Although Hillary Clinton’s mandated universal health care plan may be a winner in the primary, Barack Obama’s responses last night on health care showed why he will be a more formidable general election candidate. He made two points that will resonate with independents and even aggrieved Republicans who remember the Clinton secret health care task force shepherded by Ira Magaziner. First, Obama explained:
It was also that Senator Clinton and the administration went behind closed doors, excluded the participation even of Democratic members of Congress who had slightly different ideas than the ones that Senator Clinton had put forward. And, as a consequence, it was much more difficult to get Congress to cooperate. And I’ve said that I’m going to do things differently. I think we have to open up the process. Everybody has to have a seat at the table. And most importantly, the American people have to be involved and educated about how this change is going to be brought about.
Now that does sound like a different approach than Hillary Clinton’s I-know-best-and-you-can-take-it-or-leave-it approach. (David Brooks brings it all back to life here.) Obama also showed himself to be a less authoritarian liberal than Clinton. He explained the downsides of a plan with individual mandates:
Number one, understand that when Senator Clinton says a mandate, it’s not a mandate on government to provide health insurance, it’s a mandate on individuals to purchase it. And Senator Clinton is right; we have to find out what works. Now, Massachusetts has a mandate right now. They have exempted 20 percent of the uninsured because they have concluded that that 20 percent can’t afford it. In some cases, there are people who are paying fines and still can’t afford it, so now they’re worse off than they were. They don’t have health insurance and they’re paying a fine. In order for you to force people to get health insurance, you’ve got to have a very harsh penalty, and Senator Clinton has said that we won’t go after their wages. Now, this is a substantive difference.
So, at least on this issue, Obama does seem to have both a stylistic and substantive approach less off-putting, less authoritarian, and frankly less scary for voters than what many Democrats have presented. That amounts to a considerable challenge for John McCain.