Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Post hoc

As most of those who read this post yesterday probably realized, I indulged in the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (after therefore because) in suggesting that, had President Obama taken a stronger position against the big banks, Wall Street and the health insurers, we might have had no financial or health care reform.

What I assumed was that the political equation would have been the same if the White House had come down on the side of more change than they were in light of the President's tepid positions and that, therefore, the outcome for reform would likely have been worse (even) that it has been. Yet the power of the President is the power to persuade, as Richard E. Neustadt wrote in Presidential Power in 1960. (The link is to a later edition.) Had Barack Obama taken to the airwaves and the stump to call for real, top-to-bottom financial reform, had he espoused single-payer national health insurance, or the replacement of fee-for-service with other approaches to charging for health-care services, or just the breakup of huge health insurance companies to insure competition in the market, he could have changed the terms of debate. That, if accompanied by adroit political handling, might have led to very different results, to the benefit of the nation.

So, we'll never know what might have happened. More's the pity, especially as we are faced with the substantial likelihood that the next two years (at least) will see even more division as the forces of reaction block progress on almost all vital issues.

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