Jonathan Cohn has some props for Mickey Kaus who anticipated that making the argument for health care reform on cost savings would be a bad idea. And I think Kaus is right inasmuch as rhetorically it’s not a tremendous leap from “save money” to “ration care.” That said, the implication is that there was some better way. Maybe there was, and maybe there wasn’t. But if Republicans have proven one thing since Obama was elected, it’s that they’re unfailingly clever at twisting mundane and banal legislative language into nefarious plots to impose belief systems, bilk the public, or of course, murder your grandparents. The fact of the matter is that Republicans, with the possible except of Olympia Snow and Susan Collins, have not been good faith negotiators. That means that no matter what case was presented, it was another argument that would have been the right one.
Republicans don’t have a problem with specific parts of the bill; they have a problem with health care reform. They were going to distort whatever argument Democrats advanced. Pace Mickey’s prescience, I just don’t think it really evinces any special perspicacity to have predicted that Republicans would lie about the legislation. So again, maybe there was an argument that was less immediately prone to distortion, but I have a feeling we still would have been hearing about a “government take-over” that comes “between patients and doctors” and “rations care,” no matter how the argument was initially presented. The mistake Democrats made was not in the form of the argument but that in the expectation that the debate would be based on the merits of those presented.