The universe is not utterly disarranged.
Last night radio talker Mark Levin upbraided Ann Coulter for her column endorsing Romneycare.
It's a fascinating interchange in a lot of ways, but two qualities especially leap out as revealing of the state of today's conservatism.
1) Levin offers 100% zero policy content in his rebuttal. Whether (or not) the Massachusetts reform yielded good results, whether (or not) it added to costs, what (if any) differences it made to health outcomes - none of these merit mention in Levin's reply. The argument is all about abstract principles.
Which is not to gainsay the importance of principles only:
2) The principles being articulated are both extreme and incoherent.
Levin's principled objection is to any government requiring citizens to buy a service from a private company. At the federal level such a requirement is unconstitutional (he argues); at the state level, it is destructive of liberty even if constitutional.
Levin has to use some delicate phraseology here to avoid such problems as: Was it unconstitutional back in 1792 for the federal government to require male citizens of the appropriate age to buy guns and enroll in their state militias? What about requiring car insurance from all drivers? Is a compulsory vaccination against an infectious disease an abuse of government power if the injections are administered by private doctors?
And notice the destination at which these convoluted distinctions finally arrive:
Since Levin does not want to argue that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, he is forced to argue that the real evil of Obamacare and Romneycare is that they rely on private insurance. Had they taxed citizens to finance a federal single-payer program, that would be quite OK!
A structured and subsidized private market becomes, in the Levin telling, a much more pernicious assault on liberty than a British-style National Health Service!
How can that make any sense?
It does not. The seemingly principled argument is in fact utterly ad hoc, developed on the fly to score a point against a hated opponent without alienating an audience of senior citizens who would throw the radio out the window if Levin told them what he truly thought about the social programs they depend on.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, near-universal health coverage is coming at last to the United States. That's not a clock that can or should be turned back. The conservative task ahead is to reform that new social commitment so that it is affordable and sustainable, so that it is financed in ways that do not discourage work, saving and investment.
It's unexpected but welcome to see Ann Coulter enroll among those who favor that kind of pragmatic conservative reform. Could the ideological fever that has gripped the right over the past three years at last be breaking?