If you want to know why the safest bet is that Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States, you need only consider the brilliant drafting of her health-care plan and the meaning of it next to her 1993 plan. The 1993 plan was intellectually honest — it was thousands of pages long because it attempted to foresee and plug any conceivable loophole in the effort to bring about universal coverage. It was positively Talmudic in that respect and therefore suffered from the weakness of all Talmudic efforts that do not involve the interpretation of a divinely inspired document — in the effort to foreclose all possible escapes, there was something bullying about it.
The 2007 plan, by contrast, is intellectually dishonest in the sense that it leaves all the managerial details to be handled later. Leaving aside profound philosophical questions, the key problem with universal health care plans is primarily that they create a managerial nightmare whose inevitable end is the creation of a system entirely controlled by federal bureaucrats — since somebody has to set enforceable terms that are constant from one town to the other, one state to the other.
The new Hillary health care plan deals with this by pretending that it can all work itself out simply by allowing people to stay with the plans they have and force those plans to cover everything. This huge increase in mandated expenses is to be covered not only by new taxes but by compelling everyone in the country and his employer to pay for health care.
That order is necessary because it will force people into the system — and there are tens of millions of them — who don’t have health care coverage because they have determined they don’t need it or can do without it. By expanding the risk pool in this way to include those who won’t actually spend any money, or will spend far less than they pay in, the system will in theory be able to sustain itself.
This is “in theory.” In practice, of course, there’s no chance it can work this simply. Politically, however, it is brilliant. She gets to claim she will provide universal health insurance while seeming to criticize implicitly the Rube Goldberg scheme with which she was formerly associated — a sensational two-fer.
The Hillary of the 1990s was far too proud and prickly to make such a move. The Hillary of 2007 wants to win. And absent an unforeseen news event that creates a surprise opening for another candidate, the rollout of this plan is probably checkmate for her Democratic rivals.
It will be up to Republicans to punch holes in it and use it to their advantage. And that will take skill, because she hasn’t made it easy.