It is too bad that this Phillip Klein article hasn’t gotten a lot more play. Klein points out that out that there isn’t even one panel on health care policy at the Conservative Political Action Conference. I remember seeing a speech by Chris DeMuth in the late-1990s where he said that health care policy would be the most important economic battleground between liberal and conservatives in the coming decades.
This hasn’t sunk in among conservative activists and within the conservative popular media ecosystem. Like Klein says, conservatives tend to deemphasize health care policy unless the liberal are about to make some major step toward more government-run health care. Then, when the latest liberal effort ends (whether in success or failure), conservatives go back to not talking or thinking about health care policy very much. So, from the conservative side, health care policy disputes become an endless exercise in line drawing and retreat. When one line is overrun, conservatives draw a new line and wait for the next attack. This is all very convenient for liberals. When they win, they win. When they don’t win, they don’t actually lose. They just hold on to the status quo create by their most recent win.
CPAC has been the subject of a lot of criticism this year, but the problem isn’t just with the organizers on that convention. The disconnection of the conservative activist base and populist media from affirmative health care policy is deeply damaging and not-at-all new. It means that anybody who has real concerns about health care delivery and cost is driven to the Democrats because they are the only ones who are offering answers that go beyond attacks on the trial lawyers and generalities about getting government out of health care.