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November 13, 2007

His Ideas Are Good, But I Want More Bullet Points

So we're back to arguing about John Edwards' plan to strip members of Congress of their health care if they don't pass comprehensive reform. I'm always astonished at how bizarrely literally pundits act when they approach this idea. It's true that, in the strong form, it's unconstitutional. Edwards cannot, with his pen, deprive anyone of their health care. The Edwards Campaign, by contrast, says that it will take the form of a bill sent to Congress, which seems constitutional, though everyone says it would be impossible to pass.

But would it be? That's the part I don't understand. Why wouldn't the Democratic leadership want to use this legislation to hammer away at Republicans? To force them to go on the record about the importance of their own health care? The idea behind this bill is that it will ratchet up political pressure for change, creating a situation in which Congressmen come to the table because they fear losing their seats if they don't. It's a strategy based on the application of political pressure, not legislative finesse. And while not a surefire winner, it's certainly a plausible theory of reform.

Meanwhile, I find the liberal outrage and bewilderment over this bit of populist symbolism to be very unsettling. At base, Edwards is doing something very simple: Dramatizing the inequities in our health care system. Most liberals would have you believe that dramatizing, and fixing, the inequities in our health care system is their primary political goal. But not like this, I guess. This is too uncouth, too aggressive, too much theatre and not enough legalism. I think a perfectly fair case could be made that this is bad strategy that will irritate the Congress and make reform less likely. But I've not actually heard that case made. Rather, many liberals simply seem offended that Edwards would engage in such crass political theatre. The fact that actual voters seem to thrill to the argument hardly enters the discussion.

November 13, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

...though everyone says it would be impossible to pass. But would it be? That's the part I don't understand.

I haven't read much analysis on this, but, presumably, members of Congress would be reluctant to risk their own healthcare coverage for a speculative bet that they might be able to pass comprehensive coverage.

Posted by: Jasper | Nov 13, 2007 1:28:01 PM

This is too uncouth, too aggressive, too much theatre and not enough legalism.

It's too much substance and not enough bullshit that sounds nice but clearly isn't meant to change a damn thing.

In our politics there's conservative, liberal and DC. DC politics are only tangentially related to what the am ha'aretz care about, and that's usually by accident.

Edwards scares the hell out of everyone in DC regardless of party affiliation, because he's the best chance we have to call them on their bullshit.

Posted by: Stephen | Nov 13, 2007 1:30:15 PM

Meanwhile, I find the liberal outrage and bewilderment over this bit of populist symbolism to be very unsettling.

Hmmm. I was unaware there is "liberal outrage and bewilderment over this bit of populist symbolism." Now that's something I don't get. It seems to me to be a pretty effective bit of rhetoric. What are the objections?

Posted by: Jasper | Nov 13, 2007 1:33:16 PM

Sssshhh!!! Stop making noise! If you're quiet and you let the calm centrists do their work and if more and more people for whatever reason keep voting for more and more Democrats no matter what they do or don't do, eventually in some number of years or decades they will do some really good stuff, somehow, if it doesn't seem too radical or controversial or seem mired in battles about the 1960s or suggests that we're going back to the era of big government and all.

Posted by: El Cid | Nov 13, 2007 1:33:27 PM

I don't know if it would pass, but you could easily force a vote on it. Edwards can just veto some pork-laden spending bill—the water projects bill, say—until Congress at least holds a vote on it.

And until the vote happens, every GOP press conference discussing their opposition to the health care bill would feature a reporter asking why they won't support the edwards bill.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Nov 13, 2007 1:33:36 PM

I still think Edwards will get the nom.

Posted by: christian | Nov 13, 2007 1:39:14 PM

Edwards is saying the same thing a lot of people say- Congress is tickled pink with their socialized medicine but won't let the rest of us have it. I get this as a forwarded e-mail from my elderly mother quite regularly.

If the "big thinkers" in the Democratic Party want to lose the next election, they should just keep up the backbiting and quibbling. The average voter may not know much about healthcare, but almost all of them think the Congress gets a real sweetheart deal in this regard.

Posted by: serial catowner | Nov 13, 2007 1:44:00 PM

"But would it be? That's the part I don't understand. Why wouldn't the Democratic leadership want to use this legislation to hammer away at Republicans? To force them to go on the record about the importance of their own health care? The idea behind this bill is that it will ratchet up political pressure for change, creating a situation in which Congressmen come to the table because they fear losing their seats if they don't. It's a strategy based on the application of political pressure, not legislative finesse."

Ezra's words. My bolding.

The Washington Democratic establishment doesn't understand this part of the political playbook.

They are quite familiar with defense when the GOP uses political pressure to go over their heads, but they don't even imagine ever going on the offense themselves with a populist wedge issue.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 13, 2007 1:50:25 PM

I think believing that Congress would vote to cut its own health care provisions are dlusional, but that's me. I get the popular appeal of this - it seems vaguely punishing, and given Congress' low approvals, you could pretty much get popular approval to deny them most anything - pens! paper! - just to prove a point. Frankly, I'm one of the people who finds this all terribly unserious, and I don't see the need to debate it. Indeed, I continue to think that none of the Democrats are terrible on healthcare reforms, all very similar in terms of the policies they propose... which are just not so great, either. And healthcare policy is really not the reason I won't consider voting for Edwards.

Posted by: weboy | Nov 13, 2007 1:54:25 PM

Well obviously it's a rhetorical trick, a sort of thought experiment. But it's a good one -- I don't know why anybody would be outraged by it.

On the other hand, I wasn't aware that anybody was. Maybe you could point us to the outraged liberals? I missed that part.

Posted by: cervantes | Nov 13, 2007 1:58:23 PM

It's not just populist rhetoric but also level of importance rhetoric. On just about every issue Hillary has come out with a more comprehensive and more practical plan. But what is going to get passed is what the winner emphasized in the campaign and can claim a mandate. With Bush, you knew it was going to be the tax cuts. With Edwards, this is his way of signaling it will be health care.

Posted by: Jeff P | Nov 13, 2007 1:59:21 PM

I'm someone who's gut level reaction is this sort of theater is very negative. I thought I'd try to explain why, but words fail me. It reminds me of the lame "house banking scandal" or all the complaints about congressional pay raises.

The whole thing just seems so childish, like holding your breath until you get your way or preferring to break a toy instead of sharing it.

When it comes to substance, Edwards is saying he will only hire people rich enough like himself who can afford to have their health benefits cut. Brilliant.

People who work for the government get their health benefits from their employer just like everyone else. Employer-based health care is a huge problem that must be fixed, but this stunt tries to make a false point, that government jobs are somehow different (being the government and all) and thus that health care is socialized medicine. No, it's just employer-based health care.

However, once I get past all this stupidity and distaste, I find myself back where I started: It reminds me of the lame "house banking scandal" or all the complaints about congressional pay raises. For some reason, the general population seems to react to this kind of thing. So, it may actually work.

Bleh.

Posted by: Mark | Nov 13, 2007 2:04:38 PM

It'a a way of making a point--a very clear and strong one.

I wasn't aware of any liberal backlash against Edwards saying this, but I don't read everything.

However, I know what when I bring this up, people just start nodding vigorously or saying yes, yeah, etc. Sometimes both.

It works. It's shorthand for why not equity, fairness for everyone--a point Edwards also makes.

Posted by: jawbone | Nov 13, 2007 2:07:54 PM

It's about "look over there!" Meaning, if you pretend this is literal, then you don't have to address the elegance of how well narrates the story. Instead, we waste brain cells trying to convince weboy, for example, of the narrative and strategy rather than on implementing it. See the point?

Posted by: akaison | Nov 13, 2007 2:09:43 PM

Some of it is on list servs, some of it on Tapped (see Garance's post), some at the Politico (see Ben Smith), etc.

Posted by: Ezra | Nov 13, 2007 2:10:25 PM

by the way- anyone as jawbone points out who 'gets' the point, gets it right away, on an emotional level. something liberals have been bad at doing for a while. that edwards does it here is soemthing to be lauded regardless of those who don't get "it." the it is how to tell a story that connects emotionally with your audience.

Posted by: akaison | Nov 13, 2007 2:13:07 PM

When it comes to substance, Edwards is saying he will only hire people rich enough like himself who can afford to have their health benefits cut. Brilliant.

I don't think the average American foolishly assumes that White House appointees will be impoverished single mothers working in low wage jobs right up until the moment they're nominated as chief of an executive branch department.

I think they actually assume, quite accurately, that White House employees are rather successful and often comparatively well off professionals mostly from rather well off backgrounds.

Funny enough, though, were Edwards to have a true Jimmy Carter style populist reformism to make the White House less elitist, he would immediately and endlessly be savaged for that, too, just as Jimmy Carter was.

Posted by: El Cid | Nov 13, 2007 2:13:48 PM

Mark-
Congress members aren't exactly the same thing as the rest of government employees so I don't find this analogy to be really relevant. Congress is elected by us, obviously, but then they have the power and control to make the rules. They make sure that their own benefits are safe and protected, but behave hypocritically when it comes to benefits for others. Edwards is simply pointing out that there should not be a separate class (with additional benefits that we all pay for) for any members of the government. This, to me, is very important. Whether or not it works is something else entirely, but people are elected and then almost immediately forget that real people are at the receiving end of the policies that they pass or veto.

Posted by: little tragedy | Nov 13, 2007 2:18:50 PM

it wouldn't pass because besides eternal enemies locked in a death battle for political dominance, Congress is an association that has its own self-interest, which its members seek to protect. Plus, as you know well, who wants to be without healthcare? especially if you're old like many people in Congress? Sure, you can self-insure, but that could cause complications if you switch over, if your premiums rise, etc. Plus there are one's families.

Posted by: eli | Nov 13, 2007 2:26:28 PM

Since is when Garance Franke-Ruta a liberal? After watching her pitiful kowtowing to Althouse on Bloggingheads.tv, I concluded that she's either a faux liberal or a flake (perhaps even both).

Posted by: Kanenas | Nov 13, 2007 2:35:39 PM

Eli:
Congress watches its own self interest? The Democrats aren't doing anything to make that ring true right now. If they were really that serious about their own interests, we'd have impeachment hearings for Darth Vader already and contempt hearings for Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten.

Posted by: Ghost of Tom Joad | Nov 13, 2007 2:36:11 PM

I can't understand the problem people claim to have with this. If you really believe we should have a single-payer system, as I do, you shouldn't have a problem with this. Is it theater? Yes! And it's good! I want every member of Congress who stands in the way of real healthcare reform to have to explain why they should be entitled to health care while I am not. I suspect the people who have a problem with this really don't want health care reform and are afraid to say so. They got theirs, they don't want to rock the boat, so they say, "oh, but it isn't very classy of Edwards to do this, is it?" Guess what? I want you to be uncomfortable. I'm tired of you skulking around in the shadows while I risk losing everything to a major illness (and I *have* health insurance). Lead, follow, or get out of the damn way.

Posted by: A NON | Nov 13, 2007 2:36:25 PM

by the way- anyone as jawbone points out who 'gets' the point, gets it right away, on an emotional level.

I assume you are correct. This may even be a good idea. (but yuck)

I think they actually assume, quite accurately, that White House employees are rather successful and often comparatively well off professionals mostly from rather well off backgrounds.

There is a big difference between being well off and being able to go without your employers health care plan. Most well off people are that way because they have the big, cushy job with great benefits. The folks in the Senate tend to be millionaires who can pay their own way, but this doesn't hold for the average person working in the White House.

They make sure that their own benefits are safe and protected, but behave hypocritically when it comes to benefits for others.

People in congress get six figure salaries. I'm pretty sure basically everyone else in the country with six figure salaries get good health care. There is a huge problem, here, but hypocrisy isn't one of them. (Well, in this exact instance.)

But obviously I'm wrong. I was wrong 15 years ago when I thought Rush Limbaugh would hurt conservatives more than he would help, as he was so obviously an over-the-top, pompous ass. I was wrong about the house banking "scandal".

Whatever works. I think I have a higher opinion of people than they deserve, sometimes.

Posted by: Mark | Nov 13, 2007 2:43:00 PM

...it wouldn't pass...

And that's fine. Just putting the bill in play and standing behind it would make the point--Congress does care about _their_ benefits.

Posted by: anon | Nov 13, 2007 2:43:58 PM

my wife, who is not a political junky, loved edwards' idea when i told her about it.

Posted by: jethro | Nov 13, 2007 2:45:52 PM

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