After Mitt Romney’s election-night loss to Barack Obama in November 2012, those outside the conservative movement had a ready cure for what ailed the right: stop listening to each other. Or, rather, stop listening to each other so much. Conservatives, we were told, lived in a media bubble of their own making. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf wrote a piece that quickly became the anthem of this bid to get the choir to ditch their preachers.
Around the time of the election, Friedersdorf had been writing a bit obsessively about Rush Limbaugh, so his declaration that conservatives were listening to too much talk radio rang a bit hollow. It’s unclear if conservative talk radio had, at the time, a more dedicated follower than Friedersdorf. Nonetheless, it was true that many conservatives were surprised by Romney’s loss. And even if talk radio wasn’t responsible for the 2012 debacle, exhortations to avoid living in an intellectually closed bubble are worth heeding.
And since liberals were so convinced of the harm that such epistemic closure can have on a political movement, surely they will welcome the new Politico Magazine piece calling attention to something non-liberals knew long ago: on ObamaCare, the leftist media bubble has not only deprived American liberalism of a basic grasp of reality, but has visibly harmed the rest of country because of the still-prevailing dominance of the mainstream media.
Liberal denialism on ObamaCare has made for some interesting moments, such as when liberals panicked when opening arguments were made at the Supreme Court’s consideration of ObamaCare’s constitutionality. Of course there was a serious question of the individual mandate’s constitutionality, and of course the justices would consider such arguments. But the Supreme Court case, naturally, followed lower-court considerations of the issue. How is it that liberals managed to not hear any of the basic arguments of the case until it was before the Supreme Court? How did they manage to close themselves off from political discourse that didn’t conform to their ideological orthodoxy for so long?
And how is it that the exposure in October 2013 as a complete and utter falsehood of Barack Obama’s central promise–that you could keep your health insurance or doctor under ObamaCare–could count as a revelation? The White House knew it was false. So did conservatives, whose other warnings about the reform law also turned out to be prescient. When it came to ObamaCare, conservatives knew what they were talking about and liberals were mired in delusion. Politico Magazine tries to explain this phenomenon by pointing out that the same mainstream media that conservatives are being told to heed carefully are largely responsible for the uninformed public:
Although the media spoke or wrote zillions of words about the ACA, relatively few explained in meaningful ways what the law was all about, who would be affected by it and how—in short, how would it affect peoples’ lives and why they should care. The media, for the most part, fell down on the job when it came to dissecting the promises made by supporters (for example, that people could keep their insurance and their doctors); who would pay for the subsidies; why essential benefits were important; and why there had to be an individual mandate with penalties for not buying insurance. And there’s no question most of us failed to dig into the most basic question of all: Would the darn thing work?
What the press delivered instead was mostly a conversation among policy wonks and Beltway political elites without letting in the people who would be most affected by the nostrums they were prescribing. The public was the victim of a messaging war, with much of the conversation shaped by spin and talking points. And as in all wars, truth is the first casualty. Americans needed clear, direct explanations, honesty, dot connection and a probe of the carefully crafted words that came to define the debate. Yes, there were plenty of fact-checkers keeping watch, but as press critic and political scientist Brendan Nyhan has pointed out, these services can fall short. Their one-the-one hand, on-the-other hand format often confuses more than illuminates. Against this backdrop, the backlash of the last few weeks was probably inevitable.
There’s plenty more, and the whole thing is worth a read. It’s damning, though it’s probably still too kind to its subject. One reason conservatives were right and liberals were wrong about ObamaCare is that they were essentially having two different conversations. Conservatives were treating health-care reform as a policy issue. So they correctly explained what the health-policy implications would be thanks to the design of the law.
To the left, however, the health-policy implications were close to irrelevant. They viewed ObamaCare simply as a wealth transfer, as a financial insurance plan. I explained yesterday why this is wrong in many cases as well. And that also explains why the website’s disastrous rollout garnered such attention from across the ideological divide, but especially, and finally, from the left. Liberals by and large weren’t troubled by the fact that ObamaCare kicked people off their insurance plans. The key question was: can lower-income Americans sign up for this wealth transfer? When the website failed, the answer was no.
There are a great many scandalous aspects of ObamaCare. This is the one that captivated the left because it’s the only one–the confiscation of some Americans’ money to give to others, under the guise of insurance reform–that endangered what they see as ObamaCare’s core mission.