What "Replace" Means

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Nearly a year ago, I noticed the terms of the debate over ObamaCare take the following unfortunate turn:

It's bad enough that [Republican Senator Mitch] McConnell has just fallen into the "What have you got?" trap that Barack Obama laid for him in the form of his February health care summit "invitation." All the Democrats have to say to this is, "Where was this proposal back in February?" What's worse are the huge holes in understanding on many levels this reveals...
Specifically, I was speaking of McConnell's battle cry of "repeal and replace," which is really just a verbal white flag of surrender: It leaves unchallenged the premise that we need central planning in medicine, and, as I recently commented, it allows the likes of Barack Obama to pass off essentially similar plans as reasonable concessions.

Ezra Klein shows us how this shakes out in practice in a column titled, "Republicans Need to Take a Stand on Health-Care Reform," which preempts a real free-market solution by equating "taking a stand" with making some sort of proposal based on central planning. The demonstration comes in large part in the form of a history lesson, in which Klein portrays a party animated for decades by expedience over principle, towards the goal of gaining political power over advancing freedom. Did you know, for example, that Nixon actually attempted to pass his own medical plan, at one point, only to be stopped by the Democrats?

Not only are we lucky not to already have a completely government-run medical sector, that is where we'll end up regardless of the fate of Obama's particular proposal, given how the Republicans themselves have framed their "opposition":
The GOP knew this day would come. In May 2009, Republican message-maestro Frank Luntz released a polling memo warning that "if the dynamic becomes 'President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it,' then the battle is lost." Repeal, Luntz argued, wouldn't be good enough. It would have to be "repeal and replace." And so it was.
So it is that our history lesson shows us that this battle was lost (at least) nearly a year in advance!

The phrase "free market reform" has its own problems: For one thing, the notion of "reforming" any system of central planning is ludicrous. Nevertheless, it would have at least helped people imagine, in the debate leading up to the vote on ObamaCare, that tackling the problems it is supposed to solve need not (or, dare we imagine, should not) involve the government stealing money, goods, and services, and otherwise ordering people around.

If the Republicans lost to Obama due to a failure to see (or stand up for) freedom as reform last year (and the year before), what makes them think they can get anywhere with the same losing strategy now that ObamaCare has been passed? Klein is correct: The Republicans did see this day coming. But if Luntz's thinking is any indication, they quickly put it out of their minds and hoped to defeat this horrible idea by simply procrastinating.

-- CAV

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