Megan McArdle tells a tall tale

Megan McArdle thinks that the country would have been better off if Hillary Clinton had been elected president. The title of her column today at Bloomberg View, “When Obama Beat Hillary, We All Lost,” couldn’t be clearer. McArdle contends that Clinton would have been more cautious in dealing with Republicans, been satisfied with limited progress in her first two years in office, and thus would have been working with a less hostile and less radicalized cadre of Republicans in Congress, which would have obviously been good because Bipartisan or Both Sides or whatever. I’m lousy at “what if” counterfactuals, so I don’t know what a Hillary Clinton presidency would have been like, but I can say with almost total assurance that, in the hypothetical universe where Hillary Clinton was elected president in 2008, Megan McArdle’s August 11, 2014, Bloomberg View column is titled, “When Hillary Beat Obama, We All Lost.” Call it a hunch if you must, but I think I’m on pretty solid ground here.

Again, I’m not going to pretend to know how a Hillary Clinton presidency would have gone or what the Republicans in Congress would have been like, though I will say that anybody who lived through the 1990s ought to question McArdle’s suggestion here. But I do know when I’m being fed a story about the past, and McArdle has concocted a whopper here to try and convince her readers that the Tea Party was created in opposition to that damned Obamacare:

I think liberals really do not understand emotionally the extent to which the Tea Party was created by the Affordable Care Act and the feeling that its government was simply steamrolling it. From the Tea Party’s perspective, you had an unpopular program that should have died in the same way, and for the same reasons, that Social Security privatization did: because sensible politicians saw that, no matter how ardently they and their base might desire it, this was out of step with what the majority of the country wanted (and no, you cannot rescue the polls by claiming that the only problem with the law was that it wasn’t liberal enough; when you dig down into what people mean when they say that, the idea that there was ever a majority or a plurality that was secretly in favor of Obamacare collapses).

(As an aside, it probably won’t surprise regular McArdle readers/observers when I tell you that the article she’s linking to there doesn’t really say what she’s claiming it says.)

Here’s the thing about that story. The first Congressional hearings on what would become the PPACA began in March, 2009. Obama didn’t kick off the vague, “let’s Do Something about health care” movement that led to the PPACA until March 5, though he did mention health care reform as part of a much bigger economic address to Congress on February 24.  Nobody had a proposal to talk about until June, and the contours of the PPACA didn’t start to take shape until July. Meanwhile, the Tea Party was founded in February, 2009, legendarily with that inane February 19 Rick Santelli rant on CNBC, but there were protest events that month that really kicked the movement off. How do I know that the Tea Party was founded in February, 2009? Because this past February, the Tea Partiers all celebrated their five-year anniversary. They all seem to refer back to the Santelli rant, which was about bailing out underwater homeowners, not health care, and my admittedly shoddy memory recalls that the first Tea Party gatherings were about the economic stimulus and the deficit, not the health care bill, which, at the risk of beating a dead horse, didn’t exist yet.

How McArdle knows that the Tea Party was founded in February, 2009, in opposition to a health care bill that wouldn’t exist for another five months, is beyond me. Why she insists that the PPACA was the “real” genesis of the movement is clear, though, because it lets her whip up her favorite dish, a lovely Both Sides Souffle:

The rage was similar to what progressives felt as they watched George W. Bush push the country into a war in Iraq. That defined and animated the anti-war movement (which is why said movement collapsed when Bush left office, and not, say, when Bush agreed to a staged withdrawal of our forces). Yes, those people would still have hated Republicans, even if there had been no Iraq War. But they would not have been as passionate, as organized or as powerful without it.

Health care reform was Obama’s Iraq War, you see. There are subtle differences, in that one has helped to cut health care costs and to reduce the number of uninsured Americans to record low levels, whereas the other killed half a million people for no discernible reason and left a giant gaping wound in the Middle East that is still a problem 11 years later. But those are minor incongruities in the big scheme of Both Sides Do It.

One thought on “Megan McArdle tells a tall tale

  1. I think you pretty much nail it here. Even though I was already an old man by 2008, my memory is sharp enough to recall that Clinton v Obama were pretty much indistinguishable on policy stances so the primaries were openly decided on lesser issues like who was the snazzier dresser.

    And if I might hazard a further counterfactual, in some not-to-distant alternate reality McMegan recently cranked an article under the “When Edwards Beat Hillary, We All Lost” banner.

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