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The political cost of failure

Austin Frakt reminds me of a post I wrote in November that's relevant to this week's events. An excerpt:

Failure does not bring with it a better chance for future success. It brings a trimming of future ambitions.

Truman sought single payer. His failure led to Kennedy and Johnson, who confined their ambitions to poor families and the elderly. Then came Nixon, whose reform plan was entirely based around private insurers and government regulation. He was followed by Carter, who favored an incremental, and private, approach, and Clinton, who again sought to reform the system by putting private insurers into a market that would be structured and regulated by the government. His failure birthed Obama's much less ambitious proposal, which attempts to reform not the health-care system, but the small group and nongroup portions of the health-care system by putting a small minority of private insurance plans into a market that's structured and regulated by the government, and closed off to most Americans.

Failure does not breed success. Obama's defeat will not mean that more ambitious reforms have "a better chance of trying again." It will mean that less ambitious reformers have a better chance of trying next time.

By Ezra Klein  |  December 15, 2009; 11:11 AM ET
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Next: What should Rahm have done?


So, Liebermann's "betreyal" really did not "hurt" the bill after all, despite all your focus on him until recently and how his apparent goal was to hurt liberals?

Posted by: Lomillialor | December 15, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Well stated here, Ezra, and in the previous post. The smart thing to do is garner the gains and build on them, not kill the success you have had.

Posted by: cmpnwtr | December 15, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Wow. Socialism is one failure after another. Big, small, all socialist endeavors end in failure. It's what they are from root, and what they always will be.

Posted by: msoja | December 15, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

****It will mean that less ambitious reformers have a better chance of trying next time.****

Yup. And that "next time" may well be 2025.

Posted by: Jasper99 | December 15, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Lomillialor, are you actually stupid or just pretending? Is there any possible world where you think Ezra will agree to your statements, which seem based on the least charitable and a totally confused reading of his posts? Getting good policy axed out of a bill and imperiling it's passage because of a petty personal issue when thousands of lives are at stake and using totally bogus and debunked rationals is worthy of scorn. Leiberman made a compromised bill worse, but it should still be passed because good things do remain there and killing it because we're pissed at him is just as reckless and won't make the next run easier.

mosoja, I'm sure it was a problem with your browser, but you forgot to put an argument in your post, rather than just an empty assertion.

Posted by: MosBen | December 15, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

The argument was all Klein's, MosBen. He quoted a list of socialist failures and I gave him the ol' attaboy.

The current "reform" is no different than any of the other "reforms". Each one is misguided. Each one will lead to an even greater crisis (also known as failure) to which twits like you and Klein will again rise up and jabber for more "reform".

The thing is simple, though, really. You can't *force* people into your teensy minded boxes, no matter how many stupid, incompetent laws you pass. All you do is make things worse. For everybody. It's not rocket science, but it's eternally beyond the ken of morons like Klein.

Posted by: msoja | December 15, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

msoja, try re-booting, it happened again...

Posted by: JkR- | December 15, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Ezra's argument wasn't that the programs passed through the 20th century were failures, but that losing out on your ideal legislation doesn't mean you've got a better chance next time. His argument is that you take the incremental improvement you can get and then next time you take the incremental improvement you can get then. You're not agreeing with him in saying Medicare was a failure and you know it, or you should know it.

And again, you don't make any arguments, you rely on assertions. You state that passage of each piece of legislation led to a greater crisis, but you provide no support for this assertion. "You can't *force* people into your teensy minded boxes, no matter how many stupid, incompetent laws you pass" isn't even a clear statement, let alone a cogent argument. And finally, you assert that "you make things worse". I'll be charitable and assume you're talking about expanding the social safety as the thing that makes things "worse". Of course, you don't define what "worse" means and you don't support the assertion with anything either.

So again, you're agitating by making empty assertions. Why should anyone take you seriously if you don't say anything?

Posted by: MosBen | December 15, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Ok, I want to say up front that I want the Dems to pass the core ideas of this bill this year.

But I also am becoming increasingly more skeptical of the argument that this is our "one chance" to get it done. That argument mainly seems born out of the long period of relative silence following the failure of the Clinton reform. But I just don't think the analogy holds.

For one thing, the Clinton effort was mainly prospective and relied on moral arguments. "We should insure people," has been the argument from Truman on down. Clinton added a certain level of entitlement reform to this, but the fundamental argument was moral. And that makes sense -- the threatened Medicare crunch was still decades in the future.

The failure of Clinton's plan was followed by two important elements that made reform highly unlikely. First, the Democrats lost Congress and (eventually) the White House. Second (and I think almost more importantly), HEALTHCARE COSTS STARTED TO FALL. They fell both b/c we were in the middle of a large economic expansion where lots of people could access preventive care, and because insurers started to do unpopular but effective things like institute tight controls on HMO's. But that era of falling costs was over by the late 90's -- largely because those cost controls just proved so unpopular. By the time the scope of the crisis became clear again, we were deep into the Bush Administration and comprehensive was impossible. But even in this context, incremental health reform happened fairly regularly -- see Medicare Part D and the S-CHIP expansion.

So I'm not sure the Clinton analogy really applies at all. The crisis isn't in the future, it's right now. At this point most of us understand that Medicare is the biggest threat to our national solvency. The moral implications now flow directly from the same cost growth that's strangling Medicare. But private agency is no longer able to keep up with costs either; insurers tried to implement anything they could during the 90's and early 00's and the best they could come up with is high-deductible plans that barely count as "insurance" at all.

Meanwhile, on the political side, it is virtually impossible for the Democrats to actually lose control of both houses next year. And even if the Republicans get some level of power, they're going to have to deal with Medicare just like we are. And they have voters who LIKE the Medicare status quo just like we do.

So I think healthcare is just going to loom over our politics for the next several years no matter what. Even if Obama fails, this is much larger than 2010 (or even 2012). Medicare threatens the GOP's ability to cut taxes and fight wars just as much as it threatens the Dems' ability to solve climate change and promote equality.

Posted by: NS12345 | December 15, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

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