1. Put one foot ahead of the other.
2. Carelessly let gun point vaguely downwards.
Today’s metaphorical practitioner of this Second Amendment-protected activity is John Campbell, Vermont’s Senate Penitent Pro Tem. He forgot to engage the safety catch on his mouth before speaking with VPR’s Peter “Gotcha” Hirschfeld about the prospects for Governor Shumlin’s #1 issue, single-payer health care.
“The governor and the administration have their sights set on this single-payer, and one that is publicly financed through a myriad of different way (sic),” Campbell said Tuesday. “I believe that right now, …that may not be something that would be politically viable in this legislative body, due to the costs involved.”
…Given the challenges ahead, Campbell says the Legislature needs to begin putting together an alternate health care reform plan, in the event single-payer fails.
Which seems to be a long-winded way of saying “Ding dong, single-payer is dead!” A curious sentiment coming from one of Shumlin’s top two legislative allies. Er, should I say, “a person who should be one of Shumlin’s top two legislative allies”? It sounds a lot like Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s position. Indeed, it’s arguably to the right of Vermont’s top Republican: Scott has adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward single-payer, while Campbell is giving it little or no chance of passing the Senate.
This is a nice little giftie for the Republicans. I can just imagine the press release: “Even the Senate’s top Democrat doesn’t think single-payer will work!” And if they can get hold of the audio, it might well make its way into a bunch of campaign ads this year.
But let’s turn to the big issue: Campbell going off the reservation on health care.
There are a couple ways of interpreting this. Well, three: the conspiratorial; the et tu, Brute; and the (relatively) benign. Unfortunately for purposes of snarky political blogging, the third is most likely the case. But let’s go through ’em all, shall we?
Conspiratorial. Many liberals and progressives, and some in the media, don’t believe that the Governor really wants single-payer. They think he’s holding it out there to mollify the left as he, generally, steers a centrist course. In this scenario, Campbell is laying the groundwork for a potential retreat from single-payer.
I don’t buy it. For one thing, if I were Governor Shumlin and I wanted someone to put out a stealthy political message, I think I could find a better choice than John Campbell. For another, and this may be unfashionable, but I actually believe that the Governor is totally serious about single-payer.
But on a very practical level, he’s talked about it so much that it’s become the linchpin of his tenure in the corner office. If he leaves office with a workable single-payer system in place, his Governorship will be seen as a success. If he falls short, it’ll be a lasting stain on his legacy no matter what else he accomplishes.
Et tu, Brute? In this scenario, the notoriously centrist Campbell is drawing a line in the sand (or, if you prefer, sticking a knife in the back), putting pressure on the Governor to give up on his legacy issue. This would be treachery of the first order — especially since the Governor was one of those who helped save Campbell’s bacon in 2012 when there was widespread dissatisfaction with his performance as Senate leader.
To believe this is to credit Campbell with enough political courage to risk alienating his party’s power structure, and enough verbal dexterity to thread a needle with his words. Personally, I don’t think he has that much of either quality. Which brings us to…
The self-inflicted wound. So, Peter Hirschfeld corners Campbell and asks him about the prospects for single-payer health care. Campbell hems and haws, allows his abundant political caution to take over, and emits a blizzard of tortuous verbiage that casts some doubt on the launch of a huge, expensive social engineering project. I put my money here. I mean, just read this entire paragraph. Or at least try to, without your eyes rolling back into your head:
“The governor and the administration have their sights set on this single-payer, and one that is publicly financed through a myriad of different way,” Campbell said Tuesday. “I believe that right now, after the due diligence that has been done by not only the Legislature, but also by some of the people in the administration, to me it demonstrates that that may not be something that would be politically viable in this legislative body, due to the costs involved.”
Another sign of verbal ham-fistedness: why’s he talking about an “alternate reform plan”? If single-payer doesn’t work out, wouldn’t we just stick with Vermont Health Connect? Why try to devise yet another system?
Not exactly Daniel Webster-level stuff. To me, the tone and style of his response points to the real explanation: John Campbell tried to go Full Waffle and failed.
I bet the Governor’s not happy, though. (A call to Shumlin’s office for comment went unreturned as of this writing. If I hear back, I’ll let you know.)