The Fake Health-Care Debate
On Monday night, Ben Smith moderated a debate between Betsy McCaughey and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). Reflecting on the night, Smith said that McCaughey is "nowhere near the player she was in 1994 -- in part perhaps because she's seen as a partisan, not an honest broker, and that's due in no small part to the relentless, effective assault from the left, a refighting of the last war that ensures they won't lose that battle, at least."
On Monday, I argued that McCaughey's prominence is a structural, rather than personal, phenomenon. So too with her humiliation. When McCaughey published her famous smear job on the Clinton effort, there was little for the administration to do in return. They released a document countering her lies, and James Fallows wrote an article, but this was before the rise of the Internet, of the Daily Show, or even of the modern version of cable news. McCaughey was picked up by those who found her lies useful -- talk radio and conservative columnists, mainly -- and largely ignored by those opposed to her inanities.
It's different this year. There are blogs, and Countdown With Keith Olbermann, and the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo and PolitiFact. There's YouTube and Twitter and Facebook. There are, in other words, plenty of people with an incentive to combat McCaughey, the time and space to do so, and the distribution architecture to ensure that their responses matter. McCaughey has thus been polarized, pushed to the edge of the debate, forced to sputter ever more incredible claims before ever more skeptical audiences. She's become the Orly Taitz of health care.
But it's not just McCaughey. Everything got polarized. The claims of supporters and opponents. Death panels and public plans. Baucus and Grassley. Insurers and tea partiers. Everything entered the swirl of claims and counter-claims, blog posts and rebuttals, columns and fact checks, speeches and heckles. This hasn't been a debate. It's been two sets of marchers shouting at each other. The country has become confused, rather than convinced.
In the absence of anything approaching an actual deliberative process, health-care reform became a question of partisan fundamentals: How many votes did the Democrats have in the House and the Senate? In the House, the answer was "more than enough." As that would suggest, the bills have progressed smoothly. In the Senate, the answer was "just barely enough, if no one defects." As that would suggest, the process has been slow and delicate, but it's moving forward.
The fact that the past few months were relentlessly polarized and sensationalized meant that the ensuing "process" was effectively unable to change any actual minds. That was probably good for Democrats. After months of mania and protesting and organizing, the conservative movement has not managed to turn a single prominent Democrat against the effort. After months of organizing and calling and pressuring, the White House and its allies have not managed to assure themselves a single unexpected Republican vote. If there were 56 Democrats, there would be no health-care reform, at least not without the reconciliation process. But as it is, there are 60 Democrats, and the experience of August clarified the importance of holding together.
What stands between Democrats and success is not, at this juncture, Republicans. It's whether they can manage the compromises within their own base. They had the votes in the beginning. The question is whether they can keep them together at the end. That is all that has ever mattered, or really been possible. Everything else is just noise, and the players who matter appear to have ignored it entirely.
Photo credit: By Charles Dharapak — Associated Press
Posted by: scarlota | October 6, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dailykos2 | October 6, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: umesh409 | October 6, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: serialcatowner | October 6, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: leoklein | October 6, 2009 11:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: visionbrkr | October 7, 2009 8:07 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: visionbrkr | October 7, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: constans | October 7, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: visionbrkr | October 7, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.