Babar, Bring Your Best

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A few weeks ago I challenged the conservatives in the Berkeley community to come out from under their rocks and debate me in this column space. The deal was this: Put your name and face to your words, and you get to say what you want on important issues of the day like health care. I was sad, but not surprised, to learn that only one person bothered to send in a submission. When asked whether he was still interested, that person would not put his name to his own work. So the columnist duel is dead in the water.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, this non-response speaks volumes about Berkeley's conservative voice. Some possible explanations for the apathy: A. Nobody bothers to read my column, especially conservatives. All you have to do is look at the ravings below my column online to see that this can't be the answer. Or B. There is a dark vacuum of space where there should be solid Republican policy ideas. Take one look at the Republican tactics currently being used in an attempt to torpedo ObamaCare and it's pretty clear that the great sucking sound is indeed that vacuum.

So far we've heard that health care reform will kill small businesses (haven't heard that one before) and that old people will be encouraged to die sooner. Oh, and by the way, Obama wasn't born in the United States, so anything he proposes as president is illegitimate. Call the "birthers" on the fringe if you like, but a recent Research 2000 poll showed that only 42 percent of Republicans believe Obama was born here. These attacks only push the GOP further away from the mainstream and further away from any shot of gaining seats in 2010.

There is no interest in covering actual policy details of the health care plan. I knew this would be the case going in but I have to admit I was shocked by the sophomoric coverage. The mainstream media really can't handle the depth required to cover this, nor can the media consumer keep from getting bored as soon as you plunge into the minutiae of this gigantic reform package. What we've heard instead of whether a public plan will save money or not is an endless supply of meaningless ideological banter. We have Rep. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., claiming that health care is Obama's Waterloo and therefore the Republicans should tank the plan just to bring him down. Then you have the MoveOn.org-types, some still wishing upon a star for a single-payer system, who believe the conservative Blue Dog Dems will water reform down into a pile of nothing. It's no wonder that people run from political engagement in droves.

Since my esteemed conservative friends out there seem to be lacking in the balls department, I will instead debate with my imaginary conservative friend Babar, keeping everything civil, of course. Babar will lead off.

Babar: Obama's plan is just more taxing and spending by the Democrats, an unprecedented expansion of government that is doomed to failure. It's preposterous to think you can spend a trillion dollars in a time of recession, piling on trillions more in national debt over the next couple decades, and expect that to aid economic recovery. Ultimately this is a debate about costs and government interference in the private market, and we should limit both as much as we can.

Josh: My honorable elephant friend is correct, this is about costs and the role government can play. But he's wrong that government investment will never pay off in savings down the road, and he's equally wrong that government should have no role in providing a public good. Pretty much everyone agrees about the following facts: Health care insurance premiums since 1999 have more than doubled while wages have increased only 29 percent. Within a decade we will spend a fifth of our gross domestic product on health care while advanced democracies in Europe spend around a tenth.

Babar: Yeah right, cost containment. The public plan is just a way to put price caps on services that will hurt doctors and hospitals, and run private plans out of business. By definition, a government-run plan will be rife with fraud, waste and bureaucratic nightmares. Haven't we learned anything from the fact that Medicare and Social Security are losing propositions and about to go bankrupt?

Josh: Oh, I see, it's the any-government-is-bad-government argument. I thought that died with Reagan, but now that he's become some kind of demigod to adrift Republicans, I guess it's back. Government is a collectively directed instrument for society to dig itself out of disaster and maintain a certain quality of life. If the current situation is not a disaster that is significantly lowering our quality of life, I don't know what is. Whining about other flawed government programs isn't going to cut it.

Babar: You lefties sing the same tune. You want to tax those of us who are successful and do fine with the health care we have to help those who haven't succeeded. Obama's "rich tax" is just another socialist redistribution of wealth.

Josh: Babar, keep that socialist-baiting junk in your trunk. I actually agree with you that the rich tax isn't the way to go. But now's the time for some courage and for the rich to stop doing everything they can to stash every penny. Let's hope that once the meaningless banter has quieted, a policy with some meat on it is left standing.

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