MORE MANDATES. Mark makes strong points on possible policy reasons for eschewing a mandate, but is wrong to say that "[t]raditionally, as Ezra well knows, the objection to mandates has come from the left, and it has come in primaries." First, mandates aren't terribly traditional -- their inclusion in high-profile, Democratic universal health care programs is actually rather recent. Next, Mark is largely talking about the Bradley campaign here -- a campaign he was deeply involved in -- and he's certainly right that they got mauled by the Gore camp on a variety of issues, including mandates. But it's not 2000 anymore, the party isn't coming off a president who declared the "era of big government is over," and every one of the major candidates, Obama included, has pledged themselves to a universal plan. The ground has changed. But even as that's happened, it's not changed enough that you're seeing viable proposals using a government mandate. So if you want universality -- and the base certainly does -- you're sort of stuck with the individual mandate.
Further, when evaluating the politics of the situation, it's probably more illuminative to look at how the Left is reacting now, rather than how it reacted in 2000. Indeed, Edwards has received little but praise for his plan -- which includes a mandate and has been offered during the primary. Wyden's been widely lauded for his and it includes a mandate. So whatever the Left's "traditional" take on mandates may have been, it's hard to find evidence that they remain seriously controversial. And I'm quite sure that Obama intuited all this because, merely a year ago, when he was still but a hyper-popular liberal Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama channeled this conventional wisdom and called for...a mandate. Now that he's running for president, that approach has been jettisoned -- and not in favor of a government mandate (more liberal), but in favor of nothing at all. We can speculate about why that may be (and I think Mark gives the most compelling and generous interpretation from a policy standpoint), but it's hard to believe, particularly looking at the rest of his plan, that it came as part of a shift left.