Sunday, August 09, 2009

Conservative critique: David Frum on what a Republican victory over Obamacare would mean

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I've never much cared for David Frum -- like me, a Canadian who focuses most of his attention on the U.S. (and one who has done so rather successfully) -- but, I admit, he's one of the smarter and more sensible conservatives around today.

Consider this post he put up yesterday at his website, New Majority: "What if We Win the Healthcare Fight?"

Well, what if...

Frum is right, to a point, that most right-wing opponents of so-called "Obamacare" would "trumpet the success as a great triumph for liberty and individualism." Specifically, they would celebrate their political victory over Obama and the Dems as an end in and of itself. Sure, many of them like the way the system works now, or think they do, and they would no doubt interpret any such victory as confirmation of ideological righteousness, but it is the sport that matters here, the winning and the losing, not what happens to health care in the long run.

Frum, distancing himself from his right-wing ilk, suggests that victory would not be "a great triumph for liberty and individualism" but rather "a triumph for inertia. To the extent that anybody in the conservative world still aspires to any kind of future reform and improvement of America's ossified government, that should be a very ashy victory indeed." Yes, but it would also be a victory for the entrenched special interests -- Big Insurance, Big Pharma, the tax-hating wealthy, etc. -- that sustain the Republican Party and that are so widely celebrated on the right (where there is a mutual relationship of massive profiteering off the current system). There would be no reform, perhaps, and Frum is to be applauded at least for recognizing that the current system is both unsustainable and undesirable, but it wouldn't be "inertia" as much as it would be the yet further entrenchment of those interests and the ongoing erosion of anything like a healthy democratic society.

Frum lists four deleterious elements of the current system that would remain in place in the event of a Republican victory over Obamacare, and the ordering of the list suggests that Frum's priorities are pretty much exactly what you would expect from a conservative: taxes (preferably low) and the free market (preferably as free as possible). Indeed, he notes that, in victory, "[w]e'll have entrenched and perpetuated some of the most irrational features of a hugely costly and under-performing system, at the expense of entrepreneurs and risk-takers, exactly the people the Republican party exists to champion."

Take a look at that last sentence again...

The Republican Party, according to Frum, "exists to champion" not the American people but a certain subset of them: "entrepreneurs and risk-takers," that is, the wealthy, or, more broadly, those who most benefit from -- or seek to benefit from -- the sort of radical free market that Frum and his ilk espouse. Indeed, while Frum at least bothers to mention that there are "a lot of uninsured or underinsured people," his concern is not so much with the fact that millions and millions of Americans lack appropriate care/coverage but that the uninsured are such a drag on "hospitals and local governments." (Still, I suppose that's what passes for "compassionate conservatism" these days.)

So, yes, Frum is, to his credit, open-minded and far-sighted enough to understand, unlike so many on the right, that reform is a must. But he is still a conservative, and, as such, his idea of reform is not what would ultimately benefit the American people, providing extensive coverage and choice (given that most have neither), but what would allow the market to operate more efficiently, and more profitably, for those who are already benefitting from, and abusing, what is a corrupt, unjust, and indecent system.

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