Whatever historical weight the Left chooses to attribute to the Heritage proposal, it cannot change the salient fact that “Heritage” is synonymous with neither “Republican party” nor “conservative movement,” nor that, even if it were, such a link would serve only to confuse matters. As Avik Roy notes over at Forbes, the so-called “Heritage plan” was actually “killed” by another Heritage employee, Peter Ferrara, whose first act after leaving the organization was to campaign vehemently against the idea and to “[convince] 37 leaders of the conservative movement, including Phyllis Schlafly, Grover Norquist, and Paul Weyrich, to sign a petition opposing” it. Ferrara was joined in his opposition by the Cato Institute, the Galen Institute, and almost everybody on the Republican side of Congress.
Reich’s fantasy account of a restrained Democratic party does not hold up either. There is a devastatingly dull reason the bulletproof Democratic majority of 2008 didn’t build “comprehensive health insurance on Social Security and Medicare,” and that is that it didn’t have the votes. Indeed, with full control of the government, Democrats didn’t even have the votes to set up a public insurance option, let alone to take over the whole system. Long before Scott Brown was elected to the Senate, Ezra Klein was lamenting
that the public option was dead on arrival. Joe Lieberman, Klein noted sadly, has “swung the axe and cut his deal cleanly, killing not only the public option, but anything that looked even remotely like it.”
Lieberman did this for a solid reason: Despite the best efforts of the president, the mooted health-care bill remained deeply unpopular throughout the legislative process, and the public option even more so. Americans, remember, didn’t even want the bill as it currently ended up, and they were so determined to stop it that the progressive stronghold of Massachusetts elected to the Senate a Republican who ran promising not only to “kill” that specific bill but also to end the Democratic party’s filibuster-proof majority. Are we honestly expected to suppose that if the proposal had been farther to the left, it would have had a better chance? Does the progressive movement really think that the public can be persuaded that Democratic legislators “compromised” with an intransigent opposition out of the goodness of their hearts? I think not.
As for Reich’s claim that a single-payer system would have been “more widely accepted by the public”: Is he joking? So acutely aware were the president and his allies in Congress of the fact that the vast majority of Americans did not want to lose their current insurance that, like so many traveling salesmen on the frontier, they just brazenly lied, promising things of their product that it could never possibly deliver and assiduously playing down the scale of the chance that their customers were taking. Again, with Obamacare as it is now, the president was forced onto the defensive, provoked into repeating as mantra that “if you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan” and into reassuring voters that “no one will take it away — no matter what.” One can only imagine what he would have had to promise if he had been peddling single-payer.
The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, who has dismissed the law as an “immense kludge” and is open about his preference for a Medicaid-for-all single-payer model, has managed to grasp that “the reluctance of workers who currently have good insurance through their employers to trade that insurance for something new” meant in practical terms that “the Affordable Care Act was probably all we could get.” It was indeed, and if the Republican party plays its cards right and can turn the disastrous rollout of the law into a setback not just to this particular scheme but to the technocratic model itself, it will be all that the Left “can get” for some time to come.
Nevertheless, as any good liar knows, it is the chaotic and amorphous opening days of any disaster that provide the opportunities for the most ambitious spin. Refusing to allow anything as prosaic as truth to intrude upon their fantasies, progressives are engaged in an audacious attempt to blame their opponents for their signature mistake and, worse, to pretend that the solution to the havoc wrought by magical thinking is to commission even more magic. “We must do what we can,” William F. Buckley Jr. wrote in a letter to Henry Kissinger, “to bring hammer blows against the bell jar that protects the dreamers from reality.” With Obamacare failing in precisely the ways that they predicted it would, conservatives have been given an extraordinary hammer. They must not let their opponents take it from their hands.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.