Krugman on odds of achieving universal health care: w/ Clinton not bad, w/ Obama near zilch
Paul Krugman’s latest column asserts that Senator Clinton should be the clear favorite for those in favor of universal health care.
The principal policy division between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama involves health care. It’s a division that can seem technical and obscure — and I’ve read many assertions that only the most wonkish care about the fine print of their proposals.
But as I’ve tried to explain in previous columns, there really is a big difference between the candidates’ approaches. And new research, just released, confirms what I’ve been saying: the difference between the plans could well be the difference between achieving universal health coverage — a key progressive goal — and falling far short.
Specifically, new estimates say that a plan resembling Mrs. Clinton’s would cover almost twice as many of those now uninsured as a plan resembling Mr. Obama’s — at only slightly higher cost.
On the other hand, and mucking up the analysis of what’ll happen if Clinton is elected versus Obama (assuming one of them is indeed elected over the Republican candidate), is the idea I’ve seen advocated that Obama on the November ballot will better help in the election of lots more Democrats to the US House and Senate. The idea being that Clinton is more divisive, so even if she wins, there will be fewer middle-ground and moderate-Republican voters who will feel enthusiastic about the Dems in general, and so less likely to vote for other Dems on the ticket. But Obama is seemingly more unifying and uplifting of a character, and so good vibes for him will rub off on other Dems on the ticket. And if that’s true, then ironically Obama would have a Congress to work with that would be more amenable to a strong health care initiative, whereas Clinton would have a harder fight on her hand because the Congress she faced wouldn’t be as friendly to progressive causes. (Examples of this sort of analysis from The Nation and DailyKos.)
And is Krugman right that those opposed to universal health care will actually and successfully be able to kill an attempt by Obama to expand his policy vision by turning his primary campaign words against him? It seems plausible that he could change his vision and that, if this occurs during a honeymoon first 100 days following a landslide victory, brush aside those sorts of attacks without too much trouble. Maybe I’m being too optimistic. It’s just that I find myself reasonably convinced by the “Obama brings with him a stronger Congress than Clinton” arguments and so have been finding myself moving towards supporting him for that reason. (I’m in Vermont and our primary isn’t until March 6.)
[Update] It’s all pretty frustrating, this not being able to predict the future. I say that because I agree with something else that Krugman has said (though I can’t recall where to link to it at the moment) that establishing a viable universal health care system is enormously important, both for the wellbeing of the country in general, and for a left/progressive movement as well. It’d be like a new New Deal–it would provide a kind of shared benefit that tens-, hundreds of millions of people would feel and appreciate. They’d not only be better off, they’d know that it was the left that got them better off. Large numbers of people who felt that there was no useful difference between the Republicans and the Democrats would learn that in fact there is. (And even if you think there isn’t currently, the establishment of universal health care would in itself be the fact of difference.) Large numbers of people who think government is just a big joke would learn that government can indeed do some things–some very, very important things–right, do them better than the alternatives. A decent universal health care system, alongside a carbon cap-and-dividend system, would breathe vibrant new life into a progressive political movement. We’d gain a generation or more of new loyalty and energy.
And we need that loyalty and energy. There’s lots to be done, from avoiding the worst of global warming to eliminating poverty, from ending the Iraq war to rebuilding crumbling schools and other infrastructure. These things are big jobs and expensive. To do them right means having the backing of the majority of the people. To get that backing, the people have to feel–to know–that “we’re all in it together” is more than empty rhetoric. Universal health care is the achievable reality that makes that rhetoric tangible. It’s a policy of solidarity that makes each next step a little easier to achieve. It’s why I’ve been quipping (mostly to myself) for a while now that “universal health care is an environmental issue.” If we can provide universal health care that makes it one heck of a lot easier to convince people that we all have to face restrictions on energy consumption (and so consumption in general). We have to face both the restrictions and the benefits (of health care, of a healthy environment, etc.) together.
And so if in fact that’s all true, then boy oh boy will it be disappointing if Obama (or Clinton) is elected president–especially if he (or she) is backed by a newly enlarged Democratic majority in Congress–and yet fails to seize the opportunity. Boy oh boy, very disappointing.