Why Won’t The GOP Let Us Have a Normal Debate? Why!?

by Jonah Goldberg

Greg Sargent thinks it’s unseemly and ill-mannered for Republicans to focus on the fact that a great many people are losing their health insurance because of Obamacare. He does make a few very reluctant concessions. For instance:

Critics of the law are right to ask whether it is having an adverse impact on these millions of Americans. And the White House could have been clearer in laying the groundwork for this political argument: It wasn’t sufficient to say people who like their plans will be able to keep it, which is narrowly untrue.

But this is just the necessary back swing required for teeing up the real wrongdoers here, the Republicans.

But the GOP outrage about Americans supposedly “losing” coverage is largely just more of the same old misdirection. It’s a subset of a larger Republican refusal to have an actual debate about the law’s tradeoffs — one in which the law’s benefits for millions of Americans are also reckoned with in a serious way.

He runs through the arguments about “churn” in the individual market and  remarks how even Glenn Kessler has noted the law will create winners and losers, and reasonable people should know that.  He concludes:

Meanwhile, because the only acceptable position on the law for Republicans is to demand full repeal, they spend too little time prioritizing which parts of the law they’d want to change and won’t engage in bipartisan fixes to it that GOP-aligned constituencies want.

It’s puzzling. If public opinion is on the side of Republicans on Obamacare, why can’t we have a normal debate about the actual tradeoffs at the core of the law and about fundamental questions as to the proper federal role in solving health care problems afflicting tens of millions of Americans?

Is it really puzzling? Really?

Well, let’s see if we can lift the veil of mystery. For starters, Obama’s statements were not  ”narrowly untrue.”  They were broadly, knowingly and entirely untrue. He repeated them over and over again, often straight into the camera. It’s nice that Greg Sargent concedes now that the president “could have been clearer.” But “could have been clearer” implies that he was a little clear about how this would work and just didn’t clarify enough. The truth is the complete opposite. He wasn’t even deliberately unclear. He was clearly dishonest. Obama was stridently deceitful. Seriously, watch this video compilation of Obama’s repeated and vociferous statements about “keeping your plan” and tell me he was just failing to be sufficiently clear that millions of people wouldn’t be able to keep their plans:

This raises a larger problem about the wonkosphere. Ross Douthat is right when he tweets:

“Furor over ‘if you like your plan …’ is a reminder to everyone in Wonkland (where everyone knew it was BS) that most ppl don’t live here.”

I agree that everyone in wonkland knew it was b.s. But what does it say about the liberal wonks that they either never said so when the legislation was being debated or said so very quietly under their breaths. I’m genuinely curious, did Sargent or his colleagues at the Washington Post report that what Obama was saying — never mind the impression he was leaving — was a lie, or even “narrowly untrue”? I mean did they report it when it might have hurt the law’s chances of passage, not afterwards when all lies are retroactively absolved as the price for social progress.

Indeed, what is so infuriating to many of us is that now that it’s the law of the land, Obamacare supporters act as if all of the lies were no big deal and no serious person believed them anyway. But as anyone can tell you, if Obama had been honest about the trade-offs in his signature piece of legislation, it would never have become his signature piece of legislation. So please, don’t tell me the lies don’t matter.

Indeed, this might help unravel the mystery. Republicans (or at least a great, great many of them) know that this law glided to passage on tracks greased with b.s. And not just about the ability to keep your plan and lowered premiums, but endless balderdash about extending life-expectancy, bending the cost curve, etc. When they pointed out that what the president was saying was flatly untrue, even impossible, they were called fools or racists. The liberal wonks who knew — or should have known — just how much b.s. was involved in the sales job, nevertheless kept their canons fixed on opponents of the law. And so did the “objective” journalists. I remember when the Supreme Court okayed Obamacare, NPR’s health-care correspondent Julie Rovner said the only losers were the states that didn’t sign on to the Medicaid expansion and the insurance company executives who wanted a stiffer penalty under the mandate. And that was it. Really, no other losers? None?

And now, when the Democrats’ lies are proving politically inconvenient, we’re told that if Republicans were smart, they’d accept the law and engage in a sober conversation about the very real trade-offs in the law liberals lied about for years. 

I’m not arguing that the GOP shouldn’t capitulate to the law simply out of spite (though spite is underrated in this circumstance if you ask me). But I fail to see why Republicans should simply accept that the law is here to stay and get into wonky discussions about how to improve it at the margins at the exact moment the wheels are coming off the bus. The president and the Democrats lied us into a bad law. The Right opposed the law on principle. A single party — the Democrats — own this law in a way that no party has had complete ownership of any major social legislation in a century. They bought this legislation with deceit and the GOP said so. Now that it is going into effect, the facts on the ground are confirming that deceit. Moreover, the same haughty condescending bureaucrats and politicians who told us they were smart enough and tech-savvy enough to do just about anything are being exposed as incompetent political hacks. And this is the moment when Sargent thinks the GOP should simply throw in the towel and work with the Democrats to make Obamacare bipartisan?

I find that puzzling.

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