Rhetorical handcuffs

RHETORICAL HANDCUFFS…. The NYT piece this morning on yesterday’s Senate Finance Committee debate on the public option includes plenty of quotes from Republicans on why they oppose the measure. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), for example, called a public plan “a Trojan horse for a single-payer system.” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said a public option would “ultimately force private insurers out of business.”

Noam Scheiber raises a very good point — the left pushes back against GOP falsehoods, but doesn’t actually fear the dire Republican warnings.

If, like me, you support the public option, your first instinct is to dismiss this stuff as typical GOP fear-mongering. But then you think about it and you’re kind of like: “Well, yeah, if we got a public option, I kind of would hope it eventually put private insurers out of business and led to a single-payer system.” Don’t get me wrong — I’m a big fan of the free market. (Okay, a fan.) But it happens to be a complete disaster when it comes to health insurance, owing to problems like adverse selection. (Left to themselves, only unhealthy people would tend to buy insurance, which would drive up costs, which would cause the healthier among them to ditch their insurance, which would drive costs up higher, etc., etc.)

Now, as Jonathan Cohn points out in his latest piece, it turns out you can deal with these problems in a private insurance system. But, as his Dutch example also demonstrates, doing so is incredibly convoluted and requires a ton of intrusive regulation. So, yeah, the idea of creating a public option as a Trojan Horse to end private insurance sounds pretty damn appealing. And I suspect most public-option proponents feel the same way — even if many of them, especially the ones in public office, can’t actually say so.

I’ve found that this is common, and is not at all limited to the public option.

Republicans, for example, will say, “Democratic reform plans would allow public subsidies for abortion.” Progressive reform advocates respond, “That’s a complete distortion — though public funding for women’s reproductive choices isn’t such a bad idea.”

Republicans will say, “Democratic reform plans might let illegal immigrants participate in health care exchange.” Progressive reform advocates respond, “That’s entirely misleading — though there’s an entirely reasonable case to be made that everyone in the country should get coverage.”

And in Scheiber’s example, Republicans argue that a public option will put private insurers out of business. Progressive reform advocates respond, “That’s obviously not true — though single-payer doesn’t sound so bad.”

In other words, Dems are generally steering clear of contentious proposals; Republicans are manufacturing scary-but-false scenarios; and some of us have to push back against accusations relating to ideas we actually like. It’s an awkward rhetorical situation.