HEALTHCARE NON-DEBATE….Mark Schmitt and Jon Cohn are genteelly arguing about whether presidential candidates ought to release detailed healthcare plans during their campaigns. Jon says yes, Mark says no. Look what happened to Bill Bradley’s healthcare plan, after all.

I am, roughly speaking, on Mark’s side. Phone book plans are worthless at best, and probably even counterproductive in most cases. But then again, it turns out that Jon agrees. It’s all a matter of what you mean by “detailed plan.” This becomes clear when Mark describes what he does want to hear from a candidate:

Are they willing to challenge insurers? Are they willing to challenge those elements of the business lobby that will resist higher taxes or an employer mandate? Indeed, the key to health care is not designing the system, but figuring out what fights to pick and how to win them.

Jon follows up with this:

The basics will suffice. When you say universal coverage, do you mean everybody? If so, by when? Roughly what level of benefits do you consider adequate? Do you want to blow up the whole health care system or simply find a way to patch the holes in coverage? If it’s the former, do you intend to create a single-payer system or craft a system that relies heavily on private insurance? If it’s the latter, how do you intend to pay for your plan, since it probably won’t save enough money to cover the extension of coverage?

It’s hard to see a lot of daylight here. On Mark’s side, I suspect that the questions he wants answered actually require a moderate amount of detail to answer. On Jon’s side, it’s obvious that this moderate amount of detail is roughly what he wants too. Kumbaya, brothers!

But I will say one thing: Details may not be all that important, but strong convictions are. Ronald Reagan might not have issued a 200-page tax plan during his campaign, but there was never the slightest question what he was going to try to do with taxes. Likewise, I don’t need to know precisely which model of national healthcare a candidate supports, but I need to at least hear a strong dedication to the proposition that not one single person should ever find themselves without health insurance. After all, the public will never support this unless someone leads the way.

And I’ll also repeat what I said earlier about Barack Obama: If you decide to go the generalities route, that’s fine. But if you do offer details, they better be good ones. You can’t have it both ways.

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