Yesterday, two days before the Supreme Court is widely expected to decimate Obamacare (Michael Tomasky’s final prediction, is both a smart and typical progressive reading of the situation), Missouri’s basically party-neutral, but putatively Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, issued a statement letting us know that he never had much use for that “Washington Healthcare law.” His main GOP rival correctly pointed out that Nixon had very successfully kept that opinion to himself over the past few years.
If in real estate, the key element is location, in politics it might be timing – and we all know that the world loves an
opportunist winner, and the game being what it is, nobody can really blame Nixon too much. After all, he singled out the mandate for his harshest condemnation, and while the mandate is probably necessary if a private insurance based delivery model like Obamacare is to function properly, it was never totally palatable to progressives, who, as conservatives correctly divined, considered Obamacare no more than a stepping stone to a better system.
Which actually raises a different question about our governor’s motives. Could it be that Nixon is really, secretly, a single payer advocate and he thinks that if the Supreme Court lays Obamacare to rest, we might be able to resurrect single payer in the form of Medicare for All? If so he wouldn’t be alone. Greg Sargent quotes Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) to the effect that if Obamacare goes down, Democrats ought to start running on Medicare for All. Welch believes it’s good policy all by itself, and and would, besides, pay short term political dividends:
Of course, even Dems did manage to unify behind such a message – which is unthinkable – Medicare for All could never get through this Congress or the next. But Welch says Dems should do it, anyway – to stake out a very clear position in the wake of Obamacare’s demise, and to draw a very clear contrast with Republicans on an issue where they’re already viewed with skepticism by voters.
“If the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare, we have to have a substantive policy and political response – in my view, that’s Medicare for All,” Welch said. “Medicare is very popular. People understand it.”
It’s becoming clearer that Republicans will offer no meaningful alternative to Obamacare’s most important provisions if they’re struck down. Welch suggested using Medicare for All to highlight this fact – and to sharpen the contrast with the GOP embrace of Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, which will be a big issue this fall.
It would also pay messaging dividends down the line. One of the biggest handicaps that progressives have had to struggle with is the fact that the right wing has been so effective in moving the “center” marker so far rightwards. The advantage of a concerted and consistent embrace of a Medicare for All talking point would be in potentially shifting the center point of the health care debate back to the more leftwards area it has traditionally occupied.
Can it be done? Probably not. Can you imagine politicians who were burned by the mismanaged messaging surrounding Obamacare ever embracing Medicare for All? And of course, too many Democrats, in an effort to make themselves more acceptable to their reddish-purple constituencies, have already embraced GOP talking points that would make such a pivot impossible – the asinine Democratic deficit hawks, for instance, whose me-too squawking about public debt would preclude standing up for a solution to the possibly once again looming health care crisis (thanks, Supremes!) that would entail expanding public welfare spending.
Nevertheless, instead of blaming our Democratic Governor for his transparent opportunism, perhaps we should be asking when he plans to come out for expanded Medicare. Certainly, Republicans have now decided that if Obamacare is struck down they won’t do anything about the uninsured and the escalating health care costs that will expand the uninsured number over the next decades. It’s an opportunity for a smart politician since, once folks figure out how they’ve been suckered, they just might be mad about having been left high and dry so that the GOP can keep taxes low for the wealthy.