One of the things I hate about ideology—left or right—is how easy one’s worldview about politics can transmute into something lazier, dumber, tribalistic and ultimately more concerned with winning than with truth.
Exhibit A: Salon’s Joan Walsh.
I’m pretty sure I’m a liberal—the hate mail I get seems to confirm this—and mostly, I enjoy reading Walsh’s work. She’s an experienced and insightful liberal observer of American politics who is right, I think, more often than she’s wrong. But right now, on the topic of Obamacare’s faltering web sites, she’s wrong.
And make no mistakes: The unveiling of the websites has been kind of disastrous, and Walsh herself has admitted this: “The problems with Healthcare.gov are real, and disturbing, and must be fixed asap,” Walsh wrote in her Monday column. But the bigger problem, she suggested, is that … liberals are discussing quite openly how the problems with Healthcare.gov are real, and disturbing, and must be fixed asap.
“On the one hand, yes, it’s important for Democrats to acknowledge when government screws up, and to fix it,” she wrote. “On the other hand, when liberals rush conscientiously to do that, they only encourage the completely unbalanced and unhinged coverage of whatever the problem may be.”
The problem, as Walsh sees it, is that liberal critiques of Obamacare play into Republican hands, give an advantage to people who criticize the web exchanges not to make them better, but to end them entirely. “Does anyone think if the website worked perfectly, dishonest conservatives wouldn’t be pointing to other alleged problems?” she wrote. And yeah, I guess that kind of stinks—though in the interest of fairness, for many conservatives it really is case that Healthcare.gov’s problems are in fact indicative of the broader problem with universal healthcare itself: It’s just too big and complex an undertaking for government to manage effectively, they say, so pointing to the website problems is an honest critique.
But the alternative to Walsh’s problem is one that damages both the dream of universal healthcare and the Democratic Party—that liberals, in their efforts to deny the GOP a victory, simply deny reality.
What are liberal pundits supposed to do? Stay silent? That would be a noticeable omission. And anyone who tried to tell the public that, no, they’re wrong, that everything’s working just fine, would probably (deservedly) find their reputation in tatters. Even Walsh, who is angry about liberal criticism of the web exchanges, isn’t quite willing to go that far herself. And well that she doesn’t: The best way to fix something properly is to acknowledge its flaws in the first place.
Liberals, in this case, would do well to learn a painful lesson from the George W. Bush administration. That president and his defenders steadfastly resisted the idea that the Iraq War was increasingly a losing proposition, instead referring to “dead enders” who would be finally defeated any day now. It wasn’t until the country delivered a stunning defeat to the GOP in the 2006 midterm election that Bush fired Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, hired Robert Gates, and implemented the surge that pacified Iraq just enough for America to make a respectful exit. In truth, I’m not sure the national GOP has ever recovered the credibility it lost during that episode.
The lesson? Deal honestly with reality, political folks, or reality will deal with you.
Walsh concludes by quoting Robert Frost, that “a liberal is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel.” Liberals should always take their own side in a fight … except when they’re wrong. Then they should take the side of truth—and get down to fixing the problem.