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Catastrophe tears us apart

bayhgestures.JPG

"It is amazing that some people here in Congress still don't get it," says Sen. Evan Bayh, who's counseling Democrats to move to the right. "For those people it may take a political catastrophe of biblical proportions before they get it."

I'll just note that the "catastrophe of biblical proportions" that Bayh is referring to is not that health-care reform doesn't pass and hundreds of thousands of people die unnecessary deaths. It's not that the Congress is unable to pass a second stimulus and millions of Americans are jobless, anxious and uninsured for years longer than necessary. It's that Democrats lose a bunch of seats in the midterm elections.

Politicians have a tendency of talking about the consequences of elections as if they're very real and the consequences of policy as if they're very abstract, and as we're seeing with the stalling of the health-care bill in the aftermath of Martha Coakley's loss, they legislate that way, too. And then they wonder why voters don't trust them and their initiatives.

Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 26, 2010; 4:04 PM ET
 
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Comments

Yes, a lot of politicians are this way, but fortunately not all of them. It's that small minority who give us hope.

Distinctly not in that group is Evan Bayh, a man who is downright Liebermanish in his narcissism and false piety.

Posted by: TLM2 | January 26, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

"Politicians have a tendency of talking about the consequences of elections as if they're very real and the consequences of policy as if they're very abstract" . . .

Man, truer words have rarely been spoken. Spot on, Ezra.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 26, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Evan Bayh is working his way toward being the next Zell Miller. Mark my words. ;)

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 26, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Evan Bayh-Harold Ford thinks he's a bit slimy

Posted by: endaround | January 26, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,
Well said about politicians overvaluation of politics and undervaluation of policy! Bayh is a living diorama of this tendency.

Not to be my usual scolding self but why not apply this insight to policies that are custom designed for consumption inside the Beltway rather than for their impact on people outside the Beltway? Like almost the entire healthcare bill?

Posted by: michaelterra | January 26, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

To be fair, it's unlikely that a mandate to buy high-deductible junk insurance will save many lives. Nor--at least according to Krugman--is a second stimulus likely to be helpful at this stage of the game.

Posted by: bmull | January 26, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Evan Bayh is a political genius. By blocking reconciliation, he earns the right to say, "I actually voted for the health care bill before I voted against it." That will go great with voters!

Does he really think that voters will vote for him if he votes for a bill with state exchanges, but against him if it's got national exchanges? Do House Dems think voting for more vs. less restrictive abortion measures will change whether right to life groups support them?

The public just needs to know a broad overview of what the bills do, not the details. I thought this was a pretty good explanation of the health care bill and what it does:

http://akwag.blogspot.com/2010/01/simplest-explanation-of-health-care.html

Posted by: akent07 | January 26, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

I think the picture you posted is beyond the pale. It is clearly photo-shopped to make Senator Bayh look like a certain German ruler from the mid-20th century. And while Senator Bayh is doing his very darnedest to make sure nothing beneficial ever comes out of Congress (mostly so that he can complain that Congress gets nothing done during his reelection campaign), and even though his willful obstruction is costing the country thousands of lives and billions of dollars, I think the comparison is not at all appropriate.

Posted by: josephanzalone | January 26, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

"health-care reform doesn't pass and hundreds of thousands of people die unnecessary deaths"

You've been writing that factoid quite a bit lately. It's sanctimonious nonsense.

You favor a robust government option, which you believe would come to dominate the insurance market. Once this happened, however, the government-run company would come to dominate the entire health care sector, inevitably stifling innovation. Advances in medicine would cease, condemning millions of people around the globe to death and misery that could have been avoided. The only conclusion is that you don’t care that millions of people die unnecessary deaths.

Twaddle, eh? No more than yours.

Posted by: ostap666 | January 26, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

These "centrists" make me want to hurl. THEY are probably the principle cause of the Dems' woes right now. If it hadn't been for them, health care would have passed early last fall and we'd have passed a jobs bill, could've passed cap and trade, and be on track for an extremely productive congressional session.

Instead, they gum up the works, threatening to filibuster everything unless they're bought off by slimy deals, then when watered-down legislation finally emerges and the public learns about the bribes, they turn against the bills, putting passage at risk, and then making real the perception that Dems' aren't accomplishing anything.

Then they'll claim that the ensuing disillusionment and congressional losses are proof that we should "move to the center."

Posted by: Isa8686 | January 26, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

Andrew "single payer" Weiner said the same thing yet doesn't warrant a blog post about his "whistling past the graveyard comment". Andrew needed to shut up and pass the senate bill and get whoever he could to keep their votes together.

If I missed your post on Andrew Weiner calling on Dems to restart then please forgive me.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 26, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Ezra was blaming Joe Leiberman for "hundreds of thousands of deaths". Are the people of Mass. who voted for Scott Brown now responsible for their deaths? This claim is ridiculous. Ted Kenedy blocked universal health care reform when it was proposed by Nixon. Is he responsible for millions of deaths (not including Mary Jo)?

Posted by: cummije5 | January 26, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

ostap666, Ezra is referring to a study which found that some number of people each year (I don't remember the number specifically, but I think Ezra calculated it to something like 200,000 or 300,000 over the life of the healthcare bill) die purely for lack of health insurance. By that I mean that they controlled for various factors and found that having insurance would have made the difference between living and dying to these people.

You can argue with the methodology, but it's not just talking points or twaddle.

And josephanzalone, do you have any evidence that the picture is photo shopped and not just a picture of Bayh with his hand raised. It's a pretty common thing for politicians to do at rallies. As for Ezra's intent, I don't see anything in the post that makes any comparison to Hitler, Nazis, or the like. I think it's definitely gauche to compare people you don't like to Nazis, but let's save it for people like Glenn Beck, who actually make direct comparisons.

Posted by: MosBen | January 26, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

"You favor a robust government option, which you believe would come to dominate the insurance market. Once this happened, however, the government-run company would come to dominate the entire health care sector, inevitably stifling innovation. Advances in medicine would cease, condemning millions of people around the globe to death and misery that could have been avoided. The only conclusion is that you don’t care that millions of people die unnecessary deaths."

This is one of the sillier things I've seen here, but at least it is multidimensional in its silliness rather than the usual crap which is wrong just for one reason.

First, the implication in your post is that medical innovation is solely driven by US innovation (since all innovation overseas would have to stop as well as US innovation for this to occur). But this ignores the actual innovation going on overseas.

Second, and more damning, it completely ignores the fact that medical innovation as currently practiced has a very strong public face in the form of the billions upon billions of dollars funneled to research centers by the NIH. As revealed on this very blog, drug companies, to take one example, only spend .15 on the dollar on innovation...why couldn't the US government simply take up that market? ( http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/08/will_health-care_reform_save_m.html )

Third, you would have to actually defend your assertion that it would dominate the whole market leaving no room at all for other private companies to fill the need for innovation you believe will have been created. In other words, why wouldn't the market step up? Would there be a law saying they couldn't?

Posted by: y2josh_us | January 26, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Isa8686, that's a good point that just reinforces to me how much we need to get rid of the filibuster. With the system as it is, in order to get to 60 you've got to be a *really* big tent, to the point that it's impossible to pass anything that's not deeply compromised or which takes so long that it dies.

Posted by: MosBen | January 26, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

It may also never have occurred to Evan Bayh that the rest of the country is not Indiana.

Posted by: randrewm | January 26, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Ezra - You diminish your blog every time you use that "hundreds of thousands of deaths" comment. That study has been called into question many times.

I guess you'll be blaming House Dems for "hundreds of thousands of deaths" now. Can't blame Lieberman anymore.

Posted by: MBP2 | January 26, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

MosBen,

we could get into semantics here if it really mattered but you do realize that many people are eligible for Medicaid but never bother to go out and get it, right? Also the number is 45,000 per year I believe that the Harvard study showed "die" every year because they don't have healthcare which honestly I don't know how they come to that. I don't have the time or the patience to read the report I'm sure that's written on it. That being said 98,000 people die from medical errors every year but we dont' get rid of doctors do we? Millions die from smoking and smoking caused deaths but we don't outlaw cigarettes? 40,000 people die from car accidents? Should we outlaw cars?

You get the point. Should everyone have access to healthcare, absolutely yes. The $64,000 question is how do we all pay for it without negatively affecting the system.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 26, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

OK, let's just say that a lot of people who don't have health insurance would be better off if they did have health insurance.

If you believe that weak statement it's kind of sick to think that some congressman or senator would rather keep his desk in Washington than help those people.

If you don't believe that statement then fine, don't vote for the bill, but that's not the argument Democratic lawmakers from Republican states are making. They are saying saving our place in Washington and drop healthcare reform even though we believe it will help people.

Posted by: ideallydc | January 26, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

What Bayh understands and Ezra does not is that the Dems have lost the argument on health care reform - for now, at least. They could press on but the Americans won't thank them for it come November; quite the contrary.

Posted by: tbass1 | January 27, 2010 12:24 AM | Report abuse

hundreds of thousands of people die unnecessary deaths.

One could save more lives by lowering the speed limit to 30mph. 43,000 people die on our roads each year. Ban the motorcycle! The evil machine.

Posted by: jwogdn | January 27, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Oh, Ezra, a recent highschool graduate, computed the figure of deaths from lack of healthcare insurance? How did he do that? I still don't know how you can tell that a person died of that. It's not on death certificates as a cause of death. Bayh has been designated as the target of the week. Why not Lincoln? She's as much of a foot dragger.

Posted by: truck1 | January 27, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Well, he's lost my vote come November. It's just a shame that there probably won't be a primary challenger I could vote for instead.

Posted by: VictorGalis | January 27, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

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