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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Goldilocks Vanity

by digby

Harold Meyerson asks the fundamental question: who cares what Max Baucus and his band of finance committee nobodies thinks? By what measure should they be considered the last word on this?

Three committees have reported out bills plainly to Obama's liking. These committees -- two in the House, one in the Senate, and all controlled by progressive Democrats who support the president's objectives -- have backed mandates on individuals to get insurance and created generous subsidies to make that insurance affordable. They have backed mandates on employers (all but the smallest) to provide insurance or pay into a pool to fund those subsidies. And they have created a public plan, both to compete with private plans and to bring down the cost of health care more generally.


Over at Senate Finance, judging by the reports coming of the committee, a solonic gang of six -- three Democrats, including chairman Max Baucus of Montana, and three Republicans, including ranking member Charles Grassley of Iowa -- are turning out a bill whose resemblance to anything the president has championed is accidental and incidental. To secure Republican support, they oppose a public plan. To secure Republican support, they oppose employer mandates, even on the largest corporations. (And many of America's biggest employers are retailers with a proven record of not providing coverage to their workers: Wal-Mart, our largest, employs 1.4 million Americans, most of whom it does not cover.) The solonic six may end up requiring employers to fund subsidies for employees who need them, but that could create the bureaucratic nightmare to end all bureaucratic nightmares -- 700,000 Wal-Mart employees, say, bringing their tax returns to work so management can investigate ("You sure you reported all your income?") and stall ("Doesn't your spouse work at Home Depot? Why don't they pay the subsidy?") and investigate and stall.

Sounds like a plan to secure universal coverage by the middle of the next century.

The solonic six, in other words, seem on track to produce a plan that falls short of universal coverage, omits the savings that a competitive public plan would create, and might actually make health care harder to get. The only justification for such a bill is that it might win some Republican support. Why that is a goal worth pursuing at the expense of decent reform, however, is not at all apparent.

Well, just ask the Two DavesBoren and Broder and they'll tell you that bipartisanship is always better --- because it just is. It's Goldilocks politics --- one side is too hot, one side is too cold, so lukewarm corporate whores must be juuuuust right. They certainly can't argue that it's better politically, because everyone knows that Republicans will run against this legislation for the next half century at a minimum, and having three or four Senators vote for it won't change that. It wouldn't change if 25 GOP Senators voted for it.

Meyerson says that the Democrats can't bargain with Republicans anymore because they are extremist nutjobs, which is true. But I don't think that's the problem. The real problem is the power of this faux "centrism" that's been adopted by dwindling numbers of both parties who actually seem to be among the dullest and the least creative of a pretty dull and uncreative group. Which isn't surprising. Centrism as currently constructed is nothing more than facile claptrap that says "the middle" is always right andf finding some arbitrary number that means absolutely nothing is somehow the "smart" way to govern. These centrists are actually intellectually lazy people who won't (or can't) judge ideas and policies on the merits, and instead adopt the easy attitude that something between the two poles is always superior. (I realize I'm making the assumption that these "centrists" don't know what they are doing but I actually think they are pretty stupid and subject to flattery from their powerful, wealthy benefactors. They are tools not brains. Think George W. Bush in his compassionate conservative guise.)

The larger problem is that when applied to problems that actually need solving, these moderate positions are completely ineffectual, or actually make things worse. And this attitude is then adopted by the villagers as the sage and wise position because it saves them having to think too deeply about the issues or take a position that might tag them as being one of those awful partisans. Et voila --- conventional wisdom is born.

At best, as Boren's famous quote bears out, it's nothing more than overweening moral vanity. These people think there is virtue in moderation for its own sake and take great pride in being above the usual "partisanship" or passions of hoi polloi. But in the end, it's just another insider power play --- those intellectually overrated "centrists" exert the outsized power they are given in our two party system in service of their massively inflated egos. The status quo is protected, the people are further disillusioned and the ruling class breathe a big sigh of relief.

I do agree with Meyerson about what Obama should do about it: he should ignore them.
But I'll be surprised if he does. Democratic presidents never do. Unsurprisingly, Republican presidents rarely have to.

Following tradition in signing major legislation, Mr. Bush used a different pen for each letter of his name, then handed the pens to Republican Congressional leaders and a few Democrats whose support was critical.

Among them was Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the new chairman of the Finance Committee, whose decision to reach a compromise between his own party's more modest tax cut and Mr. Bush's more ambitious one angered leaders in his own party, including the new majority leader, Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota. But tonight Mr. Daschle was headed to the White House for a private dinner with Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, while Mr. Baucus said he did the right thing by striking a deal with Mr. Bush.

''Every day it looks like a better and better decision,'' Mr. Baucus said at the White House after the signing ceremony. ''In many respects, I think politically I helped the party. We Democrats would have been in trouble in 2002 just saying no to every one of the president's proposals.''

Update: It looks like Waxman got what he needed in the House --- for this week, at least. Baucus remains the problem. The Democrats should roll over him. I'll be shocked if they do.