Wednesday, August 19, 2009

# Posted 3:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN REFORM CURE KRUGMAN-ITIS? Krugman-itis is terrible. I should know. I used to suffer from it myself. When I was younger, I used to believe that Democrats were always at a disadvantage because they were too honest for their own good.

This state of affairs was depressing, but also intoxicating. I believed with all my heart that my party was more honest, more intelligent and more enlightened. So now I empathize with those, like Paul Krugman, who still suffer from the same afflication. In his latest column, Krugman writes,
At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.
The right-wing propaganda machine is a very unpredictable thing. It failed tragically to persuade gullible voters to vote against Barack Obama last November. It also fell short in the congressional elections of 2006. Fortunately, it has now recovered its magical powers and has been able to swing the electorate away from their natural support for universal healthcare.

I think you see what I'm getting at. The right-wing propaganda machine -- or if you prefer, "the vast right-wing conspiracy" -- is a convenient foe that can be blamed for any setback. Or conveniently ignored when he doesn't do his job.

Now, for a minute there, I began to wonder if I was a victim of the right-wing propaganda machine. Now, I don't believe in death panels and I don't believe that anyone is going to pull the plug on grandma, but maybe all that time I spent reading the Weekly Standard had subtly begun to warp my mind.

Thankfully, Krugman's colleague David Brooks was there to shake me to my senses. As he told Jim Lehrer on Friday,
[Obama] just tells a lot of whoppers now. Now, believe me, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are saying some things that are extremely off the charts untrue about the plan, but I just wrote down some of the things Obama said today which are whoppers.

He said everyone can keep their health care plan. Well, the CBO doesn't say that. Six million people are going to lose their plan. Preventive care saves money. That's not true. It's going to cost $90 billion a year. That's not true. It's probably going to cost twice as much when it's fully implemented. Government will be out of health care decisions.

He tells one thing after another, making it seem so easy. Well, believe me: This is not easy. It's going to take some sacrifices and some really painful cuts for people to get this system under control.
One of the unfortunate symptoms of Krugman-itis is that it may blind you to the dishonesty of your political allies. As long as folks on the other side (especially Rush Limbaugh) are saying things that are completely off the wall, you have license to ignore the disingenuity on your own side of the aisle. In fact, you may even believe that the policies you favor are right simply because such awful people oppose them.

In addition to missing the dishonesty on your side of the aisle, Krugman-itis may also blind you to those things that make your policies unpalatable to real, live voters. As Ross Douthat, another one of Krugman's colleagues, points out,
For liberals trying to find the money to make health insurance universal, [Medicare's] inefficiencies make Medicare an obvious place to wring out savings. But you can’t blame the elderly if “savings” sound a lot like “cuts.” When the president talks about shearing waste from Medicare, and empowering an independent panel to reduce the program’s long-term costs — well, he isn’t envisioning a world where seniors get worse care, but he’s certainly envisioning a world in which they receive less of it.
But the biggest problem with Obama's plan may be that there is no plan at all. Robert Reich may be on Paul Krugman's side, but he knows that the President himself bears just as much responsibility for the current situation as the lying liars on the right. Reich asks,
Why are these [townhall] meetings brimming with so much anger? Because Republican Astroturfers have joined the same old right-wing broadcast demagogues that have been spewing hate and fear for years, to create a tempest.

But why are they getting away with it? Why aren't progressives -- indeed, why aren't ordinary citizens -- taking the meetings back?

Mainly because there's still no healthcare plan. All we have are some initial markups from several congressional committees, which differ from one another in significant ways. The White House is waiting to see what emerges from the House and Senate before insisting on what it wants, maybe in conference committee.

But that's the problem: It's always easier to stir up fear and anger against something that's amorphous than to stir up enthusiasm for it.
On the other hand, if Obama's plan weren't so amorphous, people might object to its actual contents. Or they might demand an explanation of how he'll pay for it. If Obama's plan were the one Reich wanted, the public might even be angrier. (And Reich might come down with a serious case of Krugman-itis, since he would be incapable of understanding how anything other than "fear and hate" could prevent the American public from supporting an idea he knows is so good.)

The funny thing is, I'm not intrinsically hostile to many of the reforms Democrats have proposed. I may be a Republican, but I agree that healthcare costs are out of control and we need some major reforms. I'm willing to consider any idea on the merits, even it involves more government involvement in healthcare.

But when push comes to shove, I'm much more concered with the truth-value of what the President says than I am with the integrity of Limbaugh & Co. I don't like it when the President publishes an op-ed (in Mr. Krugman's NY Times) in which he avoids taking a position on any of the specifics, but still promises that "reform will finally bring skyrocketing health care costs under control." And as David Brooks pointed out, Obama isn't letting himself be bound just by the facts.

I wish I could take six months off from my job just to study health care, so I could really understand what's going on instead of having to trust what other people say about the subject. But since that's not going to happen, I'm not going to support the reforms unless I really have confidence that the President is telling it like it is.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

I wish I could take six months off from my job just to study health care, so I could really understand what's going on instead of having to trust what other people say about the subject.

And yet you are comfortable saying Limbaugh is lying and there are no Death Panels (despite believing that care will be reduced by a panel of bureaucrats to control costs).

Not one of your better posts.
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