May 31, 2007
I haven't been this excited about a movie for a long time...
Yesterday, I suggested that Fred Thompson would be this campaign's Wes Clark: A savior candidate whose very best day was the one before he announced for president. But today, I see that Ross Douthat is rather bullish on Thompson's chances, and he makes some points that make me doubt my judgment in the matter:
Thompson has one thing going for him that Clark didn't: He's a savvy politician, not a wide-eyed neophyte, and he clearly knows a thing or two about running for office. His non-campaign campaign to win the conservative base's heart - from the radio commentaries to the anti-Michael Moore YouTube bit - has been smarter politics than almost anything else we've seen from the Republican field so far, and it suggests that Thompson understands the voters he's trying to woo in a way that many of his rivals don't.
That makes sense, and dovetails with the interesting parts of Thompson that I haven't thought about terribly hard. The guy has spent quite a bit of time deep in the conservative movement, guest-hosting talk radio shows, getting to know the base. He'll know how to resonate with his voters in a way McCain and Romney won't, and Clark didn't (Remember when Clark ham-handedly sought to appeal to the pro-choicers by suggesting that it's the woman's decision up to the point of birth?). I'm still unconvinced that Thompson won't flinch before the lights of the presidential race, but as a campaigner, he does have some advantages that may prove formidable.
Entertaining as a reality show where a dying woman chooses between three contestants who want her kidney will be, I'm confused: Why would the woman have only one kidney to donate? Shouldn't she have two?
Those Revoltin' CEOs
So are the CEO's revolting? Well, it depends on what definition of the word you use. There's certainly a trend, ably documented by Chris Hayes, for them to take a more constructive, rather than obstructionist, stance on certain issues. Wal-Mart has joined with SEIU to call for universal health care reform, to be sure, and various companies have begun highly public efforts to lighten their carbon footprint. But aside from a few rare cases of genuine reformism, like with P&G's decision to back hefty emissions regulations, I'd counsel skepticism.
Take Wal-Mart. As Hayes writes, "Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott joined Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union, to announce his company’s support for some form of universal health care." On the surface, that looked pretty good. Progressives have a certain series of mental associations that are triggered when we here that some institution or individual supports universal health care: We know what that health care looks like, and that they will advocate for it, and fight to get it passed. But it's not clear any of these assumptions are on target with Wal-Mart.
Rather, they mopped up good press for supporting the vague goal of universal coverage, devoted absolutely no resources to the fight, offered no specificity over what they meant by universal coverage, and promised to continue funding candidates who opposed universal health care. That they're on record behind the policy change is nice, but there's no sign that their participation in the coalition will keep them from working against the bills that Democrats actually offer, and no evidence that their change of heart is likely to result in sustained advocacy of any particular solution, either.
Indeed, to frame this as a Revolt of the CEO's gets it backwards. What you're seeing are not changes of heart, but changes of tactics. In other words, it's the pressure of the progressive movement that's forcing corporations to adapt. As outright obstruction becomes less effective -- see Wal-Mart's increasingly bad reputation -- they'll make moves to appear more constructive, as they did in the early days of the Clinton health care debate. But if the pressure is eased, if we toss up our hands and welcome them to the coalition, then, just like in the Clinton debate, there'll be a lot of long faces when we find that the coalition held until the moment business felt comfortable eviscerating it. Getting behind the abstract goals of reducing climate change or the uninsured is easy enough, garners good press, and in no way stops you from transitioning to full-out opposition when a carbon or payroll tax emerges on the agenda. So for now, I'm happy to celebrate a new attitude among business types. But we've seen this before. As the man said: Trust, but verify. And remember, it's not the CEO's revolting, but the organizers effectively pressuring them. Let up the pressure, and you'll lose the CEOs.
Defend Yourself, Sir!
Exhibiting some of that tim-honored blogospheric transparency and collegiality, Andrew Sullivan links to Jon Cohn's defense of HillaryCare and James Fallows' demolition of No Exit, the Betsy McCaughey article that Sullivan published in The New Republic and that most now agree to be a pack of lies and half-truths. But it's the oddest link in the word: "HillaryCare right the first time," Sullivan asks? "A truly counter-intuitive argument, too counter-intuitive for me, in fact. Bonus: Sully-bashing!"
There is Sully-bashing in it, to be sure. While editing The New Republic, Sullivan ran a curiously influential article attacking the Clinton health care plan that Fallows -- about as honest and mild a journalist as you'll find -- called "error-laden, tendentious, and dishonest." The New Republic has apologized for publishing the piece. And the piece's worth is an empirical, rather than an ideological question: It either was cynical screed of lies and mendacious misrepresentations, or it wasn't. The evidence is pretty clear on this point. But I'd certainly be interested in hearing Sullivan defend its honesty and worth. And he's even got a blog where he could do so! How about it?
Prospects For Peace
I generally make it a point to simply agree with whatever Daniel Levy says on the Middle East, and his new blog should make that endeavor far easier. Check it out.
May 30, 2007
He's No Al Gore
I have no particular proof for this claim, but my sense is that Fred Thompson missed his moment. Various GOP contenders have performed well in recent debates and campaign stops, their flaws have been absorbed by the electorate, and I'm just not hearing the same search for a savior I once was. Indeed, I agree with Jason Zengerle, who suggests Thompson will prove a Wes Clark figure, though I think even that may overstate his appeal. He'll have a blip of buzz, to be sure, but my guess is he'll rapidly sink into the second tier, and remain there. Come the first debate, his challenge will unite the main three, as he poses the same threat to each of them. That he dropped out of political life after 9/11 will not look good when stacked against the recent service of those across from him on the stage.
Thank You, Tubes
A Lack of Audacity
My full-sized wrap-up of the Obama health care plan, and how it's an almost perfect representation of Obama himself, is over at TAP. A taste:
His is a plan of almosts. It is almost universal, without quite having the mechanisms to ensure nationwide coverage. It almost offers a public insurance option capable of serving as the seed of single-payer, but it is unclear who can enroll in it, and talks with his advisors suggest little enthusiasm or expectation that it will serve as a shining alternative to private insurance. It almost takes on the insurance industry, but asks for, rather than compels, their participation.
Rather embarrassingly, I haven't had time to sit down with Jon Cohn's new article revisiting and defending HillaryCare. But that's no excuse for you to be similarly tardy on your reading.
While on the subject of Hillary, she's released her plans for cost control (though not, as of yet, her plans for coverage or quality). I've sort of been waiting for the whole proposal before diving into it, but those who want to go piece-by-piece should certainly do so. My snap reaction is that Hillary knows a helluva lot more about health care than any of the other candidates, and her initial focus on cost control is actually quite smart. If given a choice between passing mediocre health reform and strong cost control measures, I'd go with the latter, saving universality for another day and not discrediting the goal by wrapping it in a plan that's likely to fall apart. I haven't spent enough time looking into her proposal to decide whether it's strong enough on controlling costs, but it's an interesting approach, and a strain of incrementalism I could actually imagine getting behind. More later, as they say.