When I was growing up, one of the feeble responses made by those who still clung to the hope that communism might still triumph as a system of political economy, in the face of all the evidence that it wouldn't, was to insist that it hadn't really been tried. That in the Soviet Union and in China (and in North Korea and Cambodia too I suppose) the real utopian dreams of communism had been perverted into the dystopian nightmares of the Gulag and the Cultural Revolution.
Those late-night dorm-room debates came back to me yesterday as I listened to Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander (and to every other Republican who said anything) at the health care summit at Blair House. There they sat telling us the free market would really work, it really would fix the disaster that is our health insurance system. Really. See, the free market in health insurance hasn't really been tried, just like communism in China. There they sat, praying to the god that has failed so abjectly and insisting that the rest of us do the same.
These are free- market fundamentalists, after all, and like true-believers of any sort to acknowledge that something might be wrong with their world-view would be to have the whole edifice come crumbling down. And just like Mao's apologists a generation ago, these people will never permit reality to intrude on that world-view.
The fact that we already have a market (and profit) driven health insurance system and the fact that it has failed is beside the point. Since the free market must always generate the best outcome, the state of our health insurance system must be our fault, not the fault of the models that get generated by free market fundamentalist economists.
President Obama deserves credit for taking what looked like a piece of pure political theater and attempting to turn into something more substantive. And it certainly did make clear that the substance of the Republican position is to obstruct, to object, to critique and to put nothing of substance on the table.
So yesterday's event has left us exactly where we have been for some time. Bi-partisan compromise on health insurance reform was never a live option. Two questions remain. First, will Democrats, who enjoy bigger majorities than George Bush ever did in both houses, straighten up and fly right on this issue? And second, will the White House turn the health insurance issue to its political advantage as the November elections approach. At the moment, I don't feel good about either of those things.