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.