I’m watching the debate tonight in Ohio between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I’ve actually cringed for Hillary. Such bad, even embarrassing responses: complaining that she’s being “picked on” first and picking fights over insubstantial matters. This is clearly last-gasp maneuvering. You can almost see it in her face — this is all over.
The issue that still gets me is health care. They spent the first 17 minutes debating it. But neither seems at all interested in discussing the merits or demerits of a single-payer plan. By that I mean that all people would pay into one plan — getting us lots of economy of scale — and that this plan would then pay for your trip to your own local doctor. I know single payer is controversial. But it’s worth debating. And I’m missing a debate on that now.
Robert Gooding-Williams has an interesting post on the new Gender, Race, and Philosophy blog. He makes a good case that candidate Clinton is a democrat in the old elite style, while candidate Obama is a deliberative democratic. I’d love it if the latter were true. Whether it is so will be seen in practice, by how truly interested he is in cultivating and incorporating reflective public will. I don’t need any persuasion to agree that Hillary Clinton’s style is anything but participatory or deliberative. Recall her 1994 health care initiative: it was crafted behind tightly locked closed doors. No public input or oversight was welcome. Perhaps she thought this would be better somehow, but the results were predictable: the proposals that emerged were roundly dashed and never got off the ground. The same thing had happened in 1988 when AARP met behind closed doors with members of Congress to hammer out a catastrophic health care plan. The bill was enacted shortly before winter recess. Members of Congress returned home to find seniors up in arms over the new bill. It called for sacrifices that those subject to the bill had had no hand in shaping. They hadn’t had the chance to work through (in the Freudian sense, and the sense that Dan Yankelovich discusses) the costs and trade-offs. So when Congress recovened, one of the first things it did was rescind the new law.
Yankelovich once told me in an interview, “Any public policy that is not built on public will is built on sand.” Sand is what met the AARP bill and the HRC proposal. But I doubt that either learned that lesson. Obama seems to know instinctively that politics calls for drawing on public wisdom, not trying to manufacture public support after policy has been crafted.