Deep Inside of a Parallel Universe
Reihan doesn’t think that we should dismiss Republican intransigence as irrational or nihilistic (via Andrew Sullivan):
Among Democrats and liberals, there is a belief that Republican opposition to the various Democratic proposals represents a kind of “nihilism,” and that because Baucuscare resembles proposals offered by liberal and moderate Republicans in the 1990s, today’s opposition is obviously unprincipled if not insane. My sense is that we’ve learned a great deal about health reform over the intervening period, and that, as Christensen, Grossman, and Hwang have argued, it is disruptive competition that promises substantial improvement in the cost and quality of medical services over time. I’m increasingly convinced that the only way to move in this direction is to create a system of universal catastrophic coverage and universal health savings accounts, as proposed by Martin Feldstein and a number of others. The emerging consensus among congressional Democrats moves us in a very different direction, towards a highly centralized, highly regulated system that will give entrepreneurs very little room to dramatically improve care. With that in mind, I don’t think opposition is “nihlistic”; rather, I think it’s responsible.
As I was thinking of a response to this, Nicholas Beaudrot (of Donkeylicious) posted something on the fact that policy making doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and it’s worth quoting here:
Lately I seem to be having conversations with wonkish right-of-center types who have this-or-that idea about how to design a simpler, more efficient, and more effective policy to deal with taxation, climate change, health care, whatever. But it always stops there. No one talks about managing the transition. No one talks about convincing Mitch McConnell to back these ideas. No one talks about sixty votes. No one talks about the interest group dynamics in Washington. No one even talks about working for a decade to elect members of Congress who might be more amenable to these sorts of policies. It’s just policy in a vacuum. Which is an interesting intellectual exercise, but not a legitimate substitute for governance, an ultimately messy endeavor.
And honestly, that’s what I think Reihan’s defense amounts to, an interesting intellectual exercise. It is true that the ideological commitments of most Democratic legislators lead them in the direction of greater regulation as opposed to greater market intervention. But it is also true that the emerging congressional Democratic consensus didn’t happen in a vacuum – it didn’t happen in the face of intelligent Republican criticism, and it certainly didn’t happen in the face of decentralized or market-oriented Republican counter-proposals. Given that Democrats – and Max Baucus specifically – invested a lot of time and political capital into addressing Republican complaints and roping Republican support, it’s not much of a stretch to say that had Republicans been prepared to work constructively, we would have seen a bill that is a bit closer to what Reihan would have preferred.
Indeed (assuming you have a decent imagination or have seen Sliders), you can easily imagine a parallel Earth where everything about the legislative process is exactly the same, and the only difference is that the GOP is a mature, intellectually honest party with a clear interest in governing* and a robust set of conservative policy tools. In this alternate, wildly unrealistic universe, Republicans responded to Democratic health care proposals with constructive, intelligent criticisms, and Democratic legislators – eager to craft a bipartisan bill – used those conservative insights to craft a more radical bill (it will actually upset the status quo) with a more market-oriented, individual-centered approach.
Of course, here on Earth-Prime, we are stuck with a Republican Party that hears “intelligent criticism” and thinks “death panels” and “Soviet-style gulags.” What’s more, we’re stuck with a Republican Party that refuses to even acknowledge the necessity of health care reform. Pace Reihan, this is not responsible behavior. Indeed, as it stands, if Democrats were to propose a dream package of market-based solutions to various health care related problems, I’m nearly 100 percent certain that they would be attacked and denounced as Orwellian fascists out to impose IngSoc on a nation of fire-breathing freedom lovers.
When Democrats and liberals call Republicans nihilistic, it’s not because we interpret all opposition as inherently nihilistic, it’s because this particular bit of opposition is actually nihilistic. Republicans have not acknowledged the problem, have not offered any real critiques, and spent a fair amount of time poisoning the well with dangerously inflammatory rhetoric. And in my book, that is a signal that we shouldn’t take Republicans seriously at all.