How Right-Wing Media Saved Obamacare
Conor Friedersdorf writes in the Atlantic:
As the Republican Party struggled and then failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, pulling a wildly unpopular bill from the House without even taking a vote, a flurry of insightful articles helped the public understand what exactly just happened. Robert Draper explained the roles that Stephen Bannon, Paul Ryan, and others played in deciding what agenda items President Trump would pursue in what order. Politico reported on how and why the House Freedom Caucus insisted that the health care bill repeal even relatively popular parts of Obamacare. Lest anyone pin blame for the GOP’s failure on that faction, Reihan Salam argued persuasively that responsibility rests with poor leadership by House Speaker Paul Ryan and a GOP coalition with “policy goals that simply can’t be achieved.”
But dogged, behind-the-scenes reporting and sharp analysis of fissures among policy elites do not capture another important contributor to last week’s failure—one Josh Barro came closest to unpacking in a column titled, “Republicans lied about healthcare for years, and they’re about to get the punishment they deserve.”
The article isn’t an attack on conservatives and libertarians.
Plenty of plausible alternatives to Obamacare have been set forth by people who are truthful about the tradeoffs involved. For instance, The Atlantic published a plan in 2009; Ezra Klein and Avik Roy usefully illuminated the disagreements between serious conservative and progressive health-care wonks; and Ross Douthat suggested reforms that borrow heavily from Singapore. Barro is aware of many smart right-leaning critiques of Obamacare and sympathetic to some.
What he points out in his column is that the GOP didn’t honestly acknowledge the hard tradeoffs inherent in health-care policy before making the case for a market-driven system.
Republicans tried to hide the fact of tradeoffs:
For years, Republicans promised lower premiums, lower deductibles, lower co-payments, lower taxes, lower government expenditure, more choice, the restoration of the $700 billion that President Barack Obama heartlessly cut out of Medicare because he hated old people, and (in the particular case of the Republican who recently became president) “insurance for everybody” that is “much less expensive and much better” than what they have today. They were lying. Over and over, Republicans lied to the American public about healthcare. It was impossible to do all of the things they were promising together, and they knew it.
That is basically correct. And it helps explain how Republicans could win a presidential election and lots of congressional elections on the promise of repealing and replacing Obamacare, only to produce a bill that was wildly unappealing to voters.
Once Republicans commenced governing, the tradeoffs couldn’t be elided any longer.
Still, even the insight that Republicans spent years willfully obscuring the tradeoffs involved in health-care policy doesn’t fully explain the last week. Focusing on GOP officials leaves out yet another important actor in this debacle: the right-wing media. By that, I do not mean every right-leaning writer or publication. Over the last eight years, lots of responsibly written critiques of Obamacare have been published in numerous publications, and folks reading the aforementioned wonks, or Peter Suderman at Reason, or Yuval Levin, or Megan McArdle at Bloomberg, stayed reasonably grounded in the actual shortcomings of Obamacare.
n contrast, Fox News viewers who watched entertainers like Glenn Beck, talk-radio listeners who tuned into hosts like Rush Limbaugh, and consumers of web journalism who turned to sites like Breitbart weren’t merely misled about health-care tradeoffs.
They were told a bunch of crazy nonsense.
As I was drafting this article, Ted Koppel made headlines by telling Fox News entertainer Sean Hannity that he is bad for America. This upset some conservatives, who felt it was just another instance of the mainstream media attacking a fellow conservative. I don’t think that conservatives are typically bad for America. But I lament the fact that Hannity is still employed in my industry, in large part because his coverage of subjects like Obamacare is dishonest—and I say that as someone who has preferred a very different health-care policy since 2009. . .