Clinton's Health Care Plan Has Novel "Choice" Frame

From a political vantage point, one novel feature of Sen. Hillary Clinton's health care plan is that it's the first Democratic proposal framed by the language of choice -- a significant departure from the framing that accompanied her 1993 plan, which touted "health security" for Americans. A lesson learned: the political elites focused on insuring the uninsured; voters worried that a new bureaucracy would constrain choices. Clinton's plan is titled "American Health Choices."

Speaking to reporters this morning, Clinton predicted that her critics would have a much more difficult time demagoguing her proposals. She was blunt:

"It's not a government run health care system. It creates no new bureaucracy. People are going to have the same health care choices as members of Congress, and so it's going to take quite a bit of contortion to come up with that sort of misrepresentation."

"Americans from all walks of life," Clinton told us, "aren't going to be fooled again."

In 2000, Democratic intellectual Andrei Cherny wrote "The Next Deal," which described what he called "the Choice Revolution." Cherny challenged Democrats to envision government not as a guarantor of rights and security but also as a guarantor of, a provider of, a facilitator of, choices.

Clinton and other Democratic presidential candidates have read the book; at one of those fancy Washington book parties the bloggers love to hate, I once saw Clinton and Cherny chatting about it.

The Clinton plan incorporates universal coverage but does not define itself by that goal. It incorporates cost-cutting but does not define itself by that goal, either. Instead, the freshest fruit of Clinton's plan is that it secures universal choices.

By the way: the plan wins important and substantive plaudits from three of the most influential voices in center-left cognoscenti.

The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn wondered: "Would she be vague, figuring she had the least to prove on the matter and that details could only come back to haunt her? Would she settle on something less than universal coverage, figuring the political support for it was too weak? Would she kowtow to the insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies, which had started donating to her campaigns? The answer seems to be no, no, and no."

Ezra Klein, who is even harder to please, calls the policy proposals "very, very, sound."

The only question is how serious of a proposal it is, i.e, whether it's what she plans to fight for from her first day in office, or whether it's to keep Edwards and Obama from opening up an advantage on her left flank. For now, there's no way to know. But given how smart she's been about neutralizing the other candidates' potential advantages -- including, with this plan, cutting their legs out on health care -- we're likely to find out.

And my colleague Matthew Yglesias writes that Clinton is "is drawing close to checkmating her opponents."