SULLIVAN: Thank you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Where is Obama right now? You know the argument. A lot of people say he -- he hasn't governed from the center, the health care bill was written by the very Liberal forces in the House of Representatives, and that he should have tried to govern in a way that bridged the gap between the two parties.
SULLIVAN: Look, the health care bill is far more Conservative than Clinton's, certainly more conservative than Nixon's was. It gives the entire health care industry to the insurance companies. It does not have a public option. It allows drug companies 40 million new consumers, and it actually manages by CBO, if it is enforced, to reduce the deficit.
It has the first cuts in Medicare, real cuts in Medicare that have been proposed forever. ZAKARIA: That board that would cut cost in Medicare is probably one of the most important pieces of this.
SULLIVAN: Yes, and that -- I mean, I don't know about you, but that's a Conservative idea --
SULLIVAN: -- to actually cut entitlements. And this is allegedly a Left Liberal president doing that.
There are also important pre-market idea like health care exchanges, which can also be expanded.
I think it's dead center --
ZAKARIA: So why do you think -- why do you think --
SULLIVAN: -- dead center of whether you reform (INAUDIBLE) --
ZAKARIA: So why does the public feel so differently about it?
SULLIVAN: Because I think they've been -- it's -- that's a -- everything I've said is a very complicated and wonkish debate. And -- and frankly, it bores you to tears.
But the government's taking over your health care is a -- is a very clear and old thing, and it taps into people's fears of government control, which I -- which I feel too. And if, frankly, we were not in a crisis on the subject, if this wasn't going to bankrupt private industry, if it weren't repressing wages very profoundly, if our actual outcomes were anywhere near the amount of expenditure we're putting on this, I would be fine with the status quo.
But I think it's a reasonable centrist proposal. I think the more people hear about it, I think they'll see that. And also, I -- look, Fareed, I know what socialist medicine is. I grew up in a country with socialist medicine. This is not socialism by any means.
For example, it's extremely similar to Mitt Romney's proposal in Massachusetts. A Republican governor and leader trying to govern a Liberal state, and this is a -- a sort of Liberal president trying to accommodate a Conservative country. I think they're very similar.
ZAKARIA: But no tort reform for -- on, you know, medical malpractice issues. There are lots of people who feel the consumer doesn't pay enough, which -- which is part of what adds to this constant inflation, so you don't have consumers, you need (ph) there the high deductibles or some kind of --
SULLIVAN: And you need to get rid of the -- the subsidy for employer.
SULLIVAN: I agree with all of that. That can be done. That can be added. I mean, what people seem to forget is the legislation can be changed, and this legislation can be amended in the future.
But I think it's the framework to show that we can tackle this problem, and I think Obama was elected by many -- by many of us to tackle these problems pragmatically.
So I think the Conservatives should say, fine, but we -- and I do agree to tort reform, but, you and I know that tort reform in terms of cost control is trivial. It's totally trivial. And I -- I think he's done a really much better job than people have acknowledged in incorporating much of that -- much of the Conservative critique within the actual proposal.
It's not perfect. Getting anything through the Congress isn't perfect. But look, the other thing he's doing is restoring the Constitutional order. He's taking --
ZAKARIA: This is very important to you. You've been blogging about this a great deal. Why is it so important to you?
SULLIVAN: Because it -- its bottom -- this country is a Constitution. That's the meaning of America. It's not a -- it's not a -- it's not a physical territory, it's an idea. And the idea is that it should protect individual freedom, and one of the fundamental principles of that is the power in the government should be separated and minimalized.
And the way that President Bush, for example, with a majority, managed to ram through huge legislation, to give you a simple example, the Medicare Prescription Drug Act, which in the imposition violated almost every parliamentary procedure by the hammer, Tom DeLay, which added $32 trillion of unfunded liabilities to the future generations. That was -- that was a violation of the Constitution.
What Obama is doing is trying to allow -- surprise, surprise -- the Congress to legislate. This is what it's supposed to do.
ZAKARIA: Let's talk about the political moment, because I remember when you were editor of "The New Republic" many years ago and Clinton came into office and Blair came into the office.
You wrote very eloquently about how there was a kind of post ideological politics that was developing in the Western world, end of the Cold War meant that the old Left/Right divide didn't make any sense. And while we've had a lot of ideological fire and brimstone, it does seem, to me at least, that the center of the country is still roughly where you described, the kind of pragmatic, moderate center that wants most of these problems solved and isn't too worried about the ideological kind of litmus test.
But yet, that doesn't seem to be what Washington looks like -- very polarized, very partisan. What's going on?
SULLIVAN: Part of it I think is gerrymandering, to be honest with you, in which the vast majority of congressmen and senator are in seats -- well, congressmen particularly -- are in seats that have been fixed so they're so safe. So that, in fact, the main thing they have to fear is a primary opponent from their right or their left.
ZAKARIA: So they worry about the extremes of their party, not the center --
ZAKARIA: -- that they've --
SULLIVAN: Because they -- they know they've got the seat. They don't have to appeal for center (ph).
Then you also have what I think has been a Conservative media industrial complex, which has found it very lucrative to really get more and more extreme on the Right, and I'm thinking of FOX News in this respect, in which -- or CPAC, these places, which have really gotten out of hand, I think, in terms of the extreme rhetoric they're doing. So they're narrowcasting to that base, and those base tends to be the activist of the party.
Now, Obama is refusing to take the bait, which is a very ballsy move. It requires -- you seem, I think he's underestimated in this sense. I think restraint is sometimes much stronger than hitting back, and I think his greatest strength as president is responding to anger and emotion with reason and argument.
Now, I know people say it wouldn't work, and that, in fact, emotion, especially in these economic times, is going to work. But, at the same time, Obama is still out there, like at this health care summit, still want his -- when he's given the opportunity to make the case, I think most people in the middle realize he's a good guy.
I think most people do think, apart from the 30 percent that think he's the antichrist, the 70 percent, I think, think -- even when they disagree with him, he's a good guy. His favorables are pretty high. His approval rating is -- is, really, at 50 percent in this -- in this kind of economic crisis, pretty high. And, in fact, his approval ratings are exactly where Reagan's were at this point. They chart and mirror Reagan's exactly.
I think he's making a gamble that in the long run the American people will understand that they have some serious problems, especially on the debt, and that they want a grown up to deal with it. They don't want to watch a cable show on FOX News in which some grown- up tells them they've got to eat their vegetables, because I think, frankly, Fareed, the biggest problem in this country is not -- they are post ideological, but they're big babies.
I mean, people keep saying they don't want any tax increases, but they don't want to have their Medicare cut, they don't want to have their Medicaid or they don't want to have their Social Security touched an inch. Well, it's about time someone tells them, you can't have it, baby. You know, it's done. You have to make a choice.
And I fear that -- and I always thought, you see, that that was the Conservative position. The Conservative is the Grinch who says no. And, in some ways, I think this in the long run, looking back in history, was Reagan's greatest bad legacy, which is he tried to tell people you can have it all. We can't have it all.