As a liberal, watching the legislative process wreak havoc on the health care bill has made me incredibly despondent. I’d like to think that I’m intellectually honest enough that if I were a conservative, it would still at least bother me. What so demoralizes me is the absolutely abysmal quality of the policy discussion. While I think some of this might have resulted from a failure of good messaging and public advocacy on Obama’s part, the absolute lion’s share of the blame deserves to be placed on the bad faith of nearly every politician and spokesperson for the Republican party.
There was a huge opportunity for Republicans to play a constructive role in the healthcare debate by making foreceful and principled arguments. If the long-term deficit was truly important to them, they could have made the bill infinitely better by arguing for tighter cost-controls to achieve this goal. If having free market competition was the principle they wanted to enact, they could have fought to tax healthcare benefits. If malpractice lawyers were clogging up the system, they could have enacted fundamental tort reform.
Clearly, they did none of these things; instead we saw mutually inconsistent arguments made to confuse the public and win the news cycle each day. One day the issue was “death panels:” the government will reduce costs too much. Then, the long-term deficit: health care reform will cost too much money. One day, reform is going to take away seniors’ Medicare; the next, government-run healthcare will be totally inefficient. Never mind the lack of any intellectual consistency with previous Republican policy positions (why was the deficit not an issue when it ballooned under Bush? why Bush’s prescription drug benefit but not Obama’s health care reform?); the arguments given against healthcare weren’t even consistent with each other.
These arguments were in bad faith intellectually, because they could not possibly have reflected the actual considered views of the people making them, and they were in bad faith legislatively because they denied the possibility of effective policy. Rather than participate in the legislative discussion with the Democrats, they tried to play spoiler in the hopes of wrecking any chance for an effective policy to emerge. It (tentatively) looks like they will have failed in that goal — the bill looks likely to pass — but the quality of the resulting legislation, on one of the most important issues imaginable to both parties, is significantly the worse for it.