Criticizing Government Dysfunction Is Not a “Conservative Idea”

There’s a bit of a kerfuffle going on among liberal writers at the moment that really comes down to a difference of opinion about how upset to get about healthcare.gov’s problems (well, it also extends into questions about Twitter herd-think and how women are treated by their male colleagues, but that’s a topic for another day). Some of this reflects the ancient fear of “reinforcing conservative memes” and “playing on enemy turf” and other semi-neurotic themes towards which I don’t personally have a great deal of patience. If progressives ignore the problems with healthcare.gov, will they go away? Well, they may or may not go away eventually, but I’d argue they’ll go away faster if supporters of Obamacare make it abundantly clear it’s an urgent priority. And how can progressives ensure that their criticisms won’t reinforce “conservative memes?” That’s pretty simple: never talk about the subject without making it clear one wants to (a) fix the problems to (b) make Obamacare work and (c) extend health insurance to many millions of Americans. These are not “conservative memes” and do not represent “enemy turf.”

But hey, shouldn’t progressive writers ensure “balance” by letting the conservatives trash healthcare.gov while we keep the focus on the shutdown/default crisis and the extremism of the Republican Party and the conservative movement?

As someone who writes a double-digit batch of posts every weekday, I can certainly walk and chew gum at the same time, and I would hope I’ve written enough about conservative extremism to allay any suspicion that I’m letting them off the hook if I also write occasionally about other things. It’s a harder issue for columnists and occasional writers who have to decide whether to address this or that issue during a given day or week. But all things being equal, it’s always a good idea for those of us who believe the public sector has a critical role in national life to make it clear we regard government as an instrument for the improvement of lives, especially the lives of the most vulnerable, and not “turf” we are defending because others attack it irresponsibly and dishonestly. And if readers or others we directly or indirectly influence can’t tell the difference between progressive and conservative criticism of government dysfunction, then we aren’t explaining ourselves very well.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.