Thursday, July 28, 2005

Should Democrats embark on a grand march toward universal health care?

This Rick Perlstein article rises to an impossible height above the political landscape to argue that the one sure-fire way for the Democratic Party to regain the upper hand is to pass universal health care:

These programs make life in America fundamentally better. And because these gooses, Social Security, Medicare, lay golden eggs. They manufacture Democrats.

It is the duty of every generation of Democrats to produce new geese to lay 70 years of golden eggs. It is the only way our party has grown—as Bill Kristol puts it, by reviving the reputation of the Democrats as the generous protector of middle-class interests. They know they're screwed if we're credible in our pledge to deliver new kinds of power to ordinary people in their every day lives.

Democratic congressmen can do that, for example, by making a credible collective pledge that if you vote Democrat enough you will never pay another medical bill as long as you live. You really think people wouldn't stop voting Republican then?

Well, yes. And Perlstein, who wrote a book tracing the rise of modern conservatism, knows a thing or two about what makes political movements tick. Shorn of all short-term priorities and positioning, this makes sense. Of course it would be great if the Democrats could create universal health care! This is what they do best, and they should constantly have their eyes on that goal.

But best not to think too hard about this. The idea is both monolithic and abstract. He offers no clues on how to get to there from here, either politically or programmatically – that’s not his job. Matthew Yglesias analyzes that here. And in that same general neighborhood of monolithic abstraction, or abstract monolithism, or whatever, the Democrats have two other problems besides their inability to pass gigantic, popular entitlement programs: They are culturally out of tune with the country, and people don’t trust them to protect us all from terrorists or to exercise American power around the world.