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Married to a commoner Englishwoman himself, Alexis de Tocqueville would have approved of the latest royal union. Using insights from Democracy in America, Julia Shaw argues the splendid moment was "quite an American affair." What the visiting, onlooking Americans "were watching was not some imaginary fairy tale or even a typical lavish royal wedding. It was another American love story." They went abroad to meet themselves.
My favorite commentary on royalty in the modern world is on a less fortunate royal couple. Mark Helprin's splendid comic novel, Freddy and Fredericka, describes Charles and Di romping incognito across America and acquiring its virtues to make them fit for the royal throne.
Conservatives - and Americans as a whole - are sometimes criticized by the left and foreign observers for rather excessively worshipping the U.S. Constitution. I've always absorbed such criticism with a reflection of Barry Goldwater's observation that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." If one must err, it ought to be in favor of a glorious principle which has well preserved a glorious republic. Devotion to the document has very rarely led us astray, whereas its neglect has reaped immense mischief.
I recall a joke that a man once asked a librarian for a copy of the French Constitution, only to be informed that the library did not carry periodicals. The protean and politically partisan nature of European constitutions has always limited their effectiveness. Even when changes reflect serious thinking on matters of political structure and purpose, the result is a fleeting triumph quickly subject to revision. The ultimate consequence is a weakening of fundamental, shared political convictions - an instability which always favors authoritarianism.
Hungary presents a case in point. The government is presently issuing a new constitution. Proponents celebrate the document as a final break with Hungary's communist past, whereas critics agrue it establishes an authoritarian regime in Europe. The constitution does greatly empower the current president and legislature to extend their influence (and political ideology) into perpetuity, and will thus be treated by opponents in the same manner as Obamacare and financial regulations: massive, partisan legislative overhauls to be quickly rescinded.
The problem with time is that it can't be rushed. Hungary's new fundamental law is still wet ink on paper - it will be very long before it gains the prestige and solemnity to stand on its own. Until then, it is subject to all the slings and arrows of political warfare. Should it fall, its successor will suffer all the same frailties. Thus is the curse of European fecklessness.
I posit the moral of the story as a reflection on the great boon Americans enjoy in the U.S. Constitution, and our debt of gratitude to the wise men who composed the stately charter.
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Literature, Poetry, and Books
Paul Krugman writes that "'Consumer-based' medicine has been a bust everywhere it has been tried." That would probably come as a surprise to the state employees of Indiana where an HSA/catastrophic insurance program has saved the government money and increased worker take home pay while maintaining access to high quality health care. It would probably come as a surprise to the people of Singapore where the several enormous consumer-driven programs have helped the country achieve access to high quality health care at a fraction of the GDP that the US pays.
That doesn't mean there aren't legitimate questions. The Indiana-style program seems to work well for some populations but perhaps not the elderly (though that doesn't mean that a government single-payer FFS system is the only alternative.) While there are things to learn from Singapore it probably wouldn't make sense for a much larger, more diverse, more dispersed population to adopt the entire package of Singapore policies. Even moving in a more consumer-oriented, the government will still have a crucial role supplying subsidies (whether direct subsides, tax subsidies, or forced savings) and in some ways an even larger role in regulation (especially in enforcing price transparency.) Neither Indiana, nor Singapore offer a one-size-fits-all answer to our health care policy problems - though we ought to try to learn what we can. We should also never forget that Paul Krugman will never let his integrity get in the way of whatever narrative he is pushing.
h/t Megan McArdle
Literature, Poetry, and Books
Today, Christians celebrate the festum festorum, the principal feast of the ecclesiastical year. This year, the feast falls on the same day in the east and west, so all Christians share a single celebration. Ken justly mentioned the Pope's intellectual religious approach during the Easter vigil homily, so I only add his Urbi Et Orbi Easter day message.
In mixed Anglo-Czech tradition, I ran about the house this morning (gently) swatting the ladies with braided Willow branches demanding "vejce malovany" (painted eggs) and they searched for chocolate-stuffed baskets hidden by the Easter Bunny. Now comes the home-cooked feast.
A happy Easter to all RONLT!
The last place I imagined I'd find a trenchant criticism of Obama's foreign policy--not to mention an illustration of the problems inherent in the Progressive view of History-as-force--is Doonesbury.
Paul Krugman is tired of hearing that only the rich pay taxes. Of course, he admits, they do pay most federal income taxes, but once we count state and local income taxes, property taxes, and, especially, payroll taxes to fund Medicare and Social Security, taxation tracks more or less evenly with wealth.
The conclusion from this, of course, is that were it not for Medicare and Social Security we would have a far more progressive tax system in this country.
It's also worth pointing out that, as this graph demonstrates, the share of income taxes paid by the wealthiest one percent of Americans has tended to increase with the decline of the top marginal tax rate.
Pope Benedict XVI's Easter homilies are intellectually powerful statements of the Christian creed but also important for all interested in restoring reason to commanding place in public discourse. In other words, he (like his predecessor) should be thought of as public intellectuals, not simply religious leaders.
His Easter Vigil homily is one example:
In the past few weeks, I have been pondering Arthur Schlesinger's Cycles of American History. As I recall the thesis, Schlesinger posits 30 year cycles in U.S. history, featuring 30 years of reform, and then 30 years of retrenchment or of consolidation. (We should keep in mind Schlesinger's comment that, "Britain has already submitted itself to social democracy; the United States will very likely advance in that direction through a series of New Deals."
As I see it, however, the story is different. From 1800 to 1861, the Union had, as a rule, a Jeffersonian/ Jacksonian governing coalition. That order broke down in the run up to the Civil War, and was replaced with a Republican establishment, which held sway until the late 1920s or early 1930s. (It was starting to break down during Wilson's Presidency, but the Crash killed it). And then we had a third establishment, forged during the 1930s, which remained in charge, until it started to break down in the 1980s and 1990s. That order is failing now. What will replace it, is open for debate, and for political competition. In each era, there was an underlying consensus about what a democratic republic was, and about what the constitituion meant. (In every era, however, there have been important dissents from the majority view).
A couple of recent comments reflect this reality. Nancy Pelosi's now famous, comment that elections "shouldn't matter as much as they do" reflects one of the big ideas of the Progressive establishment. Meanwhile, John Judis's lament over the "demise of impartial institutions" grows from the same ideology.
The key institutions of this establishment grew in the first part of the 20th century, Judas notes:
The Brookings Institution also dates from this period. Retired St. Louis businessman Robert Brookings, who founded it in 1916, said he wanted an institution "free from any political or pecuniary interest" that would "lay before the country in a coherent form the fundamental economic facts." Brookings's first president, Harold Moulton, was a laissez-faire economist, yet, when coal operators complained bitterly about a Brookings study in 1928 calling for the nationalization of the industry, he rebuked them for demanding that his think tank heed their interests in its research.
The key elite publication of the era was The New York Times. Prior to Adolph Ochs's purchase of the Times in 1896, most newspapers were either party organs or sensationalistic rags that had little regard for the truth. Ochs insisted that the paper be "non-partisan," that it "give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of any party, sect or interests involved," and that it "make of the columns ... a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end ... invite intelligent discussions from all shades of opinion."
In their heyday, both Brookings and the Times built upon the premise that there is such a thing as apolitical analysis of political subjects. That premise, combined with the idea that experts, trained as professionals, with PhDs in economics or political science (reflecting new ideas in education. The social science PhD was new then), or in schools of journalism (and there was a compliment to that idea in the law schools, and the bar), should study issues dispassionately and disinterestedly, and they would come up with the most reasonable solitions to society's (and the world's) problems. From this point of view, elections were not the defining feature of what was still called "democracy."
Strictly speaking, that was always a myth. Politics is inherently political. For quite some time, however, this establishment was new enough, and small enough, that it remained close enough to the ideas, mores, and prejudices of the common people that it was able to fudge the line. In time, however, that broke down. That is the crisis we are seeing now.
As I read it, this establishment always leaned Left, and that's because the idea of escaping politics is inherently Left, since the Left was founded during the French Revolution, with its worship of what it called "reason." But the Left tilt of that establishment did not become such a large problem until its center started to be increasingly far from the republic's political center.
Judas shows his cards at the end of his essay. He concludes:
Ultimately, the success of disinterested institutions depends on two things: the character and views of the individuals who serve them, and widespread public support for their existence. This second pillar appears to be eroding. . . .Will this challenge to disinterestedness fade with time? . . . I certainly hope so, because, if it does not, we could be looking at a political system that begins to resemble that of the late nineteenth century, with its sharp and seemingly unresolvable clashes between different groups in American society. The next big test will be the Supreme Court's ruling on Obama's health care plan. If the court rejects the plan on the kind of spurious grounds that its opponents have endorsed, then it will have abandoned its historic commitment to disinterestedness. And American democracy will be in very big trouble.
Judas notes that the establishment he praises replaced the U.S. political system as it existed in the late 19th century. Were American politics to become more open again, and the 20th century establishment to fall, that might not be so bad. There might be more liberty, and diversity in American political life.
I too worry about the consequences of the Court striking down Obamacare. (A side note: In its heyday, the Progressive establishment would not have passed such major legislation without large majorities in both houses, and bipartisan support. That the bill was pushed through with some sketchy tactics is a sign that that establishment is on its last legs)
My concern is that our Lefty establishment is so closed minded that it thinks, with Judas, that there is no good constitutional case against Obamacare. And that establishment still has a great deal of power, and can still throw quite a tantrum.
What that tells us is that we might be, once again, in an era in which there is no constitutional consensus in the U.S. Such eras are always interesting times.
1. This is a silly season. Nobody is actually casting a vote for Trump that counts and it will be months and months before real votes are cast. It will get better.
2. Trump might actually improve the discourse in the Republican primary. Since there is no point in trying to out-inflammatory Trump, it might create a primary to see who can consolidate the 75%-80% who even now won't back Trump. So the competition might be in the direction of being the anti-Trump rather than becoming Trump-lite. Good for Michelle Bachmann for renouncing the birther issue.
3. What are the odds that the whole Trump thing is a footnote by November of this year? I'd say at least 50/50.
David Brooks is trying to figure out the secret of Donald Trump's high poll ratings. I think Brooks makes some plausible points, but I think there is something else there too. Donald Trump has become the Howard Dean of the 2012 presidential campaign. There is a certain minority fraction of center-right leaning Americans for whom expressions of loathing and suspicion of Obama are the most salient issues. They might rationalize it as being willing to "fight" or "talk straight", but it is mostly the satisfaction of hearing Obama insulted and diminished (he isn't an American citizen, he didn't write his first book, etc.) in the most extravagant terms.
This happens across the ideological divide. Howard Dean got to be the Democratic presidential frontrunner almost eight years ago. It wasn't just that Dean was against the Iraq War from the beginning. Dennis Kucinich's credentials were at least as good. Those of us who met Howard Dean supporters also know that Dean's record as a budget balancing, NRA-friendly governor didn't account for much of his support. Dean's strength was that he spoke of President Bush will sincere contempt and his loathing of Bush was so intense that it seemed to ripple under his skin. This approach always had its limits and Dean wasn't going to be the Democratic nominee even if Dean's underlying emotional instability hadn't erupted on the night of the Iowa Caucuses.
Just like Dean tapped into a vein of Bush loathing and hatred, Trump has now tapped into a similar vein of Obama hatred and suspicion on the right. In one sense, Trump has already won the Obama hatred primary among prospective Republican presidential candidates. The paradox is that Trump's rise to prominence in the Obama hatred primary is related the underlying absurdity of his candidacy. He can outbid all the other Republican candidates in appealing to the Obama-hatred-above-all demographic because he isn't worried about losing elections or becoming a national joke.
Howard Dean was actually running to be elected President. This put a limit on the kinds of things he could say about Bush - even if he was personally inclined to say them. Newt Gingrich is no more likely to be elected President than Trump, but he seems to have some interest in maintaining a degree of respectability. Gingrich tried to make a play for the Obama hating demographic, but in a way that didn't cut Gingrich off from the rest of the center-right. He talked about Obama's "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview (not really American you see.) Trump does Gingrich two better. Not only does Trump question Obama's very citizenship, but also asserts that Obama's first book was written by a terrorist. Gingrich probably thought he was being quite clever by restricting himself to calling Obama foreign in mentality. How timid and pale Gingrich seems compared to Trump.
Trump is going for attention and that creates a different dynamic. The Trump dynamic is closer to that of a pro wrestling heel than a candidate for office. It is okay if he stirs up more opposition than support - as long as the opposition and support are both passionate. This allows Trump to adopt the birther issue and the Ayers issue. There is a market for such things (though not one big enough to win the Republican nomination), and there is vast publicity in the media pushback. Either way people are talking about him, and that is the point. Since he isn't trying to win a presidential election, he can't lose.
Rich Lowry is wondering whether the Medicare cuts in Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity will sink the plan. You can look at the public polling and conclude that restraining Medicare spending is a lost cause, but not so fast:
1. Reforming Medicare is a comparative issue. It is (or ought to be - if the Republicans are minimally competent) a choice and not a referendum on one particular approach. We aren't really arguing about Medicare cuts. We aren't even arguing about Medicare cuts vs. tax cuts. President Obama has already cut Medicare by hundreds of billions. He has now proposed to cut Medicare by over a trillion more. He has proposed to give a panel of unelected bureaucrats the power to impose service cuts. So our choice is a market-oriented reform in which seniors would have more options (and maybe more disposable income) and a centralized government system in which the government slams the door in your face when and how the government decides. Even so, the Republicans could still lose this argument because...
2. The Republicans still need a better plan. As Josh Barro wrote, they need more credible funding proposals for Medicare. Keeping a defined contribution version of Medicare FFS would be good politics and good policy. As Capretta and Miller pointed out, there will be circumstances where a defined contribution Medicare FFS would offer the best product at the most competitive price. This would also reassure some fraction of the public that Medicare FFS would still be there, but within a system that encourages health care providers to orient themselves to patients rather than bureaucrats and would give patients choices between different provider networks that competed on extent of services (past the government-mandated minimum) and cost.
Ross Douthat writes:
Asking a population that's increasingly brown and beige to accept punishing tax rates while white seniors receive roughly $3 in Medicare benefits for every dollar they paid in (the projected ratio in the 2030s) promises to polarize the country along racial as well as generational lines.
Wouldn't it be more accurate to say, they will receive "roughly $3 in Medicare benefits for every dollar they have paid to benefit those who have retired before them"?
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As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible: avoiding occasions of expence by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expence, but by vigorous exertions in time of Peace to discharge the Debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your Representatives; but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment inseperable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties) ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the Conduct of the Government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining Revenue which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.
A reinforcement of the existing provisions for discharging our public Debt, was mentioned in my Address at the opening of the last Session. Some preliminary steps were taken towards it, the maturing of which will, no doubt, engage your zealous attention during the present. I will only add, that it will afford me, heart felt satisfaction, to concur in such further measures, as will ascertain to our Country the prospect of a speedy extinguishment of the Debt. Posterity may have cause to regret, if, from any motive, intervals of tranquillity are left unimproved for accelerating this valuable end.
The situation in which I now stand, for the last time, in the midst of the Representatives of the People of the United States, naturally recalls the period when the Administration of the present form of Government commenced; and I cannot omit the occasion, to congratulate you and my Country, on the success of the experiment; nor to repeat my fervent supplications to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and Sovereign Arbiter of Nations, that his Providential care may still be extended to the United States; that the virtue and happiness of the People, may be preserved; and that the Government, which they have instituted, for the protection of their liberties, maybe perpetual.
Please read Steve Hayward's terrific article on Daniel Patrick Moynihan. It is a damn shame that the words "insecurity, bordering at times on an inferiority complex" can accurately be used in describing someone of Moynihan's talents and accomplishments. It is very human.
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NY Times trash talks the Wall Street Journal: "The [Pulitzer] awards this year included other notable firsts. The Wall Street Journal won its only Pulitzer since Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in 2007." The WSJ won this year for its Obamacare editorials, written by 28-year old Joseph Rago.
Murdoch lives to destroy the NY Times, and it knows it. The WSJ is now clearly the daily paper of intelligent readers.
Among other prizewinners, the LA Times won an award for its investigation of the Bell, California city government salary scandal, and Ron Chernow won for his bio of George Washington. In a setback to Lincoln scholarship, Eric Foner won for his book on Lincoln and slavery.
Ben Boychuk had this interview, last November, with Chernow.
1. Howard Kurtz is right that Republicans should hit IPAB as centralized rationing really hard. The biggest weakness of Obama's demagogic speech last week wasn't its tone, but his suggestion of using IPAB to cut over a trillion from Medicare. This is just a down payment on trillions more IPAB-directed Medicare cuts if Obama is reelected. They should also follow Kurtz's advice in arguing that Obamacare puts all Americans on the road to IPAB rationed health care and higher middle-class taxes. I would stay away from the socialist stuff. The policies are bad enough without bogging down into abstruse arguments about what is and isn't socialism. The correct tack is that they are terrible policies no matter what you call them.
2. Josh Barro's City Journal article is something that should be read by every Republican presidential candidate whose primary interest is something other than promoting a reality television show. Conservative need to come to terms with constructive criticism of Ryan's Path To Prosperity and come up with better policy proposals that can withstand scrutiny. Unlike Barro, I'm for getting rid of IPAB and replacing it with a purely research-oriented body that is attached to the HHS bureaucracy - then again I'm for a different Medicare reform than Ryan's. Republicans are going to need a proposal that includes realistic funding levels for Medicaid and especially Medicare and adjust their tax proposals accordingly. If Republicans include proposals that don't add up (and especially if they seem to shortchange Medicare), they are going to pay the price and the price will almost certainly be another Obama term and the kind of socialism that Kurtz outlines. Now you might think that Republicans will be able to get by with Medicare proposals with major weaknesses. After all, Obama got away with promising just about everything to everybody + a tax cut for most + a net budget cut and got away with it (politically.) There are several reasons I don't think a similar strategy will work out for Republicans in 2012:
a. Obama is a far more competent candidate than McCain, and will run a ruthless and obscenely well funded campaign. If a right-leaning wonk like Barro thinks that the Republican plan is too optimistic in its Medicare cuts and will lead to near-term care reductions, then so will every last (formerly) persuadable voter.
b. The media that persuadable voters consume will cover these issues extensively and without mercy (though not always with malice.) That doesn't mean that Republicans can't win the argument, but they need well thought out, and well articulated answers that stand up to scrutiny. Evasive or misleading answers on an issue as personal as health care will be fatal unless...
c. The Obama administration could be so discredited that none of this matters as long as the Republican plan has the barest shred of credibility and the Republican candidate doesn't show a Joe Miller-type desire to simply undo the federal welfare state. I doubt this kind of circumstance will attain in 2012. In Fall of 2008, Bush's Real Clear Politics job approval average varied from 32% to 25%. The only circumstances where Obama's job approval falls to that level by November 2012 is if the living envy the dead. Even when the unemployment rate was around ten percent and Obama was losing the debate over the enactment of Obamacare, his RCP job approval average bottomed at 44%. I guess it is possible that a commodity shock will send the economy into another recession within the next year but I doubt it. At best, Republicans will be facing economically ambiguous circumstances in which the persuadable populations of the public might be disappointed in Obama, but still listening to what he says, and know that major changes are needed, and are leery of any big changes proposed by the Republicans.
3. It isn't online (outside of a firewall) so I can't link to it, but you should read Ramesh Ponnuru's article in the April 18, 2011 issue of National Review on replacing Obamacare. It points to a politic and incremental strategy for moving towards a more sustainable and market-oriented health care system. It is much more prudent than the more radical health care reform strategy that McCain put up on his campaign website and then ignored.
4. The crux of the argument over health care policy will be over whether market-oriented changes can bring down the cost of health care while maintaining access to high quality care or whether bureaucrat-directed rationing is the best we can hope for. The less theoretical this argument this is, the better. I won't shut up about this. It would do Republicans a world of good if their 2012 presidential nominee has a record of saving the government money on health care, maintaining access to high quality care, and even increasing the disposable income of some health insurance clients.
5. Run Mitch Run.
FactCheck.org notes that "Obama misrepresented the House Republicans' budget plan at times and exaggerated its impact on U.S. residents during an April 13 speech on deficit reduction." Highlights include:
"Our approach lowers the government's health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself. - President Obama on Wednesday.
This gets to what will be one of the most important arguments that we are going to have about health care and entitlement policy. As Yuval Levin explains, President Obama believes that American health care can become more affordable, and fairer by having a group of bureaucrats decide what procedures are paid for and what the cost of those procedures should be.
Conservatives need to hit this very hard and constantly. This isn't about whether we spend less on Medicare. President Obama wants to cut Medicare. President Obama has already cut Medicare by hundreds of billions and is now proposing another cut of over a trillion and he is not done yet (wait until the cuts he proposes if he gets reelected.) This is about how we structure an affordable Medicare system. Obama wants to empower bureaucrats to tell you what services you will get. They will sometimes deny you services by just telling you no. They will sometimes deny services by setting arbitrary waiting lists. They will sometimes deny care by under reimbursing healthcare providers so that seniors will not be able to get appointments. Obama will try to argue that you will then have the option of paying for whatever care the government refuses, but that isn't really true. In a health care system where providers are oriented to the government as the main client, individual elderly consumers will be marginal and the costs of procedures in a such a bloated and inefficient system will be prohibitive. You will have nowhere to go after the government bureaucrat tells you no. That is what we have to look forward to under Obama-style entitlement reform (along with higher taxes, lower growth, fewer jobs, blighted futures for the young...)
In a consumer-driven system, companies would compete for your business by developing lower cost business models that can offer the same level of care at a lower price (my personal caveat to this is that such an approach would work best if there was an even more consumer-oriented health care system for those under 65 years old.) If you don't want to pay extra to cover a high cost, low success rate procedure, you have more money in your pocket. In a bureaucrat-centered system, they just tell you no and you are not even financially better off for being forced to forgo coverage.
There are several political problems with consumer-oriented and patient-centered health care reform (low levels of public comprehension, the lack of interest in such policies on the part of much of the right-leaning populist media), but one of the biggest problems is that it is counterintuitive (if you spend more out of pocket, you can end up with more take home pay etc.) The best argument in favor of consumer-centered and patient-centered health care is real life experience. That is why it would be very helpful if the Republican presidential nominee who stands up for patient-centered health care reform has a record of instituting patient-centered policies that save the government money while maintaining access to health care.
Run Mitch Run.
If entitlements are off the table, as Obama demands, then Republicans might as well make a counter-demand of equal leverage. How about a 25% reduction in discretionary spending? I can think of a half dozen government agencies which would best serve the nation by being eliminated (the Department of Education springs immediately to mind).
Let's all be audacious in our hopes.
Obama's decision to ignore entitlements is radical and reckless. The GOP should respond with an equally radical plan which, far from reckless, would certainly constitute a benefit for the common good. And when the debt continues to soar and there's (honestly) nothing else to cut, we'll be in a far better position to talk about entitlement reform.
Have non-Tea-Party Republicans hoodwinked the nation by agreeing to a "federal budget compromise that was hailed as historic for proposing to cut about $38 billion" but actually "would reduce federal spending by only $352 million this fiscal year, less than 1 percent of the bill's advertised amount?"
That's what the CBO is reporting.
Politically, Democrats are against the ropes. Obama has abandoned his first budget strategy and adopted the language of his foes. Leading Democrats are hailing as "historic" the same spending cuts they recently opposed as "extreme." But has the Democrats' faux conversion successfully achieved a grand strategy of luring a witless - or compromised - GOP into a bipartisan agreement entirely on the Democrats' terms? Has the will of the nation been completely nullified by clever accounting by the Democrats and daunting imbecility among the Republicans? Can the GOP possibly be so amateurish at politics?
If the GOP hope to redeem themselves, they'll need to deliver shocking results on the debt ceiling, 2012 budget and other fiscal issues on the horizon.
In the Czech Republic, the Social Democrat Party (the liberal wing of the government) perpetually finds itself in public disapproval on major issues, but always seems to get out the vote on election day by simply promising everything to everyone and counting on the political prediction that "you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time." If elected, they spend without regard for future consequences and consistently warn the ever-increasing ranks of citizens on the government dole that the oppossition wants to take away their entitlements.
The question for conservative Czech parties is always whether the inability of the left-wing to "fool all of the people all of the time" is sufficient to overcome their initial gains among the fooled. The Federalist Papers refer to this tactic as demagoguery, and it has rightly been attached ever-more frequently to Obama's performance as president.
Obama's election slogan of "hope and change" was largely a promise of everything to everyone. It wasn't so vulgar as the Czech Social Democrat's promises: prior to the last election, they offered post-election rewards (bribes) to poor people for their votes. Obama's promises were more ethereal and transcendent. But now that he is in office, the promises must become more concrete and credible as public patience and approval quickly dwindle. Obama may appreciate the need for such a transition, but he has failed to act in accordance - hence his unwillingness to confront any of the substantive issues involved in the national debt.
Obama isn't the first U.S. politician to ignore fiscal responsibilities and he won't be the last. But fiscal reform is the issue of the present - wars and natural tragedies have flared and dimmed, but the economic crisis and the fiscally-minded Tea Party remain. Obama thus has an opportunity to lead and confront a national security threat.
He has failed to lead. Either he truly believes there is no danger or accepts the consequences in light of short-term political gains. His first budget ignored the problems, and his revised budget acknowledges the problem only insofar as to sabotage any true attempt at reform through offers of meaningless, partisan compromises. One may disagree with Obama on any number of issues, but his decision to ignore America's debt in favor of demagogy for partisan gain is lamentable. Far from the statesman promised in the campaign, Obama is a typical Chicago-style politician without vision, courage or a sense of duty.
I saw Paul Ryan's first response to yesterday's speech by Obama. Ryan was angrier than I'd ever seen him, and his response (which seemed to have been composed in haste) wasn't that effective. It doesn't do Ryan much good to call out Obama for partisanship. I doubt any persuadable population would be won over by one politician saying that some other politician is acting like a stereotypical politician. Ryan would be better off taking Obama on over what the President said he plans and the likely consequences of Obama's to take on the drivers of increasing debt.
1. He proposed one trillion dollars in tax increases, and that doesn't even begin to deal with the long-term problems caused by Social Security and Medicare.
2. He proposed large cuts to defense.
3. He called for bureaucrat-directed cuts to Medicare. Not only will less money be spent on Medicare, but the Obama administration will tell you what services you get less of rather than putting you in a position of choosing the package of services you would prefer (and either paying for other services yourself or having more disposable income.)
4. He has specific calls to raise taxes but only vague suggestions about how to cut discretionary spending and those cuts are only planned to happen after he is reelected. This from a guy who just fought tooth and nail to prevent a 38 billion dollar cut to discretionary spending in the face of a threat of a government shutdown. If Obama is reelected you can bet he will discover that the money he had promised to cut was now needed to win the future.
5. Even with the tax increases, defense cuts, and the bureaucrat-directed Medicare cuts - and even taking his discretionary spending cut promises at face value - Obama's budget still reduces the deficit by 400 billion fewer dollars than Paul Ryan's Path To Prosperity over the next ten years and still doesn't head off the ruinous increase in entitlement spending in the out years. Obama's plan isn't only inadequate for the medium term, it puts us back in the position of having to make far sharper tax increases and/or spending cuts, but from a position of being a higher tax, more government-run country with a weaker defense establishment.
I haven't even gotten to the worst part yet. Obama's tax increases and bureaucrat-directed Medicare cuts are a down payment on the middle-class tax increases and far larger government-directed Medicare service cuts that are to come if Obama is reelected. This is the key to the argument that will take place over the next year. Obama's budget promises are a cover for a long-term agenda that means higher taxes for everybody and greater government control over the disbursement of medical services. There is room for disagreement over the details, but we face two broad choices. Our first choice is a sustainable entitlement system that focuses on protecting the poorest and sickest of the elderly and a market-oriented health care reform that allows us to buy more and better health care services for our money. Our second choice involves huge and broad tax increases, and the government denying health care services whenever and however government bureaucrats. decide .
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Quote of the Day
In Edward Corwin's famous, "'Higher Law' Background of American Constitutional Law," Corwin notes:
The opinion of a Massachusetts magistrate in 1657 holding void a tax by the town of Ipswitch for the purpose of presenting the local minister with a dwelling house. Such a tax, said the magistrate, "to take from Peter to give it to Paul," is against fundamental law.
"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular or previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion." (Jefferson to Henry Lee, 1825)
Of course, if you determine that a function of government, like traffic enforcement or tax collecting, should be beyond the reach of partisan political argument, then you have essentially ruled the other party out of order when it objects. Pelosi and confreres believe that once any welfare state measure is in place, it cannot be questioned. The tacit premise of Pelosi's remark is that today's Republican Party is an illegitimate party, akin to Nazis or Communists or other subversives who reject the principles of the Constitution. At best, elections to the Progressive mind would increasingly become ceremonial exercises, like Fourth of July picnics. At worst, it is an argument for tyranny.But do read his whole post. It's very thoughtful and thought provoking.
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The United Nations may soon declare that "Mother Earth" (and her bugs, trees and such) has human humans. The Earth would become an official "victim" which humans have sought to "dominate and exploit." A UN "Ministry of Mother Earth" will provided the planet with an ombudsman to hear nature's complaints - as voiced by eco-activist.
So what's the motivation? Bolivia is sponsoring the treaty, which mirrors a recently passed Bolivian law. The first of the country's 10 commandments accompanying the policy is "to end capitalism." The law is touted as seeking "harmony" with nature, but mining companies and other industries are preparing for heavier regulations. As a result, a nation rich in natural resources remains among the poorest in Latin America.
Unfortunately, environmentalists see this as a success. Poverty disease and misery are a small price to pay for a happy Mother Earth. Obviously, the rights of 10 quintillion bugs outweighs those of a mere 6 billion humans. Such insanity would be humorous if it were not a major force in global economic policy.
David Frum is taking on Yuval Levin and Paul Ryan in a multipart series of blog posts. Several scattered thoughts on what Frum has written:
1. Frum summary of Yuval Levin's ambitious article on reforming the welfare state, "compassionate conservatism is kaput." This is a problem only if you assume that a marketing device is preferable to constructing a sustainable welfare state under current demographic conditions. Taking care of the most vulnerable while not crushing the economy under taxation seems pretty compassionate to me.
2. Frum writes that there would be huge resistance to sharp cuts in spending joined to "tax cut[s] for high-bracket taxpayers." Well that depends. You could somewhat cut the marginal tax rate for high earners and still produce more federal revenue depending on what you did with tax expenditures (that was in the Simpson-Bowles Plan but there are multiple ways to structure the tax code changes.) This approach improves work and growth incentives while producing more revenue for the government. Some high earners who are happy with their current balance of disposable income and leisure might object to such a change, but I don't think that is what Frum has in mind. I should add that I'm talking about general principles and I don't entirely trust Ryan's instincts in this area.
3. Frum writes, "I come to feel that the libertarian ideal championed these days by so many conservatives has become at least as drained as the social democratic idea." If Frum were writing about Andrew Napolitano, then this comment would make sense. Ryan's Path to Prosperity would maintain a multitrillion dollar federal government with enormous transfers to various segments of the population and a large defense establishment. The federal government would still be spending 19% of GDP under Ryan's Plan. This might be a smaller government than Frum would like (it is somewhat smaller than I find prudent) but it isn't libertarianism any more than Obamacare is communism. Frum is being the Joe the Plumber of ex-conservatives.
4. Frum is grateful that "now-substantial government/education/health/military sectors of the economy continued to provide some source of stable demand" Well he needn't worry as the federal government will continue to have substantial military/health/etc. sectors under any conceivable legislative outcome of our current debates. He would be wiser to worry whether the cost of those sectors will grow in such a way that the costs will lead to crushing taxation or a debt crisis.
5. Frum writes of Yuval Levin's idea to means-test old age entitlement benefits "What is contemplated is the end of social insurance, at least as it applies to healthcare for retirees: a state to which all contribute on more or less equal terms and from which all draw benefits on more or less equal terms." What is amazing is that Levin really is suggesting social insurance in which government aids the poorest and most vulnerable of the elderly while not taxing current workers to death in order to give money to old people will not need it. Given current demographic conditions, we have certain choices. First, we could reorient our entitlements for future retirees so that those whose health holds up work a little longer and lifetime high earner retirees get somewhat less, or second, we could have some kind of huge tax increase and bureaucrat-directed health care cuts. Now those tax increases could take the form of enormous marginal tax rate increases on high earners (though that probably won't be enough) and/or tax increases on the middle and working-class in order to supplement the retirements of healthy lifetime high earners who are in their middle 60s + some kind of centralized health care rationing for all. Then we can really talk about austerity.
Michele Bachmann is not ready to endorse Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. I think of Ryan's Path to Prosperity as a framework for thinking and talking about the reforms we need. Criticism and political prudence will almost certainly require modifying parts of Ryan's Plan. I've already made some (second hand) suggestions. Bachmann is entitled to her own thoughts about the best way to develop a sustainable and pro-growth long-term budget - and so is every other Republican presidential candidate. Even if we agree on Ryan's basic principles of curbing entitlement spending, reforming health care in a market-oriented direction and producing a simpler, more growth-friendly tax code, there are still huge issues about how to go about doing it. It isn't clear how much of the revenues from cutting tax expenditures should go to lower marginal rates, to deficit reduction or to an expanded child tax credit. It isn't clear that Ryan's Medicare reforms include enough revenue or that the Medicare reforms are structured ideally. Having thoughtful, responsible, and sharp competition among the Republican presidential candidates on these issues would be more useful than unanimity.
What we don't need are candidates who either don't have a realistic budget plan or who just put one up on their websites and then focus on gimmicks, cheap partisan opportunism, and rocks thrown from glass houses. We don't need a replay of the 2008 Republican primary campaign in which candidates bashed each other upside the head over who had been most pro-amnesty the longest, or whether having been pro-choice or having raised taxes was the greater sin against conservatism. We don't need a Republican presidential nominee whose domestic politics strategy was, at various times, drill baby drill, making Mario Cuomo's son chairman of the SEC, and complaining that Obama almost sorta kinda called Palin a pig.
Gregg Easterbrook, author of one of the better books on the environment over the last 20 years (1995's A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism) coined what he called "Easterbrook's law of doomsaying"--"Predict dreadful events whose arrival impends no sooner than 5 years hence, no later than 10. That time window is near enough to cause worry, far enough off that when it actually rolls around everyone will have forgotten what you predicted."
But in the age of Google, it is easier to go back and check on these serial blunders. So as Britain was paralyzed with huge snowstorm a few months ago a number of folks went back and dredged up the climate campaign's predictions that winter snowfalls in Britain would soon (as in, by now) be a thing of historical memory.
Yesterday, Gavin Atkins of Asian Correspondent.com notes that just a few years ago the UN Environment Programme predicted there would be 50 million climate refugees by the year 2010. And so Atkins sensibly asks, um. . . where are they? He noted we have census figures for the areas identified as most vulnerable, such as the Tuvalu Islands, and finds in every case that population is still growing.
(Hat tip: Benny Peiser.)
The Civil War & Lincoln
We have a new exhibit at TeachingAmericanHistory called The Civil War Sesquicentennial. We put it up today because the war began today, one hundred and fifty years ago. On the evening of April 13, 1861, The New York Times started its report with the following words: "Major Anderson has surrendered, after hard fighting, commencing at 41/2 o'clock yesterday morning, and continuing until five minutes to 1 to-day. The American flag has given place to the Palmetto of South Carolina...."
In a speech delivered in Germany to a group of Americans in the late 1870s, U.S. Grant distilled into a few sentences, according to the historian Gary Gallagher, what most loyal citizens would have said gave most meaning to their great internecine conflict:
"What saved the Union, was the coming forward of the young men of the nation. They came from their homes and fields, as they did in the time of the Revolution, giving everything to the country. To their devotion we owe the salvation of the Union. The humblest soldier who carried a musket is entitled to as much credit for the results of the war as those who were in command. So long as our young men are animated by this spirit there will be no fear for the Union."
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"The fundamental problem of the whole process is Democrats have zero ability to describe what our view of government really is. So basically all we do is defend the status quo against attacks from the right-wing fringe of the GOP."Steve suggests the problem for the Dems is that they've got nothing new: no new ideas, no new rhetoric--little more, really, than a stale defense of the status quo. He rightly notes that, politically, this is a terrible place to be. In electoral politics, this makes your side boring, dry and tired. It doesn't motivate people to run out to the polls and it doesn't keep the troops in the mood to fight.
Following up on my earlier note that the CIA under Obama has largely suspended detainee and interrogation operations in favor of simply killing targets from afar with drone attacks, it's noteworthy that the WSJ reports today that Pakistan is demanding the CIA "suspend drone strikes against militants on its territory."
The WSJ does a good job of explaining the politicking and posturing involved, but a critical point is that Pakistan-U.S. public relations have crumbled since the end of 2008. It's as though they know they can bargain a better deal with the new sheriff in town, and are happy to challenge his authority to strengthen their play. Obama has shown his hand and limited his options by ending detentions - others can only be expected to shift their strategies accordingly.
The President will speak on Wednesday to "lay out a broad plan to reduce the nation's soaring deficit and debt." David Plouffe clarifies that Obama "believes we need significant deficit reduction in the coming years."
Powerline rightly interprets Obama's shift as proof that the GOP have seized the high ground on the budget debate. Obama presented his FY 2012 budget on February 14, and the substance did not represent a plan to reduce the deficit. Yet having seen the congressional Democrats fold, the President isn't even offering a defense of his recent proposals. He's hoping no one will notice the road kill that was his budget as he drives forward with a new tone borrowed directly from the Tea Party express.
As Andrew Stiles observes at The Corner:
Harry Reid, Feb. 3, 2011, on Paul Ryan's initial offer of $32 billion in spending cuts:
The chairman of the Budget Committee today, today sent us something even more draconian than we originally anticipated...So this isn't some game that people have been playing. The House of Representatives [is] actually sending us some of these unworkable plans.
Harry Reid, April 9, 2011, on a deal to cut $38.5 billion:
This is historic, what we've done.
John Hinderacker: When the Democrats are trying to take credit for spending cuts (much as President Clinton tried to claim credit for welfare reform, after vetoing it twice), you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.
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The good news in a Pew Poll is that a majority of Americans think the Civil War is still relevant to politics today. Unfortunately, by a margin of 48-38% Americans think that states rights, not slavery, was the principal cause of the Civil War, whose Sesquicentennial we celebrate over the next four years. But limited government can't possibly be consistent with slavery. It's best to argue from the principle of equality of natural rights and then proceed to the institutions that defend liberty--otherwise deviations rule.
Lincoln made the case for a constitutionalism of natural rights yet again, 146 years ago, in his last public address, April 11, 1865, when he defended his Reconstruction policies. There are states rights of course; but never at the ultimate cost of natural rights.
The Obama administration seems to have misplaced the "I" in CIA. An L.A. Times story "highlights a sharp difference between President Obama's counter-terrorism policy and that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Under Obama, the CIA has killed more people than it has captured ... [and] stopped trying to detain or interrogate suspects caught abroad...."
The rationale for eliminating terrorist interrogation is beyond farce. Liberal criticism of Gitmo, as well as liberal exposure of secret detention facilities abroad, has left nowhere for Obama to hold captives. And Obama's prosecutorial witch-hunts for Bush loyalists in the CIA have had a chilling effect on agents, who no longer feel compelled to interrogate terrorists in light of Obama's politization of the office.
So, Obama's policies of knee-capping the intel community have had the catastrophic effect of literally terminating "a gold mine" of U.S. intelligence and resulted in a new policy of simply killing all of our enemies without regard for their potential intelligence value. I doubt this is what voters had in mind when they heard Obama promise to reverse Bush's policies. On the other hand, if Bush's policy was an attempt to win over hearts and minds - Obama's promise has been fulfilled.
Constitutions do not impress the co-author of the McCain-Feingold assault on the First Amendment (his law restricts political speech). But the institute's job -- actually, it is every Arizonan's job -- is to protect the public interest. A virtuoso of indignation, McCain is scandalized that the institute, "a non-elected organization," is going to cause the loss of "a thousand jobs." McCain's jobs number is preposterous, as is his intimation -- he has been in elective office for 28 years -- that non-elected people should not intervene in civic life.
A Hyattsville, MD K-8 Catholic school was going under, when determined parents saved it--by imposing a classical education at all levels. It has now become, within two years, a model school. Be practical, be excellent. Hyattsville is not in ritzy Montgomery County, btw. Read the WaPo account here.
I really like Paul Ryan and I think that the debate over the general principles of his plan (a sustainable entitlement system, market-oriented health care reform, a tax code with fewer tax expenditures and lower rates) will be very good for the country - if the broad center-right makes its argument competently. We are very far from the cynical and calculated domestic policy stupidity of John McCain's 2008 campaign and we largely have Paul Ryan to thank for the improvement of our public discourse. Still, I don't think that a prospective Republican presidential candidate should run on Ryan's exact proposal. Some suggestions:
1. Listen to Reihan Salam and grow the premium support in defined contribution Medicare at GDP + 1 rather than at the level of the Consumer Price Index. Salam's proposal would still slow down the rate of government-sponsored medical inflation, but without the implicit assumption that the reforms will bring medical inflation for seniors all the way down to the broader rate of growth of the Consumer Price Index.
2. Instead of just eliminating traditional Fee For Service Medicare, adopt the Capretta-Miller approach of having a reformed FFS Medicare compete with private insurance programs based on competitive bidding. The government will offer all seniors a certain level of premium support depending on the senior's income and health condition. Medicare FFS will bid against private companies for the business of those seniors. Medicare FFS will fund its benefits from the premiums of those who choose Medicare FFS. If a private plan can offer comparable benefits at a lower price, seniors can go with the private plan. This way each plan (including Medicare FFS) will have an incentive to offer the most desirable set of benefits at the lowest price - rather than the price set by bureaucrats. Medicare recipients will be more likely to get more of what they want at the price they are willing to pay rather than what some bureaucrat think that they should be allowed to have. The Capretta-Miller plan has several advantages over the current Ryan proposal. As Capretta and Miller point out, the health care market in the US is internally diverse and there are places where a defined contribution version of Medicare FFS will provide better services at a lower price in a competitive bidding environment. Maintaining Medicare FFS on a defined contribution and competitive bidding basis might also gain some support from center-left wonks. These folks command no electoral divisions, but they could influence coverage from some news outlets. I suspect it would also reassure some part of the public to know that rather than traditional Medicare going away, it was remaining as a choice, but that if there was a cheaper plan that suited them better, they could go in that direction.
3. Listen to Avik Roy. Under the current Ryan plan, if senior gets a certain amount of premium support (say, $15,000) but a private plan offers a bid for $13,000 in premiums for a desirable product, the senior has no incentive to go with the cheaper plan. They might as well go with a plan that costs $15,000 in premiums even if they don't especially want the additional medical coverage. At least the $15,000 plan gives the some extra services for the extra $2,000. This is perverse. It contributes to medical inflation while decreasing the actual value that the senior gets from the premium support. The senior should be able to pocket the difference if they pick a plan that costs less than their government premium support. If a senior wants to buy a cheaper health insurance plan that does not cover some higher cost, and lower effectiveness end-of-life procedures (if it comes to that) and instead wants to spend that money to take more weekend trips with his grandchildren, everybody is better off.
This isn't a suggestion for a policy change, but I would be remiss not to remind everybody that the debate over economic policy is necessarily comparative. Our choices are higher taxes, fewer jobs, lower growth and lower quality bureaucrat-rationed health care on one hand and a sustainable patient-centered welfare state with pro-growth and pro-jobs tax policies on the other. Obama should always be tied to higher taxes and bureaucratic rationing of health care. That is where his deficits are leading us, and he is just stalling until he is reelected and the crisis is upon us. So don't let him stall. Hit him now.
I would also add that some presidential candidates would be better positioned to sell this message than others. It would b nice if the Republican presidential nominee had demonstrated the ability to cut spending while maintain core government services and instituted a free market-oriented health care reform that saved the government money, increased worker take home pay, and maintained people's health care security.
Run Mitch Run
Julie has been on fire this week and her highlighting and mocking of Harold Meyerson's reactionary and romantic statism is especially needed. Meyerson's column reminded me of Sidney Blumenthal's description of Walter Mondale's liberalism, "Its credo: anything that has been superseded has proved its worth. If it's gone, it's good. Nothing can be tried that hasn't already failed. The future is the endless rehearsal of the past." Meyerson looks at Ryan's plan to deal with our current and projected financial problems and sees a threat to the past. For Meyerson, the future happened between 1933 and 1966. We must ever live there regardless of changing demographics and economic conditions.
This is a secular faith-based worldview. Any new policies (like defined contribution Medicare and block granted Medicaid) are the past, even if those policies have never been implemented before. Meyerson's is a nostalgic progressivism where the future happened generations ago and anything new must be a return to the past.
Senator Shumer declares:
The dangerous, ideological cuts to Planned Parenthood that passed the House are never, never, never going to pass the Senate," said Schumer. "Let me repeat that, so all those who want to stomp on women's health and women's rights can hear us loud and clear. The dangerous, ideological cuts to Planned Parenthood that passed the House are never, never, never going to pass the Senate.
So Senator Shumer is willing to risk shutting down the government to ensure a few hundred million dollars for Planned Parenthood, and his opponents are extremists?
Exit question: what percentage of Americans think some of our tax dollars should go to Planned Parenthood?
A reader on Megan McArdle's blog does the math:
You can estimate the effects of various proposals in the best case, which is that each percentage point increase in the marginal rate translates to an equal increase in the effective rate. Going back to 2000 ("Clinton era") marginal rates on income over $200,000, let's call it a 5 percentage point increase in the marginal rate, would therefore yield $59 billion on a static basis. Going from there to a 45% rate on incomes over $1 million (another 5 percentage point increase) yields an additional $31 billion. Or, instead, on top of 2000 rates over $200,000, 50%/60%/70% on $500,000/$5 million/$10 million? An extra $133 billion, or nearly 1% of GDP. That's not accounting for the further middle class tax cuts that are usually proposed along with these "millionaires' taxes."
Now, compare this to deficits of $1,413 billion in 2009 and $1,293 billion in 2010, and using optimistic White House estimates, $1,645 billion in 2011 $1,101 billion in 2012, $768 billion in 2013, and continuing at over $600 billion after.
We simply can't balance the budget by taxing only the rich. We have to raise taxes on everyone, or cut expenditures massively.
There's also a principle involved. If we believe in private property, then we believe that property belongs to individuals. The state may tax some of it in order to pay for the government's expenses. High tax rates, except in times of emergency, tend toward the presumption that the government has first claim to the property, and citizens are only allowed to keep that which remains after the government has taken what it wants. Possession of property is no longer a natural right in that scheme. It is a right in the old sense--a dispensation granted by the government (which the government may take away at its whim).
I'll add that we are in an extraordinary situation. Hence very high tax rates might be acceptable, for a short time, to get our fiscal house in order. My guess is that many other Americans think that way, too. But the situation is like the immigration problem. Most Americans would be open to some kind of amnesty, if they believd the border was secure--and that this was not a repeat of the amnesty of the 1980s (fool me once . . .). So, too with federal spending. If the republic really is at risk, very high taxes are justified, but only so long as the risk remains. Making high taxes permanent changes the relationship between citizens and the government, and the meaning of property rights, and is, therefore, not justifiable on American principles.
What, exactly, is the difference between what David Sokol did at Berkshire Hathaway:
Sokol, 54, bought about 96,000 Lubrizol Corp. (L) shares in January, less than two weeks before recommending the company as a target, Buffett said yesterday in a statement. Sokol had started confidential talks with Lubrizol the month before.
And what George Washington Plunkitt called, "honest graft"?
EVERYBODY is talkin' these days about Tammany men growin' rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin' the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There's all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I've made a big fortune out of the game, and I'm gettin' richer every day, but I've not gone in for dishonest graft--blackmailin' gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc.--and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.
There's an honest graft, and I'm an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin': "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."
Just let me explain by examples. My party's in power in the city, and it's goin' to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I'm tipped off, say, that they're going to lay out a new park at a certain place.
I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before.
Ain't it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course, it is. Well, that's honest graft.
Derek Thompson is at it again. I especially like this mistake where he writes "Ryan proposes to cure health care inflation by capping Medicare payments to beneficiaries at $15,000. How will that help a senior pay for medical expenses that exceed $15,000? It won't." This is stupid beyond words. The Ryan plan does not give seniors 15,000 dollars to buy health care and if they incur greater than 15,000 worth of expenses they have nothing. In fact, the Ryan plan will give different groups of seniors varying amounts of money (lower-income and sicker seniors will get larger subsidies) in order to buy health insurance that offers a package of benefits (hospitalization etc.) This way, insurers that can offer the widest array of services at a lower price would get more customers (this approach makes even more sense in a more broadly liberalized health care market.) This can't be repeated enough: Either the Derek Thompsons of the world are in favor of ruinous tax increases to pay for an unsustainable long-term projected rate of increase in Medicare spending or we are arguing about how to bring costs down to a sustainable level.
The choice here is pretty simple. Let companies compete to offer seniors a set of benefits based on price, or have the government ration care based on what a bureaucrat thinks a particular senior should have. We can have patient-centered care or bureaucrat-centered care. These are our choices.
This Sphinx of Pennsylvania Avenue routine, from a politician hailed just three years ago as an orator so compelling he would have driven Pericles into the tunic-wholesaling business, is the result of a political dilemma: Liberalism is much more forthcoming on the question of what the government ought to do than it is about how the government should pay for all its programs.Bingo! Yahtzee! Survey says: Ding, ding, ding! So of course there is a natural reason to explain this Liberal reticence: there are more people who want good things than there are people willing to foot the bill for them. In other words: generating enthusiasm for higher taxes is a tough sell. Just ask Walter Mondale.
In his address Saturday to the Republican Jewish Coalition gathered here, he lambasted President Obama for what he characterized as a weak approach to international forces based on a lack of negotiating skills. But Romney never directly discussed U.S. involvement in Libya, leaving a group of reporters chasing him down a hall to ask him about this puzzling omission and whether he had a position on the United States launching a military offensive in a third Islamic country.
"I've got a lot of positions on a lot of topics," Romney said over his shoulder, "but walking down the hall probably isn't the best place to describe all those."
The day before, Romney had sidestepped a question about his recent trip to Afghanistan, saying he would discuss foreign policy in his speech on Saturday. But he neglected to talk about his trip or about continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan in those remarks.
"I've got a lot of positions on a lot of topics." That's precisely Romney's problem. And does he really think Obama's foreign policy problems are because Obama lacks good "negotiating skills"? Mitt, please go back to work for Bain Capital.
Henry Olsen points out Paul Ryan's stealing of the Democratic Party issue of security (see, among other sources, FDR's 1944 SOTU). In fighting Progressivism, we often need to turn Progressive guns against Progressivism: capture their commanding heights and use their own weapons against them. Leftist policies destroy Social Security, Medicare, etc. This does not show bad faith in compromising with these New Deal policies--quite the contrary; it's part of a much larger strategy.
As bad as California is, it would be far worse without the consensus that supported the initiative and referendum measures against racial preferences, property tax hikes, and so on. See Edward Erler's argument for using the Progressive means to conservative ends: Keep your eye on the ball and the real enemy--the administrative state.
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America, on the president's orders, has intervened militarily in Libya; the president has given a speech explaining the intervention and the manner of it; the country and the world debate the matter as events unfold; the outcome remains uncertain. In his speech, the president insisted that, because the Libyan people faced "the prospect of violence on a horrific scale," America had a responsibility to act. "To brush aside...our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are."
These letters are particularly concerned with "who we are" as a people and what this requires of our politics, domestic and foreign. So I leave aside for now the many other interesting and important questions swirling around the president's words and deeds, including his deference to the United Nations and his neglect of the United States Congress.What does "who we are" tell us about how we should act toward the rest of the world?
Megan McArdle gives a fair summary of the practical choices that the two parties offer voters when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid reform.
Derek Thompson is just obtuse. I especially like where he writes:
This picture is a partisan Rorschach test. Washington promised to pay for every senior's health care. We can't. Paul Ryan's sees the graph and says, "Let's change our promise." The White House's sees the graph and says, "Let's change health care."
Obamacare started to "change healthcare" by sharply cutting doctor reimbursements for current Medicare clients (which will make it harder for seniors to see providers) and using the savings to fund a new middle-class entitlement. We can look forward to future attempts by the Obamas of the world (and their media enablers like Thompson) to try to "change health care" through waiting lists, denials of service and other, less transparent ways of cutting back services.
We have to get this straight and repeat it always. The Ryan patient-centered approach will let future retirees decide on the care they get and they will get better value for their money. The Obama bureaucrat-centered approach will get seniors ever fewer medical services even as they are told a thousand lies about a thousand waiting lists and service reductions. And then they will tell you about how great they are for changing health care. The Ryan method is both more honest and will get seniors better care and more choices at a lower price.
A compelling argument on the Post's part. The administration should make the right decision here and let these low-income students escape the failing system that they would otherwise be trapped in.We understand the argument against using public funds for private, and especially parochial, schools. But it is parents, not government, choosing where to spend the vouchers. Given that this program takes no money away from public or public charter schools; that the administration does not object to parents directing Pell grants to Notre Dame or Georgetown; and that members of the administration would never accept having to send their own children to failing schools, we don't think the argument is very persuasive. Maybe that's why an administration that promised never to let ideology trump evidence is making an exception in this case.
Machiavelli is not a prophet of nihilism. His Prince (unlike Nietzsche's) isn't fighting simply for power. He is fighting to for the right and the ability to build a state and to become a lawgiver.
By the way, Thatcher's breaking of union power in Britain had the ironic benefit of breaking the total union stranglehold over the Labour Party, making possible the emergence of the more moderate "New Labour" under Tony Blair. This suggests the possibility that if Republicans succeed in breaking the power of public employee unions, the ultimate beneficiary might be the Democratic Party; it would free them at last to support genuine public education reform, for example. Mickey Kaus, call your office.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
The Hill reports that Paul Ryan's budget committee will propose huge Medicare and Medicaid reforms. The Democratic response is gonna be epic. The fight over public opinion for block granting Medicaid is probably winnable, but even that will take some care. Reformers will have to lead with the present broken condition of Medicaid and present the block granting as a way to let states produce better results with less money. The fight over Medicare will be much harder. Almost everyone is a current or prospective stakeholder in Medicare. Defined contribution Medicare (where the government gives a set amount of money and the recipient uses the money to purchase from a range of health care plans) is a policy proposal that is almost entirely unknown to the public. I would be surprised if one in fifty Americans could accurately describe defined contribution health care. If you were to write down a neutral, one sentence description of a defined contribution version of Medicare, I suspect most respondents would not prefer it to the present system. One of the most important facts in this debate is that most people would keep things going as they are - if they could. They would want Medicare to continue to pay at the projected (pre-Obamacare cuts) level and for the resulting burden to not crush the economy. Well that isn't going to happen. There are going to be limits placed on Medicare spending. The only question is whether those limits will be more of the kind centralized, sudden, and dumb cuts we saw in Obamacare, or whether we will have more market-oriented reforms that increase the productivity of the health care sector and let the elderly pay for the services they want rather than the services some bureaucrat wants them to have. A few pieces of advice from an amateur for Paul Ryan:
1. Defined contribution is a terrible way to describe the conservative version of Medicare. So is is voucherizing and privatizing. It should be called patient-centered Medicare for future retirees. It should be conservative patient-centered health care reform that allows the (future) elderly to purchase the services they want vs. bureaucrat-centered Medicare cuts where some agency just says no. It should be innovation, choice and better health care vs. death panels.
2. Medicare reform is a comparative issue. We are really facing tough choices and those who say otherwise are liars who want to cut your health care. There are two major ways of bringing down Medicare spending to a sustainable level. The Democrats will cut your benefits and leave you with no other options. We see that in Obamacare's plan to reduce provider reimbursements. The Obamacare plan is to pay your doctor less, thereby making it harder to get medical care. Multiply this approach across all your medical needs. And the Democrats are doing this to current retirees. Sometimes the government will just tell you no. More often the government will find sneakier ways to deny you care (creating waiting periods or paying at artificially low rates so that a service becomes unavailable.) They will nickel and dime you to death. This is the future under the Democrats and they have already started building it. Republicans need to explain that patient-centered Medicare will force providers to reorganize to provide better care for the elderly at a lower price, and that this is much better than the Democrat plan to give you less care when and how the government says so.
3. Ryan is articulate, energetic and smart, but he can't be everywhere at once. I assume most Republican members of Congress will be hopeless at explaining this issue past a couple of talking points. Some Republican members of Congress are quite old and have lost something off their fastball. Some are hacks who are just there to be there and aren't about to take on a complicated and controversial issue with enormous political downside risk. They will run for cover after the first AARP blast email. Some have real limited government principles but have demonstrated little ability (and perhaps little interest) in communicating to people who haven't already bought into the conservative narrative. Some congressional Republicans fit into more than one of the above categories.
Ryan needs to get together about twenty congressional Republicans to be the voices of the GOP on this issue (and one of them should be Marco Rubio.) They need to know the facts and the arguments inside and out, and have their responses honed to the second. Then they need to go everywhere and explain, explain, explain. Congress won't pass patient-centered Medicare this year or next. This is a public education effort and those most principled and articulate of Republicans need to be ready. They won't get another chance to make a first impression with the public.
Discover the bright future of conservatism in the latest edition of Counterpoint, the University of Chicago undergrad-edited journal. See Josh Lerner's account of Progressivism, which reconsiders its European origins. Also of note is the thoughtful, social-science focused exchange on same-sex marriage in the letters section. The case against gay marriage has rarely been made more incisively.
The spring issue will contain a symposium on movies, with contributions by conservatives young and old.