After serving as a Republican stronghold for the better part of half a century, California is now an exceedingly blue state. So blue, in fact, that it has become the go-to example of rampant Democratic electoral success, and of all the trials and tribulations that come with it. It is the official nerve center of the idiosyncratic Left Coast — the land of high taxes, of peculiar social theories, and of Nancy Pelosi. In much of the country, merely uttering the word “California” is enough to prompt eyes to roll and wry smiles to appear.
Which is why it was strange to hear that Senator Dianne Feinstein — she of the Fairness Doctrine, the incessant gun-ban proposals, and the would-be hikes in the minimum wage — is enthusiastically signing up to co-sponsor Mary Landrieu’s bill to “fix” the sacred cow of the Left: Obamacare. Landrieu, after all, is from a seriously red state — Louisiana — and she is in serious trouble. In 2008, a blowout year for Democrats, Landrieu won reelection by just a few percentage points. Now, her approval rating is under water, and her support for Obamacare, to which around 65 percent of Louisianans are opposed and for which she cast the deciding vote, is starting to hurt her.
Feinstein, on the other hand, has one of the safest seats in the country and, at least until now, she has not faced much in the way of serious criticism for what has been best described as reflexive support for the president. Indeed, even after the October debacle, one poll showed, Californians continued to favor Obamacare by 50–42 percent. So why the alliance?
Well, although California is overwhelmingly Democratic, it has hitherto had a reasonably unregulated individual-health-insurance market. Unlike, say, New York, which has had Obamacare-like regulations for years, California was open for business.
Manhattan Institute fellow and NRO columnist Avik Roy observed earlier this year that California, “despite its reputation as a deep-blue state, has one of the most robust and competitive individual-insurance markets in the nation.” His critic, Paul Krugman, put this a little more hyperbolically. “Right now,” Krugman argued prior to Obamacare’s implementation, “California has a basically unregulated individual market, in which insurers are free to reject whoever they choose, and charge whatever rates they choose.” Roy and Krugman disagree as to what should be done with California’s “wild west” individual market. But they do not disagree that it has had one.
As such, a law that even Wonkblog’s Ezra Klein has conceded is designed to “blow up” unregulated individual markets was always going to be particularly painful for California. It is precisely for this reason that a significant number of the stories of left-leaning voters being burned by President Obama’s signature achievement have come out of the state — and often from staunchly left-leaning places such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. Early on, in a widely circulated story simply titled, “Obamacare’s winners and losers,” the San Jose Mercury News told the tale of Cindy Vinson and Tom Waschura, two staunch Democrats who were astonished to find that their premiums were skyrocketing exactly as the Republicans they dislike had predicted. “Vinson, of San Jose,” reported the paper, “will pay $1,800 more a year for an individual policy, while Waschura, of Portola Valley, will cough up almost $10,000 more for insurance for his family of four.” The pair, suffice it to say, was not amused.
This week, the Los Angeles Times related the case of another unamused victim, one Margaret Davis of Los Angeles, who wrote directly to Senator Feinstein to gripe about the effect that the law was having on her and her family. For advocates of Obamacare, the letter makes painful reading. Davis writes:
I’m a 55-year-old woman in excellent health and have a catastrophic health plan. I am completely happy with my plan. I received notice that the plan is being canceled and that to stay with a “comparable” plan my premiums would increase 88%, or $200 extra per month. To add insult to injury, the plan is INFERIOR to my existing plan.
In the course of announcing her intention to back a fix, Feinstein let on that this was by no means the only such remonstration to which she had been subjected. “Since the beginning of September,” Feinstein revealed, “I have received 30,842 calls, e-mails and letters from Californians, many of whom are very distressed by cancellations of their insurance policies and who are facing increased out-of-pocket costs.” Even acknowledging that California is the most populous of these United States, this is an astonishing number: Almost as many people have written to one senator to complain about losing their insurance as have signed up on California’s exchange.
Meanwhile, according to official numbers, a staggering 1 million Californians have been kicked off their existing insurance, while just 35,000 people have been enrolled in private insurance — many of whom, one must presume, did so because they had lost what they had. I am not sure whether there has ever been any solid research into Californians’ grievance-to-complaint ratio, but I do know this: If 30,842 people actually took the time to express their dissatisfaction to their elected representative, you can bet that hundreds of thousands more harbor the same feelings. Feinstein is not a stupid woman, and she knows this.
“The Affordable Care Act is a good law, but it is not perfect,” Feinstein claimed yesterday. “I believe the Landrieu bill is a commonsense fix that will protect individuals in the private insurance market from being forced to change their insurance plan. I hope Congress moves quickly to enact it.” What a difference 1 million cancellations make. As recently as November 4, Feinstein was spinning with the best of them, defending the president’s lie to the point of absurdity: “As I understand it,” she told Bob Schieffer, you can keep your policy “up to the time the bill was enacted, and after that, it’s a different story.” In other words: Obama’s promise could be true only if Obamacare hadn’t been passed.
“California,” wrote novelist S. E. Hinton, “is like a beautiful wild kid on heroin, high as a kite and thinking she’s on top of the world, not knowing she’s dying, not believing it even if you show her the marks.” Perhaps so. But even California must occasionally come down from the high. This week, Dianne Feinstein took the first steps toward recovery, waking up from her dream and conceding that the law she had so breathlessly championed had left a million marks across the state and would continue to do so unless quickly checked.
And if reality can puncture the Golden State’s seemingly impenetrable bubble, it can probably puncture the District of Columbia’s as well.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.