Someone Tell Ben Nelson What “Opt” Means

So you may have heard that Supreme and Glorious Leader Olympia Snowe’s preference for a public option “trigger” notwithstanding, things are looking pretty good for some form the public option. However, as with all legislation, so-called moderates are feeling a bit of doody in their underpants. Take it away Ben Nelson!

NELSON: Well, I certainly am not excited about a public option where states would opt out or a robust, as they call it, robust government-run insurance plan. I’ll take a look at the one where states could opt in if they make the decision themselves. Look, I’m a Jeffersonian Democrat. I think the states can make decisions on their own about their own citizen. And so I certainly would look at that. But I’m not sure where this is going. I don’t think we know at this point in time. So I don’t think I can make any decision about anything until I’ve seen everything.

I understand that Senator Nelson represents a conservative state and all, but this notion that a national public option to which states could opt out is somehow incompatible with the belief that “states can make decisions on their own” is really pretty stupid. Whether the construction is “opt out” or “opt in,” the operative word is “opt,” which in English, can roughly be interpreted to mean “make a decision on their own about their own citizen.” Moderates don’t like it because it would put politicians in the position of directly denying a popular initiative to constituents rather than being able to blame someone else for denying a popular initiative to constituents. But this also gives away the whole game. The fact that moderates fear this position demonstrates that the public option is a popular idea that a lot of people want, and that opposition to its creation really stems from a) political incentives for conservatives or b) undue deference to corporate interests. After all, if the public option were unpopular, couldn’t a politician lead the “opt out” movement without fear of reprisal? Of course, it’s difficult to demonstrate capture by industry or conservative politics in a popular way, so instead you get people like Ben Nelson masking their opposition in the form of wishy-washy bullshit about the American character that doesn’t even withstand the lowest level of scrutiny.

By the same token though, the limited practical difference between an “opt-out” and “opt-in” public option means that I’d definitely accept an “opt-in” plan as part of reform. So I guess if this is how soi-disant centrists need to make their mark, then it’s something I can live with. But still, it’s pretty stupid. 

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