Prior to the disastrous implementation of Obamacare, has there ever been a law that fell that so far out of disfavor that the American people clamored for wholesale repeal? Yes, it was called Prohibition.
The parallels between Prohibition and Obamacare begin with the fact that both laws were the culmination of decades of “Progressive” ideals. A century ago Progressives believed that people would be better off if they were able to control what individuals were allowed to buy and sell. Modern Progressives are no different. From its first attempt in Maine in the 1850s, Progressives in both parties worked tirelessly to extend anti-alcohol laws to the entire country. This most recent bout of progressivism began sixty years ago with Democrat Harry Truman, who pushed the idea of socialized medicine. The movement received considerable advancement from Democrat Lyndon Johnson, who created Medicare, Republican George W. Bush, who added prescription drugs coverage, and Republican Mitt Romney, who built the first Obamacare-like system in Massachusetts.
Many Progressives of an earlier era wanted Prohibition for others, but not for themselves. The progressive United Methodist Church, which was officially dry but whose membership certainly wasn’t, said that, “Under slavery the Negroes were protected from alcohol, consequently they developed no high degree of ability to resist its evil effects.” A Collier’s editorial elaborated on this form of racial paternalism, “White men are beginning to see that moral responsibility for the negro rests on them, and that it is a betrayal of responsibility to permit illicit sales of dangerous liquors and drugs.” These were the attitudes of “Wet-Drys,” people who themselves drank, but who didn’t want “others” to drink. Besides racism, anti-Catholicism was rampant among earlier Progressives. Germans, Italians, and Irish (and let us not forget anti-Catholicism’s sibling, anti-semitism), flooded America’s cities during this period–and they all drank! Modern progressives similarly want Obamacare for thee, but not for me. Most infamous is that Congress specifically exempted itself and its employees from the new Obamacare requirements when it passed the law. Favored Progressive partners too–especially unions–have asked for, and gained their own Obamacare exemptions. Hypocrisy enjoys a long pedigree among Progressives.
Electoral chicanery is another similarity. There was a rush to enact the Eighteenth Amendment before the 1920 Census resulted in redistricting that would give more House seats to the cities and the immigrant Catholics who lived there. Following the census, which recorded a 21% population increase largely as a result of immigration, there was so much concern that “Wets” would gain the upper hand in Congress as well as in state legislatures, that Congress was never redistricted in accordance with the Constitution. Until 1933 when Prohibition was finally overturned, the House was stuck with the same district lines that were drawn back in 1910. A century later, modern Progressives played similar games after Republican Scott
Walker Brown’s surprise election to the Senate from Massachusetts meant that the House bill enacting Obamacare could not be ratified. Instead, an earlier Senate bill, that was nowhere near to ready for implementation and which had not gone through a conference committee, was accepted without modification in the House, and in defiance of the Constitutional provision that revenue bills had to originate in the House.
In 1925 H.L. Mencken observed:
“Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”
More than three years after the passage of Obamacare, one could make similar observations: there is not greater health insurance coverage but less; there is not lower health care costs, but more; and certainly, respect for the law–even from the law’s namesake and executor–has not increased, but diminished.
There is a final similarity which I am afraid might also come to pass. While it is popularly believed that the 18th Amendment was repealed, that was actually not exactly true. The 21st Amendment did not return things to the way they had been. Instead of repeal, the modfication to the Constitution gave the States special power to legislate alcohol. Because the Amendment gives the States jurisdiction, alcohol is not afforded protection under the interstate commerce clause. Each state can, and does, tax interstate sales, while they prevent residents from acquiring alcohol across state lines. This, and a whole host of other state restrictions, has created a hodge podge of laws that makes life difficult for wine-makers, retailers, and consumers alike. The only beneficiaries of such legal confusion are the descendants of Prohibition’s bootleggers who are now ensconced in legally mandated monopolies.
Similarly, when Obamacare meets its demise, it is unfortunately likely to die in such a way that the successor system will leave Americans worse off than they were before Obamacare ever became law. I hope that on this latter prediction, I am proved wrong.
There are two consensus opinions that have formed about Obamacare:
1. The website will not work this year. Every “fix” of known flaws is going to expose (and perhaps even worsen) underlying flaws that haven’t yet been discovered because few people have gotten far enough into the website to discover them.
2. The Obamacare law itself will need significant surgery and Democrats in particular are going to need for that surgery to have to happen very, very soon.
Not yet the consensus opinion, but soon will be, is that the second item is very much like the first: attempts to “patch” flaws in the law, just like patching flaws in the code, will expose huge problems lurking beneath the surface. When Nancy Pelosi said that we had to pass the 2,000+ page bill to see what was in it, what she could have said is that we’re going to have to actually implement it to really learn what is in there. It won’t be pretty.
Now here’s some added Washington reality. Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, nothing significant will happen in Congress. Nothing. Even as millions of Americans get Blue Cross pink slips, that won’t get in the way of Congressional Christmas parties and taxpayer-funded vacations to warmer climes. Oh, sure, there will be the usual press conferences and photo ops; that never stops. But real work–the kind that is done by armies of staffers and lobbyists who write these bills–that won’t happen. This means that whatever can be done before or shortly after the fecal matter hits the rotary device on 1 January is going to have to be short and sweet.
Going back to the status quo ante bellum is not possible. The plans that are dropping people by the millions no longer exist. They can’t exist under the current law and the new laws under which they could exist, won’t be written by Congress and then implemented by the insurance companies for months. Many months. At this point there are only bad options and worse options. Nothing government can do will forestall this problem. In fact, every attempt will just make the overall problem worse and further entrench the disarray.
There is only one institution in the world, only one power, that has the ability to quickly react, and that is the free market. Forget about Washington being able to solve the problem; they have neither the time nor the cognitive ability to diagnose the problem, much less, to fix it. Instead all Washington should do is to default to the States. Each of the states already has on their individual state codes, health care laws. That’s how the bulk of the health care industry was regulated in the past–a past that was only six weeks ago. With one exception, the Federal government should just get out of the way. And that exception is that it should allow for cross-state portability. That will do more than anything else to spur the market to provide health care solutions. No minimum coverage requirements, no maternity care for 80-year old men, no 26-year old children on their parents’ plans. Nothing. Let people shop in any state to find the plan that fits them. The market will quickly move in to meet most customers’ needs. And while that won’t insure everyone, it will insure most of those who have been recently dropped or who physically can’t buy coverage now.
Will it happen? Not a chance. You see, there’s another Washington reality at work: Never let a crisis go to waste. And Democrats, as well as Republicans, adhere to that ideal. Nothing so simple could disguise the payoffs and graft that Congress can’t wait to attach to the Omnibus package to “fix” Obamacare. And that means that the fix will be long in coming and will only make matters worse.
Now go and have a Merry Christmas! (Too bad it’s going to feel more like a Groundhog Day version of Halloween.)
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen is in a bit of trouble for making this statement in his Monday column:
People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
While there is some, surprisingly, the bulk of the criticism does not come from the Right for having been portrayed as knuckle-dragging dinosaurs whose acceptance of Justice Clarence Thomas’ biracial marriage and former VP Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter belie Cohen’s stereotype un-updated since the Archie Bunker era.
No, it’s actually the Left that has most criticized Cohen. The Huffington Post said, “Dear Washington Post: Please fire this man.” Esquire put Cohen in the “Newspaper Stupid Top 40.” Paul Farhi catalogues some of the others who voice umbrage at Cohen’s remarks, including Gawker, Slate, Salon, and MSNBC. All this “venom-spewing” as Farhi said, from ”people who should be [Cohen's] allies.”
Sadly, this is normal for the Left. Who could forget their outrage directed toward radio host Bill Bennett when he was asked about a statistic from the then recently-published Freakonomics that said that crime has gone down because of abortion:
BENNETT: All right, well, I mean, I just don’t know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don’t know. I mean, it cuts both – you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well –
CALLER: Well, I don’t think that statistic is accurate.
BENNETT: Well, I don’t think it is either, I don’t think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don’t know. But I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.
The Leftists at Media Matters had a field day with Bennett’s comments even when their excerpts clearly exhonerated (highlighted above) him of the thought-crime of advocating the racial infanticide that they say Bennett advocated.
Bennett was engaging in the logical device known as reductio ad absurdum, whereby an argument is reduced to an absurdity so as to demonstrate the fallacy of the premise. It just so happens that last night I mentioned to my seventh-grade son the classic reductio ad absurdum: A Modest Proposal, wherein Jonathan Swift argues that to eliminate the surplus population of beggars, the Irish should be allowed to sell their unweaned children to be used as stew meat.
In 1729 Swift’s reader’s quickly recognized the essay as satire. Sadly, I don’t think that American Leftists today would be able to understand the argument. If their umbrage toward Cohen–who clearly was not advocating discrimination against biracial and gay couples—is any indicator, were Swift to write his classic today, MSNBC would surely charge him with cannibalism.
Prior to this week I could have dismissed Leftist outrage directed at Bennett as political fanaticism akin to the fanatic football fan who, even upon seeing the slow-motion replay, yells at the referee for blowing a call that he clearly called correctly. Heretofore, I could have accepted that Bennett’s detractors understood his argument but purposefully misconstrued it so as to appeal to Low-Information Voters who might have heard only an edited version of the exchange. Now as a result of the outrage that the Left directs against its own Richard Cohen, it is obvious that the Left isn’t trying to appeal to Low-Information Voters, but is instead made up of a large swath of Low-Intelligence Voters.
How else could one explain Obamacare? Many of the people who are incapable of understanding Cohen’s argument are the same ones who are logically incapable of understanding that Obamacare could not work the way the President promised. Unless you believed, as one commenter noted, that Obamacare was powered by “unicorn farts and pixie dust,” it was always completely illogical to believe that more people could get more health coverage without some people paying higher prices or being kicked off of their existing plans.
Another Cohen, Michael Cohen (I don’t know if he is a relation), buttresses that point (hat tip: David Henderson).
But, of course, this means that some Americans would not only lose their plans and access to their doctor, but in the case of particularly healthy individuals, reform could yield higher premiums. Beyond that, reforming such a huge chunk of the U.S. economy necessarily leads to often unanticipated changes for millions of Americans.
Acknowledging that reality would have been the honest thing to do. So would asking healthier and wealthier Americans to sacrifice for the greater good of ensuring every American have health-care coverage.
But doing so would have opened Obama and his democratic allies up to the charge that Obamacare would lead to widespread dislocations — and made the path to reform that much politically harder to traverse.
Indeed, this is precisely the argument that was made by Republicans . . .
In other words: Everything Republicans told you about Obamacare was true, but–and these are Michael Cohen’s words–you “can’t handle the truth.” What he didn’t say but is clearly implied and could have appended: “And we know that you are too stupid and too illogical to figure out the truth on your own.” Logical fallacy abounds on the Left, and this Cohen actually celebrates it.
This is where the modern Left is today: at the head of an easily manipulable cadre of useful idiots. To be sure, the Right has its share of blind adherents as well. To some, the words “abortion” and “homosexual” are like red herrings to a dog: they quickly distract. But I’m hard-pressed to find so glaring an example as Obamacare to demonstrate how easy it was to dupe millions of people who should have been smart enough to know otherwise.
For years it has been fashionable in some segments of the Right to complain that America’s public schools are engaged in indoctrination instead of education. But the Left’s slander of Richard Cohen might point at a reality far worse. It’s not that millions of Americans have been taught the wrong things–bad lessons can be unlearned. Much worse is the possibility that many millions of Americans have never been taught how to critically read and to logically think. If this is true, it does not bode well for the nation’s future.
Over at the Daily Beast Jamelle Bouie accuses Sarah Palin of rhetorical overreach by recently likening the national debt to slavery.
It just so happens that the introductory chapter of a book I’ve been working on doesn’t just employ slavery as a simile, but actually asserts that a central feature of modern government is slavery. Undoubtedly, Mr. Bouie will take umbrage at the equivalence. But I challenge him and you to refute the assertion on logical grounds. I look forward to critiques and encourage discussion if you dare to proceed . . .
If you’re not scared off by two-thousand word essays, read this to understand why Washington, DC Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray staged a photo-op stunt to beg Senate Democrats to end the standoff over Obamacare, while the usually Republican-leaning National Chamber of Commerce pleaded with Congress to add some more headroom to the debt ceiling.
Shorter than 2,000-word version:
DC Mayors represent government workers who are the major casualties of temporary government shutdowns, while business groups represent big business, which depends on government spending fueled by even deeper debt.
UPDATE: (Delegates representing DC too.)
ALSO: Establishment GOP lashes out at Tea Party
To be “sovereign” means that there is no higher legal authority. This is why, historically, sovereign debt is a bad risk: if the sovereign doesn’t want to pay back the debt, there is no authority that can order the debt repaid.
Francis Menton briefly describes Argentina’s journeys through the United States court system as the South American company attempts to evade debt issued in New York. The end game is near and Argentina’s lawyer told the judge what it will be: ”We would not voluntarily obey such an order [to repay the debt].” The Argentinians are essentially echoing Andrew Jackson’s rebuke of the Supreme Court: “They have made their decision, now let them enforce it.”
I suppose that the courts could seize whatever meager assets the broke country might have in American banks, but American courts have no real means to force Argentina to repay the debt. What the court can do is to deny Argentina access to future New York credit markets, which causes Menton to remark:
” . . . getting cut off from credit would probably be the best thing that could ever happen to Argentina, finally forcing a reduction in its wildly bloated state sector and out-of-control crony capitalism.”
The same would be true for the United States, but I fear that we’re going to have to get a lot closer to Argentina’s miserable state of affairs before we accept it.
‘Gestapo’ tactics meet senior citizens at Yellowstone.
The nearly four-year-long stalemate of the Great War ended only because fresh American troops arrived on the front lines in the summer of 1918 at the rate of 10,000 a day. Twenty-one years later the Allies envisioned another lengthy trench-style war when they relied upon a line of interconnected, powerfully-fortified concrete bunkers named after French Minister of War, Andre Maginot. A generation after the First World War, and only six weeks after the second war began in earnest, the whole of France was under German rule.
A mere 100 hours after the American-led offensive to liberate Kuwait began, the war was over. A dozen years later a similar ground offensive was nearly as quickly concluded . . . but that war was only beginning.
It is human nature to extrapolate linearly from the past. Investment advisers in the 1920s and the 1990s, as well as real estate professionals in the oughts, forecasted incredible and continuous increases in value. Climatologists 30 years ago observed sharply colder winters of the late-seventies and forecasted a new ice age; a generation later many of those same scientists watched temperatures climb and extrapolated that to a future of rising seas and scorched lands.
Here we are today, eighteen years after the last government shutdown and Democrats blithely predict a certain public relations victory while many Old Guard Republicans, still snakebit by the past, fear for their electoral futures.
Life has a way of not staying on script.
Conventional wisdom holds that military service disproportionately attracts minorities and men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many believe that troops enlist because they have few options, not because they want to serve their country. Others believe that the war in Iraq has forced the military to lower its recruiting standards.
. . . studies that examined the backgrounds of enlisted personnel refute this interpretation.
I have to admit that in 2001 I accepted the CW that the militarily disproportionately accepted poor minorities. And then I checked for myself. I did a very similar analysis to this Heritage Foundation study and discovered a very similar result: Americans from the poorest backgrounds are the least likely to join the Army.
A few notes about my study:
1. It was three computers ago and I’ve lost all the raw data, but the results are still clear in my mind. Take that for what it’s worth–yes I encourage skepticism–but to partially allay that, I posted the same thing back in 2005.
2. I looked at FY 2001 Active Army enlistments, USMA enrollees, and ROTC contracts. That was before September 11th for all but the last three weeks of the year. Additionally, it was only Army data. Sad for an Army man to admit: of the services, the Army has the worst record when it comes to marketing to high quality applicants. In other words: if the Army looked good, the other services (especially Marines and Air Force) are bound to look even better.
3. I didn’t break my data down into census tracts, but to zip codes, which is a less discrete variable. However, I did look at individual zip codes with which I was personally familiar, and I found that evidence from those areas matched the results of the overall study.
4. I looked at census data for 17-24 year olds, which is a the usual target market for Army recruiters. It’s unclear from the Heritage study how they accounted for age.
Bottom line results of my study: the least likely quintile of zip codes to send recruits into the active Army, was the economically lowest-ranked quintile. By far. In other words, the 20% of poorest neighborhoods were the least likely to send people into the Active Army (the easiest of the four services to enter). My going-in hypothesis was the opposite. I expected the poorest neighborhoods to provide the most recruits. I was wrong.
Instead, I suppose, that the poorest neighborhoods are those that are the most likely to produce 17-24 year olds who are ungraduated from high school, with a disqualifying criminal record, and/or unable to pass a drug test.
More to the point: One-fifth of our nation’s children are growing up in neighborhoods where they don’t even have the military as a realistic possible path to betterment. Ouch.
*Standard disclaimer to tell you that these are my opinions only and not those of DoD, and cetera.
Frank J. Fleming wonders “Why does the government hate conservatives?” And by “government,” he implicitly means the 1.8 million civilian employees of America’s largest employer. It’s a good question. But I think that it doesn’t go far enough in wondering who these 1.8 million people are.
One truth almost universally and uncritically accepted is that the American civil service system implemented by degrees during the early Progressive era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is a good thing. Perhaps now is the time to question the wisdom of government by tenured appartchiks. Whatever its downfalls, the spoils system at least had the benefit of a thorough housecleaning every four to eight years. Absent such high turnover, the current system erects a legalocracy of inefficiency behind which anonymous and unfirable cogs operate with impunity for decades and generations. Without fear of ever being outside the system, government workers themselves have every incentive to complicate that system in their own favor. Rules become undecipherable, the pace of action becomes glacial, and budgets grow unsustainably large. Meanwhile, administrations come and go and the bureaucracy continues to grow.
James Taranto has argued that if the ongoing IRS scandal didn’t generate in the White House that it is actually a far worse outcome for Americans than if the President himself directed the targeting of conservative groups. His point is that if the targeting is spontaneous, then it is indicative that the government itself has become politicized.
A return to the spoils system, admittedly, would not fix that, as almost definitionally such a system is partisan. But there is a difference between a partisan government that owes allegiance to a temporary leadership and a politicized government whose only allegiance is to the continued growth of government itself. As Taranto argues, if this is the case then “government itself has become a threat to the Constitution.”
While Democrats generally embrace a larger government, they would be mistaken to believe that they too aren’t in the crosshairs of certain branches of the bureaucracy. In the realm of Defense the tilt of those who work there has been generally Republican, as that party has been more predisposed to greater Defense spending over the last couple generations. The entrenchment is so deep that even when a Nobel Peace Prize winning President who ran on a platform of decreased wartime activity finds it difficult to reverse course. One can’t help but to wonder how much of the argument in favor of opening yet another Mideastern front in Syria came from self-serving bureacrats whose departments and budgets would expand as the result of the military action.
Isolated from firing as they are, civil service bureaucrats are impervious to change. At worst, they hold the line and wait four to eight years for a change in government. But they never retreat. And hence, the apparatchikacy continues to grow.
Returning to Fleming’s question we stumble across the obvious answer, Why does government hate [fiscal] conservatives? Because fiscal conservatism necessarily means a decrease in the size of government. And nothing is more dangerous to the bureaucracy that has become the fourth branch of government. What is scariest is that if the apparatchikacy itself wins in a battle against the citizenry that supports it, then we are no longer citizens, but have instead returned to the days of 1775 where we are subjects of an unelected government.
A. Barton Hinkle raises the same concern:
” . . . it is not a happy thing to note that the fourth branch of government – the administrative state against which Republican politicians rail – is largely impervious to elections. And that despite the uproar over domestic surveillance, an activity the election of Barack Obama was supposed to curtail, the general consensus seems to hold that such monitoring will continue unabated. Politicians come and go; autonomous agencies and mass surveillance are here to stay. Elections still matter a great deal in the U.S., but they matter now less than they once did – and less than they should.”
* These opinions are my own and not those of the US Army or the Department of Defense.