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Obamacare, pragmatism, and ideology

April 4, 2014

Jonathan Chait explains why liberals easily admitted the disaster that was Obamacare’s website roll-out, but conservatives cannot bring themselves to admit that millions of people previously uninsured now are:

Liberals believe in activist government entirely as a means to various ends. Pollution controls are useful only insofar as they result in cleaner air; national health insurance is valuable only to the extent that it helps people obtain medical care. More spending and more regulation are not ends in and of themselves. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe in small government not only for practical reasons — this program will cost too much or fail to work — but for philosophical reasons as well.

It’s worth pointing out that there is a broad range of opinion among pragmatists. They disagree over what programs work. Many are conservative in the old-fashioned sense that are cautious of the innate drawbacks and unintended consequences to government solutions, so will favor only the solutions they see as tailored in various ways, and only for problems of certain types. What they lack is today’s right-wing ideology that equates personal liberty with a smaller federal budget, creating the strange situation where we have a “liberty” movement that has fallen on the authoritarian side of the real liberty issues of the day, from gay marriage and reproductive rights to torture. And leading its rich supporters to write completely tone-deaf editorials in response to criticism of their self-serving political activity. It’s well worth reading Chait’s 2005 article on the asymmetry between today’s factions.

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