Yes, Virginia, there is a Republican candidate. Amidst all the press coverage of Barack Obama’s crazy pastor and Hillary Clinton’s craven gas tax holiday, you can be forgiven for forgetting that John McCain is running for president too. But, his campaign is taking shape and doing so in ways that still make the Democratic nomination a thing worth having. McCain rolled out his health care plan this week. He described it as a "market-based" solution to the nation’s health care system. Aides called the plan "radical." McCain promises to give people "choice" and to introduce a greater degree of "competition." Unfortunately for McCain, the plan was described by news accounts as "similar to one that [President George W.] Bush put forth in his 2007 State of the Union address." Being linked to George Bush, whose job approval sits at 28% according to the most recent Gallup poll, is the kiss of death for McCain in the general election. But, what else can he do? In various ways, Bush has divided the GOP. Fiscal conservatives shudder at the growth of government spending in the past few years. The more isolationist wing of the party has grown disgusted by the endless war in Iraq. The anti-immigrant base of the GOP bucked Bush on comprehensive immigration reform. The two areas where Republicans still agree are taxes and government regulation of industry. So, McCain flip-flopped on taxes, now supporting the Bush tax cuts he voted against in 2001. And, on health care, he proposes a "market-based" solution to a problem the market has consistently made worse. McCain misreads the voters on health care. Especially with the economic downturn, they are looking for security, not competition. They would love "choice" but they have come to recognize that the current market-based system has diminished their choices in favor of corporate profits. And, by proposing to scrap the employer-based system we currently have, the "radical" part of the plan, he makes even those who are happy with their health care plans nervous. The debate on health care is a debate worth having. At a time when most of us look to our elders with envy because Medicare works better than any private health care plan, the idea of greater government involvement is not so scary. Democrats can usefully claim the moral high ground of offering plans that not only do something to help the poor and the ill, but which remind Americans that on some issues, we are all in this together and that only a solution that involves everyone can meet this pressing national concern. Some issues are too important to be left to the dictates of the market: McCain is not proposing that we privatize the war on terror, is he? The preamble to the Constitution says that government is formed, among other reasons, to promote the general welfare. For too long, the health care system has promoted the specific welfare of a few large insurance and pharmaceutical companies. McCain’s plan is a disaster, and the kind of disaster that is necessary and predictable for a GOP nominee. I do not see it swaying many independent voters in November. Anytime McCain finds himself linked to Bush, he should be nervous. Michael Sean Winters
Remember John McCain?