got 55 percent of the vote in Nevada, is down to a 44-percent approval rating, an 11-point drop. (Meanwhile Obama’s national approval ratings are only 3 points lower than his 2008 share of the vote; he won with 52 percent and is currently averaging 48-49 percent approval nationwide.)

The numbers Reid faces don’t automatically spell disaster for Democratic incumbents, as Reid won re-election in Nevada in 2004 with 61 percent of the vote even as President Bush beat John Kerry there by 2.5 percent. But Reid has since gotten himself a lower-than-average favorability rating as a Democrat. People on the left consider him to be a timid majority leader, and recent revelations of his pre-2008 gaffes about Barack Obama and race don’t help. Beyond that, there are always voters who wish their state’s representative would focus on their state rather than on national issues as a majority leader.

One way Reid could win some favor in his state is by offering to resign his Senate leadership to do just that – focus on Nevada. His announcement would say “Nevada has served a crucial role in national policy by having one of its senators serve as majority leader, but six years is sacrifice enough and now it’s time for Harry Reid to focus on Nevada again.”

A simple internal poll could test this message by asking Nevadans “if Harry Reid were to resign his senate chairmanship to focus exclusively on serving Nevada as senator, would you see this as a favorable or unfavorable move?” and as a follow-up question to determine how many likely voters would vote to keep Reid in office if he did resign the chairmanship. If the numbers are good, or even just okay, Reid should do it.

Senate majority leader is a powerful position in the senate and might be tough to give up, but Reid is backed into a corner. He can’t be Senate Majority Leader if he’s no longer in the Senate anyway. Ask Tom Dashle, the Democratic senate majority leader from South Dakota who lost his seat to a Republican in 2004, if its harder to lose his status as a senator entirely or just resign the chairmanship.

Either way, it would be considerably less humiliating for Democrats if Harry Reid were no longer senate majority leader and then lost the seat.

Beyond that, Reid should announce that Republicans promise to obstruct Democratic efforts to pass important jobs bills that are yet to move through the Senate, and it is vital to the interests of all working and unemployed Nevadans to keep the seat Democratic. Reid should promise that he will not run again if Nevadans show that they would not re-elect him and another Democrat would do better. Of course it is almost certain that Reid would not make this kind of statement until the point at which he actually decides not to continue in the Senate – which probably won’t happen anyway.

Hanging on to Senate seats will be of particular interest for Democrats in 2010 as the GOP’s obstructionist agenda promises to capitalize on any chance to oppose Barack Obama’s policies. Keeping Nevada in Democratic hands will be important this year, and the tremendous surge in voter registration Democrats enjoyed in Nevada before the 2008 elections would make losing their majority leader’s seat an especially bitter pill to swallow.

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