Health Care Debate Involves First Principles: Capitalism vs. Command Economy

Neo-neocon (owner of my favorite bloggish nom d’pixelle) explains the fundamental difference in world-view that underlies the highly partisan health care debate (link and emphasis added):

Americans on both left and right are unhappy with the current health care reform bills.



The left is upset because neither the House nor Senate version goes far enough towards putting government firmly in control of our medical decisions, with the goal of providing equal coverage for all no matter what the price. The right is upset because we see the bills’ provisions as unwarranted intrusions on our liberty that create a “right” where none existed before. We believe that reform would be better handled by fostering competition in the private sector rather than increasing government intervention in vital decisions that should remain between doctor and patient….

[E]mbedded in the second paragraph of this article is the most basic division between left and right, embodied in the phrases “providing equal coverage for all” and “unwarranted intrusion on our liberty.”

The first expresses the left’s push for equality of outcome, while the second speaks to the right’s concern with safeguarding liberty while providing equality of opportunity. Even if it were possible to put aside for a moment all the highly valid concerns about the way this bill has been advanced against the will of the American public — the lack of transparency, the fiscal fudging, the vote-buying, and the lies — this deep and primary philosophical difference between left and right would still remain.

The battle cry of the left is that “health care should be a right, not a privilege.”  This is brilliant framing — it sneakily implies that conservatives believe health care should be a privilege.

140px-CaduceusThe problem, of course, is that no health care system can provide every treatment for every person for every malady.  Health care expenditures have to be rationed, either by government, by the marketplace, or — as in our current system — by an imperfect combination of the two.

Thanks in large part to Joe Lieberman, the most pernicious element of the left’s health care agenda — the single-payer stalking horse known as the public “option” — has been eliminated from the current bill.  But the legislation still represents a massive shift of control, over one-sixth of the economy, from the marketplace to the government.  It’s a move in the wrong direction, and it will stifle competition and lead to higher, unsustainable costs.  (There still remains a faint hope that the reconciliation process between the House and Senate versions may scuttle the legislation altogether.)

You should read all of Neo’s article, but since you won’t, I’ll give away the ending.  Riffing on Churchill, she writes:

Our government has had to choose between liberty and social justice. They chose social justice. They will get neither.

Channeling His Inner Neocon: Did the Nobel Speech Launch the Obama Doctrine?

US troops in Afghanistan (AFP/Getty)

US troops in Afghanistan (AFP/Getty)

I may have been too quick to sneer yesterday at President Obama’s appearance in Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

The prize itself is still ridiculous, of course.  (And don’t get me started on the statue.)  But in addition to the obvious point that the honor is unearned, the president has faced critics from his left who believe the recent escalation of Mr. Obama’s War is inconsistent with the prize.

Seeking to answer those critics, Obama used his acceptance speech to issue a ringing declaration of American exceptionalism (although he would not use that term).

In the last 24 hours, I’ve watched one conservative after another find things to praise in the speech.  Neo-neocon (not an Obama fan) called it “the most robust defense of American military action I’ve ever heard him give,” and quoted this passage (my emphasis):

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason…

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.

In a post in The Corner titled “Obama the Neocon,” Michael Ledeen said:

It’s “only a speech,” to be sure.  And there things I wish he hadn’t said, or said differently.  But it’s a very different sort of speech, and it contained many words that are downright neoconnish:

America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements — these movements of hope and history — they have us on their side.

It sure sounds like President Obama just endorsed the Green Movement in Iran.

In a roundup titled “Conservative Praise for Obama Speech,” Politico notes the endorsement of former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich:

It’s already being called the “Obama Doctrine” – a notion that foreign policy is a struggle of good and evil, that American exceptionalism has blunted the force of tyranny in the world, and that U.S. military can be a force for good and even harnessed to humanitarian ends.

“I think having a liberal president who goes to Oslo on behalf of a peace prize and reminds the committee that they would not be free, they wouldn’t be able to have a peace prize, without having [the ability to use] force,” Gingrich said. “I thought in some ways it’s a very historic speech.”

The conservative other conservatives love to hate, Kathleen Parker, wrote in the Washington Post:

The speech was a signal moment in the evolution and maturation of Obama from ambivalent aspirant to reluctant leader.

Rising to the occasion, he managed to redeem himself at a low point in his popularity by reminding Americans of what is best about themselves.

At Contentions, Jennifer Rubin (really not an Obama fan):

But this speech is perhaps the closest he has come to throwing the American antiwar Left under the bus. America will defend itself. There is evil in the world. And yes, we are at war with religious fanatics:

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war.

For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint – no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one’s own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith – for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

It is not at all what the netroot crowd that lifted him to the presidency had in mind. It seems that reality may be dawning, however dimly, on the White House.

I could go on and on. (I guess I already have.)  I expect in the future I will continue to have more criticism than praise for Mr. Obama. But while I am always proud to be an American, today I am proud of my President.


Bragging Rights vs. Governing Rights

Neo-neocon sparked a raucous conversation in the comments of a brief post about the followup to a mischievous Zogby poll that surveyed Obama voters about their level of knowledge of various statements, and reported that the Obama voters surveyed got questions wrong more often than if they had simply guessed randomly.

I say it’s a “mischievous” poll because it makes no sense to poll only Obama voters, there’s no context. So another polling firm went out and sort-of replicated the poll, but this time surveying random people (thereby capturing both McCain and Obama voters).

I say “sort-of replicated” because they added a question to what Zogby asked, and a lot of the Zogby questions are arguably biased. (In fact, Neo’s commenters argue about this at great length.) Viewers of right-leaning Fox News and left-leaning MSNBC News scored differently on various questions, and there’s plenty to argue about there, too.

So throw out all of the questions about individual candidates and viewing habits, just look at the simple, objective, no-way-to-skew question about Congressional control, as reported by the pollster:

Respondents were asked which party controlled both houses of congress before the past election, Republicans or Democrats.

  • McCain voters knew which party controls congress by a 63-27 margin.
  • Obama voters got the “congressional control” question wrong by 43-41.

I want to be careful here, because the vast majority of my friends and neighbors voted for Obama. If I know you personally, I’m confident that you would have correctly answered “Democrats.” But the overall difference in political awareness between Obama and McCain voters is stark.

So, let’s review: McCain supporters are better informed, and Obama supporters are celebrating. Advantage: Obama.

Next Up: Obama Derangement Syndrome

As I was writing yesterday about Bush Derangement Syndrome, Pajamas Media was preparing to post an article by Neo-neocon entitled “Avoiding the Clutches of Obama Derangement Syndrome.” Sage advice, as usual:

Yes, there are reasons to fear that Obama has a far left agenda, based on his history, some of his own statements, and his associations. There are even reasons to believe that whether he does or doesn’t have such an agenda himself, he will lack the inclination (or perhaps the backbone) to stop the far left agenda of those with the power to pass bills — in other words, the hugely Democratic Congress and its leaders Reid and Pelosi.

But I suggest that everyone stand back, take a deep breath, and wait. Wait, and observe. It will become clear enough as Obama chooses a Cabinet and advisers. And then it will become even more clear as he takes office and begins the work of government. More clarity will come as he handles the inevitable crises and tests that will occur on his watch.

Her column makes me feel like the cybergods are smiling at me. [Self-absorbed? Moi?] I briefly considered calling my blog “Neo-neo-neocon,” but I thought it might sound derivative. Now we’ve written about similar topics at the same time. As an added bonus, she links to the Wikipedia definition of BDS, where I find that the term originally was coined by… Charles Krauthammer, whom I quote often enough that he has his own tag on my blog.

Neo describes how the deployment of derangement can backfire:

Once again, I want to emphasize that we are not talking about mere policy disagreements here. We’re talking about demonizing and trashing a person, ascribing to him the worst motivations possible and imagining conspiracy theories everywhere.

I think this happened to a certain segment of the right with Bill Clinton. It was never anywhere near as widespread as BDS later was, but CDS existed and was a slow poison that may have contributed to the later development of BDS on the other side.

Criticism, even harsh criticism, has a valid role in a political system that draws strength from the clash of ideas. I try to avoid the temptation to lapse into name-calling, although sometimes I succumb when it comes to targets on the political margins, such as Ralph Nader, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and Obama’s unholy trinity of Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright and Tony Rezko.

But the Presidency is different. Like it or not, an American President is a symbol of our country, and demonizing him diminishes all of us. I’m all in favor of expressing criticism in strong terms, but I have nothing but scorn for the kind of mentality that leads someone to say, “Bush [Obama] is not my President.” Actually, he is.

Bush Derangement Syndrome and the Surge

Peter Wehner, writing in Commentary, does the best job I have seen of chronicling the sordid history of liberal opposition to the surge. For paragraph after relentless paragraph he replays the mockery from the left, from before the surge even started until long after its success was clear.

Anti-surge rhetoric died down only when even Barack Obama — who won the Democratic nomination in part because he was seen as the “purest” advocate of surrender in Iraq — finally had to admit in September that the surge has “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”

Wehner wrestles with the question of why so many on the left continued denying the reality unfolding before their eyes:

A generous interpretation is that by the end of 2006, many liberals had made a definitive good-faith judgment that the Iraq war was irretrievably lost. This then became the filter through which they viewed all later developments. Once convinced of the impossibility of substantial progress, never mind a decent outcome or an actual victory, they could not help receiving good news as anomalous and/or inherently unsustainable.

But the generous interpretation may be too generous, and also condescending. Reasonable and responsible adults are expected to assess the solidity of their convictions against the available evidence and in light of changing circumstances. Even at the time of the surge’s announcement, when things were going quite badly, should responsible adults not have been able to entertain the possibility that, given the enormity of what was at stake in the war, a fundamentally new approach merited at least a degree of support, however hesitant or conditional?

Instead, many pronounced the new approach a failure even before it was tried. Still worse was that they continued to pronounce it a failure even as the evidence began to amass that it was succeeding. Even those few who (like Richard Cohen and Joe Klein) eventually admitted they were wrong about the surge itself continued to insist they were right about the war. Others stuck more and more zealously to their original position the more it became falsified by reality. They, and not the President, were the ones who were truly “doubling down” on their bet—as if a decent outcome in Iraq threatened their entire worldview.

Wehner doesn’t actually use the term “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” but he describes it:

For some liberals, hatred of the President was clearly so all-encompassing that they had developed a deep investment in the failure of what they habitually dismissed not as America’s war but as “Bush’s war.” To an extent, this passion was driven by merely partisan considerations: Iraq had become a superbly effective instrument with which to bludgeon Republicans. It had helped the Democrats take control of both the House and the Senate in 2006; might not a thorough “Republican” defeat in Iraq lastingly reshape the political landscape in their favor?

This is, admittedly, an unpleasant line of speculation, and those foolhardy enough to venture upon it have been loudly condemned for questioning the patriotism of their political adversaries. But patriotism is not the issue—judgment is. When politicians acting in good faith misjudge a situation, nothing prevents them from acknowledging their error and explaining themselves. For the most part, we await such acknowledgments in vain.

My “favorite” BDS bumper sticker is the one I saw nearly every day when I was still commuting into New York, on a car usually parked a few slots ahead of mine. The sticker is pictured above — if you’re reading this via RSS, the sticker plays off the ill-advised “Mission Accomplished” proclamation, except the word “Mission” is crossed out and “Nothing” scrawled above it.

It’s deeply offensive not just because it dishonors the sacrifice of the troops, but because it does so in a way that is transparently, objectively false.

Removing Saddam Hussein from power is not “nothing.” One can argue that it was not worth the cost. One can argue that it was not an appropriate use of American military power. One can even argue, although it’s getting harder, that the Iraqi people would be better off if we had left Saddam alone. I disagree with all of those assertions, but there are substantive arguments that can and have been made for them. Well, for the first two anyway.

But the notion that “nothing” has been accomplished is… well… deranged. Thankfully, Obama has shown signs that his own case of Bush Derangement Syndrome is in remission. Soon it will no longer be “Bush’s war” — it will be for Obama to win or lose. I hope the success of the surge will allow him to continue the responsible draw-down of forces that has already begun.

Notes on the Palin-Palin Debate

Here are some observations on last night’s debate that resonate with me.

Time’s report card on Palin (both candidates got an overall “B”):

By the standards of those Americans conditioned by the late night comics to think of Palin as an inarticulate idiot, incapable of putting coherent sentences together or understanding basic policy questions, she succeeded enormously. She had a solid ninety minutes of rapid, confident discourse and kept herself from being the story of the night (as well as the constant punch line of the election season). Improved her image and partially turned the page on McCain’s bad two weeks, enabling the Republican ticket team to try to regain some footing in a contest that has been steadily slipping away-but didn’t revolutionize the current race. Kicked off the debate with a demure handshake and query for Biden (“Hey, can I call you Joe?”) and indulged in some winks and folksy asides (referring to Washington insiders as “guys” for instance) but otherwise, didn’t leave Tina Fey much to work with.

Neo-neocon thinks Sarahcudda needs a live audience to thrive:

Some athletes are known for raising the level of their game when it is most important, in the championship or the World Series or the Olympics. Some are notorious for shining during the season but folding in the big ones.

Palin’s convention speech was a crucial debut in her rookie year, much like pitching in the season opener before the largest audience of her life. The Biden debate was more like stepping to the mound in the eighth inning of the World Series with bases loaded and nobody out, with her team behind. With most of America watching, she struck out the side.

That doesn’t mean her team will win, however. There’s still at least another inning to go, and she’s not the closer.

In contrast, Palin’s interviews with Gibson and Couric put her off her game. There was no audience present; it had to be imagined and filled in later. Since Palin seems to be most at ease and even invigorated interacting with a real crowd, this may have been part of the reason for her unease in the interviews. In her speeches and in the debate she was especially effective when she addressed the people directly.

From an astute commenter at Hot Air (via Neo-neocon):

We all know this was not the Palin/Biden debate. This was the Palin/Palin debate. Everybody who tuned into this thing, whether liberal, moderate or conservative were tuned in to see which candidate Sarah Palin handed the live hand grenade to, Obama or McCain. As usual nobody gived a rats a** what nonsense spewed from Biden’s cakehole. Nobody will remember a thing he said.

From Ross Douthat:

The Democrats have a lot of built-in advantages in this election cycle, and judging by the public’s reaction to the first debate, the key to victory for Obama-Biden is to do no harm – don’t squander your advantages, don’t freak out when the Republicans score their points on the surge and offshore drilling, and just be sure to always nudge the conversation back to the economy, to middle-class tax cuts versus tax cuts for the rich, to health care, and to George W. Bush’s record. So while Sarah Palin did an awful lot for Sarah Palin tonight, there was only so much she could do for her running mate – given her own limits, but especially given the state of the country, and the gulf between the issues the McCain campaign wants to fight on and the issues voters care about. She’s saved herself from Quayle-dom, but Obama-Biden is one debate closer to victory.

That last sentence sums it up pretty well, I think. The other day, my wife Nina came up with the line, “I can see the end of Palin’s career from my house” — a line which I grudgingly admire, even though I wish Palin well. But after last night I’m hopeful that Palin may still have a political future. I disagree with her on social issues and I don’t think she’s qualified to be vice president, but I admire her for taking on a remarkably corrupt Alaska political establishment, ousting a sitting governor of her own party in the process.

She’s in over her head, but she deserves better than the treatment she’s received. Ironically her best hope for better treatment is to lose the election. Who would remember Dan Quayle’s campaign-trail mishaps if he had never been elected VP?

Playing Politics by Suspending Campaign? Of Course.

Is McCain’s call to suspend the campaign over the financial crisis an example of leadership? Is it a political ploy?


Neo-neocon (I like her blog, but I LOVE her blog’s name) sums it up pretty well:

Just because there is some political posturing does not mean there’s not also some sincerity. Each candidate is revealing something about himself even as he jockeys for position, and they are running true to type.

McCain is an action man who doesn’t like to dither. He’s been in the Senate for a long time and has done a great deal of hammering out of deals, and he is comfortable in that arena. …

Obama is not a decision-maker, nor does he really feel comfortable in the Senate, having spent very little time there. He likes to sit back and study all the angles, and even then would prefer to let things emerge rather than taking a leadership role.

Read the whole thing.

Update: Now McCain has said he’ll participate in the debate (about 150 minutes from now as I write this at 6:30), and this is being reported as a cave-in and an embarrassment for McCain. Maybe. But blogger Nate Silver made the point a day ago (hat tip: Taranto) that McCain’s gambit has served to focus attention on a debate that nobody was talking about much.

If McCain does much better than Obama tonight, that will swamp the effect of the flip-flop on suspending the campaign. And while Obama is dramatically better with a teleprompter than McCain, there will be no teleprompter tonight. In a give-and-take discussion, my money’s on McCain.

Outperforming Her Resume

TNR offers an Alaskan perspective (hat tip: Neo-Neocon):

What the Republicans missed about Sarah Palin then [just before she ousted a sitting Alaska governor in a primary]–and what the Democrats seem poised to miss now–is that she is a true political savant; a candidate with a knack for identifying the key gripes of the populace and packaging herself as the solution. That keen political nose has enabled her to routinely outperform her resume. Nearly two years into her administration, she still racks up approval ratings of 80 per cent or better….

Sarah Palin is a living reminder that the ultimate source of political power in this country is not the Kennedy School or the Davos Summit or an Ariana Huffington salon; even now, power emanates from the electorate itself. More precisely, power in 2008 emanates from the working class electorates of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Sooner or later, the Obama camp will realize that the beauty pageant queen is an enormously talented populist in a year that is ripe for populism. For their own sake, it had better be sooner.