I couldn’t find it, but there’s an old SNL sketch of Will Ferrell in a fake commercial for horse glue. He promises that his glue is the best available, and that it is made from many, many horses. At the end, he inspects a cauldron of the glue and declares, “Needs more horse!” It’s decently funny, but what stuck with me was that this was the only thing he could have said. The entire concept of the skit was that this glue was made from horses, so what else could possibly have been done to improve the glue he was evaluating?
I see a similar thing going on in politics all the time. During the 2008 Presidential campaign, independents would say things like, “Obama/McCain need to offer more specifics,” despite that fact that Americans don’t actually give a shit about policy specifics and tune out when those become the focus of debate. So why do the voters in the post-debate focus groups say that? Because it’s the only thing to say. They don’t want to look like idiots, and they don’t understand policy concerns in any detail, so they say something that they hear repeated all the time and think no one else will disagree with.
The same goes with “bipartisanship,” only instead of voters, it’s now the politicians who clamor for it. Evan Bayh once formed a group of “Centrist” Senators, despite openly admitting that they had no policy positions. Why did he bother then? In a highly partisan environment, with Senate procedural rules preventing the Democrats from accomplishing anything, he thought it was a tactic that no one could disagree with.
I bring this up because I see a lot of criticism of Obama’s health care agenda from both the right and the left, basically stating that Obama should have “focused on jobs instead.” This, again, is meaningless. Of course we want jobs. Unemployment is unacceptably high. But hundreds of years of history suggest that the government isn’t especially good at creating long-term jobs at the drop of the hat, or else they would do it every time unemployment spiked. Likewise, the Obama administration has indeed focused a lot time on economic issues, and I see no reason to think that the time spent on health care would have otherwise been allocated to passing effective legislation. The claim, “should have focused on jobs” is just a meaningless proxy for those who are mad at Obama or the health care bill and don’t have to explain why. And of course “jobs” is what people say they want. What else would they say instead?
It needs more horse.