As Obamacare declines toward a possible fall, the assembled denizens of the professional Left are scrambling in earnest to register their excuses with the public. Thus far at least, the award for the most creative contribution goes to former labor secretary Robert Reich, whose Saturday paean to single-payer health care managed to combine all of the most dishonest talking points that have bubbled up since October 1 while constructing in tandem a counterfactual so dazzling that only the truest of apostles could be persuaded by it.
Reich’s column has the Upworthy-worthy title, “The Democrats’ Version of Health Insurance Would Have Been Cheaper, Simpler, and More Popular (So Why Did We Enact the Republican Version and Why Are They So Upset?).” In it, Reich claims that if “Democrats [had] stuck to the original Democratic vision and built comprehensive health insurance on Social Security and Medicare, it would have been cheaper, simpler, and more widely accepted by the public.” And, he adds for good measure, “Republicans would be hollering anyway.”
The underlying conceit here, that the Democratic party had the option of “sticking to the original vision” of single-payer but that it instead settled on Obamacare as part of some sort of grand compromise, is fairly popular among the law’s apologists these days. Republicans, this story goes, are opportunistic hypocrites who dropped their longtime support for a system that looked just like Obamacare the very moment that a black man was elected to the White House. Democrats, meanwhile, are presented as being too nice and too solicitous of their opponents, and criticized for having elected to placate the Republican party by forgoing pursuit of what they truly wanted: Medicare for all.
Reassuring as this tale might be to those who are worriedly surveying the damage that Healthcare.gov has wrought upon their project, it remains self-evidently absurd. Obamacare was passed into law without a single Republican vote; its passage led to the biggest midterm blowout since 1948; and repealing the measure has been, to borrow Harry Reid’s favorite word, the “obsession” of Republicans for nearly five years. It is a law based upon an idea that Republican leadership failed to consider, debate, or advance during any of the periods in which they have held political power — and one that they actively opposed when it was suggested in a similar form by President Clinton during the 1990s. If Republicans were desperate to get something done along the lines that Obama proposed in 2009, they have had a funny way of showing it over the past 159 years.
Champions of the Republican Idea Theory tend to respond to the presentation of these facts by charging that that the concept of an individual mandate was the product of a 1989 paper issued by the conservative Heritage Foundation (something its author vigorously denies), and that Republicans were so taken by the idea of forcing everybody to buy a private product that . . . well, actually herein lies the problem. Truth be told, Republicans were so taken with Heritage’s design that a grand number of two of them ever went so far as to introduce a federal bill based on it and Mitt Romney used it as the basis of reform in deep-blue Massachusetts. Oh, and Newt Gingrich once said something nice about it — in 1995. This, suffice it to say, is hardly a ringing endorsement.