Jonathan Chait wrote a really good article earlier this week, Libertarian Accidentally Shows How Obamacare Is Succeeding. It has to do with Peter Suderman’s coverage of Obamacare over the past six months at Reason Magazine. Readers here may know of Suderman, because he’s also a film “critic” who I blasted last year about his truly ignorant take on why Hollywood films are so boring, Why Screenplays Suck. It’s funny that a libertarian would complain that films suck. According to their ideology, a film’s value is completely determined by how much money it makes. But whatever. Suderman, it seems, is just as much an idiot when it comes to Obamacare.
Chait looks at five articles that Suderman wrote about Obamacare. First, he said Obamacare wasn’t going to reduce the uninsured at all. A couple days later he said, well, maybe it would reduce the uninsured a little bit, but that was all. A month later, he was scoffing about the seven million Obamacare signups on the exchanges; he said it might be two and a half. A couple weeks after that, he had bumped his number up to three million newly covered—far less than the 13 million hoped for by the administration. So a New England Journal of Medicine report recently came out and found that 20 million Americans have gotten health insurance through Obamacare. Suderman’s response, “[I]t’s too early to say exactly how many so far—only that 20 million is almost certainly an overstatement.”
The point that Chait makes explicitly is that individually, each of Suderman’s articles claim that Obamacare is failing. But looked at in series, they show that it is a great success. I’ll go further: Suderman’s article series actually provides a more positive narrative for Obamacare than any of its biggest cheerleaders. This is a typical error committed by conservatives on Obamacare especially. They have been so certain that it would be a failure that they have made continued bold claims about it. I’m sure you could do what Chait did to anyone. If I could stomach it, I’d do it to that charlatan Avik Roy.
But there is something special here: Peter Suderman is not just a conservative—he is a libertarian. Libertarians are fine if they only talk in terms of theory. “The minimum wage is bad because two people should have a right to engage in any contract they find mutually acceptable.” It’s when they talk practically that they get into trouble, “The minimum wage is bad because it will cost jobs and drive prices up!” They should know this. When I was a fellow traveler, I understood this. But most libertarians just can’t resist. They insist on arguing that their “principled” stand will bring about a better world, even when there is usually no evidence for that.
Why is Peter Suderman against Obamacare? Because he’s against the government doing just about anything at all. And that’s fine! But he doesn’t make that argument. He makes the argument that the law is not working and will not work. But as a libertarian, he can’t really care whether the law is working or not. His complaint is theoretical. The free market is king and will solve all our problems! I just don’t understand the need to make these practical attacks.
Of course, today he is out with his own counter argument, Did I Accidentally Prove that Obamacare Is a Success? It’s actually a shockingly bad bit of writing. Chait’s main point is that on each occasion, Suderman put the worst possible spin on what was going on. Suderman’s main complaint is that Chait didn’t quote other articles of his. But if you look at those articles, they are either pure reporting, or again, Suderman putting the worst possible spin on the data. For example, he complained that Chait didn’t include “an April 17 post noting the administration’s report that 8 million had signed up for coverage.” But in that “report,” Suderman makes the same conservative comments: not everyone is paying and we don’t know about the demographics. It might as well have been Charles Krauthammer or George Will writing.
At no time did Chait claim that Suderman was making outlandish attacks on the Obamacare news. He was just pointing out that Suderman was always painting the worst picture possible and over time that picture has gotten better and better. In a sense, it is a compliment to Suderman; it shows that he is not resistant to facts. He has an ideological ax to grind, but he isn’t such an ideologue that he refuses to look at reality. (As a counter example, look at the gold standard crowd who claim that inflation is actually really high but there is a conspiracy to prevent us from knowing about it.)
I, of course, have a much worse view of Suderman. I still have a certain fondness for libertarians. They are not paleoconservatives. But I have a problem with Suderman because I know that it doesn’t matter what happens, he will always hate Obamacare for theoretical reasons. So let’s suppose that in three years, Obamacare is a fantastic success—that there is no way to deny this. Suderman will do what libertarians always do when they can’t make a practical case: he will complain about it based on theory: the government should not take money away from one group of people to give healthcare to another group of people. And that annoys me, because it means that all the practical arguments were disingenuous. The biggest thing I still respect about what I consider real libertarians is that they are honest. Almost none of the people who call themselves libertarians are.
Say it with me: “I will only make theoretical libertarian arguments because practical libertarian arguments are usually a joke.” Repeat as often as necessary.
 People may wonder why I continue to use the term “fellow traveler” to indicate my former libertarianism. This is because libertarianism today is very much like communism 80 years ago: it is a utopian philosophy that can never be refuted because no society can ever be completely pure. So proponents will always claim, “Well, if we just did one more thing” everything would be roses or whatever. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have a certain respect for the old communists or the new libertarians. But they are far more similar than they know.
 But look at that face! He looks so fresh and idealistic. It’s hard to think ill of him.