Economist: If Only Obama Had Done Things He’s Actually Done, Things Might Be Different


The Economist has put together a good website featuring a number of good blogs, which has tended to obscure from me the fact that their coverage of US politics remains remarkably bad—a mix of center-right ideological commitments and sloppiness. For example, many liberals believe the US political system is broken. But The Economist disagrees and argues:

It is not so much that America is ungovernable, as that Mr Obama has done a lousy job of winning over Republicans and independents to the causes he favours. If, instead of handing over health care to his party’s left wing, he had lived up to his promise to be a bipartisan president and courted conservatives by offering, say, reform of the tort system, he might have got health care through; by giving ground on nuclear power, he may now stand a chance of getting a climate bill.

Man, if only Obama had offered tort reform in exchange for GOP votes! How come he didn’t think of that? The answer, of course, is that he did:

So, right there in the Cabinet Room, the President put a proposal on the table, according to two people who were present. Obama said he was willing to curb malpractice awards, a move long sought by the Republicans and certain to bring strong opposition from the trial lawyers who fund the Democratic Party.

What, he wanted to know, did the Republicans have to offer in return? Nothing, it turned out. Republicans were unprepared to make any concessions, if they had any to make.

Given that Republicans weren’t willing to offer any concessions on any issues in exchange for concessions on tort reform, I don’t think it should be surprising that the final package contains only modest tort reforms.

Meanwhile, the view that Obama’s new pro-nuclear tilt is going to produce Republican support for a climate bill is almost laughable. I defy the editors of the Economist to find a single Republican or Democrat who believes that. Realistically, guys like John McCain and Tim Pawlenty who used to support cap-and-trade have shifted into the denialist camp and their reasons for doing so have nothing to do with nuclear power or any tactical concessions Obama could make.

Last, if you want to say that in your view the Senate’s health care bill is too left-wing then of course that’s your prerogative. But the notion that it reflects the “left-wing” approach to health care couldn’t possibly withstand contact with a single person who holds actual left-wing views on health care. The left-wing view on health care is that we should take America’s successful single-payer health care program for senior citizens, Medicare, and open it up to all Americans. Most left-wing people are willing to accept a more modest reform than that and have coalesced around the idea of a level playing-field public option that will coexist with private for-profit comprehensive insurance plans, but the president’s embrace of even that notion has been less than fulsome.

This same—brief!—article also contains a discussion of gerrymandering’s influence on political polarization that’s untouched by actual research into the question.