Monday, October 6, 2008

Personal v. Political

Interesting contrast between pundits today, if you read the columns of Paul Krugman and Bill Kristol in the New York Times. Go ahead and take a look -- I'll wait.

Obviously, Krugman is in the tank for Obama and Kristol is gung ho for McCain. But that's fine -- they're columnists, not reporters.

The interesting thing is the difference in what they say. Krugman makes a sustained policy argument. He points out that McCain's health care proposal is to impose taxes on health benefits received from employers, which are currently tax free for most people. The current system encourages employers to provide health care benefits to employees. McCain's proposal would probably lead many employers to drop health care benefits. In exchange, McCain would give people a modest tax benefit that they could allegedly use to buy health care themselves. But probably, as Krugman points out, that would be a disaster, because insurance companies would try hard to sell policies to healthy people and deny them to those who might actually need coverage.

Individual purchasing is not a good way to run the health insurance market. Groups have more purchasing power. Yes, it's true, this means that healthy people end up subsidizing sick people to some extent, but this is one area where some cross-subsidization seems eminently fair and reasonable -- we'll all be sick at some point in our lives, so we'll all get our turn being subsidized. (I'm usually very healthy, but I had my turn in 2005, when I was in a minor bike accident.)

McCain thinks the magic of the free market will somehow make everything work, but the market is not good at everything, and this doesn't look like an area where the market would do a good job. As Krugman points out, the McCain website says that competition will do for health care what it's done for banking -- not something that's working out too well lately.

Krugman lays out all these reasons for opposing McCain -- it's a reasoned, policy argument.

Now take a look at Kristol. His column is about a phone call he had with Sarah Palin yesterday. And what did they talk about? How they don't like the mainstream media, how Palin should have another debate with Biden, since she did so well in the first one, how Palin heard from her son, who's deployed in Iraq, and mostly, how Palin wants more talk about Obama's associations. She wants more about how Obama knows Bill Ayers, formerly associated with the Weather Underground, and she'd do more on Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright, although she'll leave the decision up to McCain. The only policy issue mentioned is one sentence fragment about how Palin thinks Obama will kill jobs by raising taxes.

What a microcosm of the difference between Democratic and Republican campaign styles. It's policy v. character assassination. Krugman gives a sustained policy argument about what's wrong with McCain's health care plan. Kristol has Palin spout off half a sentence about the vaguest of policy ideas and then goes after Obama's character. And in a pretty unfair way, to boot. Yes, Obama knows Bill Ayers, who was indeed in the Weather Underground, a really bad organization. But Ayers is reformed, he's now a professor of education at the University of Illinois, his association with bad guys ended long before Obama knew him (Obama was a child in the Weather Underground days), and the two were never close -- as detailed here, they overlapped in serving on a charitable board and have had little contact since 2002.

Reasoned policy argument v. unfair guilt by association. Do we care about what the candidates will do for the country, or do we just want to throw slime around?

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