Aaron: Stop Wonkin'

The estimable Henry Aaron says we shouldn't worry about the differences between the Democrats' health care plans:

In other words, a chasm separates Republicans and Democrats on the issue of what to do about the U.S. health care system. And very little separates the major candidates within each party.

In this situation, what should Democratic primary election voters make of the dueling press releases and expert statements that each side has invoked on the desirability of an individual mandate? The answer, I believe, is close to nothing. Here's why. First, the positions of the candidates are barely distinguishable. Second, if elected, no Democrat will be able to shove a health care reform plan through Congress without major modification. Third, all would call on a similar set of advisors with broadly similar views. (Do not doubt that most analysts advising each Democratic candidate would gladly serve in the administrations of their current rivals!) Primary voters should not base their votes on the negligible differences that distinguish the campaign statements of the candidates on health care. Rather, they should base their votes on their judgments regarding the capacity of each candidate, if elected, to unify their own party and to reach across the aisle to achieve the bipartisan cooperation that will be necessary to enact major health care reform. The current analytical squabble is a diversion. As a certified policy wonk, I fully understand the seductions of these debates. Models. Statistics. Oh, boy! But having lived through way too many of these arguments, I also understand that winning them has nothing to do with getting elected and governing effectively. Let's keep our eye on the ball.

Because these campaigns go on for so long, and because so many relevant issues are hard to know the answer to (who would do the best job of responding to third-party anonymous smears? who will hire the smartest ad-making dude?), I think there's a tendency to over-interpret the information that is available. Thus one can, if one chooses, spin out a narrative about the important revelations about the character and savvy of the nominees that are encapsulated in their health care plans. In truth, the outcome of Tom Allen's Senate campaign is probably more important to the prospects for health care reform than is the choice of Democratic Party nominee.