Passing health care

William Saletan has an article up that makes some good points against politicians' relying on polls to inform their health care vote. Since the public is against health care, the thinking goes, we should not pass it.

Saletan discusses some of the problems with relying on polls to dictate policy (e.g., fickleness, expressing what is really ambivalence with a forced answer at a given moment). I'd like to add that polling is hardly an exact science. For that matter, it is not clear how we could make it such. Remember the New Hampshire primary? Relying on Gallup to dictate policy is not only wrong-headed in a representative democracy, it could well be inaccurate.

Using the Massachusetts vote as an indicator of popular will suffers from being a poll of that makes up a small percentage of our entire country, whose residents have guaranteed health care.

There is a reason we don't put out every piece of legislation as a referendum. No person whose job doesn't involve policy can be informed enough about policy to make the right decision. Legislators are supposed to have expertise in policy, greater expertise than the majority of their constituents. There is nothing condescending to the great and good American people to admit they have not had time to learn the ins and outs of health care and its potential ramifications for their interests. There is nothing condescending in asking anyone to put greater weight on expert opinion in a host of professions: doctors, professors, mechanics, landscapers, scientists. (Greater weight is, of course, not the entire weight.)

And Saletan ends with a point that has completely dumbfounded me recently - why no one is talking about the morality of the legislators' votes.
Maybe passing the health care bill will bring on a Republican tsunami. Maybe it will create a generation of Democrats who revere Obama the way their great-grandparents revered FDR. Maybe you'll be back in Congress next year. Maybe you won't. Either way, this is too big a vote to cast on the basis of politics. Every so often, a bill comes along that's bigger than anything your predecessor got to touch. You're the lucky bastard who had your seat in 2010, when that bill reached the floor. And here you are, worrying about your career, when the purpose of your career is staring you in the face.
I have heard everyone - left, right, pundits, other legislators - talk very cooly about whether or not it is in the career interest of certain legislators to vote one way or another. Almost none then follow up with a comment about how one person's career path should not decide the fate of millions! Lives are in their hands, and we talk as if it is okay for them to be dithering about re-election. Not only is one person's job small potatoes in this context, most legislators are perfectly capable of getting private sector jobs when voted out of office. With legislation as potentially impactful as this, one tends to have a strong opinion on whether it should or should not be done. And the impact of it will be so broad that it must outweigh the value of any single person's career. Anytime the idea of voting in one's career interest is brought up, it should immediately be followed by a mention of just how slimy that would be. Perhaps in some corner of their black shriveled hearts where once was some moral dimension to their public service, a legislator might respond.


  1. While I agree 100% that career considerations should not be an issue, your post brings up the very thorny issue of how much does each Representative owe to the people who voted for him (ie. the Democrats or Republicans), how much does he owe to the people of his district entirely, and how much must he remain faithful to his own conscience.
    Personally, I think it is conscience, party, then all the voters in the district (except in areas relating directly to the district itself)
    For an issue like this and considering how much health care was a central issue for the Democrats, it is obvious how much health care reform was wanted and desired. Any Democrat who votes no should be challenged in the Primaries and be defeated, if they are doing this on the basis of their conscience (like Stupak) then I can admire their principles while I vote for their competitor in the primary.
    If you run as a Democrat you should be prepared to vote like a Democrat, otherwise run as an independent or a Republican.


  2. The basis for our government's power is the consent of the governed. Take away that consent or put it in doubt when the government passes laws, and government of the people, by the people, for the people, will have perished from the earth.

    charo, no one who listened to Candidate Obama would have believed the monstrosity that emerged from the Senate and House to date. People didn't vote for Healthcare Reform At Any Price. They voted for a candidate who made specific promises, and who has now gone back on virtually every campaign promise that he made. I believe that puts in doubt the consent of the governed for the proposed "reform."

  3. GJ, how do you propose we measure consent? By unscientific polls? By approval ratings (Bush should have therefore resigned a long time before he actually did....). Or perhaps by regular elections?

    What if one person doesn't consent to a law? Should they be compelled to follow it anyway? Only anarchists would disagree. To what degree must I be opposed before it becomes a principled opposition?

    Consent in a democracy is a notoriously sticky thicket.

    It makes no sense for politicians merely to vote as they believe based on polling data their constituents want them to vote. The constituents are less informed, and poling inaccurate.

  4. Good lord, the surge was opposed by a clear majority of the American people, but for once, Bush was right and stuck to his guns and it worked out. Of course for gj, Republicans enacting their agenda is courage in the face of public opposition but Democrats enacting theirs is tyranny. It is monkey brained idiocy whether performed by Democrats or Republicans. As John McCain acknowledged, elections have consequences.

    You don't like that, move to Russia.


  5. gj, I love this: would have believed the monstrosity that emerged from the Senate and House to date.

    Assertion without argument is the hallmark of a weak mind. Simply stating it a monstrosity doesn't make it so. What, is it the length of the bill? oooohhh, yes, we all know Republican philosophy: if you can't write it on the back of a napkin, why do it? The bill is centrist, moderate and well thought out. It is deficit neutral for the first 10 years, and will lessen the deficit 10 years after that substantially, at least according to the CBO (projections can be wrong in either direction, for instance no one predicted Democratic surpluses under Clinton). It will also end rescission, offer guaranteed issue, and help 30 million uninsured afford insurance. Oh, the horrors. As to the negative portion of the bill, that is what the whole reconciliation process will rectify.

    You see, this is called making an argument by citing actual things, not pulling horseshit out of your empty head.


  6. How do we measure consent? If you have to ask, you don't have it. Polls are useful for getting the gist of it; I'd expect a clear consensus, well outside the limit for statistical significance. And elections, as long as the elected side sticks to the campaign promises.

    Hey, if HCR were polling, say, 60-40 for, I'd be unhappily resigned to going down with the good ship USA. But I'll be darned if I'm going to let elected morons bash holes under the waterline when public sentiment is running well against hole-bashing.

    And I don't believe our current elected Reps, of either side, are more informed than the public. No one person can possibly know what is in that 2,100 page bill. It is page upon page of dense, technical legalese in the argot of Congress. It is foolishness to think Pelosi, Reid, Obama, Ryan, or Boehner really know what the bill will do. The high complexity, the amount of secrecy used to produce it, the lack of transparency and time to review it all point to the bill being a big steaming pile of fail. The CBO scoring has been gamed well past the point of dishonesty. I don't need to understand the entire bill to know that passing it is the a Very Very Bad Thing for our children and grandchildren.