I've observed the American health care "debate" with mingled bemusement and dismay. Since I have a Canadian health card, it's not terribly serious to me. It's a bit dismaying however that the fact that there are good arguments to be made for and against health insurance reform in the United States isn't compelling anybody to actually make them in public.
This week's really lame argument is: the government can't run a health insurance plan because the post office is failing. Barack Obama, stupidly, played into this by saying, "I mean, if you think about it, UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. It's the Post Office that's always having problems." Michael Steele followed suit by arguing that a government health care plan, "is inefficient, limits choices, and hemorrhages taxpayer money like the Post Office." This apparently stems from the fact that the Post Office is indeed losing money and might have to go to five days a week, which seems to upset people. But, of course, the Post Office is losing money- people send emails now. And, yes, they might have to go to five days- which is the norm in several other countries, including Canada. Times change. Why shouldn't they cut back and save money? What does that have to do with the failure of government? Say what you want about the Post Office, but I've always gotten good service from them, and usually for a lot less money than UPS charges. Maybe I've sold out to the establishment, man, but I'm actually happy sending letters through the mail.
Besides, the larger argument, which you hear quite often now: government = bad, is a cop out coming from government officials. Look, I have plenty of friends who are libertarians or anarchists or variations of the two who genuinely do believe that government an sich is the problem and who try to form alternative institutions to circumvent state institutions. I tend towards that argument myself from time to time. But, when you're a government official arguing that "government is the problem" what you're basically saying is, "When I do something right, give me credit; when I screw up, it was the government's fault."
It's also pretty cynical. It reminds me of this assistant professor we had in our department for a few years. Now, I complain about academia and all of its problems quite often; but I do so because I believe in the ideal of the university and want the reality to more closely approximate that ideal. A lot of academics feel that way. With this guy, he just believed that the university an sich is, like bullshit, man, and so the trick is to try to scam them for as much money as one can. He would tell the grad students that we should lie on grant applications to get more money, come up with provocative arguments, even if they weren't true, to sell more books, and suggest ways to avoid actual teaching. In the end, he basically alienated himself from everyone in the department and went elsewhere. He did "succeed" though: he was there for three years and taught only one course.
And, you know, the government does screw up a lot of things. I'm not particularly optimistic about their future endeavors either. But it's hard to overstate the intellectual bankruptcy of government officials whose central argument has become, "We don't really have any ideas or a program for the future, but that's a good thing because government sucks." If they really feel that way, they should go work for UPS.