Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about Obamacare, millennials and the 2016 election. Below is a lightly edited transcript.
Ramesh: So, Margaret, after weeks where we've had to say the same things about Obamacare -- the website's a disaster and what a bad patch the administration is in -- we finally find ourselves able to say something new. Now the website is slightly less of a disaster, and the administration is trying a new tack: Just pretend it's basically OK. We're back to sure-there-are-a-few-glitches mode. I think the political strategy is going to work in a very limited way (much like the website): It will help stop the bleeding among the president's core supporters. It gives them something a little less dispiriting to tell themselves, and others, than "yes, it's crummy, but we're working on it."
Margaret: You took the words out of my computer. There's a respite, although it's still cloudy with a chance of disaster (the front end is kind of working, but the back end, where your actual policy lives, isn't). The other looming trouble is millennials, or whatever you want to call the selfish generation of deadbeats who use the emergency room as their primary care physician without taking the precaution of having insurance. One poll I saw said 47 percent of millennials have no plans to sign up for insurance. Some of that is related to the bad publicity of HealthCare.gov, but most of it is just them wanting to let someone else pay (and I can hardly remember feeling so carefree and invincible). One thing millennials are going to love is the idea of drones delivering their hair gel and running gear from Amazon.com. I'm a little leery of having flying objects crisscrossing the neighborhood skies, already crowded with electric wires, tall buildings and trees (Blooomberg had a fine editorial delving into Federal Aviation Administration regulations). Still, I'm all for instant gratification, having 25-pound bags of King Arthur flour and paper towels delivered the day I want them (I guess my generation's not nearly as cool).
Ramesh: The day you want them? Try the hour. I'm going to stick up for the millennials, leaving aside their questionable tastes in politics and pop culture. They aren't being asked to pay for policies that will cover their risks. They're being asked to pay for more than that. And they're used to having a lot of good choices in what they buy. If we want them to buy insurance, as we should, then we should make it possible for them to buy cheap policies conveniently. That's the opposite of what they're getting. And there are some signs that young people are cooling on President Barack Obama as a result.
Margaret: I'm not young, but I am cooler than I was on Obamacare. Speaking of cool, the very cool Obama (too cool to bother getting the details of the website right) has somewhat discredited the idea that government is competent enough to do big things for years to come. Imagine if we had to build an interstate highway system -- or even fix our deteriorating interstate highway system. I'm grateful for the constancy of the vice president, however. He never pretended to be cool -- and he isn't. Did you hear him ask a group of Japanese women if their husbands approved of their working? Gotta love him. I can see a Chris Christie-Joe Biden race in which we will beg for the day when our politicians weren't so authentic. There's a strain of put-down in Christie's rants, however. Christie is the bully, Biden the blunderer. We haven't seen much of Biden domestically -- is he laundering himself for 2016 if Hillary Clinton isn't running? He's nowhere near Obamacare or the budget talks. But this is to his benefit. On his Asia trip, he may not be bringing peace to China and Japan over those tiny islands, but he is looking rather presidential.
Ramesh: To the extent Vice President Biden has a reputation as a blunderer, it has been helping him. It means that his gaffes get written off -- "that's just Biden being Biden" -- and that his rhetorical knifings of Republicans don't come across as mean-spirited and demagogic. Normally a sitting vice president would have an edge in seeking his party's presidential nomination, and it sure sounds as though Biden wants it. But I don't think he can run if Hillary Clinton does. I take it you don't, either.
Margaret: My taste is for a race, but a Clinton-Biden primary would be a sad spectacle. It would be older and oldest, liberal and more liberal, going after each other. There's some chance Hillary won't run, although over the last month she has been showing more signs of interest. Hillary has to consider Bill's health, trying to hand off the Clinton brand to Chelsea, and her own quality of life. Bill's genetically modified to run for office. I don't know that Hillary is.
Ramesh: If she doesn't run, it's a very different Democratic race. I presume Biden then runs, but so do Andrew Cuomo, Martin O'Malley and an assortment of Castros. They've all got to be hoping she balks. Someone who should want her to run, on the other hand, is Christie. If she's in a commanding position, then independents will vote in the Republican primary where they can, and he'll have an edge among them. So a lot of people are going to be watching the Clintons very closely, even as some of us want the country's days of watching them to come, finally, to an end.
Margaret: I fear for the day when we don't have the Clintons to watch anymore. They've filled too many columns and a number of our chats. Thanks to Hillary, I avoided writing about Miley Cyrus twerking this year. You've brought up my game. Next week, I bet you make me write about the Murray-Ryan budget. Until then, I've got a few more days of Bidenisms to cover.