In the Arena

Kristol Blue Deflation

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It should come as no surprise that Bill Kristol’s reaction to the passage of health care reform is ungracious and tactical. After all, his “thinking” on this issue has been non-stop base and cheesy since he wrote his infamous memo advising Republicans to deny Bill Clinton a victory on health care in December 1993. The remarkable thing about that memo is that it remained the sole Republican strategy on health care 17 years later–well past its sell-by date–squelching the very valuable, and creative, thinking that had been emanating from the Republicans on health care since Stuart Butler’s Heritage Foundation plan. (And no, Paul Ryan’s crashingly radical plan to gut Medicare doesn’t count as creative thinking.)

The remarkable key to Kristol’s advice is the acknowledgment, in 1993, that the passage of health care reform would be a victory for Bill Clinton. Kristol thought it would be bad politics to grant Clinton the popularity that would come with passage. In other words, there is the assumption that the public would, ultimately, like health care reform; Bob Dole and other Republicans, in fact, believed that it would be a good thing for the country. But Dole was running for President in 1996 and didn’t want to cross the wingnut noise machine.

The cynicism at the heart of Kristol’s advice–as Paul Krugman amplifies in his excellent column today–has become the dominant Republican philosophy and led that party to a moment of truth. Do they really want to be all about repealing health insurance reform? Democrats should be salivating over that prospect. A more politically creative–and certainly less appalling–alternative would be to work to fix the bill in traditionally conservative ways that would lower cost: try to move as many people as possible from Medicaid into the health care exchanges, where their presence would bolster the size and strength of the free market; approach the President with a bipartisan approach to malpractice reform, which also would reduce health care costs.

But that won’t happen. The Republicans, stuck in a hermetically-sealed intellectual cyclone of  extremist fantasies, are moving farther and farther from the American mainstream. Their willful confusion of socialism (or, more mildly, “government control”) with government regulation of an untrammeled and imperfect market was an act of breathtaking dishonesty.  Their use of this Big Lie almost derailed a middle-of-the-road health care reform bill. But it didn’t succeed. They didn’t prevent Barack Obama, and the American people, from enjoying this historic victory.