Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Shameless Self-Promotion

Overexposure Saturday

So today I have a piece out in the new Weekly Standard discussing the back story to the Van Jones business.  Krauthammer scooped me a little bit in his Post column yesterday, but I've got some additional historical detail he doesn't have.  

For those of you with no social life or anything better to do, my smiling mug will turn up on C-SPAN 2 tonight at 8 pm eastern, in their broadcast of the San Tanenhaus "Death of Conservatism" panel earlier this week where I was a respondent.  And if you are insomniac, C-SPAN 2 will rebroadcast my Cato Reagan book panel at 12:43 am eastern time.  

UPDATE:  Bill Voegeli's extraordinary review of the book in the next issue of National Review is now up on the NRO site.  Am I ever going to owe him big time for this.

Health Care

A Modest Proposal on Health Care

Several pundits over at The Atlantic have zeroed in on the president's promise to fund his health care reforms by "reducing the waste and inefficency in Medicare and Medicaid."  As Megan McArdle points out, politicians have been riding this tired old mare for years--and the supposed savings never seem to materialize.  But if Obama wants to show that he's a new kind of president, how about this: instead of proposing a program to be paid for by eliminating "waste and efficiency" that he apparently already knows about, why not simply cut said "waste and efficiency right now--which would presumably be a good idea in any case, right?--and once we see just how much revenue results, design a program to fit that budget?
Categories > Health Care

Foreign Affairs


I had lunch outside on a patio today with a colleague.  We had a good conversation about all matter of things, noted the perfect weather of the day, much as it was on that dreadful day eight years ago. NRO brought to my attention this large archive on the coverage, in case you need to be visibly reminded of the horror as we saw it unfolding. God Bless.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Honorable Joe Wilson

So president called unnamed "prominent politicians" liars in his health care speech in a most calculated and misleading way.  That was clearly dishonorable.  The Congressman from South Carolina shouted out "liar" in a most uncalculating and passionate way at a pretty appropriate time. That was, in a way, dishonorable;  the president should be treated with respect in public.  On the other hand, it's characteristic of a man of honor to say what's on his  mind openly, fearlessly, and without calculation.  That Rep. Wilson did.  And then he apologized--with genuine regret--in a most manly way--mainly on FOX, which was honorable enough to give him an appropriate venue.  He went on to explain in a more respectful way why he was basically right--that his excessively impetuous passion was in the service of truth.  So no one has displayed more honor of late than the southern man from South Carolina.
Categories > Politics

Health Care

Podcast with Andy Busch

I recorded a podcast with Andy Busch yesterday afternoon on the political realities of the health care reform debate.  Andy has some very thoughtful opinions on the matter and I think the discussion is well worth twenty minutes of your time to listen.  Andy and I will be talking more about this issue in the near future.
Categories > Health Care

Health Care

The Public Option and The Camel's Nose

Peter Boyer at The New Yorker reacted to last night's presidential speech with a short essay that upbraided Republicans for turning the term "public option" into "the most effective weapon against reform." This response, hysterical on the part of the zealots and cynical on the part of the vested interests, is completely at odds with the option's humble aspirations and limited potential, since it "was conceived as a means of accommodating moderates, bringing market forces to bear on the problem of cost by creating a new entity to compete with private insurers."

Who, exactly, conceived the public option in these humble terms? Not Jacob Hacker, the prominent health policy expert at UC Berkeley, and not Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America's Future. According to Mark Schmitt of The American Prospect, Hacker and Hickey were the driving force behind the successful effort to sell the public option to liberal activists and the leading Democratic candidates in 2007 as a way to surmount the political impediment posed by the "hard reality" that large numbers of Americans are not willing "to be put into one big health plan run by the government." The point was to assure the Democrats' single-payer advocates that the public option was "a kind of stealth single-payer," one that "would someday magically turn into single-payer." The new public option was designed, not merely to compete with private insurers, but to win that competition in a rout and "become the dominant player" in the health insurance market.

Neither is Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic playing small ball. He recently urged liberals not to let the best be the enemy of the good on health care policy. Even if only part of the whole wish list can be enacted now, those parts will make possible the enactment of the rest down the road, he advised: "It's not as if it will be impossible to scale up these reforms later on. If Congress passes and the president signs a bill putting in place the key institutional elements of reform now, they can always revisit, and strengthen, the measure later. During the 1980s, Henry Waxman almost single-handedly expanded Medicaid to its current levels by gradually making more people eligible and securing the funding to pay for them. All he needed was the institutional structure--the program, the rules, and the basic funding stream--on which to build the new coverage. The fact that Waxman is a chief architect for this year's program ought to give liberals confidence that, once again, these reforms needn't represent the upper limit of what might be achieved over the next few years. They are a start, and a very good start, but not a finish."

Pres. Obama's characteristically self-effacing pronouncement - he "will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it" - has nothing to say to legislators or citizens who believe it is better governance to abandon a plan that is flawed in ways so fundamental that no improvements could possibly mitigate the damage it will do. There is precedent. Democrats four years ago did not exert themselves to find ways to improve George Bush's Social Security plans. Instead, they decided that it was good politics and good enough governance to kill it, rather than haggle over details about private retirement accounts or formulas for curtailing the growth of benefits to more prosperous Social Security recipients. Indeed, seven years after Pres. Bill Clinton had made the urgent need to "save Social Security first" the focus of a State of the Union address, the Democratic consensus became that there was nothing to save Social Security from, that the program's finances were in splendid shape for as many decades into the future as any sane person could care about.

Republicans today are similarly averse to entering negotiations that require them to jettison, as a condition for a place at the table, their fundamental belief about American health policy: The bigger cause for the shortcomings of the American health care system is not the good things government should be doing but isn't, but rather the many things it is already doing - some badly, and others that it ought not to be undertaking at all. Before discussing the next increment of government regulation and spending, say Republicans, let's optimize the government's current massive and maladroit intervention into the financing of medical care.

As it happens, Rich Lowry of National Review provides several recommendations along these lines today:

  1. Modify tax policy to eliminate the disincentives for individual purchase of health insurance and health care.
  2. Eliminate regulatory barriers that prevent small businesses from cooperatively pooling and self-insuring their health risks by liberalizing the rules that govern voluntary health care purchasing cooperatives.
  3. Eliminate laws that prevent interstate purchase of health insurance by individuals and businesses.
  4. Eliminate rules that prevent individuals and group purchasers from tailoring health insurance plans to their needs, including federal and state benefit mandates and community rating requirements.
  5. Eliminate artificial restrictions on the supply of health care services and products, such as the overregulation of drugs and medical devices, as well as state and federal restrictions on who may provide medical services and how they must be delivered.
  6. Improve the availability of provider and procedure-specific cost and quality data for use by individual health consumers.
  7. Reform the jackpot malpractice liability system that delivers windfall punitive damage awards to small numbers of injured patients while it raises malpractice insurance costs for doctors and incentivizes the practice of defensive medicine.

So, Mr. President, should Republicans waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill these proposals than improve them?

Categories > Health Care

Health Care

Quick Hit on the Obama Speech

WaPo editorialist Dana Milbank's "Republicans Behaving Badly" gives ample evidence of who the malefactor-in-chief is.  Here's the speech.

To his credit, Milbank notes, among other Democrat "provocations," the chamber of medical horrors showcased by the visitors in the First Lady's box. "Obama wasn't subtle in his effort to make his foes look cruel."

But Milbank distorts the misbehavior by some Republicans by omitting Obama's charge that unnamed "prominent politicians" are spreading "a lie, plain and simple" about the vaunted death panels. Can anyone provide another instance of a President addressing Congress and calling his opponents liars? See political theorist Tim Burns, via Powerline.

Moreover, Milbank errs in referring to last night's occasion as "a sacred ritual of American democracy"--this was not a constitutionally mandated State of the Union address but rather a rare partisan occasion (try naming a couple others) for a President to push pet legislation. Such a political appropriation of the elected branches of government merits a political response.

Categories > Health Care


Crossing the country

Paul Theroux, the travel writer and novelist, takes his first American cross country drive and writes about it in The Smithsonian.  Rather too short for my taste, but worth reading.  I hope this is not his last on us. The last two paragraphs:

"In my life, I had sought out other parts of the world--Patagonia, Assam, the Yangtze; I had not realized that the dramatic desert I had imagined Patagonia to be was visible on my way from Sedona to Santa Fe, that the rolling hills of West Virginia were reminiscent of Assam and that my sight of the Mississippi recalled other great rivers. I'm glad I saw the rest of the world before I drove across America. I have traveled so often in other countries and am so accustomed to other landscapes, I sometimes felt on my trip that I was seeing America, coast to coast, with the eyes of a foreigner, feeling overwhelmed, humbled and grateful.

"A trip abroad, any trip, ends like a movie--the curtain drops and then you're home, shut off. But this was different from any trip I'd ever taken. In the 3,380 miles I'd driven, in all that wonder, there wasn't a moment when I felt I didn't belong; not a day when I didn't rejoice in the knowledge that I was part of this beauty; not a moment of alienation or danger, no roadblocks, no sign of officialdom, never a second of feeling I was somewhere distant--but always the reassurance that I was home, where I belonged, in the most beautiful country I'd ever seen."

Categories > Journalism


To Beijing with Love

The failure of the Republican Party simply to roll over and play dead in the face of Democrat control of the White House and Congress has caused certain liberals to enter a state of apoplexy.  Case in point, this op-ed by Thomas Friedman, who apparently believes that the Chinese Communist Party provides a new model for us to follow.  Will Wilkinson has a few choice words about that, I'm happy to say.
Categories > Politics


Decline of the English Department

William M. Chace writes a thoughtful article on the decline of English as a college major and, more generally, as a coherent discipline. First the numbers.  In one generation (1970-2003), the number of students majoring in English dropped almost in half, from 7.6% to 3.9%, reflecting a general decline in the number of humanities majors (business is apparently now the most popular major).  Chace offers several reasons for this, but the main one is this:

the failure of departments of English across the country to champion, with passion, the books they teach and to make a strong case to undergraduates that the knowledge of those books and the tradition in which they exist is a human good in and of itself. What departments have done instead is dismember the curriculum, drift away from the notion that historical chronology is important, and substitute for the books themselves a scattered array of secondary considerations (identity studies, abstruse theory, sexuality, film and popular culture). In so doing, they have distanced themselves from the young people interested in good books.

I would add, they have distanced themselves from the young people who might be interested in using books to think about life and its questions.  Among many other interesting arguments and observations, Chace reports that Harvard University recently replaced its survey of English literature for undergraduates with four new "affinity groups" - "Arrivals," "Poets," "Diffusions," and "Shakespeares."  Sounds inspiring.  And clear. (Incidentally, I had heard that Shakespeare didn't exist, but not that there were several of him.) The idea is that the content of the old survey will "trickle down" to students, but if no one takes thought that it happen, how likely is that?  To his credit, Chace cautiously defends the idea of a tradition of English literature, and even intimates that those in the field ought to have a "sense of duty" towards the works of English or American literature.  "Without such traditions," he concludes, "civil societies have no moral compass to guide them."  It will be interesting to see how (or whether) the profession responds.

Categories > Education

Ashbrook Center

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for August

Congratulations to this month's winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Douglas Anderson
Susan Benedict
Robert Ingle
Susan Ely
April Portillo

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn't win this month, enter September's drawing.

Categories > Ashbrook Center


Loving Freedom: Why the left are unfaithful lovers

At the end of her denunciation Democratic party arrogance, Obama admirer Camille Paglia  observes: 

     [A]ffluent middle-class Democrats now seem to be complacently servile toward authority and automatically believe everything party leaders tell them. Why? Is it because the new professional class is a glossy product of generically institutionalized learning? Independent thought and logical analysis of argument are no longer taught. Elite education in the U.S. has become a frenetic assembly line of competitive college application to schools where ideological brainwashing is so pandemic that it's invisible. The top schools, from the Ivy League on down, promote "critical thinking," which sounds good but is in fact just a style of rote regurgitation of hackneyed approved terms ("racism, sexism, homophobia") when confronted with any social issue. The Democratic brain has been marinating so long in those clichés that it's positively pickled. 

Paglia's earlier reference to Bob Dylan as one true freedom-lover reminds us of his autobiography, Chronicles.  Among Dylan's shrewd observations (about Thucydides as well as his contemporaries) is his criticism of Machiavelli's maxim that it is better to be feared than to be loved:  No, the person who is the most loved can also be the most feared.  Dylan also declares that his favorite politician from the sixties was Barry Goldwater. 

A far greater poet of freedom with a funny voice was Winston Churchill.  Those in the San Francisco area should make it to the Churchill Centre conference this weekend, featuring, among others, Justice Clarence Thomas and Hillsdale College President and Churchill scholar Larry Arnn.

Categories > Politics

The Founding

Quote of the Day

"Every statute ought to be expounded according to the intent of them that made it, where the words thereof are doubtful and incertain." Sir Edward Coke, Institutes of the Laws of England.
Categories > The Founding

Health Care

Banking on Death

A few days ago, the NY Times ran a story about the latest bright idea from Wall Street:

The bankers plan to buy "life settlements," life insurance policies that ill and elderly people sell for cash -- $400,000 for a $1 million policy, say, depending on the life expectancy of the insured person. Then they plan to "securitize" these policies, in Wall Street jargon, by packaging hundreds or thousands together into bonds. They will then resell those bonds to investors, like big pension funds, who will receive the payouts when people with the insurance die.

Basically, it's the same thing that Wall Street applied to risky mortgages, and that worked out so well.  This time, however, the key variable is not the likelihood of people repaying their mortgages, but rather their lifespan: "The earlier the policyholder dies, the bigger the return -- though if people live longer than expected, investors could get poor returns or even lose money."

Is it unreasonable to worry that death panels will have new fans if these bonds become as popular as the mortgage backed securities were?  And will Wall Street cease to invest in advances in medicine that prolong life.  Or perhaps the backers of these bonds are already banking that those very things will be the inevitable result of moves currently being made in Washington.

Categories > Health Care


Inspired Rhetorician or Finger Wagging Drag?

Ok.   So here's the text of the speech.  Is there anything "wrong" with it?  No, of course not.  And especially not now that Obama and his speechwriters have had a sufficient preview of what the reaction was likely to be if they did cross any lines.  There is nothing at all wrong with this speech.  Parts of it are even good or, at least, they strike the right chord. 

But there is room for criticizing it nonetheless--as there would have been plenty of room for criticizing it, I suspect, if any other president had delivered it.  I do not think that Bush or even, maybe, Reagan would have done any better.  I don't think most teachers or parents would do better.  And that's the rub.  If you're going to do something that's never really been done and tout it with the kind of fanfare that this thing has had, shouldn't you have something new to say?  Shouldn't you attempt to inspire?

The trouble with this speech is that it reads a bit like a scold.  Essentially, it says that you should stay in school and work hard so that you don't become a loser.  Further, you'd better take responsibility for yourself because no one is going to buy any of your excuses.  (Yes . . . gotta admit that as a parent, I especially liked that part.)  But this speech was not supposed to be for parents.  And I wonder whether the best way to inspire kids to learn is to warn them of the consequences of failing, chastising them that they whine too much, and (again) asking them to "do it for their country."  In varying degrees (except, I think, for the last motivation here cited) those calls to perform may or may not succeed in getting something out of a stubborn soul.

Fear and shame are always powerful motivators . . . though I had been given to understand that they were somewhat out of fashion among liberal Democrats.  The call to patriotism and service to country is a nice touch too.  But how many people have ever really studied harder for a test because they trembled for their country in the face of an "F"?  I was always a lot more inclined to tremble for something closer to the seat of my pants.

Strikingly missing from his discussion of self-interest rightly understood, is any notion that education is a good in and of itself.  In this speech (as for far too many Americans) education appears merely to be a means to an end.  Education is described as something of a burden and a pain (which, of course, I understand that it can be at times) but never as something that has the ability to make your mind and heart soar.  My point is that he does not make the thing sound very attractive apart from the good it might do for an individual's job prospects and the future economy of the nation.  It's all very . . . I don't know, cog and wheel. 

Why not any talk of the ability to connect with the great minds of the past . . . transcending time and place?  Why not any talk of the prospect of discovering great and hidden mines of scientific treasure?  Is there something more that a kid with a penchant for science, for example, can hope for other than being the next inventor of a device like an iPhone?  Not that there's anything wrong with such practical and lucrative occupations . . . but did that inventor go into his field with only that purpose in mind?  Did he do it to serve his president and his country, or did something more elusive and alluring seduce him?  But might there not be some near indescribable pleasures in the pursuit of scientific--and all other--truth apart from its relative usefulness and capacity to keep us all from being "losers"?  Why was there no discussion of the "mere" beauty of truth? 

But I don't wish to be too hard on Barack Obama for this shortcoming.  For, as I say, I would not have expected much better from any Republican on the subject.  And that is why, ultimately, such displays are--ironically, perhaps--not of much utility at all.

Categories > Education


Obama losing white support

This L.A. Times story reports on a surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press: 

"After a summer of healthcare battles and sliding approval ratings for President Obama, the White House is facing a troubling new trend: The voters losing faith in the president are the ones he had worked hardest to attract.

New surveys show steep declines in Obama's approval ratings among whites -- including Democrats and independents -- who were crucial elements of the diverse coalition that helped elect the country's first black president.

Among white Democrats, Obama's job approval rating has dropped 11 points since his 100-days mark in April, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. It has dropped by 9 points among white independents and whites over 50, and by 12 points among white women -- all groups that will be targeted by both parties in next year's midterm elections."

And also this:

"More than half of whites older than 50 approved of Obama's job performance in April. But now, after weeks of Republican accusations that the Democrats would seek to cut Medicare benefits, that number is 43%. Among white Democrats, Obama's approval rating dropped to 78%, from 89%."

It goes almost without saying that he can regain much of this lost support after he is able to pass some sort of health care reform (but without the government option).  Yet, after seeing his performance in Cincinnati, I am beginning to doubt that he can regain his standing.
Categories > Presidency


Sunday Funnies: Stimulus Package Explained

Even with Powerline's explanation, a reader might still benefit from "The Argyle Sweater" for Sept. 6--What does WPA stand for again?
Categories > Economy


Hayward's Reagan

Ross Douthat carefully reviews Hayward's Reagan in today's NYTimes.  It's suggestive, and even sometimes critical tone, is worth noting if for no other reason than to compare it to liberal criticism of Arthur Schlesinger's partisan history of FDR: There wasn't much.  The last two paragraphs are good and elegant:

"Since 'The Age of Reagan' will probably find more readers among conservatives than liberals, this is the message they ought to take to heart -- that being like Reagan can mean more than simply checking off a list of ideological boxes, or delivering a really impressive speech. It can mean marrying principle to practicality, tolerating fractiousness within one's own coalition and dealing with the political landscape as it actually exists, rather than as you would prefer it to be. (And in Hayward's account of the flailing Reagan-era Democratic Party, conservatives can find an object lesson in what happens if you don't.)

There is also a message here for all partisans and all seasons -- for contemporary liberals as well as Reagan nostalgists, and for anyone who's invested himself in the redemptive power of politics. Reconsidering his hero inspires Hayward to meditate on leadership, on greatness and on the possibility of world-historical change. Channeling William F. Buckley, he ponders 'the limitations of politics,' the fact that "the most powerful man in the world is not powerful enough to do everything that needs to be done." From his lips, one hopes, to Barack Obama's ear."

Categories > History


Up This Week: Citizens United at the Supreme Court

You can hear Mrs. Hayward, JD, discuss the upcoming Citizens United case ("Hillary:The Movie") on NPR's On Point (at about the 12:48 mark)  Mrs. Hayward filed an amicus brief that Floyd Abrams, who will argue part of the free speech side of the case, says he'll make use of.
Categories > Politics