Reich’s fantasy account of a restrained Democratic party does not hold up either. There is a devastatingly dull reason the bulletproof Democratic majority of 2008 didn’t build “comprehensive health insurance on Social Security and Medicare,” and that is that it didn’t have the votes. Indeed, with full control of the government, Democrats didn’t even have the votes to set up a public insurance option, let alone to take over the whole system. Long before Scott Brown was elected to the Senate, Ezra Klein was lamenting that the public option was dead on arrival. Joe Lieberman, Klein noted sadly, has “swung the axe and cut his deal cleanly, killing not only the public option, but anything that looked even remotely like it.”
Lieberman did this for a solid reason: Despite the best efforts of the president, the mooted health-care bill remained deeply unpopular throughout the legislative process, and the public option even more so. Americans, remember, didn’t even want the bill as it currently ended up, and they were so determined to stop it that the progressive stronghold of Massachusetts elected to the Senate a Republican who ran promising not only to “kill” that specific bill but also to end the Democratic party’s filibuster-proof majority. Are we honestly expected to suppose that if the proposal had been farther to the left, it would have had a better chance? Does the progressive movement really think that the public can be persuaded that Democratic legislators “compromised” with an intransigent opposition out of the goodness of their hearts? I think not.
As for Reich’s claim that a single-payer system would have been “more widely accepted by the public”: Is he joking? So acutely aware were the president and his allies in Congress of the fact that the vast majority of Americans did not want to lose their current insurance that, like so many traveling salesmen on the frontier, they just brazenly lied, promising things of their product that it could never possibly deliver and assiduously playing down the scale of the chance that their customers were taking. Again, with Obamacare as it is now, the president was forced onto the defensive, provoked into repeating as mantra that “if you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan” and into reassuring voters that “no one will take it away — no matter what.” One can only imagine what he would have had to promise if he had been peddling single-payer.