Friday, October 14, 2005

The Vision Thing

by Tom Bozzo

A Capital Times editorial recently panned an appearance by John Podesta of the Center for American Progress for lack of, well, progressivism:
The Capital Times: Not Enough Opposition: Former White House chief of staff John Podesta was in Madison this week to make a pitch for progressive politics - as he defines it - and the Washington-based "think tank" that he heads, the Center for American Progress...

There was little in Podesta's message that was bold or particularly challenging. He did not offer a clear alternative vision with regard to the war in Iraq in particular or foreign policy in general. He did not propose a fundamental shift in direction with regard to race-to-the-bottom free trade agreements and other misguided economic policies of the Clinton and Bush years. He did not embrace single-payer health care or other rational responses to the current crisis.

Far from offering a progressive agenda for the 21st century, Podesta peddled warmed over "solutions" that tinker around the edges of the big issues facing America. If this is what the opposition "think tank" has to offer, the conservatives have little to fear.
Looking over the CAP website, I agree with TCT that CAP needs to eat its spinach. It comes across like a center-left-center quasi-counterbalance to the only moderately wingnutty American Enterprise Institute rather than what it arguably needs to be, which is the Heritage Foundation of the left.

The lack of boldness cited by TCT is particularly evident in a misplaced fetish of pragmatism. Why misguided? Sure, CAP policy proposals would constitute a distinct improvement over Bushism, but their chance of getting any of them enacted with Republicans in charge of the executive and legislative branches is effectively zero. And CAP policy proposals are not likely to fire people up to elect Democrats.

There is consequently no cost to thinking bigger (abstracting from CAP's funding sources), and in fact there are likely to be massive longer-term benefits in that incubating actual progressive ideas is an entrée to building a political coalition for their enactment. (See: Heritage Foundation, and wingnut noise machine generally. Also see here and here at Frogs and Ravens for an example of how rushing, or at least appearing to rush, into the vacuum left by right-running Republicans fractures the progressive vote.) That true progressive policies would be actual good and popular ideas, a notion the Wellstone sons among others are pushing, is a plus!

The CAP's unbold approach is, as the TCT notes, evident in its universal health care plan (4.7 MB PDF). The CAP plan takes as a premise that the employer-provided health insurance system is not broken for those of us who actually have employer-provided health insurance. Ha! Let me say again to that premise, HA! Thence we get this:
Rather than dismantling our health system and starting from scratch, we propose filling the gaps between these two primary sources of coverage [existing private and public coverage]. We recommend supplementing the employer system with a new health insurance pool, modeled on the federal employees’ health insurance system, for individuals as well as employers seeking a stable, affordable choice of private health insurance plans.
Progressive readers, do you feel inspired? I didn't think so. Compare the manifesto at the top of Heritage's health care page:
The Healthcare system in the United States is in desperate need of significant reform. Policy makers should take decisive steps to move today's bureaucracy driven, heavily regulated third-party payment system to a new patient-centered system of consumer choice and real free-market competition.
There's ample reason to believe the sort of system Heritage has in mind would work out very badly for large segments of the population. (As Max Sawicky said in a different but relevant context, "Those with the greatest combination of desire and money get the [product]. That eliminates 'shortages.' Those thereby deprived for lack of funds are not stricken by a 'shortage.' They are just shit out of luck.")

Anyway, Heritage cannot be accused of greater pragmatism than CAP — not least, for the moment, because tax reform commission recommendation or no, the Republicans probably won't want to burn the political capital for another big election year health care "reform" given their other, ahem, issues — but at least they're laying out what they really want. Nor should it be forgotten that in the lead-in to the Social Security privatization campaign, Cato and Heritage both were pushing full-privatization programs before coming around to toe the line on the Bushist non-plan plan.

Do young progressive policy wonks really want nothing more than to supplement the employer-based health system? It's sad if they do.
You suggest that health care be reformed by developing a "patient-centered system of consumer choice and real free-market competition." Before such an "outside-in" approach can be made to work, we have to correct the current lack of accountability for the delivery of care. To pursue this further, see my blog Health Care Anew at
Richard: That's what the Heritage Foundation is suggesting; I don't agree with them.
This post has been repeatedly hit by a determined link-spammer, so I'm closing comments.

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