August 27, 2007
I haven't read Matt Bai's The Argument, though it seems, from the reviews, that the book's flaw was being conceived in 2004, reported in 2005, obviated in 2006, and released in 2007. That's not really Bai's fault. Lakoff really did seem like a big deal, and if you immersed yourself in the Democratic Party's search for messaging gurus, it's understandable that you'd ache for a bit of substance.
But that immersion is the key. The Democratic Party's reworking of its message was a prime Bai story over the last few years. His critique of it, by contrast, has been that Democrats need ideas, not gurus. Notably, that they need a social policy capable of withstanding the 21st century, the "information age," or whatever synonym we're using for The Now (zoom!) that week. But whatever the worth of the gurus, Bai's critique is myopic -- it's a function of what he's reporting on, rather than what's going on in the Party.
As a reporter, I focus on policy ideas. And damn it, I'm drowning. Bai seems to think Democrats need a health care plan, but I could show him no fewer than 20 fully-realized plans and outline the basic areas of consensus -- and they're broad -- that outline the Party's essential orientation on the issue. Same goes for pension planning, trade adjustment plans, or any and every other element of social policy you can think of.
These plans have a common thread -- a social policy for the 21st century, if you will: Globalization and its attendant economic forces have destabilized the working class and the corporate welfare state they relied on, so the government should step into the breach and guarantee what employers no longer can. And though Bai may not have been paying attention, Democrats have even settled on certain policy gurus -- notably Jacob Hacker, Joseph Stiglitz, and Elizabeth Warren -- who're uniting previously opposed wings of the party, as in Hacker's involvement with both the traditionally left wing EPI and they're bete noire, Robert Rubin's centrist Hamilton Project. Bai's book may be a good read, but if you only profile politicians and messaging types, you should have some self-awareness that you're unlikely to trip over much new policy thinking along the way, and an affirmative effort to search some out is required before you critique its absence.
> His critique of it, by contrast, has been that
> Democrats need ideas, not gurus. Notably, that they
> need a social policy capable of withstanding the 21st
> century, the "information age," or whatever synonym
> we're using for The Now (zoom!) that week.
It really amuses me to think that 60% of the basis of the social policy the United States needs to deal with the "information age" - securing medical care and retirement - was brought into focus by that left-wing liberal hippie (Chancellor) Otto von Bismark, and much of the rest from Theodore Roosevelt . Both products of the 1880-1910 time period. Hmmm - the First Gilded Age. I wonder if there is a connection?
 Greatly interpreted and extended by Harry Hopkins, Martin Luther King, and others of course. But the core was there.
Posted by: Cranky Observer | Aug 27, 2007 7:57:32 AM
"I could show him no fewer than 20 fully-realized plans and outline the basic areas of consensus -- and they're broad -- that outline the Party's essential orientation on the issue."
Do these fully-realized plans include how much the premium aka tax for them is going to be? A basic coverage brochure or flyer?
There are a lot of people who are ready to buy universal health care but no one is closing the sale. Maybe you are seeing plans capable of being marketed to the public alongside the offering of Blue Cross, AARP and Kaiser; I'm not.
If you want people to prod their representatives to support universal health care, you need to give them information about it in a form they are used to and can understand. Policy papers designed for wonks and congressional staffers aren't enough.
Why don't the plan proposers hire some actuaries and marketing people to produce sales packages for their plans just like the insurance companies do. Put them on a website and include pdf links. Make YouTube commercials. The internet has leveled the marketing playing field a lot. It greatly reduces the costs of printing, distribution and commercial air time.
It is time to sell the plans to people who are ready to buy -- not the ones who aren't yet hurting.
Posted by: Emma Zahn | Aug 27, 2007 12:39:42 PM
Apart from reader contributed op ed pieces and letters to the editor, my local paper, The Ann Arbor News, does not cover universal health care. Apart from Paul Krugman's columns, neither does The New York Times. Ditto for The Washington Post and for network news on television. It's not being covered, and as a result people don't know what they're talking about. I include supposedly well-informed bloggers, for example Megan McArdle. If the liberal community wants to achieve universal health care, it needs to publicize it relentlessly. It needs to address people's fear that their own health care will suffer, that the cost of universal care will be astronomical, and that the government can't handle such a big program. If this isn't done, we're back to the early years of the Clinton administration.
Posted by: Stan Jacobs | Aug 27, 2007 9:28:57 PM
Posted by: judy | Oct 11, 2007 6:59:20 AM
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