Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The Central Front, The Right And The Center: Part II

I can't find the post, but I remember Reihan Salam writing that repealing and replacing Obamacare might be the work of decades.  I hope not.  I can hope that, in 24 months, Congress will be well on the way to passing a repeal bill that will be signed by a Republican President.  There is an element of chance as to whether the election of 2012 will return results that make Obamacare's repeal possible in the short-run.  If James Capretta and Yuval Levin are right that "If the health care debate is lost, then the fight for limited government is lost as well" and Salam is right that the chances for are near-term repeal of Obamacare are questionable, then conservatives will need a health care reform approach that maximizes their odds of prevailing both next year and years down the line. 

Conservatives shouldn't waste any opportunity to undo Obamacare, but let's be honest: it's not entirely in our control when that opportunity will come.  Some elections are between evenly matched parties, but sometimes circumstance tilts the playing field strongly in favor of one side.  The Democrats were smart to nominate candidates like Jim Webb and Jon Tester in 2006 but most of their political advantages in that year came from the Bush administration's mishandling of  the Iraq War - absent Bush's epic unpopularity, George Allen probably still wins the Virginia Senate race.  Webb also turned out to be the marginal vote for passing Obamacare past the 60 vote hurdle for cloture.  Obama didn't earn the financial panic of 2008 (though by not seeming either panicky or overtly demagogic he maximized the political benefits.)  In 2010 the Republicans surely benefited from the high unemployment rate and the Democrats' insistence on passing the most liberal bill that could unify their Senate caucus after the maximum application of presidential influence.  Opportunity will come when it comes.

But opportunity won't be enough.  A public desire to throw out the Democrats might result in a Republican victory, but if the Republicans aren't ready with good policy, who cares?  I see no reason to repeat the Schwarzenegger experience of Republican administration of liberal governance.  But opportunity and a plan aren't good enough either when the issue is health care.  Health care policy is an intensely personal issue that almost everyone has a stake in.  The Democrats and their allies and well wishers in the media and other institutions will expend every resource to prevent a repeal of Obamacare and a center-right reform of health care.  If conservatives are to retain enough public support to enact their policies, they will need sufficient support from the public.  It probably won't have to be an absolute majority but a 40% to 60% split in favor of Democratic policies on such a high salience issue will probably be fatal in the long-term.  This is going to be a debate and Capretta and Levin's words should be remembered, "If the health care debate is lost, then the fight for limited government is lost as well"  I think that this argues for a multi-track approach to repealing and replacing Obamacare.  Some suggestions about what that might look like:

1.  Continue to argue for a full near-term repeal.  Continue to explain what is wrong with Obamacare and explain strategies for incremental right-leaning reform at the federal level (including block granting Medicaid.)  It could work.  The Republicans could retain their House majority while a Republican Senate majority and a Republican President are elected.  You would almost certainly still have at least forty one Senate Democrats who will filibuster any attempt to repeal Obamacare.  You would need at least fifty Republican Senators ready to vote to kill the filibuster in order to pass a repeal.  I think it would be worth the trade, but I'm not sure Susan Collins agrees.  Anyway, a Republican President could use their discretionary authority to move health care policy in a more market-oriented direction and lay the groundwork for the next stage of right-leaning health care reform. 

I don't think it is a good idea to put all of our eggs in this basket.  We should do all we can to bring this result about, but for all of our efforts, opportunity might not come just when we wish.  The labor market could improve sufficiently to give the President a political boost.  A large fraction of the population is already behind him and he does not need many more reinforcements to be well on the way to victory. 

2.  Focus on state-level health care reforms.  Right now. I can't overestate the importance of expanding the social basis of market-oriented health care reform.  The best arguments for conservative health care policies won't be found in think tank papers.  They will be found in the experiences of people who have benefited from those policies.  Republican governors and state legislators should do everything they can to get as many people as possible on HSA/catastrophic coverage plans (especially state and municipal employees.)  It would save the government money while increasing the take home pay of the workers.  It would make the full implementation of Obamacare harder.  Let the Secretary of HHS tell millions and millions of Americans that a health insurance policy they like will now become illegal and that they should now pay more in order to get no better care.  Make our day.  If the Obama administration blinks, we win and there is an expanded social basis for market-oriented reform down the line.  If they don't, then it is an issue for 2014 and 2016.  In the meantime, much of the public is now better informed about the benefits of right-leaning reform.  It is a win-win-win. 

3.  Expand public knowledge of the principles and benefits of market-oriented health care reform.  This is an enormous challenge.  Public awareness (much less public understanding) of right-leaning health care reform policies is abysmally low.  I doubt that enough Republican politicians or the populist right-leaning media can reasonably be expected to bear the burden of expanding public understanding in the early stages of a public education effort. It would be worthwhile for some conservative foundation or right-leaning 527 to expend much of its money not in a particular election campaign, but in a campaign to increase understanding of some key issues.  Perhaps money spent on the 407th, 408th and 409th 30 second ad for a candidate just before an election might be better spent on a 90 second ad that explains how right-leaning health care reform could save the government money, increase people's take home pay, and maintain people's health care security.   This would be about shaping opinion between elections to make it easier for conservative candidates to talk about alternatives to Obamacare and make it harder for liberals to demagogue conservative policies.  The ads shouldn't just be on during election seasons and should be on the Rush Limbaugh Show, The O'Reilly Factor, The Daily Show and Sabado Gigante (though the content might vary somewhat depending on the audience.)       

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 10 Comments

Louisana is the fifth state to ask for a waiver from the busdrivercare. The busdrivercare has issued over 1,000 waivers for unions and companies. Lawsuits have been filed by over half of the states. As people around where I live say - that dog (busdrivercare) don't hunt. Matter of fact, it is getting pretty close to a dead dog. I can't wait to hear how the busdriver in the white house is going to spin it when he runs for re-election. Go teleprompter go...

You can't fix stupid.

That is an awfully astounding column you've posted.Thanks a lot for that a fantastically amazing post!

Wow, that Obama-as-"bus driver" meme is sheer comic gold, I tell ya! Good to see that you're milking it for all it's worth, cow.

Enjoying that low-hanging fruit, Craig? What's next, a debate with Hal Holst?

For once (ONCE!!) I agree with Craig. I'd enjoy your posts much more, cowgirl, without the "bus driver" mantra. It's stale.

Really - I have "milked" the busdriver thing? Let's see the bus driver just drove over Congress and the American people by entering a war with Libya (done we now know behind the American people's back) Bus Driver you bet. Just a reminder - George Bush was referred to as "Bush is Hitler" adnasauem by the left for eight years, so I will be petty and say "You started it"

But the bus driver could redeem himself by sending this April Fool's Letter to George Bush:

President Barack H. Obama

The White House

Dear George,

The Gulf oil spill opened my eyes.

As with Hurricane Katrina, it happened suddenly. I barked out orders. I pounded my desk. But the oil kept flowing. Worse, the nation watched it all on television and said: "Why doesn't the President do something? Doesn't he care?" From then on, I fully understood both the expectations and the limitations of this job.

I ran on "hope and change." I said I would bring the sides together. The American people, I told Republicans who opposed my stimulus plan, have spoken. And "I won."

So without any of the bipartisan support you received for your tax cuts, my stimulus passed, and I confidently predicted it would prevent unemployment from reaching 8 percent. It climbed to 10.2 percent.

Without a single Republican vote, we passed "ObamaCare." But half of the states' attorneys general filed suit to stop it. And a year after its passage, most Americans want it repealed.

My party lost its House majority and its Senate supermajority. Voters wanted smaller government. Turns out voters wanted to retain the "Bush tax rates" -- even for the rich -- which I campaigned against. Again, the American people had spoken.

The morning starts, as you know, with an intelligence briefing. My goodness, does America have enemies -- hateful, violent, vicious enemies all over the world who are determined to destroy this nation! Our job is to prevent them from succeeding -- all of them, all of the time.

I labeled you a cowboy, promised humility and offered enemy countries an "outstretched hand" for their "unclenched fist." But calling the Global War on Terror an "overseas contingency operation" not only failed to deter the Islamofascists from wanting to kill us, it suggested a weakness that only strengthened their resolve.

Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas and the mullahs who run Iran, I learned, couldn't care less that I'm a person of color, born to a Muslim father from Kenya, and who lived in Indonesia. They hate us still.

Guantanamo Bay exists for a reason. It imprisons the worst of the worst. No other country will take these terrorists, and many former detainees have returned to the fight.

Gitmo is among many of your "Bush era" terror-fighting policies that I not only retained but, in some cases, even expanded. What once seemed reckless and wrongheaded, I now see as prudent attempts to strike that difficult balance between safety and freedom.

I came into this job eight years after September 11, 2001. I cannot imagine 3,000 Americans killed on my watch. I cannot imagine polls showing that 90 percent of us anticipated another attack within 12 months of the first, perhaps with chemical or biological weapons. I can imagine how you must have blamed yourself during those long, dark days, and spent every waking hour asking, "What can I do so this never happens again?"

This brings me to the Iraq War, a mission I once called "dumb."

Seventy-six percent of Americans, at the time, supported your decision. You obtained approval from Congress. By contrast, 47 percent support my actions in Libya, less support than for any military action taken in the last 40 years. Unlike you, I did not seek approval from Congress even though I once said the Constitution requires it.

Thanks to the Iraq War, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi surrendered his WMD. He poses no direct threat to America and cannot use these terrible weapons on his own people. Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, invaded his neighbors, used chemical weapons on his own people and shot at our planes patrolling the no-fly zones. All 16 of our intelligence agencies thought he possessed stockpiles of WMD, a prospect that threatened to make the 9/11 carnage look small.

I even opposed the "surge" in Iraq and predicted its failure. I now see this unpopular decision for what it was -- one of the most courageous decisions ever made by any of the 43 Americans who have sat behind this desk.

I vividly recall shaking my head during the speech you made to make the case for the "dumb" war. A disapproving New York Times wrote: "President Bush sketched an expansive vision. ... Mr. Bush talked about establishing a 'free and peaceful Iraq' that would serve as a 'dramatic and inspiring example' to the entire Arab and Muslim world ..."

Now I understand why, in 2008, you signed National Security Presidential Directive-58, Advancing the Freedom Agenda: "To protect America, we must defeat the ideology of hatred by spreading the hope of freedom. Over the past seven years, this is exactly what the administration has done."

It began with newly liberated Afghans and Iraqis who risked their lives by leaving their homes to vote for the first time. Your Freedom Agenda ignited the promising, historic "hope and change" we are now witnessing all throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

You were right. I was wrong. The nation -- and the world -- owes you a huge debt of gratitude.

Let's do lunch and then sneak in a round of golf. The "near beer" is on me.

With respect and appreciation,


Stale? Really the bus driver recently ran over Congress and the American people by propelling us into a war that he doesn't understand. With all due respect, if you don't like my comments, then you are free not to read them. Commenting and reading blogs here is like abortion - it is a choice.

Well, Yersinia, better the low-hanging fruit than the stuff that has fallen on the dirty ground. There are rats and nasty bacteria down there!!

Cowgirl, I enjoy reading your posts very much, (that "letter" is brilliant - if only...)
I only wanted to suggest that you might be overusing the "busdriver" motif, which not only lessens the clarity of your comments, it diminishes the impact of the satire when you do use it.

Low hanging fruit indeed! I have little idea what any of this has to do with busdrivers, but cowgirl shows that she'd be a better speechwriter than the Scanlon-mosquito.

Or is the man Craig Scanlon prepared to admit that by this point, with all remaining and fundamental differences aside, that a number of apologies from the left (and from various sorts of moderates and atypical conservatives) for the rhetorical overkill on George W. Bush are in order? That the anti-Bush hypocrisies and irresponsible sayings of the 2004-2008 years have become undeniable, having become embodied in the self-contradicting persons of Biden, Obama, and co.? Undeniable even to those who will remain stout critics of Bush?

But Pete is right folks, we should be learnin' ourselves about health is, alas, our President who is the low-hangin' fruit, and at times we dwell on his weaknesses to our detriment.

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