Friday, June 30, 2017

Change our Message: a Guest Post

Trump did not win because he was so good. He won because the Democratic message seemed so annoyingly smug to a great many people. 

By attending multiple campaign events in 2015 and 2016 I became aware that the Democratic message was flawed. It helped to be in the room and watch the lack of passion created by Hillary Clinton. It helped to be in the room at rallies when Republican candidates--Trump, yes, but it includes Cruz and Rubio and Christie who also won significant votes--as they quoted Democrats to elicit Republican resentment. Democrats may not have thought they were sneering, but Republican audiences heard the sneers, and so, apparently, did many others in states that were expected to vote blue.

The message guided the policies, and it became apparent that even Democrats did not really believe their own messages and their own messages were pulling them from their true selves. Democrats found themselves unable to condemn urban rioting, found themselves defending immigration scofflaws, found themselves positioned as the party that was less patriotic, less respectful of religion, and the one that in its effort to define and empower minority rights became the party that created a race-conscious backlash of whites who felt under siege by racists. Democrats were loyal to their teammates but not to their own values.  

So a lot of Democrats jumped ship. A majority of white women voted for Trump, notwithstanding indefensible behavior toward women. Fully a third of Hispanics voted for Trump, notwithstanding his saying that Mexico had sent its thieves and rapists here. Many Democrats were never-Hillary and saw her no better than Trump.

This blog argues "no, it will not."
I have not urged that Democrats become "more conservative". Instead, I have argued that Democrats and liberals become more realistic, more honest, and more like their own true selves. Democrats can be the party that is non-racist and dedicated to opportunity for all and justice for all. Democrats can represent the interests of working people and oppose aristocracies of wealth and power. It can be the party that protects the environment, and do so without hypocrisy, but to do so it needs to be a party that recognizes the externalities of both consumption and production. It can be the party of good, honest government, but then it needs to walk that talk. And it can communicate those values.

There are other people in America who understand that the 2016 election was a wake up call. One of them is Peter Rice.

Peter Rice is an journalist and writer who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has been observing many of the same things I have articulated in this blog, and has compiled them into a book, Liberal for Conservative Reasons. He stumbled upon this blog and thought we were birds of a feather. I asked him to send me a guest post comment on health care.


Guest Post, by Peter Rice:

"The health reform bill is stupid, but liberal arguments aren’t helping."

Peter Rice
We can perhaps relax for a few days, as the Senate’s efforts to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act are mercifully on hold. But be warned: This is probably just the eye of the storm, and soon enough, our fellow lefties will resume the same inward-looking arguments that helped us to get to this precarious point in the first place.

It will go something like this: Healthcare access is a human right. Any decent society takes care of sick people without worrying about the money. It’s the honorable and decent thing to do. Throwing people off insurance is cruel and will kill people.

Convinced? I sure am, but here’s the problem: I’m the choir you’re preaching to. Liberals don’t need to convince liberals. They need to convince conservatives, and using liberal arguments is a terrible way to do that.

Conservatives listen to these same talking points and come away with the distinct impression that it’s all a big plot to transfer money from successful people to a bunch of poor losers. This makes them angry, but also a bit gleeful, because they positively love talking about people they don’t like getting welfare they don’t want to help pay for.

So to review, our sanctimony and hand-wringing has only served to push the debate toward their home turf. That’s unfortunate and crazy, since there are perfectly good conservative arguments in favor of universal healthcare. It’s time to start actually using them.

The talking points go something like this: Passing a law that raises the uninsured rate may be cruel, but above all else, it’s a blow to fiscal responsibility and efficiency. It puts people in a position where the most logical and reasonable course of action is to pay nothing into the system and avoid relatively cheap primary care. If some catastrophe hits, they then fling themselves on the nearest emergency room, a place where single aspirin pills always seem to cost $53. The considerable bills for those services rendered might be put on a payment plan, but odds are good they’ll end up getting dismissed by a bankruptcy judge, so the hospital eats the cost by passing it along to everyone else. (This has always struck me as the perfect definition of socialized medicine.)

If that doesn’t sound expensive enough, consider the poor, the addicted, and the mentally ill in your town. Not out of empathy, of course (God forbid). Think about what it’s like to be you, a comfortable, well-insured member of the middle class, living in the same city with those people. And think about everything you have to lose if they don’t have access to healthcare.

If poor people avoid preventative medicine, they are more likely carry communicable diseases, which you are then more likely to get, so you lose. If they become too sick to work, their contributions to Medicare and Social Security go down just as their dependency on welfare goes up. And it makes it harder for any kids in the picture to move on to bigger and better things, which you will pay for later. You lose again, again, and again.

And what of the addicts? You’re welcome to dismiss them as a bunch of hopeless losers, but that doesn’t make them go away. Less money for treatment means more theft, more vagrancy, more trips to the ER to treat overdoses, more cops, and more jail cells. You get to pay for it all, and lose again. And the mentally ill? A few therapy visits may make the difference between graduating from high school or not, and that’s a difference of tens of thousands of dollars into the federal treasury through various payroll taxes. Fail to push that situation toward the right direction, and you lose again.

Cutting subsidies to poor people’s health insurance only saves money if they are all suddenly raptured the second they get booted off their plan. Back in the real world, it just means they pay for nothing until things get so bad that the rest of us swoop in and pay for everything. That’s a living conservative nightmare, and all the more reason we should refocus our healthcare finance debate. It’s true that this repeal bill is cruel, but conservatives won’t listen to that argument. Luckily, it’s also true that this bill goes against everything conservatives stand for, and I like our chances with that.


Peter Rice is the author of Liberal for Conservative Reasons: How to stop being obnoxious and start winning elections, which is available on Amazon. Contact him through


Rick Millward said...

Single payer healthcare has been adopted by every major democracy except one. It will be harder to do here for demographic reasons, but not impossible. It would involve combining Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and the services into one program, and then forming a consortium of insurance companies to fund it through taxes. Everyone would have to make some compromises, especially doctors, medical suppliers and insurance companies. This is the biggest hurdle because as of now they are used to earning a disproportionate share of the money spent on healthcare and have no incentive to be patriotic.

John Flenniken said...

Peter Rice raises a similar argument to mine. He extends the narrative to what the cost will be to those already covered. In short it's like the advertising jingle - "You can pay me now OR pay me later." When said by an auto mechanic you realize - Yes the oil change or tune up is MUCH cheaper than a valve job which will occur if you don't perform preventive maintanence. When applied to healthcare the argument is much more dire when you realize society at large is, as in my example, the car in question. As you like to say as a financial advisor "Net, Net, Net - it's a loser." Being able to communicate that message without overwhelming the listener with the details remains one of the biggest problem Democrats face.

Peter Rice said...

Rick - Have you checked out the Nevada Medicaid buy in? Vox did a great piece on it: (I also did something similar in my book, and I dare say there were more and better jokes). Governor there vetoed it but the idea is far from dead. Long story short: It's single payer by gradual acclimation. First, offer the buy-in option to the Obamacare exchange crowd, using the existing financial aid structure. From there it's pretty easy to let employers buy in until basically everyone in the state (or nation) has voluntarily transitioned into a single payer plan. If you like single payer, that's the most elegant and least turbulent way to do it. No big plan transfer freakout, no big tax hikes. Thanks for reading! -Peter

Peter Rice said...

John - Excellent analysis. Preventative medicine indeed works wonders, literally and figuratively, especially when we already backstop everything either through emergency rooms or when people turn 65 and go onto Medicare. Thanks for your interest! -Peter

Rick Millward said...

I'm still formulating an opinion, however I think addressing the problem of greed and profit in the system is a national issue. Docs in SP systems don't earn 6-7 figures. Same for administrators. This is accomplished through a national dialogue similar to what Bernie, and now Warren, has started. I'm not sure a state by state approach will get traction; note that the Massachucetts effort didn't spread like legalizing pot did.

Kudos to Nevada for trying...

Peter Rice said...

I suppose one could argue that the Massachusetts model spread to the entire country through the ACA. But I suspect it didn't spread to other states before that because it was complicated and expensive. Legalizing pot actually makes money and it's super easy to understand and campaign on. Likewise for the Nevada model. Instead of the individual mandate combined with the moving target of financial aid combined with an array of purchasing options (but only if you don't get it through your job already and aren't too poor), we can instead pitch this: "Hey you can buy a piece of Medicaid if you like. Or not. Up to you. Either way it doesn't raise your taxes."

Certainly not the national solution we all want, but might help fight the blues for the next 3.5 years.