Friday, July 31, 2009
Friday guest post!
Hi, kids! I’m Bill Kristol. You may remember me from such hits as “The New York Times is Guilty of Treason” and “Sarah Palin is the Future of the Republican Party.” But today I’d like to talk to you about my very greatest hit, “Memorandum to Republican Leaders: Defeating President Clinton’s Health Care Proposal.” I’d like to read a little bit from that today, and remind you all just why I am such a highly regarded public intelllectual.
As you’ll recall, I insisted that even Clinton’s tepid plans to expand health insurance coverage would result in epic disaster. I even said it would threaten the “breadth” of our system:
Its success would signal a rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment we have begun rolling back that idea in other areas. And, not least, it would destroy the present breadth and quality of the American health care system, still the world’s finest.
Of course you’ll recall that, because that’s remained the party’s talking point for the past sixteen years. But I want to call your attention to this equally important point, where I argued that the Clinton plan
will relegitimize middle-class dependence for “security” on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests.
Obviously, kids, both things can’t be true at the same time! Structural reform that destroys the American health care system would not revive the reputation of the Democrats; structural reform that improves the American health care system would revive the reputation of the Democrats. That is why we need to oppose it: not because we think it will fail, but, even worse, because we fear that it will improve the lives of our fellow citizens—and that they’ll be grateful to Democrats as a result, just as they were with Social Security.
This means we have to conduct policy debate as if it is a matter of handing out purple band-aids to mock Kerry’s war wounds. We have to take serious matters and ridicule the shit out of them. Just like I did back in 1993:
Genuine, yet remediable problems do exist in the American system of medicine, but the rhetoric surrounding the president’s health plan deliberately makes those problems sound apocalyptic. “Fear itself” does not trouble the New Dealers: Indeed, they welcome it as a powerful tool of political persuasion. Mrs. Clinton, in particular, routinely describes a nation of individual lives teetering on the brink, each only an illness or a job away from financial ruin. The text of the president’s Health Security Plan and virtually all the public remarks on health care made by his advisors are filled with images of a health care system spawning little else but frustration and tragedy. It is a brazen political strategy of fear-mongering, conducted on a scale not seen since the Chicken Little energy crisis speeches of President Carter.
I’m fond of that paragraph myself, because it’s a twofer. First I dismiss the idea that millions of Americans are only an illness or a job away from financial ruin. (Hey, I’m not! I’m all set, and if you’re a conservative pundit like me, you are too!) Then I mock Carter’s energy-policy speeches, like that famous “malaise” speech and that famous “sweater” speech, which everyone knows were big downers. Did you catch the literary allusion to Chicken Little? My parents taught me how to literary allude. It is a very clever rhetorical device in this context, since, after all, Chicken Little was wrong, and Jimmy Carter was basically right. “It is a problem we will not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century,” he’d said. Well, it did! Thank goodness no one important was paying attention, or we would have accuse them of “crying wolf.” That is another literary allusion. Oh, and I almost forgot: drill, baby, drill! Now there’s some serious policy talk for you.
Anyway, the immediate point at issue is that a new WSJ/NBC poll shows that Americans largely oppose Obama’s health care plans ... until they learn about them:
In mid-June, respondents were evenly divided when asked whether they thought Mr. Obama’s health plan was a good or bad idea. In the new poll, conducted July 24-27, 42% called it a bad idea while 36% said it was a good idea.
Among those with private insurance, the proportion calling the plan a bad idea rose to 47% from 37%.
When given several details of the proposal, 56% said they favored the plan compared with 38% who oppose it.
This, then, is our mission, my friends: we need to fight against this dangerous trend in which people are given “several details of the proposal.” We need to make shit up. We need to go beyond the tactics that have taken us this far—stuff like telling people who haven’t seen a doctor in five years that socialized medicine will interfere with their relationships with their personal doctors, or telling people who can’t afford their medicines that health care reform will be too expensive. No, now’s the time to tell people that the Obama plan includes the critical “kill grandma” provision and mandates late-term abortions for all non-Muslim fetuses. Don’t worry about making shit up—no one’s ever going to call us on it, and we’ve got the Baucuses and Conrads in Congress and the Broders in the media pretty much sewn up as is. We could spread the word that the Obama plan will cost each American a trillion dollars over ten years, will give illegal immigrants free medical services, and will require all white people to undergo racial sensitivity training, and the Baucuses and Conrads and Broders will still call for civility and bipartisanship, just as if we’d said something sane. So make shit up with impunity!
And remember this above all: the Republican making-shit-up industry is still the world’s finest.