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Olympia Snowe's Conservatism -- and Ours

My final question to Olympia Snowe was a bit of a throwaway. But it yielded the most telling answer of the interview.

What’s the single idea you’d most like to see in the bill but that you don’t think is politically feasible?

That’s a good question. You mean politically feasible?

Yeah. Like single-payer, for some people, or Wyden-Bennett for others. A big idea you’d like to see included but is currently outside the range of discussion.

I don’t know that I have anything in that category. I believe we should build upon the current system. We don’t want to disrupt that. I’m traditional in my approach towards reforming health care. Given the size and the amount of money we spend on it, I think it would be far too disruptive to upend the system. I think it’s preferable to build on what has worked well in our system and change the egregious practices in the insurance industry.

For all the talk of Olympia Snowe's relative liberalism, this is a very conservative answer. It's not necessarily a Republican answer, or a Tea Partier's answer, but it's a small-c conservative answer: It's respectful of tradition, wary of unintended consequences, and suspicious of excessive ambition.

That goes for the bill as well. John McCain wanted to blow up the employer tax exclusion, replace it with a completely different tax credit, and rebuild the American health-care system around the individual marketplace. Liberals want to take the employer-based system and replace it with a single-payer solution. Ron Wyden and Bob Bennett want to cash out all employer plans and put everyone into new marketplaces of their design.

Comparatively, the health-care reform plan we're likely to get is extremely conservative. It builds on the employer-based system, and because that system seems to work better than the individual market, puts in place some new structures to give folks on the individual and small-group markets the same advantages (size, scale and competition, mainly) that seem to have worked for large employers. As I've noted before, the basic structure of the plan actually looks a lot like the plan proposed by moderate Republicans in 1994. Only this year, Democrats are proposing it.

That's not how I'd do health-care reform if I were made czar. I would do something very disruptive, because I don't think that the parts of our health-care system that are working relatively well are working very well in any absolute sense. But then, I'm not a conservative. Nor are a lot of the people voting for this bill. But we have a conservative system of government (in that it's very hard to change the status quo), and they've designed health-care reform to be sensitive to that fact.

By Ezra Klein  |  October 16, 2009; 5:42 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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"But we have a conservative system of government (in that it's very hard to change the status quo), and they've designed health-care reform to be sensitive to that fact."

radical change can have highly unpredictable consequences.

radical change can occasionally have a dramatic upside. but it can also have a dramatic downside.
sometimes, those kinds of risks are very hard to take.
daedalus told icarus, "to fly the middle course."

you can set a course, and keep moving along on it, rather than attempting to do it all at once, and hope that it will succeed instantly.
i had a very old, rootbound plant, and thought that it needed to be repotted in order to thrive again. the botanist i consulted, warned me that if i changed its environment all at once, i would run a great risk of killing it. that the shock of everything happening all at once could have dire consequences.
he said that if i changed the nutrients, soil and the pot gradually, the plant would eventually have everything that it needed, without a grave dislocation that it might not be able to sustain.
he was right. the process was slower, but the plant is thriving.

sometimes, though it requires more patience, things simply cant happen all at once, and one must withstand the process.
there is no such thing as small change.

Posted by: jkaren | October 16, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

I don't think there should exist a huge segment of the economy making profits on human misery. "Promote the general welfare."

Posted by: AZProgressive | October 16, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

--"It's not necessarily a Republican answer, or a Tea Partier's answer, but it's a small-c conservative answer"--

It's a frickin' Socialist answer. She wants to further monkey with the insurance companies, after sixty five years of Congressional meddling with the insurance companies. Maybe she's timid about her socialist instincts, but I wouldn't call timidity "conservative". It's merely weak.

Posted by: msoja | October 16, 2009 7:35 PM | Report abuse

msoja, you know where all your principled framework falls down? It falls down when the insurance companies monkey with government.

If every corporate lobbyist that perverts and corrupts our political process because they have irresistible amounts of money to withraw from competitive investment and throw at our representatives instead would simply stop it, and let the government simply be a government - then maybe we could start looking at your side of the fence, at the correct and perfect balance of representation versus individualism.

But we don't have a government ripe for that kind of philosophizing, because private enterprise has evaded the social police power in drastic measure, and made sure we'll never be able to have a rule of law with any integrity.

It's not too much government that we have, it's too little of the right kind.

Posted by: rosshunter | October 16, 2009 7:51 PM | Report abuse

--"If every corporate lobbyist that perverts and corrupts our political process"--

LOL. You mean, the rules of the Senate and House oblige the respective members to succumb to the perversions and corruptions thrust upon them? That's right, the preyed upon members of Congress are the real victims of the cruel, new American tragedy.

Sorry, the "corruption" is called Marxism. It's been working its immoral magic in the halls of government in this country for a hundred years, though it really took off under FDR. With a little more loving collectivist care, the American way of life will soon be a thing of the past.

I suppose some people think that, say, for instance, Microsoft or Google shouldn't lay out a few bucks for some professional lobbying, but I say, what do you expect them to do when political nitwits high and low start contemplating legislation and regulation that will roundly monkey with their businesses? Should doctors and lawyers be any different? And farmers. And auto manufacturers! And... And... Is there anywhere the stinky finger of government hasn't stuck itself? And it's the lobbyists' fault? Yeah. LOL.

Frankly, I think the founding fathers failed. Instead of clear and unambiguous prohibitions, they tossed it out on the hope that a free and responsible people wouldn't take advantage of the ability to vote themselves things out of their neighbors' pockets.

Still and all, it's a reflection of what a sizable portion of this nation has become: A bunch of ignorant thieves living a banana republic dream. They are free to be that, though I sincerely doubt it makes sense as a long term strategy.

Posted by: msoja | October 16, 2009 9:15 PM | Report abuse

--daedalus told icarus, "to fly the middle course."--

Just exactly what is the middle course between freedom and tyranny, and why should anyone contemplate taking so much as a single step toward the latter?

Posted by: msoja | October 16, 2009 9:27 PM | Report abuse

As for Snowe, she has thrown away the good change of much smaller premiums and much greater security for the oh-so-great goal of moderate, conservative change.

There are only two pluses to this approach. First, since people don't lose what they have it becomes more politically feasible to pass reform. Never mind that what they have is grossly expensive and inadequate in comparison to what they would have if they gave up their faux security.

Second, the people currently employed by the current system architecture keep their jobs. Nevermind that we all would be better served by a government program that trained people for better jobs, much as is done in Denmark, so that the economy could change and grow more dynamically while also providing our citizens with the security and ability they need to be more productive and independent.

Posted by: bcbulger | October 16, 2009 10:06 PM | Report abuse

msoja .. I think the only place we differ is in our expectation of the integrity of government. I know that no amount of money can buy you - seriously - but it ain't true for others, and the rule of law is the only answer to that.

What most people here reading Ezra are trying to get to, I would guess, are ways to better the integrity of government, and to enact good laws, for good public policy.

Getting rid of government is not the answer, at least not at this blog. Making government work better, like government should, is the answer.

Posted by: rosshunter | October 16, 2009 10:56 PM | Report abuse

--"rule of law"--

A friend recently pointed out that that phrase is essentially meaningless. Try to define it. Ask a lawyer, if you need to.

No, what has befallen this country is not a failure to adhere to some nebulous rule of law, but a failure of personal integrity. Politicians are always at the lick-spittle end of the cess pool, but they do unfortunately reflect to some degree the underlying electorate. Bad government comes from bad people voting factionally. That's the fact of America, now.

Freedom, which I fear has slipped irretrievably away in the country that once exalted the concept, depends on intelligence and integrity and respect for the other fellow's rights. There are now such significant numbers of people who haven't a clue about those things that no amount of action in the political sphere can counter them.

You speak of good government, or making government work better, but government isn't what makes a country. People are what make a country. And freedom is about self-government. We don't have a failure of political government in the country, we have a failure of self-government. All the appeals to politicians, and all the politicians' weaknesses in considering those appeals, are weaknesses of the individual, little personal acts of corruption, dishonesty, and failure. The only way to make a free and prosperous country is to live free oneself, and prosper oneself, as best as one can, and hold up one's head knowing that one has made one's best effort, and to encourage others to do likewise. All this other poaching of "rights" and stealing what others have produced is nothing but an utter disgrace in the light of what this country set out to be.

As to Klein, he's as vapid and mindless as I've ever seen. I'm sure he believes his own nonsense, and the unerringness of his earnestness, and he would be funny, if he didn't so abjectly reflect the nearly dominant state of political force in the country, because he's really just collectivism's little Valley Girl.

Posted by: msoja | October 17, 2009 12:11 AM | Report abuse

--"a government program that trained people for better jobs, much as is done in Denmark"--

Denmark has a population on a par with Maryland's. And I daresay (or guess) that the people of Maryland are of a more diverse constituency, though I could very well be wrong.

Now, it might be possible to rally such a relatively small number of people around a common cause and get them all working together for a common purpose, at least for a short time, as it's alleged is done in jolly old Denmark, but scaling up that homogeneity on a board the size of the U.S., and well, ahem, you could have graduated in poly-sci from some utterly renowned college on the left coast.

Or don't scale it up, and you're still there for even contemplating it.

Do you *want* government directing *your* life? Deciding what you're fit for? Training you for it? Deciding what your miserable life is worth, and then routinely cutting you short on the particulars? Is that what you want? I'm sure there are places where you can sell yourself into slavery. Go find one.

Posted by: msoja | October 17, 2009 12:40 AM | Report abuse

Let's not pretend that Olympia Snowe subscribes to any coherent political philosophy.

She wants to preserve a system that is bankrupting the country because it's keeping her rich benefactors flush.

That's crony capitalism pure and simple.

Posted by: bmull | October 17, 2009 1:57 AM | Report abuse

I find it a little bit in bad faith when you talk about how conservative our government is. What in the Constitution changed between the 1960's or the 1930's and today? Not a lot.

I feel like this "conservative country" rap is a cop out for you not to ask hard questions of these lawmakers some of whom are morally close to bankrupt. You are WAY to relativistic leading to some pretty limp interviews. Snowe is primarily self-interested and represents Mainers in so far as they identify with her self-interest. She is extremely short-sighted as I think you why not call her on it? It's a risk, but maybe it's worth taking.

Posted by: michaelterra | October 17, 2009 5:56 AM | Report abuse

Klein has his own self-interest, a Valley Girl's self-interest, and it doesn't involve asking hard questions of any of collectivism's dupes.

The question at the top of this page, for instance, is along the lines, "If you could be one of the Beatles, which one would you be?"

Posted by: msoja | October 17, 2009 7:26 AM | Report abuse

Good old Ezra, rationalizing the status quo wrought by his establishment pals. It's like Candide, played out every day on his blog.

Posted by: redscott | October 17, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

"collectivism" is just your wacky Ayn Randian insertion into this. Alan Greenspan in his 70's has finally discovered that her work is simply self-justification for socially-awkward adolescents. When are you going to come to a similar realization?

No it's simply a matter of being a good journalist with a sense of mission to inform the public and keep the powerful accountable.

Posted by: michaelterra | October 17, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

--"collectivism" is just your wacky Ayn Randian insertion--

And yet "collectivism" is exactly what health care reform (and any number of other endeavors by government) is all about, Ayn Rand or no Ayn Rand. There's no avoiding it. The government is conscripting the citizenry to its idiotic vision of what health care should be on the dim basis of some imagined collective good. There is nothing "wacky" or disingenuous about it. It is what it is. Were the government to back out of trying to run people's lives and quit trying to run things like health care, leaving them to individuals to deal with, it could be called individualistic, or some such. But what the whole mess is about is politicians continually telling everyone that they have to sacrifice for the common, i.e., collective's, good. Collective. Get it?

And Greenspan? How do you want it? Was he still in thrall to Rand when he went to work for the government's central bank, or had he already perverted his principles sufficiently to facilitate driving the American economy into the ditch that the rest of government had worked so assiduously preparing for it?

Posted by: msoja | October 17, 2009 7:03 PM | Report abuse

"I also think we should include something on medical malpractice. I can't imagine why we wouldn't. Maine has a very successful dispute-resolution process. It's been in force for 25 years. That's one dimension that has contributed significantly to rising costs."

This is truly depressing. The CBO has shown that medical costs have not gone down in states with malpractice reform. They estimate that the most draconian reform will produce savings of less than 0.5%. Yet such an important person as Senator Snowe simply does not know the facts and Ezra did not point them out to her.


Posted by: lensch | October 18, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Wow. It is refreshing to actually read "a debate". I was caught by the phrase "irresistable amounts of money" that are thrown at the government by lobbists. I was even more than delighted that the phrase was immediately picked up and punted through the goal posts. My own current disallusionment of this nations future will be tested in 2010. Thanks all.

Posted by: gazinya | October 18, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I should stay out of theis, but I can't resist. msoja says, " Were the government to back out of trying to run people's lives and quit trying to run things like health care, leaving them to individuals to deal with..."

I am curious to know what other things "like health care" the government should stay out of? Fire and police protection? Army and Navy? Roads? Schools? Food and Drug regulation? Flight Controllers?

Help me out here folks.

Posted by: lensch | October 18, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

soggy's such a rugged individualist, he's planning on removing his own gall bladder with a sharpened spoon tomorrow.

Or perhaps he's just a slogan-spouting Randroid dullard whose imaginary America, in which corporations are continually ground down under the Marxist boot, bears no resemblance to the real one.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | October 18, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

--Fire and police protection? Army and Navy? Roads? Schools? Food and Drug regulation? Flight Controllers?--

There ya go. *Anything* the government does, the private sector can do better.

As we speak, the FDA's incompetence vis a vis flu vaccines is jeopardizing lives, and it's been less than two decades since the real push to "socialize" vaccine production and delivery got under way. It'll only get worse.

Public education in the U.S. is a JOKE, right up through college. One couldn't do worse at it if one purposely set out to.

Etcetera. And so forth.

We need a Dept. of Agriculture? For WHAT? Labor? For WHAT? To keep the special favors flowing to special constituents? WHY? HUD? HHS? All socialist political patronage machines sucking the lifeblood out of the country.

Posted by: msoja | October 18, 2009 8:07 PM | Report abuse

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