Megan McArdle's Obamacare-Iraq War Analogy
Over the past few days, Megan McArdle has argued--convincingly--that while simply delaying the individual mandate of Obamacare may be politically convenient, it would cause a policy disaster, not just destroying the Obamacare program but damaging the insurance industry and potentially requiring large infusions of federal cash. Better to delay the whole law, or implement it and try to fix it, rather than delay the mandate.
All well and good. I do have a small bone to pick with her, however, over her use of the Iraq War as an analogy (perhaps as a way of explaining to liberals in terms they understand). McArdle says that she feels much like "patriotic critics of the war who wanted the troops brought home ASAP because they thought that our efforts in Iraq were doomed--but, failing that, would rather have seen their opponents proven right."
I remember less goodwill among critics of the war than McArdle does--and perhaps that is because I spent most of that time overseas, in South Africa, where most critics of the war really did want to see the U.S. fail, and badly. But I also think the case for sticking with war, once it began to go badly, was far stronger than the case for sticking with Obamacare, for the simple reason that the damage from Obamacare is reversible.
Personally--I was a Democrat then--I felt ambivalent about the prospect of the war until it became clear that if we did not enforce international law, no one would. (I felt differently about the Syria war because the Obama administration had already squandered the U.S. deterrent and its plans were too feeble to restore it.) I supported the "surge" because early withdrawal meant damage to U.S. power, and possible genocide.
I remain convinced that President Obama's eager and unnecessary withdrawal from Iraq was a very bad idea that weakened our international standing, gave up a strategic position against a potentially nuclear Iran, destabilized the region even further, and dishonored the many sacrifices that had been made to win. These, to me, seem far more serious costs than the cost of fixing the insurance industry if Obamacare is hobbled.
McArdle lauds "the way that fearless liberals have come out to criticize the rollout of the exchanges" and suggests that they had more integrity than conservatives who held back criticism of the Iraq War when it started to go badly. I think that is unfair--partly because criticism of the war when the troops need support is a very different thing than criticizing bad bureaucrats, and also because liberals want more state, not less.
In other words, they are criticizing Obamacare largely because they want to salvage the ambition of state-run health care from the administrative disaster that the Obama administration has proved to be. There is no real parallel to the Iraq War there. There were a few who wanted to salvage the military doctrine of pre-emption from the failures of Iraq, but they tended to be liberals like Alan Dershowitz, not conservatives.
If the cost of delaying the individual mandate would be even worse than the cost of implementing the policy as is, then that case needs to be made loudly and clearly--alongside alternatives that do more than resign the country to Obamacare for the foreseeable future. The nation is not at war (outside the GOP, anyway), and a partial or full repeal of Obamacare would not be catastrophic, except to utopian dreams of big government.