Wait, Is That … Could It Be … Substance?

Team Hillary hosted a conference call this morning to discuss a letter they wrote to Barack Obama’s campaign (available here ). The letter asks Obama to take down a political ad claiming that his health-care plan would “cover everybody.” In fact, they say, his plan would leave about 15 million people uninsured.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton blasted back that “[t]he Clinton campaign didn’t say a word when this ad was released a month ago, and the only thing that’s changed since then is the poll numbers. The truth is, Barack Obama would offer health coverage to every single American who can’t afford it.”

But the real problem, as Paul Krugman explains in his brickbat of a column today, isn’t lower income Americans. It’s that young, well-off Americans who are generally healthy and therefore don’t have to buy insurance will drive up costs for everyone else. Hillary and John Edwards both have ways of enforcing their mandates—requiring proof of enrollment on tax forms, say, or anytime someone seeks medical treatment. Obama’s plan, on the other hand, would allow them to remain outside the system.

The upside to this kerfuffle is that—are you sitting down?—it’s substantive. In the Obama campaign’s response, they call Hillary’s move an “attack.” Yes, there’s clearly a political purpose to demanding that the ad come down. But this dispute isn’t about Obama’s patriotism, or his religion, or the “politics of hope”—it’s about policy, and that’s a nice change from previous scuffles. For Obama’s team to dismiss it as a cheap shot ignores the fact that they goofed.