Where Hippie Punching Gets You
Jonathan Cohn makes the good point that Obama's speech on Wednesday is unfortunately going to be seen as the left most position in the debate which makes a compromise between his plan and Ryan's the "juuust right" sweet spot. Cohn rightly suggests that tit would be helpful to have a leftward plan that incorporates left wing values the same way Ryan's plan incorporates Ayn Rand's wet dreams.
An equally extreme proposal on the left would balance the budget, first, by raising new taxes--on everybody and, most likely, with particular levies on carbon. I doubt Obama will endorse either idea in his speech. A seriously left-wing proposal would also seek to reduce overall health care costs (as well as those incurred by the government and individuals) more aggressively than the Affordable Care Act does, by using the kind of blunt, global price controls you get in single-payer systems. In other words, a truly left-wing alternative on health care reform might actually justify the label “government-run health care.”
A compromise that represented a middle ground between that kind of plan and Ryan’s might be worth contemplating. But you'll find nothing along those lines in the debate right now. Yes, a number of liberal plans are circulating, the most detailed of which is probably the “Our Fiscal Future" proposal from Demos*, the Century Fund, and the Economic Policy Institute. And it would be helpful indeed if plans like this got more attention, as Representative Jan Schakowsky and the Congressional Progressive Caucus have been urging. But “Our Fiscal Future” doesn't call for system-wide health care price controls; it merely calls for creating a public option, as the architects of the Affordable Care Act originally envisioned. In that respect, and others, the current liberal alternatives are closer to what I'd consider the political mainstream than either my imaginary left-wing plan or Ryan's not-so-imaginary right-wing alternative.
He's right, of course. The leftward position is tepid market-oriented compromises coming out of the gate. Better than Ryan, of course. But hardly a position that could balance the rightward yank that Ryan and the Simpson Bowles atrocity have given us or serve as an opening ante. The problem, unfortunately, is that when anyone sets forth a truly liberal plan like Cohn proposes, they are not only met with shrieks of horror from conservatives, establishment liberals and Democratic third-way centrists stalk them like a pack of hyenas and marginalize them as outside the "mainstream" and assure everyone who will listen that they are not "serious." You may have noticed that Paul Ryan's lunacy is not similarly treated by his own. Indeed, it's not even similarly treated that way by liberals. Just try to imagine a plan like the one Cohn describes being hailed as "courageous" (even though it surely would be.) Yeah, I know. Shrill.
The fact is that there is no liberal establishment willing to validate liberalism. Indeed, for reasons only they can tell us, they almost always go out of their way to exclude anyone who can readily be identified as a person of the left and rush before the cameras and into print to reassure America that they have no support. I have my theories about why that might be, but suffice to say it's a fairly easily documented phenomenon. There is simply no space in the establishment political dialog for explicitly left policy or rhetoric.
I'm thinking that TNR is one place where the liberal wonks (Cohn excluded) might take a minute and ask themselves if their reflexive derision of the hippies for being unrealistic and lacking in pragmatism has served their own goals. When you wake up one morning and see a Democratic president praising the biggest spending cuts in history at a time of 8.8% unemployment, it might be time to take a look in the mirror.