Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The case for big government that Obama hasn't made

Peter Beinart lists 3 ways the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies captured "what the American left did wrong in the early Obama years." His last point is

the focus on “sanity.” Talk about condescending. The Tea Party types who believe that expanding government undermines their freedom are not insane. They’re tapping into a deeply-rooted American fear of government power, one that would be immediately recognizable to Calvin Coolidge or Strom Thurmond. And in the process, they’re conjuring, once again, the myth that America was born free, and surrenders a smidgen of liberty every time Washington imposes another tax or establishes another government agency. (The Tea Partiers may not be racists, but it’s hardly surprising that this idealized image of 19th Century America doesn’t impress African-Americans). The Tea Partiers, in other words, are making a serious argument, which the left too often tries to dismiss by calling them nuts. In fact, the haughtiness reflected by such insults conceals the left’s confusion over how to respond ideologically.
Beinart then goes on a tangent about how President Obama has undersold his own policies:
The Obama administration has barely tried to argue that activist government can make people more free—by, for instance, guaranteeing their health care coverage and thus freeing them to leave a dead end job. In America today, as at past moments in our history, there’s a profound debate underway not just about how to right our economy but about the relationship between capitalism and freedom. Pretending it’s not a real debate is a great way for the left to lose.
Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein have made the health-care point well. I'm at least convinced by their criticism of the status quo ante, though this isn't necessarily a good affirmative argument for the new law. As Klein says:
Unable to risk losing their employer-sponsored health insurance, would-be entrepreneurs don’t start small businesses, they stay in jobs that don’t maximize their productivity, they remain in positions that another worker would be better suited to.
OK, so that's a cumbersome run-on sentence. But if you edit it down to something snappier and more eloquent, why wasn't that Obama's #1 argument for health-care reform?

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