Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Good Ol' Ohio

This is heart-warming news from "the heart of it all" state. Public Policy Polling previews:

We'll start rolling out our Ohio poll results tomorrow but there's one finding on the poll that pretty much sums it up: by a 50-42 margin voters there say they'd rather have George W. Bush in the White House right now than Barack Obama.


Havel on Capitalism

I've been away for some time in foreign corners of the world, so allow me to rejoin the American political discourse by citing a historical observation which seems relevant to our current plight. Explaining the reason for the Czech Republic's economic slump in the mid-90's, then-President Vaclav Havel postulated that it was a "punishment for pride":

The government has embraced an arrogant ideology. They claim to know the key to prosperity. It's analogous to communism. They thought the same thing. The clever ones - themselves - would run everything. That's the analogy. The key to prosperity is to let things run themselves. We'll liberalize everything, let everyone look after himself, let business, not the state, run the economy. The state should have no views, no policies of its own. Just open it all up, step back, let it go and you'll see how well everything will work if we just leave things alone.

These were not prepared remarks. Havel was recorded while drinking scotch and chatting with political advisors. The translation from Czech may be a bit rough, but the relevancy to English-speakers warrants the rendition here. If he'd been born in America, Havel would have been a Republican - and might have succeeded Reagan as one of the great conservative leaders of our time.

Categories > Economy


Obamacare's Strategic Sense

Megan McArdle wonders whether Obamacare will ever get much more popular than it is now.  I'm not sure that is the right way to look at it.  The idea that Obamacare was going to become much more popular by November 2010 was always some combination of self-delusion and a cynical attempt to gull wavering congressional Democrats from marginal or right-leaning constituencies.  The more important issue is how Obamacare changes the structure of the health care market and how these structural changes will influence the politics of Obamacare in the next 2-6 years.  People don't have to learn to love Obamacare.  They only need to have their interests structured in such a way that repealing Obamacare seems like a change for the worse and (eventually) that single-payer health care is the most obvious solution to the problems produced by Obamacare.  The way different elements of Obamacare will play out will be uncertain.

   1.  Prices - If the experience of Massachusetts with insurance mandate/coverage mandate/government subsidy is anything to go by, Obamacare will lead to an even faster rise in insurance premiums.  This sounds like a major weakness for Obamacare, but, if conservatives are not careful and articulate, it could actually strengthen the political case for even more government-run health care.  For one thing, it won't be obvious to everybody that Obamacare is the reason for rising premiums.  The politics of rising premiums will be a jump ball.  Obama supporters and liberals generally will argue that the premium increases are the result of mean, fat cat, greedy insurance companies that will benefit from Republican attempts to liberalize the health insurance market.  The argument will be that the insurance companies are already bleeding you dry and that if the Republicans get their way, the insurance companies will charge you even more or even deny you coverage altogether.  They will say that it is better to go with the next iteration of Obamacare (or Bidencare or Pelosicare or whatever) and crack down on those mean insurance companies with some combination of price controls and expanding programs of government-provided health insurance.  Rising health care premiums will also create urgency for Obamacare's forthcoming premium subsidies to middle-class families.  Rising premiums will make people feel vulnerable and suspicious of any health care reform that seems to leave them on their own to pay for coverage that only barely seems affordable even with 'help" from their employers and the federal government.  Supporters of market-oriented health care reforms will have to offer policies that promise lower prices, but also policies that address what is reasonable about people's feelings of vulnerability.

2.  Guaranteed Issue - This provision will force insurance companies to offer policies to people with preexisting conditions (so far only for children but eventually everybody)a nd seemingly at about the same premium rate as everyone else.  This will tend to increase premiums on everybody, but as people with preexisting conditions are guaranteed coverage (it is complicated now, but if you develop a condition while insured, it becomes a disincentive from leaving your job and possibly losing coverage), they become a constituency against repeal. 

3.  Medicaid expansion - Obamacare is estimated to increase the population on Medicaid by as much as twenty million by 2014.  I'm not sure it will be that much, but even if it is half that, it is still a sizeable constituency against repeal of Obamacare.  And it isn't just the people on Medicaid.  People who aren't on Medicaid will worry about what happens to people who lose coverage.  It will seem awfully cruel to take people off Medicaid in an environment in which premiums are rising very fast. 

There are counters to all of these concerns.  Support for the guaranteed issue element of Obamacare can be reduced by coming out for well funded and well designed reinsurance pools that would reassure people with preexisting conditions. Medicaid offers an opportunity for some conservative jujitsu as conservative can offer a better deal for Medicaid recipients and allay the fears of middle-class Americans who worry about how market-driven health care will impact the poor.  Medicaid is a truly lousy program that needs to be reformed in a market-driven direction for the sake of the program's recipients.  I prefer something like adding a federal version of Mitch Daniels Health Indiana Plan as a choice for Medicaid recipients, but there are many ways to improve Medicaid and there is no one right answer.  But any answer given will have to be defended in detail. People don't have to like Obamacare in order to start feeling dependent on it.  As Obamacare is institutionalized, repeal of Obamacare and reform of health care policy will involve allaying people's concerns about what will happen to them (and what will happen to the poor and what will happen to them if they develop a condition) in an environment where prices seem to be rising too fast and Obamacare seems like their only life raft.      

Personal note - The Spiliakos familly is still  moving, so I won't be around much until after Labor Day. 

Categories > Politics


Cheap Tricks, Live

If there are better words to describe President Obama's speech tonight on Iraq than the ones that Peter Robinson here uses, "Incoherent, Grudging, and Disgraceful," I cannot imagine that they could add much to nailing the substance of the discussion. Indeed, Robinson strikes me as dead on in his description of the speech.  Yes, it was nicely delivered.  Yes, the President was careful to hit all the right chords and appear the unifier.  But this act of the President's in which he seems to unite when his real object is political division and conquest is getting tired and, what's worse, it's transparent.  If anyone still believes that President Obama has anything in his heart but contempt for those who take a different view of events than he does, this insult of a speech ought to serve as exhibit A in the evidence pool.
Categories > Presidency


Drink and Live Long

Another study proves that drinkers outlive non-drinkers: Moderate drinking, which is defined as one to three drinks per day, is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. Moderate alcohol use (especially when the beverage of choice is red wine) is thought to improve heart health, circulation and sociability.  And it has been consistently found that those who don't drink actually tend to die sooner than those who do.   In other words, abstaining from alcohol leads to a shorter life.  Just a thought.  And I'll be sober in the morning....
Categories > Leisure


Very Bad Poll Numbers for Dems

When ordinary, well intentioned (read liberal) journalists/reporters like Chris Cillizza in the WaPo can't find anything positive to say about Dems/Obama, you know things are bad.  You can feel the attempt to circumnavigate the important things, to only allude to the depth of the problem.  But then you get this from Gallup weekly tracking, your know that some political worlds are collapsing.  Gallup: "Republicans lead by 51% to 41% among registered voters in Gallup weekly tracking of 2010 congressional voting preferences. The 10-percentage-point lead is the GOP's largest so far this year and is its largest in Gallup's history of tracking the midterm generic ballot for Congress."  And then to add even more clarity, in case it's needed: "The Republican leads of 6, 7, and 10 points this month are all higher than any previous midterm Republican advantage in Gallup's history of tracking the generic ballot, which dates to 1942. Prior to this year, the highest such gap was five points, measured in June 2002 and July 1994."
Categories > Elections

Literature, Poetry, and Books

The Nonfiction Cell Phone

Is the time students used to spend reading fiction, weighty tomes of novels, now spent on the cell phone?   From James V. Schall's "On Reading Fiction:" 

The poet and the fiction writer are not merely substitutes for our not talking to our friends wherever they are, whenever we want. So when people spend time on immediacy in place of fiction, are they closer to understanding the reality they live in? We can doubt it.

Schall asks whether the cell phone and cyberspace "reality" have diminished our imaginations, which used to be expanded by the reading of fiction.  We see the lack of fiction reading in our students and how it shrivels their souls.

Pop Culture

Jazz Recordings found

This is a couple of days old, but I just noticed that a great discovery of Jazz recordings has been made: The Savory Collection  consists of 975 discs with recordings of live performances broadcast by radio stations in the late 1930s, the height of the swing era, and into 1940. Recorded by audio engineer William Savory, the discs feature Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Bunny Berigan and Lester Young, playing in the relaxed setting of a nightclub or ballroom, rather than the confines of a recording studio, where songs could not exceed three minutes in length. The quality of the music, therefore, is superb.  There are a half-dozen examples you can listen to; especially note the Waller, Armstrong, Tegarden improvisation at bottom right hand corner.  Sweet.  Here is the longer story on the discovery.
Categories > Pop Culture