The ignored, lonely conservative wonks

THE IGNORED, LONELY CONSERVATIVE WONKS…. About a month ago, I recommended breaking up opponents of health care reform into several groups, because they’re not all driven by the same motivations. We have The Greedy (who profit for the status quo’s failings), The Partisans (who want to deny Democrats a historic policy victory); The Tin-Foil Hats (who are paranoid, delusional conspiracy theorists), and The Dupes (well-intention folks who’ve been misled by the professional liars from the other groups).

There is, however, a tiny fifth category: The Wonks. These are conservatives who actually care about substantive policy details, have read the proposals, and believe there are better ways to improve the system. I think they’re mistaken, but The Wonks are at least worth engaging in debate.

The New York Times reports today on their existence.

Far from embracing the attacks, many leading conservative health care policy experts said in recent interviews that the dynamic was precluding a more robust real-world debate while making it nearly impossible for them to inject their studied, free-market solutions into the discussions.

And they said the focus on what they consider misleading or secondary issues was getting in the way of real questions about the plan they believed worthy of consideration.

“There are serious questions that are associated with policy aspects of the health care reform bills that we’re seeing,” said Gail Wilensky, a veteran health care expert who oversaw the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs for the first President George Bush and advised Senator John McCain in his presidential campaign last year.

Their conservative allies, however, don’t want to hear “serious questions.” They want to spout nonsense, conspiracy theories, bogus scare tactics, and obvious lies — because they’re convinced that’s what wins.

And for all I know, they’re probably right. If the political world had an honest, serious debate, in which credible experts explored real-world solutions, chances are very good progressive reform advocate would win. When it comes to health care and the broken system, the facts just aren’t on conservatives’ side. Indeed, the NYT piece noted some of the conflicts among conservative wonks who realize that a) they want to cut costs from the health care system; b) the most effective ways to save money in the system come from centralized, government decision-making; and c) they’re against centralized, government decision-making.

So, The Wonks don’t get invited to Tea Parties or onto Fox News. They don’t write nutty pieces for the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Their opinions are not sought out by Republican policymakers.

Instead, we’re left with liars and fools, spreading propaganda and nonsense, leaving us with a discourse unbefitting our democracy. It’s a shame the voice of the opposition is stark raving mad, and the idea of an enlightened debate is a naive daydream.