Friday, November 1, 2013

Obamacare: What Might Have Been

This is my attempt to learn some hopefully non-partisan lessons from the Obamacare fiasco.  The overarching lesson is of such long standing in our culture as to have become almost a cliché, but it is true – that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing right. 

We all know that, and yet with Obamacare, political expediency was allowed to trump any and all other concerns.  To enact Obamacare, recent presidential campaign promises of transparency, public comment periods, and televised debates were slain in their cradles and replaced by secrecy, backroom deals, and midnight votes.  Zero buy in was sought from the other side of the aisle, and none was given.  The predictable product of this process was an unworkable hash of legislation, public response ranging from ignorance to outrage, and political opposition, especially when the inevitable difficulties arose,  ranging from schadenfreude to scorched-earth warfare. 

We will never know what might have come of Obamacare if things had been done well.  Would the public have been more accepting?  Would the political opposition have been more willing to reform rather than insisting on repeal?  I’m sure Obamacare’s sponsors console themselves with the belief that things would have been no different, but we’ll never know because they, even while they held all the cards, chose the quick way rather than the right way. 

I do see a hopeful contrast in Marco Rubio’s approach to immigration reform.  If he wanted to, he might be able to take a page from the President’s playbook and ram something through Congress (with an assist from Democrats).  But he’s so far refusing to do that.  He’ smart.  He knows that if his reform proposal is to succeed in the long run, he will need bi-partisan buy in.  He not only is giving a respectful hearing to the opposition, he is slowing things down and taking time to assure that all concerns are addressed.  He firmly believes that our immigration system needs reform, but he knows that bad, rushed reform is worse than no reform at all. 

How much better off we all would be if we had that kind of mature, reflective judgment, be it Democrat or Republican, in the White House.  I appeal to both parties to be careful in your selection of candidates for 2016.  Please pick someone who understands that American public life is more than political power.  Pick someone who understands that we all must live together and that the political opposition is a brother with a different point of view to be considered, not an obstacle to be hurdled or an enemy to be vanquished.  If two such candidates are nominated for 2016, then come 2017, we’ll all be better off than we are right now, no matter how the next election turns out.