Truman in 2012

The President running against the “do-nothing Congress.” Worked the last time.

A Democratic President seeking re-election in the face of a Republican-dominated Congress has two options: Clintonian “triangulation” – trying to cast himself as a moderate caught between the extremes represented by the Congressional parties – and Trumanesque “Give ’em Hell,” sending “a message a week” and setting up the “do-nothing Congress” as his adversary and the adversary of the voters.

Obama’s post-partisanship might seem to fit him for the Clinton role. But since the Republicans who will dominate the House and have the capacity to block action in the Senate are far more interested in his political destruction than they are in advancing the national interest, the situation is going to force him to be a Truman. I suspect he’ll do pretty well at it. The polls show that the public already correctly perceives Obama as wanting to work with the Republicans and the Republicans unwilling to reciprocate.

These Republicans are pretty easy to run against. Wanting to extend tax cuts for the over-paid but not unemployment benefits for the out-of-work can’t really be a popular idea. Neither is Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or – I suspect – a new nuclear arms race.

Meanwhile, the latest PPP poll shows Obama carrying Virginia against all his potential rivals in 2012. Yes, it’s possible to make an electoral map where the Republicans carry the White House while losing Virginia. But it’s not easy.

The Health Insurance Companies’ Long Game

America’s health insurance companies seem to believe, along with Republicans, that they can screw up health care reform and get the voters to blame the Democrats for it. Maybe they’re right.

In the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Henry Aaron (no, not that one) details the health policy stakes for the midterm:

If ACA opponents gain a majority in either house of Congress, they could not only withhold needed appropriations but also bar the use of whatever funds are appropriated for ACA implementation, including the implementation of the provisions requiring individual people to buy insurance or businesses to offer it. They could bar the use of staff time for designing rules for implementation or for paying subsidies to support the purchase of insurance. They could even bar the DHHS from writing or issuing regulations or engaging in any other federal activity related to the creation of health insurance exchanges, even though the ACA provides funds for the DHHS to make grants to the states to set up those exchanges.


Perhaps the more likely — and in some ways more troubling — possibility is that the effort to repeal the bill will not succeed, but the tactic of crippling implementation will. The nation would then be left with zombie legislation, a program that lives on but works badly, consisting of poorly funded and understaffed state health exchanges that cannot bring needed improvements to the individual and small-group insurance markets, clumsily administered subsidies that lead to needless resentment and confusion, and mandates that are capriciously enforced.

This may be “more troubling” to Aaron, and anyone who is in interested in an efficient and minimally equitable health care system, but the real losers here would be the health insurance companies.  Let’s assume that the GOP Congress puts riders in their appropriations bills forbidding the construction of exchanges or enforcement of the individual mandate.  This means that the insurers will still have to abide by the popular provisions of the ACA: no discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions, no rescissions, no lifetime limits.  (I doubt at this stage that the GOP would ban the enforcement of these provsions.).  Thus, the insurers could not set rates according to health risks or do any of the other things that enrage most people in private plans — but they also would not get the guaranteed new millions of new customers that was supposed to be the compensation for it.  They could, of course, just raise rates on everyone, risking an even further backlash, at this time directed against the GOP, which will be the immediate cause of it.

So you would think that the health insurance industry would be wary about such a scenario.  But no: in fact they are pushing it.  As the Los Angeles Times reported last week, the insurance companies are pouring money into Republican campaigns.

Obviously, the insurers aren’t stupid.  They may think that they can get away with telling the Republicans to maintain the mandate while getting rid of the regulations, but that combination would surely be vetoed by President Obama.  So in the short and medium run, the insurers are taking a risk that the changes in the market brought about by the refusal to set up exchanges or enforce the mandate (which undoubtedly the Obama Administration would refuse to enforce in the absence of exchanges) will not disrupt their bottom line.  (So much for believing their whines about how they need rescission, lifetime limits, and discrimination to make money.).  The ensuing chaos will help elect President Palin in 2012, and create an individual mandate without any regulations against them.

In other words, they seem to believe, along with Republicans, that they can screw up health policy reform and get the voters to blame the Democrats for it.  Maybe they’re right.

Does Palin have a path to the nomination?

Walter Shapiro says yes: under Republican winner-take-all rules, a candidate with 35% backing can go all the way.

Walter Shapiro says that the winner-take-all rules of the Republican Presidential nomination process give Sarah Palin a shot if she can just keep the tea bag crowd behind her.

As he points out, what’s left of the Republican establishment could stop Palin by changing the rules, but doing so would risk a wingnut walkout the GOP can ill afford.

If Palin is actually nominated, the remnant of non-mouthbreathers in the party will face a tough choice: abandon the party’s nominee, or back someone grossly, ludicrously unfit for the highest office in the land. If I were, let’s say, Richard Lugar, I’d be working hard right now to avoid having to make that choice later.

Huckabee self-destructs as a national candidate

Huck to CPAC: “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics may be dead, but a Union of American Socialist Republics is being born … Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.”

During the Republican primaries, I was worried about Mike Huckabee: earnest but not priggish, funny, evidently not a hater, a non-terrible record as governor, compelling speaker. Yes, of course he believed, or at least said, some certifiably nutty stuff, but he didn’t say it in a nutty way. And I’ve remained concerned that Huckabee might use the next four or eight years to learn something about the substance of national policy &#8212 he’s poorly educated, but no one’s fool &#8212 and abandon some of the “populist” positions that made him anathema to the money-cons. The result might have looked a lot like a 21st-Century Reagan, while continuing to cover a fairly serious theocrat.

I guess I can stop worrying. Here’s the Washington Independent’s account (corrected, apparently, from an earlier version) of Huck’s CPAC speech.

“The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics may be dead,” said Huckabee, “but a Union of American Socialist Republics is being born.” Democrats, according to Huckabee, were packing 40 years of pet projects like “health care rationing” into spending bills. “Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.”

Yes, yes, the CPAC crowd is the extreme of the extreme. But in the YouTube era you can’t go around mouthing this stuff and be taken seriously as a candidate for President. Either Huckabee is losing his ear or this is what you really have to say to get the Republican Presidential nomination in 2012.

Either way, I’m relieved.

Update More from Matt Yglesias, who notes the double standard the press applies to such things: no Democratic politician could have gotten away with calling out the similarities between Bush policies (e.g., on torture) and totalitarian practices, but Huckabee can call Obama a Stalinist and not generate a peep of protest.