Democracy and the Grounds of Distrust

The fight over health care reform has grown surreal indeed. Here’s Ezra Klein, who says our “democracy is sick”:

What we’re seeing here is not merely distrust in the House health-care reform bill. It’s distrust in the political system. A healthy relationship does not require an explicit detailing of the “institutional checks” that will prevent one partner from beating or killing the other. In a healthy relationship, such madness is simply unthinkable. If it was not unthinkable, then no number of institutional checks could repair that relationship. Similarly, the relationship between the protesters and the government is not healthy. The protesters believe the government capable of madness. There is no evidence for that claim, which means that there is no answer for it, either. That claim is not about what is in this bill, or what government has done in Medicare and Medicaid and the VA. It is about what a certain slice of Americans think their government — and by extension, their fellow citizens — capable of.

It requires an amazing kind of selective amnesia to think that there is “no evidence’ that the U.S. government is “capable of madness.” The government of the United States invaded Iraq and its agents have killed many tens of thousands people on the basis of the fact that some Saudis trained in Afganistan flew planes into the World Trade Center, plus some lies. Torture, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, etc. I call that madness. Of course, Ezra means the other parts of government concerned with domestic affairs. But not the parts that break into peoples’ houses and destroy their lives for selling contraband herbs, or that subject us constantly to mendacious propaganda about drugs. Our government — and by extension our fellow citizens — is capable of terrible things and proves it every single day. Is it really possible to love government so much, to invest so much hope in its benevolent efficacy, that we grow blind to its evident capacity for evil? Anyway, there must be some parts of the government that are not capable of madness. Ezra invites us to think about those when considering health care reform. Will you accept?

I suspect Ezra thinks that his side of the debate has done nothing to engender distrust. But that would be wrong. The reason I wrote a whole paper about the “noble lies” underpinning the American Social Security system is precisely that our system did and does violate the spirit of transparency and openness needed for good-faith democratic deliberation. And, as I argued last month in my column for The Week, the demonstrated willingness of Democrats, both politician and wonk, to dissemble about whether or not they’re trying to set in motion a chain reaction toward a single-payer system practically demands distrust.

I get fed up when intensely ideological partisans, left or right, start to officiously scold a skeptical democratic public for failing democracy by veering wildly from the party line. We should not be surprised when a history of prevaricating partisan strategy calls forth a paranoid response. Ezra’s right that this is bad for democracy. But if he wants Americans to put more trust in politics, he might try advocating a politics more deserving of trust.

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77 thoughts on “Democracy and the Grounds of Distrust

  1. Ezra Klein seems like a reasonable guy. But on Aug. 7, he seemed to take an “ends justify the means” philosophy toward the deceit occasionally necessary to advance progressive goals. I assume that the people whom he doesn't mind shafting are lobbyists who may be a liars themselves, but when Ezra talks about “distrust in the political system” being “sick,” I challenge him to justify his endorsement of engendering distrust:”The White House now appears to be telling Congress that there was no deal to protect the pharmaceutical industry from further cuts. Max Baucus is now saying there was no deal to protect the pharmaceutical industry from further cuts. That could be because they're breaking the deal or it could be because Billy Tauzin misrepresented the deal or it could be because Billy Tauzin misunderstood the deal.In any case, health-care reform is important. If the White House has to break its secret friendship pact with Bill Tauzin, then so be it.”This is part of the attitude that I find very corrosive to a honest, liberal, society, and it is part of what drives me to madness.

  2. “The protesters believe the government capable of madness. There is no evidence for that claim, which means that there is no answer for it, either.”This is a stunning statement. The most generous interpretation I can think of is that Mr. Klein means “THIS government/administration” isn't capable of madness. But even then that would make the statement suspect. And even if it were true that THIS administration isn't capable of madness that doesn't mean a future administration wouldn't be capable of madness.

  3. It is easy to trust the state as you are becoming integrated into its class of professional apologists.

  4. WillA few scattered comments. First off, the acts of madness you list – the invasion of Iraq, torture, spying on Americans, etc – are things most of the people currently protesting health care reform would not recognize as madness. The vast majority of them hail from political demographics which overwhelmingly approved of those actions. What you define as madness is not what they define as madness. And that matters. Saying the U.S. government is capable of engaging in an immoral and stupid war, or is capable of descending into a police state, is a rather different matter from saying it is capable of euthanizing its own senior citizens. And since the parts of the government that have been historically associated with health care have in fact behaved much more reasonably than other parts – such as the national security infrastructure – I think Ezra's critique has considerably more bite than you are allowing. (So yes, I accept.)Secondly, in what world does the health care reform currently being pushed (with varying degrees of intensity) by Obama and the Democrats constitute “the party line?” Surely not this one. This is one of the most radical proposals for domestic policy in decades. (Which is a sad observation, given how modest the proposed changes to health care are in comparison to the systems of most other western nations.) The party line on health care in America is precisely what the Republicans and the current protesters at the town hall meetings and so forth are defending. The House Democrats, Ezra Klein, and others of their ideological ilk are the ones thinking outside the box on this one.

  5. In a healthy relationship, the law does not give one party the authority to kidnap the other party, hold them against their will, and execute them if they fail to comply with its demands. Our relationship with the government is nothing like an interpersonal relationship between equals. We should exercise constant skepticism and scrutiny of the people and institutions to whom we give such awesome power.

  6. Well, I guess the irony here is that the people who are convinced that the government is capable of madness vis a vis health care (and other “liberal” initiatives) are, by and large, the same people who think that the polices which you (rightly, IMO) call “madness” are just fine and dandy. Now, I'm not sure what the ultimate implication of this is. I certainly see where YOU'RE going with it, and even sympathize to some extent, but let's be honest: we are at a moment in time where libertarianism is increasingly marginalized, with no constituency at all in the two major political parties. I'll say this: as blinkered and often unwise as the contemporary American left is, movement conservatism is a truly demented ideology, and I have no hesitation choosing sides. It is hard for me to see any peaceful resolution of the current situation. As much as I am increasingly libertarian in outlook, when the bullets start flying I will be firmly on the side of Ezra and his friends.

  7. Umm yes Will….the acts you liken to “madness” are all heartily approved by the teabagger demographic. Even and especially the ability of the state to execute the death penalty.The protestors heartily approved all those things when one of their own tribe was president.But you are right that the protestors are afraid…..Obama is the Other.He's black.He isn't in their tribe, and has no reason to promote their interests over the interests of his own tribe.Look at the townhalls….angry, old and white. The New Core Demographic of the Shrunken GOP–> people you could meet at a Klan rally.

  8. “It requires an amazing kind of selective amnesia to think that there is “no evidence’ that the U.S. government is “capable of madness.” The government of the United States invaded Iraq and its agents have killed many tens of thousands people on the basis of the fact that some Saudis trained in Afganistan flew planes into the World Trade Center, plus some lies. Torture, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, etc. I call that madness. Of course, Ezra means the other parts of government concerned with domestic affairs. But not the parts that break into peoples’ houses and destroy their lives for selling contraband herbs, or that subject us constantly to mendacious propaganda about drugs. Our government — and by extension our fellow citizens — is capable of terrible things and proves it every single day. Is it really possible to love government so much, to invest so much hope in its benevolent efficacy, that we grow blind to its evident capacity for evil? Anyway, there must be some parts of the government that are not capable of madness. Ezra invites us to think about those when considering health care reform. Will you accept?”Well, okay…but the people who presently oppose health care reform most vigorously aren't really worried about those things either.

  9. I haven't seen a single post here disagreeing with Will that isn't full of ad hominem, non sequitur, and straw men.For all of you commenting, the response that “but most of the protestors supported the war in Iraq and its policies!” is an utter non sequitur. No, it doesn't matter.All of you using the term “teabagger” are utterly ridiculous and hypocritical when you then complain about the “hate” of the protestors.And you don't have to think that the government is actively going to euthanize people to believe that, just like the insurance companies have a financial incentive to deny care to people, the government will have a financial incentive to deny care under the new system. No one is claiming that denial of care or deciding that it's not rational to spend money on someone will be born out of a malicious desire to euthanize; it would be imposed, if at all, by a perfectly rational impersonal formula. Everyone applying the rules will be personally very unhappy that they have to turn down the requested care.

  10. But the people who presently oppose health care reform most vigorously aren't really worried about those things either.Even setting aside the point that quite a few libertarians oppose both, so? Do you really think that that is some sort of argument?Most of the people who presently support health care reform supported the Iraq War at one time, support rendition, and certainly support the War on Particular Drugs. (See the records of Biden, Feinstein, Dodd, and others on drugs.) So?

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  12. Well, Im just naming a new demographic which seems solely the provenance of the new downsized GOP, based on empirical data.Would you prefer I call the teabagger demographic Klan-lite?The definition of madness is when the other tribes guy does it.I didn't say hate.

  13. That's not much of an irony, is it? It's entirely possible to believe the government is capable of madness without also believing that the war in Iraq is an instance of it.

  14. Actually Teabagger demographic is a good name, now that I think about it.People that attended the Teaparty rallies always puzzled me.What were they protesting?They never protested their own guys outrageous fiscal irresponsiblity, and indeed GW instantiated the TARP and saddled our kids with the initial giant deficit that Obama has been forced to build on.See? Only madness when Obama does it…..The word “teabagger” also emphasizes a gender gap in the new reduced GOP, and how out of touch with youth culture the old white guy party is.I think it works.;)

  15. Will…that is the solution…if conservative leadership could give the base some ownership in healthcare reform they could get sane about it.Unfortunately Demint and Bohner and Cantor have already framed their goal as “Break Obama” and equivilanced that with “stop healthcare reform”, it is “his waterloo”.So that gets the teabagger demographic all whipped up, but unfortunately it means healthcare reform gets wholly owned by the democrats.And healthcare reform WILL happen.Demagoguery and disinformation was perhaps a good tactical strategy….but strategically a loozer.lawls.

  16. A bit on “the demonstrated willingness of Democrats, both politician and wonk, to dissemble about whether or not they’re trying to set in motion a chain reaction toward a single-payer system” which “practically demands distrust.”I don't disagree that the dissembling engenders distrust. I wonder, however, how awful the plan itself actually is. I, for one, am a big fan of France's medical system (and I've seen it firsthand). Nonetheless, I would be extremely skeptical about any attempt to just replicate it here by fiat. The beauty of the chain reaction is that it only works if it works. The government system is set up, and if people don't like it, they don't flock to it. No chain reaction.The progressives seem fairly committed to the idea that the health care industry is a prime example of a (large set of) market failure(s). They believe that, for a variety of reasons (e.g. the inability of consumers to be intelligently cost-conscious when it comes to their health, thus negating the price determining function of the market) that health care can never be a functioning market. Others take a different view.What's interesting about the proposals that are actually on the table (as far as I understand them) is that they do two things at once: set up what looks to be a much better set of rules for the market, to see if we can construct a rational market based solution, while simultaneously providing, within the context of the newly rationalized market, a government option that would sort of automatically take over, in the event the market collapsed.To the extent that the players are dissembling, and are trying not to rationalize the market, but to rig it to collapse, forcing everyone into the government system, I agree that they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces. However, the actual proposals being floated don't sound like that to me (e.g. Pelosi agrees that the public plan will have to pay back its start-up costs and otherwise compete on a relatively level playing field).Why is the leadership giving up concessions like this if they really want single-payer (i.e. socialized medicine) or even a nationalized system like the VA where the government actually runs the hospitals directly? I suspect that it is because they really believe the above about the intrinsic uselessness of the market in re: health care. They could be wrong, but to the extent that centrists are forcing them to set up an honest trial, they're willing to take the chance.As for those who aren't centrists or leftists (or marginal players like libertarians – sorry Will), there's a reason Bill Kristol fears socialized medicine: he too thinks it will work better enough to delegitimate the Republican party for decades to come. But do we really want to allow them to (to repeat myself from Will's next post) demagogue the issue into oblivion?

  17. ' The beauty of the chain reaction is that it only works if it works. The government system is set up, and if people don't like it, they don't flock to it. No chain reaction.”Cascade failures don't work that way. It is entirely possible, and LIKELY given even a basic understanding of how the American political-bureaucracy and market forces work, that the structure of the system is such that it can and will 'fail' in a way the system gets worse and worse until the only 'solution' is single payer. There have been several talks on health reform over at the cato institute that deal with building a model to explain how the political system will devolve into a monstrosity. Due to market segmentation, and the shear boringness and complexity of these works, you probably haven't heard much about it.The typical discussion of these places explaining the failure usually is something like this:”According to this model of the political-medical market, one obvious monopolistic behavior we can expect from a government institution, like one of the ones proposed, is to creation of laws that give comparative advantage to these agents, which will result in a failure to the system here and here, due to market forces, and ultimately will result in a system looking like this. Given the way political incentives flow, this model explains that the best solution at this point will be 'digging the hole deeper', and the likely result of such an outcome is a final 'solution' of something like a single payer mandate, or possibly some sort of oligopolistic market that looks like one of these three or four scenarios (which one depends on how the system cascades farther out from now). Our best estimate of the result of such a system is a long run lowering of the quality of medical services and technology and higher costs in general, resulting in market access looking like this, and as such this is a terrible idea to even set foot down this path.”And they'd have facts and data in the middle, brining the whole thing to like an hour or two or three.Now you can do that with the opposition in the room, and we can try to have a civilized long debate on the accuracy of the models or possibly solutions to obvious fail points, or you can tweet out: Democrats want to put grandma on an iceflow. A statement which is less wrong then the opposition wants it to be (It's probably only 150 centiCuils* from the truth)And honestly, given the fact that when ever you TRY to have the above serious debate, the other side kind of just throws out an attack, ignores what you say, or brings up some normative statement… why bother? We can predict to explain the likely outcomes of the debate, and we know how it will degenerate, where, and to some extent why.Failure is to be expected, and it's terrible for democracy. It would be better if we lived in a world where we never had to choose the lesser of two evils, where we'd have discussions for hours and then in the end declare the winner a philosopher king, and all live as Bayesian rationalists, or whatever. We don't live in that world though.*Cuils are a measure how abstract something is from reality. 1 cuil is one level of abstraction.

  18. But aren't you demographically delegitimated anyways?Why not do the right thing, since you are going down?

  19. That's kind of a weak nonsequitor Will, worthy of Ezra himself. Salafism, is a key factor to both the 9/11 attacks, and to a good part of the Iraqi resistance. To get information from the likes of KSM it is necessary to engage in more than witty banter. Now these techniques must be used sparingly, because they can be abused, for sadistic ways like Abu Ghraib. Rendition was the hypocritical compromise that allowed us to obtain that information with 'clean hands' from handlers in Cairo and Damascus, but that was anything but.

  20. Certainly the government is capable of madness, and in this I must agree with your point (and disagree with Ezra).However, the leap from “possible madness” to “probable madness” is immense, and makes all the difference in this debate. If one takes the position that it is at least theoretically possible that the government would eventually impose euthanasia, you must then take the view that is it ALSO theoretically possible that private insurers would do the same thing (through simple denial of claims).In fact, an argument from free market principles would demand that competitive private insurers will allocate resources (health care) at near optimal efficiency. Government, on the other hand, is quite comfortable with suboptimal outcomes in defense of the public welfare.The question then becomes if it is optimally efficient to cover the very sick. The existence of “pre existing” clauses in most insurance is a clear answer to that question. It is NOT efficient to insure the old, and the sick. And yet, we somehow expect free market mechanisms to cover this segment?In the limit, it is certainly possible that the government would find it's way to deciding who lives or dies. It's is CERTAIN that private institutions will put themselves in that position, not least because they already evince much of that stance. If this were a one-sided issue, it would clearly be rational to distrust the government. Unfortunately, in this case DIStrust of government is effectively TRUST of corporations, and that is indeed irrational.

  21. Why bother? Really? I mean, really really? Anyway, I've said more on this in the next topic (about the relative legitimacy of the Myanmar regime), and here will only say that the idea that 'Democrats want to put grandma on an iceflow' is 'a statement which is less wrong then the opposition wants it to be' and only 1.5 levels of abstraction beyond some probable medium term outcome of any systemic reform that is even remotely on the table in the actual political process is just wrong. And saying it is not only unfair to your opponents on this issue, but as Ezra tried to say toxic to the whole of our social order. More toxic than his comments on the acceptability of screwing Billy Tauzin? Now we're back to arguing who's got motes in their eyes and who has logs, but 'why bother' is about the worst response.

  22. They never protested their own guys outrageous fiscal irresponsiblity, and indeed GW instantiated the TARP and saddled our kids with the initial giant deficit that Obama has been forced to build on.

    Certainly both parties are at fault, but Republicans actually voted against the idiotic TARP more than Democrats. And I'd say that TARP and the spending is a big reason why Republicans stayed home or voted for other guys in the 2006 and 2008 elections.You seem to be the one who is defining it as evil only when the other tribe's guy does it, you hypocrite. Obama hasn't been “forced to build on” TARP; he was in favor of it from the start, voted for it, and has does nothing but extend it.To me, you're one who's defending the Bush-Obama joint policies only when Obama does it as well.I hated TARP before, and I hate it now.

  23. let's be honest: we are at a moment in time where libertarianism is increasingly marginalized, with no constituency at all in the two major political parties. I'll say this: as blinkered and often unwise as the contemporary American left is, movement conservatism is a truly demented ideology, and I have no hesitation choosing sides.

    A fine argument by itself when it comes time to vote, but what at all does that have to do with opposing current government non-libertarian policies? Would even appearing at a protest force you to vote for a certain party?The fact that neither party is particularly libertarian is an argument for favoring obstruction of both parties' political goals.

  24. Government, on the other hand, is quite comfortable with suboptimal outcomes in defense of the public welfare.The question then becomes if it is optimally efficient to cover the very sick. The existence of “pre existing” clauses in most insurance is a clear answer to that question. It is NOT efficient to insure the old, and the sick. And yet, we somehow expect free market mechanisms to cover this segment?

    And yet, the President's argument is that private insurers are far too willing to pay for care when it isn't worth it, like taking tonsils out. His argument is that our care isn't efficient enough in Medicare, and it should be more efficient, and that we can establish a formula, just like the insurers do, to make care more efficient.

    Unfortunately, in this case DIStrust of government is effectively TRUST of corporations, and that is indeed irrational.

    But not trust of any one corporation. It's trust that having the ability to choose, the ability to leave, and the effects of bad publicity on those abilities, and the ability of government through laws and courts to enforce laws and contract.I never understand why it makes more sense to trust a monopoly that has its own armed forces, can make things legally classified, and can only be sued when it allows itself to be so.

  25. In the limit, it is certainly possible that the government would find it's way to deciding who lives or dies. It's is CERTAIN that private institutions will put themselves in that position, not least because they already evince much of that stance.

    But Obama and his Administration also already evince much of that stance too, so that's equally CERTAIN. I'd rather have the right to a second opinion.

  26. But you will always have the right to that second opinion. In the same way that you have the right to a fair trial today, or representation in government today. If you think a system in which there are no options other than the government available at any price will ever be constructed in this country, well, I just don't know what to say. Canada's system is not on the table. The wealthy will always have access to more here. We may (or may not!) be moving toward a gentle socialism, but real authoritarian communism is not ever going to happen in this country. The haves have to much to lose in any transition to such a system, which is why we fund institutions like Cato.

  27. “And yet, the President's argument is that private insurers are far too willing to pay for care when it isn't worth it, like taking tonsils out”I'm not really defending the President's arguments, nor those of his critics. The debate about healthcare is larger than, and independent of, any one viewpoint. The President may well be wrong on this point, without undermining the larger issue of free market health services.”But not trust of any one corporation. It's trust that having the ability to choose, the ability to leave, and the effects of bad publicity on those abilities, and the ability of government through laws and courts to enforce laws and contract.”What, exactly, do you believe you can choose? Lets posit for a moment that there is no such thing as a free lunch, that you get what you pay for. In that case, your choice boils down to what medical procedures you will refuse versus how much you will pay. So yes, you can decide to treat 3 of 4 malignant tumors. That's a false choice, it's like being able to decide whether you are shot or stabbed. The fact of your illness removes any actual choice you might have had.”I never understand why it makes more sense to trust a monopoly that has its own armed forces, can make things legally classified, and can only be sued when it allows itself to be so.”Because while the government has the capability for abuse, corporations have the *motive* for it. It's one thing to trust your life to someone who CAN harm you, it's another to trust someone who's continued profitability DEPENDS on it.

  28. Now we're veering into partisan ideology. You are certainly entitled to your opinion re: Obama, but unfortunately it makes any substantive discussion moot.

  29. Their complete obliviousness to romantic blindness to the dangers, and incredibly bad track record, of the state would be hilarious if it weren't so common.

  30. I teach American Government & Politics to Canadians. I am an American by birth and upbringing. I have read and reread about the institutional foundations of our system. All these commentators saying that if this fails then “our system is broken” is a bunch of damn hogwash. It is proof the system works exactly the way it was meant to work and has worked for centuries. Rapid change is not allowed by the system except when a LARGE majority support it. From the latest gallup poll, albeit not the best measure of what is at issue, report this finding… 35% for, 36% against, and 29% unsure… mind you that is on a bill that NO ONE seems to know what it entails.http://www.gallup.com/poll/122234/Constituents-…Ezra might really want healthcare reform, but these numbers are not a sign of a 'sick democracy'. These aren't a few whiners showing up to the party and making a mess (read tea baggers). This is a substantial subsection of the population, and it isn't like 65 percent really really want it. For all his fame, I really wonder if he ever paid attention in his American politics courses or if he was all Social Democracy all the time. The fact that everyone can get all outraged and show up and talk to their Congressperson is a really cool show and something I bet no damn European would be able to do with their MEP. In the end, framing on both sides has done a huge disservice to the debate. Calling involved, though angry citizens a symptom of a broken democracy really gets my blood boiling. You want to see a broken democracy? USA 1861… Thank God I am in Toronto for the remainder of my PhD, because it gives me a outside view of the madness.

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  32. If you were to replace 'the state' with 'unchecked power' you might have something there. As it is, I wonder what better technology than governments instituted among men (for all their many and obvious and occasionally severe failings) have we developed in the last 200 or so years to secure the natural rights of men?

  33. “I get fed up when intensely ideological partisans, left or right, start to officiously scold a skeptical democratic public for failing democracy by veering wildly from the party line.”This is just so much hogwash. Please get down off your high horse. No one's scolding a skeptical public. People are at a loss for for how to deal with a frenzied, incoherent mob. But health reform proponents will take all comers for a rational, good-faith debate, and you know it.

  34. First off, I'm going to give your statement far more attention then it probably deserves in the sense that your's is a two sentence reply to a reply of a reply to a post on a blog. But since your offense is so obvious, and the position so outrageous and esoteric, I feel I need to make a defense of the position that it is probably better in this universe if Republicans do engage in these tactics then not. More so, I'm thinking of starting a weblog of my own, and I feel this is good practice for the real thing.I'm going to argue something really bizarre here that won't be obvious at first. I'm going to argue that this intellectual confrontation fails at a higher level then people are used to, and attempt to bring this to a meta-debate. A debate about the nature of the debate, since you're the one who seems to believe we have some higher duty to debate in all debates honestly, and I disagree, I think it's fair to extend this out.My first point is that you need to recognize that it is possible to analyze a debate at the meta level. We can point to a confrontation between say, a conservative host of a popular program against these bills, and a member of a progressive institution designed for promoting health care reform who is in favor of them. Ask yourself assuming both players are at the height of their skill in managing the positions, how will the debate go down? What sort of tactics might the conservative try to convince the audience that the progressive man is wrong? What sort of techniques might the progressive try to dodge these attacks? What sort of arguments will be applied on both sides? Assume this encounter is of decent size say, about 15 to 25 minutes enough time for both players to get out a decent argument or two, a few counter points without feeling pressured by time, but without being able to demagogue on and on or repeat points. I listen to a lot of debates on health reform, a lot of reforms actually, and I can tell you that certain arguments crop up over and over, in much the same way two chess players might have a well developed opening move set. Some players are really good, and so the debate is entertaining, and some players are terrible so the debate is one-sided or boring, and some players are just jerks who ignore the moves of the other player and use their position to get away with idiocy or to frame the whole thing as some sort of self reinforcing circle jerk. But assuming both players are good we know what kind of move sets are going to be played, what sort of arguments will be used, and defenses to those arguments, and counter plays and so forth. It's entertaining!I heard an example of the exchange in the car not long after making my post above. It was possibly the best 'fight' I've seen outside of the web, with excellent players, but it was just one-sided. Here's why.The conservative host attacks by going for the generalized position (Universal Health care will result in X), and the liberal tried to defend for a while, but ultimately went for a clever dodge. At about the right time you'd expect him to, he'd say something like “None of that's on the table, let's just debate the bill on the table,” which is a really good dodge that assumes one's opponent has neither read 5 Atlas Shrugged sized novels, nor has the legalized experience to debate the text in the manner it means.For the vast majority of opponents this is a really decent tactic, since even if your opponent has skimmed or attempted to read the text it's unlikely they are also a lawyer. And most don't even bother to find something terrible in the bill. It was thus a surprise to me and the interviewee when the host parried the counter-attack. The obvious parry (Actually attempting to debate sections of the bill, pointing out some discrepencies between the senate and house versions, and so on), resulted in the obvious roll out of it again, “you just don't understand what the bill 'really means'.”Like I said, it's an OK roll, since most of us are not experts at handling complex legal text, and something that in the common tongue looks bad is really just germane in the legal world.Except, that Roll DOESN'T WORK when you're talking lawyer who worked as a law clerk on the Supreme Court of the US. The audience, but no the interviewee, is well aware of the host's expertise. Her Law-Peen, if you will, was too big for him to roll out of the way of, and he just looked pathetic. While she graciously refused to slap him with it, to anyone 'in the know' it was basically an auto-fail.More importantly, the host had taken the time to setup an argument before the interview to the audience that laws should be readable by the commons, and we shouldn't require experts to determine what exactly law should or should not be, and that it is morally reprehensiable (and un-American), to produce laws in this manner.So it was a double failure.I did not get to hear the rest of the debate, but this microcosm is an example of where we can see some of the tactics used by the left in this debate, the counters and counters to those counters, and while not every debate will be the same way in the same way no two chess games will be the same, certain plays and their counters will crop up across different games and styles of play.Using this analysis, we can make a prediction of what a platonic version of the debate might look like. In a perfect game of checkers the game ends in a draw. What might the perfect intellectual debate between conservatives and liberals look like?This is MY point. I have a general idea of what that debate might look like. While I might personally be able to execute the moves in the debate as nicely as the best players on both sides, I've played it a few times myself so I know what strategies tend to work and what don't, and I really find it debating this topic terrible.The match ups degenerate into boring routines. While the democrats and liberals have over the years been trying out new move sets and openers, they're still largely just playing gambits (some of which have failed), since they know they're going to lose the debate if they play the normal game.In the latest match they tried to throw the opposition off footing by opening with a counter to the “Your program basically costs infinite.” They tried to start a lie that their program would SAVE money, a ridiculous notion that no one who is honest accepts. It's a terrible move political and intellectually, and they only did it because the players involved either lied to themselves so much they think their counter is the truth, or they were hoping it'd catch the opposition off their game and allow them to sneak in a cheap hit or two to construct a solid foundation for the rest of the fight. The plays after that would probably have been a quick smack into pragmatic defenses “Something must be done NOW”, or “Let's debate the bills at hand, not some hypothetical (but totally awesome) plan that our bill in no way is leading to (but we would not be sad if it secretly did)”. Finally, as the opposition began to rally, a few quick appeals to normative debate and fast foot work in the political or media arena might help set up a win that otherwise would be a very very bad matchup.There's really no escaping that it's a bad matchup, and terrible to watch. While in this current debate there are some advantages the Democrats have that can result in a 'political victory', intellectually they can only win through luck.So my point is this. Since both sides 'are aware'* that the match favors, intellectually, the conservative positions, why are we going through the debate? Liberals have to spend some effort setting up an opening salvo and preparing for the intellectual and emotional baggage of losing, and the conservative position has to go through a long tedious process of examining the arguments

    of liberals, and decoding and debunking the arguments, while remaining cohesive, relevant, witty, entertaining, maintaining status games, not exhausting the intellectual reserves of themselves, blah blah blah.Debating the topic is a negative sum game for all players involved. And from where I'm standing, the only reason you guys want to have the debate is because you know that it's a negative sum game, and that it would annoy your opponent's more to have to win a match that is in their favor, rather then just conceding. Liberals are using one way hash arguments to try to sneak out a win, because with a bit of luck it is entirely possible to win this.One Way hash problems present a very serious threat to intellectual debate, since they are the debate equivalent of Terrorism or Rogue States. North Korea does not stand a chance against the United States in any meaningful way, but by having a very serious threat (missiles pointed at South Korea, and a large standing army), they can massively overstate their power in the field and possibly force out concessions and advantages that another less 'crazy' nation would get. Even if the US responded with an attack, all it does it make the US worse off, and such an attack might even benefit the North Koreans with allies they otherwise would not get in the fight.In much the same way, A liberal intellectual position like: “We are attempting to bend the Cost Curve” is a one-way hash argument designed to throw a monkey wrench against the obvious allies the conservative position would have at this time. Conservative intellectuals are rightly pissed since unfolding the nonsense of these liberal positions is so difficult, and HONESTLY debating it so not worth their time and likely to, in fact, estrange some of the audience who would default to their position, it leaves them with few alternatives.They can either suck it up and play the negative sum game, and hope they are good enough players to win, despite the disadvantages in playing fair.Or they can punish Democrats for breaking the rules of intellectual engagement. While both sides lose, it is a bit easier to do and isn't as costly to engage. In this way, “grandma on an iceflow” is like sending Bill Clinton to North Korea for a photo-op.We may not be happy with the result, but ultimately I think we can both agree that the outcomes of this is much better for both sides.*It is very common for people to believe their chances of victory in unfavorable encounters is much higher then it actually is. This is in part because these people play against terrible opponents that get their hope up of their chances, or because they are lying to themselves for ego reasons and just hoping they get lucky. Even if liberals are much better at winning the argument in pick-up matches, we should measure the 'tier' quality on the grounds of the highest levels of skill. Careful analysis of the match, what both players want to do, and their possible outs and counters reveals which positions are stronger then the others.TL;DRIntellectual terrorism!http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=741

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  36. okfine let us recap and return to topic.The mob of angry old white people besieging townhalls are not frightened by generic power-mad government, they are frightened by a black president.QED–> the teaparty protests against Obama doing the exact same things they approved/ignored GW doing.Will admits the GOP is demagouging healthcare reform because the GOP is either unable or unwilling to invest the teabagger demographic in an attractive GOP solution that would give the base part ownwership of healthcare reform.So Will, don't pretend the teabaggers fear the madness of government.They fear the madness of Obama.

  37. And following Kristol's “policy” that allowing any democrat-owned success in healthcare reform (however meager, and even if “socilistic”) is degitimizing the party and dooming it to rump status anyways is one of the most astonishing statements I have ever heard Will make.He just acknowledged out loud that the GOP doesn't give a crap about the actual needs of their base and the GOP justs demagogues and fearmongers the base to scam their votes.

  38. But the teabagger demographic only protests against Obama.There were no teaparties with screams of socialism and tyrannny against GW's TARP.There were no screams of socialist and fiscal irresponsibilty when GW signed off on the unfunded senior drug bill.Admit truth John.The teabagger demographic is protesting against Obama, not healthcare reform.

  39. and….inspite the insistance that the teaparties were “bipartisan” who do we see on tv?angry old white people. republican people. the make-up of the crowd is striking to me.I am not defending anything….I am merely pointing out that the protestors did not protest Bush's actions while they are are rabidly protesting about Obama doing the same things.It doesn't matter what the GOP leadership did about TARP, we are talking about the base.Bush-Obama “joint policies” is sort of a big lie, don't you think? Obama complains quite a lot about having to clean up after Bush, and he deplored TARP too, but said it was necessary. Are you saying the prescription drug benefit was a “joint policy”?You are as mad as the hatter at the Teaparty.;)

  40. Yes, the claim that the U.S. would wrongfully invade a country and the claim that the U.S. would set up “death panels” to euthanize Sarah Palin's baby are both equally credible.

  41. There were no teaparties with screams of socialism and tyrannny against GW's TARP.

    Hahaha. The Bush-Obama TARP? Yes, the House Republicans voted against it the first time for nothing, and tons of Republicans stayed home in didn't vote in 2008 for no reason.

    There were no screams of socialist and fiscal irresponsibilty when GW signed off on the unfunded senior drug bill.

    Bwa-ha-ha! That's a good one. When that bipartisan unfunded bill was passed, there was a lot of criticism.Sure, I'll admit that criticism, particular among actual Republican political officials, was muted because one of “their guys” was in office. It's an idiotic thing about human nature. It hardly means that conservatives liked those actual proposals. They viewed them as political compromises necessary to remain in office.But the complaining grew louder and louder as he stayed in office, and culminated with lots of Republican voters staying home in 2006 and 2008.TARP and the unfunded senior drug bill were among the most bipartisan things that Bush did, along with No Child Left Behind.

  42. Obama complains quite a lot about having to clean up after Bush, and he deplored TARP too, but said it was necessary.

    And Bush claimed to deplore TARP, but said it was necessary. Same thing with the idiotic bailout of the car manufacturers. Both Bush and Obama claim that they hate these socialistic policies, but that they're necessary to save the economy.

    Are you saying the prescription drug benefit was a “joint policy”?

    Yes. The only difference is that the congressional Democrats wanted the benefits to go farther and for price controls on the drug industry. But they certainly didn't want it to have less of an effect on the deficit, if you look at the CBO analyses.No Child Left Behind was bipartisan too, you know.You're as mad as some of the people you criticize. Obama can do exactly the same thing as Bush and you defend Obama and hate Bush.

  43. Because while the government has the capability for abuse, corporations have the *motive* for it.

    The government and its citizens don't have a motive to save money? What a bizarre statement.Consider mutual health insurance, life insurance, auto insurance companies. They don't have shareholders or owners outside the policyholders. Yet they do still deny claims, because each policyholder has a financial incentive that everyone else's claims get denied while theirs get upheld. Of course, that's because those other jerks lie and cheat the system whereas I never would.How would the government have different incentives than a mutual?With Medicare, all the seniors can band together and say that all the non-seniors should subsidize them. If everyone is covered, everyone has an incentive to form alliances and fight and protest to make sure that their group is favored and other claims are not. Government coverage for ED drugs will look stupid until you need it. Govermnent coverage for psychological care will look like a waste except to people who get it.

  44. strangelet: by your consistent use of “teabagging”, you have an obvious fascination with scrotums. Don't understand your scrotum obsession with what is being discussed on this post.

  45. Now we're veering into partisan ideology. You are certainly entitled to your opinion re: Obama, but unfortunately it makes any substantive discussion moot.

    It's not partisan ideology any more than your statement that “private insitutions already evince much of that stance” is partisan ideology. Private insurance indeed definitely decides what it is does and does not want to cover, on the basis of efficiency. The President is not calling for an end to that system; he agrees that certain procedures should be funded and not others. Sometimes people should get the painkiller instead of the operations. Sometimes you should have the cheaper generic instead of the name brand. He agrees with the critique that says that Medicare as well as private insurance covers unnecessary, inefficient care. That sometimes doctors order tonsils taken out when they should just prescribe antibiotics.He's certainly not calling for an end to someone deciding what should and should not be covered. He's just arguing that an appropriately constituted governmental body could make those decisions better than private insurance, and could save money by getting rid of unnecessary care and also encouraging more efficient care.

  46. But health reform proponents will take all comers for a rational, good-faith debate, and you know it.

    OK, rational good-faith argument.Proposition: The problem with healthcare claims being denied clearly cannot be health insurance profit and greed. The problems would occur in a government-run plan as well, because they stem from the self-interest of everyone with health insurance.Argument: There are plenty of non-profit health insurance companies, and mutual health insurance companies (where the only owners are the policyholders.) These do not have noticeably lower premiums or better coverage; if they did, everyone would flock to those plans. Employers would flock to them as well, as it would save money and make their employees happier, also saving them money.The origin of the problem is that everybody has an incentive that everybody else's claims get denied, in order to keep premiums down, while their own claims (and those of their family) get approved. Insurance is about sharing costs. The same incentives would exist under a government-run plan. With the current Medicare, the elderly can ban together in order to extract money from those not in Medicare to pay for services. If everyone were in Medicare, then people covered would all be pitted against each other.It is unavoidable that a government-run plan would have to make choices about what to cover and not to cover, and those decisions would be made in exactly the same way as non-profit and mutual health insurance companies currently, and suffer the same sort of complaints.One difference is that with a government-run plan, your best chance of affecting what is covered would be through political protest, perhaps including being a frenzied, incoherent mob such as the one that attacked Dan Rostenkowski and forced the repeal of the Medicare expansion of 1988. With private insurance, your best chance would be the threat of leaving, the importance of reputation, and the importance of the courts in upholding the laws and making sure that you weren't cheated. Some people argue that it's easier to influence government and to trust government to do the right thing than competing corporations regulated and controlled by the courts; Will's counterargument is understandable.

  47. I'll be honest and say I didn't read you relpy, but I will admit that those employing the impossible-to-address tactics certainly could be assumed to be skeptical, and they are (rightly) being scolded. So in a narrow sense, I am flat wrong.

  48. Nope, I am merely pointing out Will's argument that the Teabagger Demographic is protesting the “madness” of government out of fear is dead wrong.The Klan-lite angry old white incoherent mobs started with the teaparty protests accusing Obama of doing the things GW already did.They are not protesting against healthcare reform, they are protesting Obama.It is obvious.

  49. actually I am fascinated by cultural evolution and theoretical population genetics and cognitive anthropology.The Teabagger Demographic is a new emergent demographic.I can't think that the msm extreme television coverage of the protestors is good for the GOP's image. In american contemporary culture we like our reality tv show stars to be young and beautiful, like Spencer and Heidi.Everyone wants to go to Cooltown…from the visuals it is abundantly apparent that you can't get to cooltown on the conservative express. 😉

  50. but….conservatives aren't doing any of that.They are just whipping up the base into a socialism froth and promising that defeating healthcare will break Obama and be his Waterloo.Where are these conservative intellectuals you speak of?What I see is Obama playing tit-for-tat.He meets disinformation with disinformation, force-amplification with force-amplification, astro-turfing with astro-proofing.Tit-for-tat is unbeatable.If both sides play fair that maximizes both sides winnings, but once the republicans executed their first cheat move, the game was essentially over..bohica;)

  51. I'm not talking about anarchy. I'm talking about limited government.Apparently, Ezra thinks there's little reason to limit it because the only good reason to do that would be if we thought it was capable of madness. And, of course, thinking that would be unhealthy.

  52. Will, the basic problem is the exodus of moderates, youth, college-grads, etc from the GOP has moved the party farther right, and the only way to communicate with the remaining base anymore is demagoguery and scaremongering.That worked when the leadership actually had the best interests of their constituency at heart. But now the GOP is just fighting for survival.Kristol is right….ANY healthcare reform will be enough better than what we have currently that it further marginalize his shrinking party.

  53. Klein is a fool.3 words: Mao, Stalin, Hitler.If they don't represent government madness, then I don't know what does.

  54. People are tired of being lied to by Obama and told that 2+2=5. They see the deficit and debt and know that health care and all of Obama's other plans will add to it. Yet, Obama claims he won't raise their taxes. That is a flat-out lie and people know it.When you are being lied to so openly, the only proper response is rage.

  55. Call them what you like. I call them pissed off at liars like Obama.And I call you a Stalin-licker.

  56. This is just false.The core of the “tea party” movement grew out of the Ron Paul movement.There are a lot of mainstream conservatives who have jumped on the bandwagon, but the original tea party protests grew out of the anti-tax element in the Paul movement.The Paul guys were out demonstrating against Bush and the group of candidates who endorsed the Bush legacy at every Republican event during the primary season. You just IGNORED those people and derided them, so to YOU these protests are entirely new.

  57. Excellent points on the whole but you have the typical libertarian underlying assumptions present:”But not the parts that break into peoples’ houses and destroy their lives for selling contraband herbs, or that subject us constantly to mendacious propaganda about drugs. Our government — and by extension our fellow citizens — is capable of terrible things and proves it every single day. Is it really possible to love government so much, to invest so much hope in its benevolent efficacy, that we grow blind to its evident capacity for evil? “…which doesn't make sense without a background assumption that the alternative – the status quo, or the free market – is not evil. Libertarians have a little mental disneyland in which business is over here, and government is over there. Or even if they admit that the two are intermixed, and that the coercive force of the government is put to use by business interests for any manner of evil, including and especially our current insurance system, they would like us to accept an ideal Adam Smith/Econ 101 mental model in which they're in separate corners. It's a nice clean fantasy world where one is Good and the other is Evil.But it's not a useful starting point – democratically elected politicians and massive corporations act in concert, they coordinate and nobody has a good answer for untangling them.

  58. oh sure, but that is a separate demographic….the Paulites or Paulbots. The Teabaggers are a seperable demographic.The ronpaul supporters are much less numerous, and demographically very disparate from the teabaggers. A lot of Ron Paul supports are young, and tech savvy, and self-define as libertarians, not conservatives.

  59. For the record, I don't really have a problem with a single payer system. ( we're paying for all this mess as it is, let's at least cover it first, as paying sooner than later usually ends up with a net savings.) considering that, this was the most entertaining post I've read today. I would certainly read a blog by the same author.

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  61. “in what world does the health care reform currently being pushed (with varying degrees of intensity) by Obama and the Democrats constitute “the party line?” Surely not this one.”I think perhaps you are confused about the phrase “Party Line”. The Democratic Party is pressing this, thus it is the Party Line. Party line does not mean national tradition.”the acts of madness you list … are things most of the people currently protesting health care reform would not recognize as madness.”And the same could be said, though for a completely different set of people during, say, the period 1993-2000, of Carnivore, Echelon, rendition, detention of foreigners without trial on the basis of secret evidence (Mazen al-Najjar? Nasser Ahmed?), the wars on Somalis, Serbians, Afghanis, and Sudanese, …. As Will said, it requires a selective kind of amnesia, chiefly that of remembering only the good that your guy did and only the bad that the other side's guy did.The comment immediately above, noting the Tuskegee Syphillis Study, is on target. We might also discuss some interesting stuff that happened to Japanese-Americans under FDR, or blacks and anarchists under Wilson, or the interest among Progressives and socialists like Shaw and the Fabians in eugenics. The list is long.

  62. Grassroots movements, unlike the nicely designed astroturf signs of the administration, take time to build. They require the dissemination of information through alternate channels, especially when the only news station that even considers the matter important never actually lays down the exact reasons something is bad, but wreaths the issue in rhetoric to protect their own side.

  63. ummm, pardon, but no.The visual representation of the new Teabagger Demographic is people-who-you-could-meet-at-a-Klan-rally.The Right has been gradually culturally disenfranchised over the past 20 years……but due to the near universal detestation of evangelical Torture President and Gog/Magog fan GW Bush, they were also brutally and instantly disenfranchised politically, 356 to 173 electoral college votes.So they are older, white, and very, very angry.”Real America” i guess.;)

  64. I can also explain easily why Obama didn't fold our tents in MENA and gtfo (what you call aligning with Bush policy).This is why.ALL mil-strategists (including Petraeus) knew the “Surge” could only “work” as long as teh SuperAwesome World Police maintained Big Presence in Baghdad.If we had left right away, then the GOP Teabagger Party could have demagogued the Inevitable Unrallevelling as Cut and Run and Throwing Away “Victory” in Iraq.

  65. well..actually our REPUBLIC is broken.The Founders and Framers wanted parity in representation.However, the right has been being gradually culturally disenfranchised over the past 20 years. Since there was still political parity, that kept the equilibrium.But the right was brutally and instantly politically disenfranchised in the 2008 election.So, crazypants time.

  66. I don't know what cultural disenfranchised means and it seems to be meaningless. If you mean delegitimized, then that might be true. They probably have as much to do with that as the Left. Social norms and culture are not democratically chosen so 'disenfranchised' draws the wrong kind of analogy.Federalist 51 explains the point of the system. Nothing was supposed to be easy. In fact, parties were seen as antithetical to the functioning of the system.And yes, I know it is a REPUBLIC. Nice way to be a troll.

  67. I don't know what cultural disenfranchised means and it seems to be meaningless. If you mean delegitimized, then that might be true. They probably have as much to do with that as the Left. Social norms and culture are not democratically chosen so 'disenfranchised' draws the wrong kind of analogy.Federalist 51 explains the point of the system. Nothing was supposed to be easy. In fact, parties were seen as antithetical to the functioning of the system.And yes, I know it is a REPUBLIC. Nice way to be a troll.

  68. disenfranchised….. to deprive of a franchise, of a legal right, or of some privilege or immunity.hehe, I think the emergence of the Third Culture is the death knell of conservatism.

  69. For the record. Being wrong and lying are not the same thing.So if Will Wilkinson thinks his opponent's a liar, and says his opponent's a liar, Will Wilkinson's not lying. Just wrong.

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