The Limits of Incrementalism

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A disheartened Ezra Klein looks at a WSJ/NBC poll showing that people have lots of false beliefs about the president’s health care agenda and offers the following chart:


My first thought is “reform opponents are lying like crazy and it’s working.” My second thought is that three out of these four things would actually be a good idea. I think that if someone gets sick in the United States, that person ought to be treated without being subject to a citizenship test. I think that abortion is a legitimate medical procedure. And ultimately I think health insurance should be directly provided by the government. Interestingly, the one thing that doesn’t get a majority is the thing that’s actually a bad idea—killing grandma.

This reminds me of something that’s bothered me throughout the health care debate. The president’s only real allies and advocates are, you know, serious liberals. People who think that people born in Mexico are human beings but fetuses are not. And most of all, people who believe in government-provided health insurance. But when we man the barricades for the president’s plan, we’re in a weird situation. Obama gets accused of wanting a single-payer system. Then I have to say “no! no! he doesn’t! that’s a slander . . . not there’s anything wrong with single-payer.” It’s a damn dirty lie to say that the government will fund abortion services, but really the government should fund abortion services.

For one thing, I think this double-talk makes it hard to convince people that the process isn’t just being driven by people who secretly do want a government takeover of health insurance. For another thing, it’s just hard to mount a vigorous argument in favor of something when really you’d prefer to see something much more far-reaching. I think that for a moderate, incrementalist health plan to pass people who actually want a moderate, incrementalist approach to health care need to be more passionately involved. Alternatively, you can look at this polling and reach the conclusion that the public is destined to be convinced that any comprehensive health reform proposal is a stalking-horse for a “government takeover” and it would make more sense to just put some real time and effort into making the case for Universal Medicare.