David Brooks is a talented writer and often an interesting thinker, but his column today on Hillary’s healthcare plan (still mercifully buried underneath the TimesSelect wall) is an example of what happens when your token conservative columnist isn’t very conservative. Perhaps deciding that it is no longer fashionable for Serious People to take a dim view of the Clintons, Brooks describes Hillary’s “evolution” from a big-government revolutionary on healthcare to a thoughtful, moderate proponent of careful change.
We hear about the “exhilarating process” by which Senator Clinton and her aides developed the plan, the “countless meetings” Hillary “remembered fondly,” the noble communitarian instincts, and the “real warmth” Brooks “detected.” Not only will this “simple” plan increase coverage without the overreach of Hillarycare circa 1993-94 but it “makes life politically difficult” for Mitt Romney by embracing the individual mandate and “takes the brave step of taxing the wealthy,” something “every Republican health expert endorses.” It’s even turned John Edwards into the “shrillest” major presidential candidate.
The reality is that the plan achieves incrementally what the Clintons sought fourteen years ago. It will regulate and price private insurers out of the healthcare market and only increase the public demand for further government provision of health insurance. And while there are many thoughtful people who have made the case for that very outcome — many of them on the New York Times op-ed page — what is the point of having a token conservative who doesn’t display a passing familiarity with the counterarguments?
In fact, Brooks isn’t even aware that the Republican presidential candidates have also unveiled healthcare proposals, claiming erroneously that they don’t exist. While I’m often critical of Rudy Giuliani, his proposed healthcare reforms (though flawed) have considerable merit. Perhaps Brooks ignores them because he rejects free-market reforms in favor of the tax, spend, and mandate approach?
The only possible downside of Hillarycare 2.0 that he can envision is that insurance companies will weasel their way out of the mandates (and the “magic circle”). No word about the possibility — indeed, likelihood — of unintended consequences, a regular feature of new federal programs. No word about the impact of further diluting competition. And no word about the impact on economic growth as the tax burden grows (maybe he read Jonathan Chait talking about how great the economy was back when we had 91 percent tax rates).
Sure, there are liberal counterarguments to all of these points. But why bother to have a token conservative columnist who doesn’t seem to understand these basic conservative insights?