How’s this for a first sentence from today’s column in the NY Times by Paul Krugman:

One of the lessons journalists should have learned from the 2000 election campaign is that what a candidate says about policy isn’t just a guide to his or her thinking about a specific issue — it’s the best way to get a true sense of the candidate’s character.



Krugman goes on to remark that all the stories from 2000 about what a great, folksy guy Bush seemed to be to the reporters who covered his campaign allowed him to hide his proposed governing style in plain sight. Because it was all there for anyone to see, if they had only taken the time to stop reporting on the “horse race” between George “Good Old Boy” Bush and Al “Mr. Stiff/Serial Liar” Gore. Georgie Boy’s policy pronouncements were nakedly dishonest and irresponsible (to use Krugman’s own words), and could have easily been exposed if the media covering him would have taken the time to examine his policy proposals, rather than figure out what brand of beer they would most like to drink with a former alcoholic.

But Bush isn’t really Krugman’s target in today’s column. He has his sights set on Barack Obama, and specifically on Obama’s health care proposals. As we all know, John Edwards laid down the first marker in this game when he put forward his own proposal for universal coverage (not to be confused with a single payer plan). Well, Obama’s team has finally released his version of the “Greatest Democratic Candidate’s Health Care Reform Package” and here is how Krugman assesses his effort:

First, the good news. […]

It … passes one basic test of courage. You can’t be serious about health care without proposing an injection of federal funds to help lower-income families pay for insurance, and that means advocating some kind of tax increase. Well, Mr. Obama is now on record calling for a partial rollback of the Bush tax cuts.

Also, in the Obama plan, insurance companies won’t be allowed to deny people coverage or charge them higher premiums based on their medical history. […]

Best of all, the Obama plan contains the same feature that makes the Edwards plan superior to, say, the Schwarzenegger proposal in California: it lets people choose between private plans and buying into a Medicare-type plan offered by the government.

Sounds great, right? Okay, it sounds like it’s better than nothing (the basic Republican default position) or minor little triangulated tweaks to the current system (the Clinton plan). But, as is always the case, when there’s the “good news” there’s also the “bad news.”

Now for the bad news. Although Mr. Obama says he has a plan for universal health care, he actually doesn’t — a point Mr. Edwards made in last night’s debate. The Obama plan doesn’t mandate insurance for adults. So some people would take their chances — and then end up receiving treatment at other people’s expense when they ended up in emergency rooms. In that regard it’s actually weaker than the Schwarzenegger plan.

That’s a cruel blow! Worse than Mr. “Grab and Squeeze” Schwarzenegger’s plan? Ouch! (By the way, as an aside, that clash between Obama and Edwards over Iraq was nicely played for dramatic effect in last night’s debate –but I digress). Still, what Obama has prposed is better than what Senator Clinton has put on th etable so far, or as Krugman puts it, the ball is now in her court to match what Edwards and Obama have done, and put her own reform plan before the public.

On the whole, the Obama plan is better than I feared but not as comprehensive as I would have liked. It doesn’t quell my worries that Mr. Obama’s dislike of “bitter and partisan” politics makes him too cautious. But at least he’s come out with a plan.

Senator Clinton, we’re waiting to hear from you.

My own fear (and assessment) is that if Obama or Clinton are elected, we can kiss serious health care reform goodbye. Clinton because she won’t want to dip her toes back in that poisoned well, now that all the big corporate money is coming her way. Obama, because, despite his great oratorical stylings and statesmanlike appearance, he simply won’t want to dirty his hands in a fight that will be seen as too “contentious” and “partisan” by his political advisers (and campaign contributors). Neither of them will be willing to spend the “political capital” or exert the will necessary to pass a truly comprehensive health care reform plan. Which makes them Eisenhower Republicans, at best, in my book.

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