Global warming is about "saving the planet." Abortion and gay marriage evoke deep values, each side believing it commands the high ground. Certainly, President Obama pitched his health-care plan as a moral issue. It embodies "the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care," as he said when signing the legislation. Health care is a "right"; opponents are, by extension, less moral.
How fortunate for Samuelson that his keen gaze penetrates all of that moral confusion and invariably brings him to the logically correct solution.
Regrettably, Samuelson doesn't share with us the outcomes logic dictates for global warming, gay marriage and abortion rights, once "morality" is removed from the equation. Perhaps he thinks questions like gay marriage are for the Gods or, going back to Douthat's latest, best left to reasoned debate between Glenn Beck and Gore Vidal? Although he shares no insight on those issues, he does give us his "back of the envelope" calculation for morality-free healthcare:
On a simple calculus of benefits, his proposal would have failed. Perhaps 32 million Americans will receive insurance coverage - about 10 percent of the population. Other provisions add somewhat to total beneficiaries. Still, for most Americans, the bill won't do much. It may impose costs: higher taxes, longer waits for appointments.I guess public health benefits of having more people able to access health care services are illogical; that cost-shifting for the care of the uninsured and underinsured to insured and private pay patients "doesn't compute". Although he tells us that the "uninsured already receive substantial medical care", and has previously argued that huge numbers of them don't want insurance and have little need for care, he is able to leap across chasms of fact and logic to warn us that they'll soon demand so much more care that doctor's offices will have longer waits. (I'm not sure how things work on Planet Samuelson, but the doctor's offices I go to stop accepting new patients when they can't accommodate more appointments.)
So if you don't experience an immediate, significant gain from the bill, "the bill won't do much" for you. Unless you or your spouse become very sick, have or devleop a pre-existing condition, have a sick child, lose your job... oh, but enough of that. If you have insurance and supported the bill it was because you "thought it was 'the right thing'; it made [you] feel good about [yourself]." There can be no other explanation.
Purging moral questions from politics is both impossible and undesirable. But today's tendency to turn every contentious issue into a moral confrontation is divisive. One way of fortifying people's self-esteem is praising them as smart, public-spirited and virtuous. But an easier way is to portray the "other side" as scum: The more scummy "they" are, the more superior "we" are. This logic governs the political conversation of left and right, especially talk radio, cable channels and the blogosphere.So, you see, if you supported healthcare reform and Samuelson suggests that you're illogical, irrational, supported the bill for an emotional high (because you have to admit, it's been so rewarding to advocate for a watered down healthcare bill that was repeatedly knocking on death's door, while its opponents loudly cheered on its anticipated demise) and to feel superior to others, it's okay because he's able to see past the moral component of the debate and focus exclusively on (some of) the facts.