Dan, the man whose outer shell of principle conceals a melty nougat center

My man Mark Johnson hosted Dan Feliciano, Libertarian candidate for Governor, on his eponymous radio show Monday morning. And I have to say, it was a puzzling and underwhelming performance.

Feliciano proclaims himself as the candidate of principles. Those rock-solid beliefs include pulling the plug on single-payer health care, cutting state spending, and opening the public school system to competition and choice. Feliciano articulated those points clearly.

…………. But then, when it came down to details, Dan Feliciano revealed himself to be almost as soft and squishy as Scott Milne. On issue after issue, Feliciano punted on specifics. The details would be worked out later on, or he’d have to consult with these people or those people, or a new policy would be crafted through a collaborative process. It seemed to me that Feliciano was trying to preserve ties to his Libertarian/conservative base without closing the door to any centrist or independent voters.

A prime example: His two-faced response to a listener question about marijuana legalization. Feliciano began by saying “If a bill came across my desk, I would sign it.” But then he raised public-safety questions, claiming that there was no “appropriate test” for driving under the influence of marijuana.

So, he’d acquiesce to a bill that he sees as a threat to public safety. Hmm. How principled.

The question of legalizing heroin came up. This is a Libertarian principle, decriminalizing any “victimless crime.” Feliciano dodged, lamely offering that such a bill “wouldn’t pass the Legislature” and there are many other things higher on the priority list.

I am shocked, shocked, to hear such weasel words coming from a Libertarian.

Feliciano’s approach to health care reform didn’t stand up under scrutiny either. He wants to ease state regulations to entice more insurers to enter the marketplace, with the ensuing competition working its usual magic. But he’s surprisingly vague on how he’d attack the regulatory burden. He doesn’t call for the dismantling of the Green Mountain Care Board; he just wants it to be  “more of an overseer, less of a policymaker,” and that it needs to be “more accountable to the people.”

Including, perhaps, the popular election of its members.

That goes beyond lame, all the way to harebrained.

Feliciano was boxed into a corner on what regulations to cut, because he’s already been burned by questioning the community-rating system, which bars insurers from charging inflated prices to the old, sick, and high-risk. It’s a bete noire of the far right, but it’d be political poison to call for its repeal. So instead, he offers only the vague “our regulatory environment is too restrictive” and says he will “talk to insurance companies about what makes Vermont so onerous.”

Now, that’s right out of the Scott Milne playbook.

Johnson then reminded Feliciano that community rating was the single factor in driving many insurers out of Vermont. Feliciano’s response: if Vermonters want community rating we’ll keep it, but “I think there’s still opportunity — there must be something else that drove the companies out of the state.”

Oh, Dan, Dan. I thought you were a man of principle.

Later on, when the subject of health care returned, Feliciano tossed out a weak appeal to price advertising for medical services. He actually mentioned laser eye surgery as an example.

Do I have to enumerate the problems with that example? Perhaps I do. Well, laser eye surgery is a very specific and highly automated process. Unlike most medical procedures, your choice of practitioner doesn’t markedly change the odds of success.

When you get into the trenches of medical work, it’s not a matter of specific identifiable procedures; it’s a course of treatment, it’s an educated response to complications. It’s seeing the patient through to recovery. For many patients, it’s a multidisciplinary effort to combat a variety of different conditions in a single body. You can’t post that stuff on a billboard.

And Feliciano ought to know this. He’s got a special-needs daughter, and during the interview he talked about his family’s struggles to get her the best possible treatment. He praised his high-quality insurance coverage that allowed, among other things, a course of care at Johns Hopkins.

But when it comes to health care reform, he wants up-front pricing. And if you don’t want to settle for the cheapest provider, then he says, “If you want to pay a little more, you’ll have to pay something.” If I interpret that correctly, he means “you’ll pay for everything extra.”

Which doesn’t fit my definition of universal coverage, but I guess I’m just an old radical progressive softy. And to ask a hard-hearted question, if Feliciano had been seeking specialized care for his daughter under a Dan Feliciano health care system, would he have been willing to pay the extra freight? Including her treatment, fully covered by his insurance, at Johns Hopkins? That’d cost him a pretty penny under FelicianoCare.

There was also a dismal exchange on cutting the state budget. Johnson asked Feliciano for two or three examples of specific cuts.

Feliciano didn’t come up with any. He began by noting that the lion’s share of general fund spending is on Human Services and Education,  so that’s where he’d look for the biggest savings. But no specifics; just a call for a refocusing on “our core services.” As opposed to the Truffles ‘N Premium Cable Package we currently offer our welfare recipients.

And then he fell back on a truism from his days as a business turnaround specialist: “In my experience, in the private and public sectors, we can cut five to ten percent easily.”

Oh, really? He can’t offer a single line item, but it’d be easy to cut ten percent. Wow.

Things also got weird on school reform. Feliciano trotted out the school choice/voucher idea, in which “class sizes will get larger and outcomes will get bigger.” I think he meant “better,” but… how do larger class sizes, by themselves, lead to better outcomes?

But the real topper was when he said he’d “get everybody together to design a system, and if it didn’t work, we’d need an exit strategy.”

“If it didn’t work”?? You’re going to upend the entire public education system and you don’t know if it’s going to work? Good God.

In his closing response, Feliciano made a belated return to Libertarian dogma. Johnson asked him why the Democrats are so dominant in Vermont. After an unsettling series of nervous chuckles, he credited the Dems for “framing issues in terms of social problems, not individual responsibility,” and relying on “scare tactics” to induce a sense of “learned helplessness” in the hearts of We, The Sheeple.

Well, I, for one, am insulted. Am I a liberal because I’ve been brainwashed by the Democrats?  Have I abdicated my personal responsibility for some false promise of social equality?

Sorry, but no way, Jose. I am a liberal because I see the inequities and shortcomings of the free market system. And I see in government, as imperfect as it is, the only real counterweight to the raw power of capitalism. I don’t want to end capitalism, I just want to rein in its excesses. And there are lots of those.

So no, Dan, I am not a sheep. I am a person who, out of my own experience and knowledge, has freely chosen to believe in a robust role for government in our society. I’ll thank you to stop insulting me and all the other Vermonters who share my beliefs.

But I digress. Let’s just say that Dan Feliciano does best in small doses. When he has to talk at greater length, the many holes in his game become obvious. And the biggest one of all is that, when push comes to shove, he’s got the same basic ideas as Scott Milne: Elect me, and we’ll figure out the policies later.

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