Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
They Said It:
The most important change which extensive government control produces is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people . . . The political ideals of a people and its attitude toward authority are as much the effect as the cause of the political institutions under which it lives. This means, among other things, that even a strong tradition of political liberty is no safeguard if the danger is precisely that new institutions and policies will gradually undermine and destroy that spirit.
Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, 1944.
AN OBSTRUCTIONIST GOP? HURRAY!
We have to admit that we didn’t expect to take so much pleasure in a second Obama term. But we just can’t help it. For the first time in years, decades even, it seems that there is at least some reason to be hopeful about Washington and about at least a few of those individuals who are currently there doing “the people’s business.” And we owe it all to “the One,” He who would slow the rise in the oceans and heal the planet.
Conveniently enough, one of the most obvious signs of the resurgence in Washington’s credibility also happens to be one that is most evident in the visages of some of the most objectionable liberals, which, of course, adds immeasurably to our pleasure. After all, who are we to complain if Chris Matthews spends every night in near apoplexy, launching spittle and spite all over everyone within blocks of the MSNBC studios?
As it turns out, virtually the entirety of the Washington establishment – and most especially the press corps – is deeply unhappy that the current Republican House is a teensy bit intransigent when it comes to playing along with Obama and the Democratic agenda. To hear the Democratic pols and their media allies tell the story, the Republican Party these days is made up of just about the most outrageous, disgraceful, stubborn, irrational, and un-American men and women ever to serve in the peoples’ Congress. Indeed, the denizens of the Left have had it! And so, they believe, has everyone else! Eugene Robinson, the Washington Post’s brave defender of the left-of-center consensus, recently took the Republicans to task for their waywardness and their “self-delusion.” To wit:
Self-delusion is a sad spectacle. Watching Republicans convince themselves that killing immigration reform actually helps the GOP is excruciating, and I wish somebody would make it stop.
House Speaker John Boehner’s unruly caucus has been busy convincing itself not to accept or even modify the bipartisan immigration bill passed by the Senate. Rather, it wants to annihilate it. It’s not that these Republicans want a different kind of comprehensive reform, it’s that they don’t want comprehensive reform at all . . .
This makes no sense as policy or as politics. Amazingly, however, some conservatives who should know better – magazine editors Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard and Rich Lowry of National Review – now contend that the GOP would actually help itself politically by killing the Senate immigration bill . . .
Most House Republicans have nothing to worry about for the time being; their districts are safe. But the GOP’s fortunes in national contests – and eventually in statewide races as well – will be increasingly dim. Maybe they’ll wake up when Texas begins to change from red to blue.
In the meantime, it’s sad to see a once-great political party carry on as if whistling past the graveyard were a plan.
Robinson, of course, is hardly alone in lamenting the Republicans’ lapse into self-delusion. Everyone, it seems, worries about the party, about its future, and about the damage that this “once great party” is doing to itself by simply standing around the Capitol building shouting “no!” The New Yorker’s Jonathan Chait, for example, recently caused a bit of stir among the beautiful people by attacking the GOP in much the same vein as did Robinson, only more viciously:
One of the novel developments in conservative thought during the Obama years is a burgeoning hatred not merely for government but for lawmaking. Before the Obama era, the ends of crafting laws divided the parties, but the means did not. The process of corralling votes, placating hold-outs, and hammering out compromises was not something either side especially loved — you’ve heard the classic line about watching the sausage get made — but also not something that one side disliked more than the other. But a hatred for lawmaking has emerged in the Obama years, first as a Republican tactic, and then as an apparently genuine belief system . . .
The revolt against legislating has its roots in the Republican campaign to oppose President Obama’s major legislation in his first two years. Attacking the stimulus or health-care reform for their legislative trade-offs was a smart rhetorical tactic for the party. It made sense as a tactic because Republicans really wanted to kill the stimulus, health-care reform, and financial reform entirely. “No bill” was the best potential scenario for them . . .
A rational legislative strategy would consider the relative benefits of a law to maintaining the status quo, and weigh the possibilities of a better bill emerging over time. But tea-party logic simply regards the existence of compromise as disqualifying. The moral purity of opposition has become untethered from any political or policy objective, and appears to have sprouted into an actual freestanding principle.
Of course, it’s not just lefties who think that the GOP is being unusually and unhelpfully obstinate. As we said, the belief is widespread among the establishment class and especially among the press corps, even its purportedly right-leaning members. Kathleen Parker, an alleged conservative last seen hosting a CNN show with Client #9, a.k.a. former New York Governor and friend to hookers everywhere, recently took her fellow partisans to task for having the unmitigated gall of standing on principle, of all things:
Republicans seem to be adopting the self-immolation tactics of principled martyrs.
Of course, principled or not, you’re still dead in the end.
At this stage in the second term of the president they couldn’t defeat, Republicans seem more like stubborn children refusing to come out of their rooms for supper, even though the alternative is going to bed hungry . . .
What Republicans are selling appeals to an ever-diminishing market that doesn’t even include their erstwhile allies in business and industry. And their self-immolation may prove to have been nothing more than a bonfire of vanities.
Like we said, this is fun. The Washington establishment – the ruling class, if you will – is unhappy. They’re not getting what they want, namely comprehensive legislation on everything from immigration to gun control to farm policy/food stamps. And so, in response, they’re stomping their feet, throwing up their hands, and attacking the GOP. And the best part of it all is that their critique consists entirely of accusing the Republicans of not getting what they want and, in response, stomping their feet, throwing up their hands, and attacking the President. Self-delusion meet self-awareness, or, more accurately, lack thereof.
As best we can tell, the ruling class folks appear to be confused by the whole phenomenon of an opposition party that is actually standing in, well, opposition. They’ve grown accustomed to “opposition” being a term of some nuance, and of the opposition party being for the same things as the in-power party, only for a little less or a little more of them. They’re used, for example, to Algore running against George W. Bush in 2000, promising tax cuts, only slightly smaller than Bush’s. They’re used to Bush and the Republican Congress spending like the proverbial drunken sailors, expanding health care entitlements, and promising kinder, gentler, more caring, and more compassionate government. They’re used, in short, to the opposition party being somewhat less oppositional.
Even more than this, the Washington elites are confused and upset by a conservative opposition party. They’ve almost never seen such a thing. They don’t know how to handle it, and, truth be told, it kinda scares them. Just yesterday, for example, the aforementioned Jonathan Chait, in his latest bedwetting screed against the Republicans declared ominously that “The task the Republican Congress set itself was not just to oppose the president but to restore the American way of life before it was too late.” Well . . . uh . . . yes?
We don’t suppose that Chait knows much about conservatism. But we figure that he has, at the very least, heard of William F. Buckley, the founder and late publisher of National Review, who rather pithily summed up conservatism as “standing athwart history yelling Stop.”
Nevertheless, Chait rages and rants about Republican “hostage taking,” “political sabotage,” and “guerilla warfare.” He complains that the GOP is engaging in unprecedented obstruction, the first opposition party ever to behave this way, which, he claims, is shocking, since the party is not an absolute majority and lacks the votes to push its own vision through the Senate, much less overturn an Obama veto. All of which is to say that even if Chait has heard of Buckley and does know the “standing athwart history,” bit, he doesn’t know the entire quote, which reads: A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it. [emphasis added]
It is most telling, of course, that the outcry over the GOP’s obstructionism centers principally on “comprehensive” bills like immigration and gun control. It appears never to have occurred to the hysterics that there might be a reason for this. Take a look, if you will, at the comprehensive bills passed in the Obama era, before the Republicans managed to take the House back in 2010.
First there was the “stimulus” bill, called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. That bill, of course, did nothing to stimulate anyone other than favored Democratic constituencies. More to the point, it probably hurt the economy in the long run, in that it helped create the fiscal crisis that led to the unprecedented S&P downgrade of federal debt in the summer of 2011.
Next came the much-ballyhooed “health care reform,” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This law, of course, was the principal mover in the resuscitation of conservatism. Its deficiencies are manifest and manifold. We don’t have the time or space to do justice to the ACA’s destructiveness in this piece. But for the time being, we think it should suffice to say that Democratic Senator Max Baucus (MT), the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was probably being kind when he predicted that the “reform” will prove to be a “train wreck.”
Last, but not least, in the summer of 2010, just before the Republicans won back the House, Congress passed and the President signed a comprehensive financial reform bill, also known as The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Dodd-Frank has received considerably less exposure than has the ACA, but it too has been and continues to be an ongoing debacle of monumental proportion. In an economy beset by hyper-regulation and excessive government intrusion into erstwhile free markets, Dodd-Frank – a bill named for two of the most corrupt and/or incompetent financial operators in Washington over the last several decades – is nevertheless in a league of its own. Just this weekend, for example, The Hill newspaper noted the following:
Rules implementing the Dodd-Frank financial reform law could fill 28 copies of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, according to a new analysis of the Wall Street overhaul . . .
All told, regulators have written 13,789 pages and more than 15 million words to put the law in place, which is equal to 42 words of regulations for every single word of the already hefty law, spanning 848 pages itself.
And if that seems like a lot, keep in mind that by Davis Polk’s estimate, the work implementing the law is just 39 percent complete.
That there is a whole bunch of regulation. With a whole bunch more to come. All of which is to say that most of you had better plan to hire a whole bunch of new employees – not productive employees, mind you, but the kind who will greatly expand your compliance departments. Good times, no?
In any case, the point here is that the Republicans have seen the country burned several times by Obama’s desire to change everything and to change it in one fell swoop. So, for the record, have the American people, who responded to these disasters by electing the current Republican majority explicitly to prevent the President and his allies from doing so any longer. The surprise, we think, comes from the fact that those Republicans whom the people elected to stop the President are actually stopping the president, which is to say that they are, miracle of miracles, actual conservatives. The ruling classes are not used to this. They’re not used to conservatives being conservatives. They’re not used to the descendants of Burke actually believing what Burke believed, that is . . .
By the unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways, as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with another. Men would become little better than the flies of a summer.
It should be obvious to anyone that this circumstance is unique in Washington. A conservative opposition party that is both conservative and standing in opposition is, frankly, remarkable.
It should be equally obvious that the cause of this unique circumstance is the Tea Party. The Left and the mainstream media continue to degrade and belittle the Tea Party folks as a bunch of rednecks and other assorted wackos. And maybe they are. Either way, though, they are the architects of a truly extraordinary phenomenon – a grassroots conservative movement that has had precisely the desired effect on Washington.
For years and years, we have argued that Washington is not the place where the real work of American politics is done. It is merely the place where the parties keep score. Nothing proves this better than the successes of the Tea Party. In order to put their people in power – and thereby to stop the Obama Democrats from passing “comprehensive” bill after comprehensive bill, the Tea Partiers had to organize at the local level. They had to take over their local parties. They had to take over their nominating processes. They had to find and advance real conservative candidates. And they have done so, in a way that very few people expected and with results that no one expected. If Washington is where they keep score, then the Tea Party is way, way ahead.
This is not, of course, to say that all is well within the American body politic. It is not. The Obama administration and the Democratic and Republican establishments will continue to do their damnedest to circumvent the will of the people by expanding the size and scope of the state “comprehensively.”
Additionally, and more ominously, the Tea Party remains a fledgling movement and its representatives remain newbies in the nefarious halls of high-level politics. And as many a brave reformer has found over the years, Washington has a way of convincing the truly ambitious to “evolve” in office, which is to say that reformers are often assimilated quickly into the very institutions of power that they seek to reform. We imagine that at least some of the Tea Party darlings will, sooner rather than later, follow this well-trod path to Washington acceptability. Time will tell, we suppose.
In the meantime, though, enjoy the spectacle you have before you. It is fascinating, distinctive, and often hilarious. Enjoy watching the establishment classes stomp their feet and act like children, even as they accuse the Republicans in Congress of stomping their feet and acting like children.
A truly effective and truly conservative opposition is, perhaps, a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. Savor it while it lasts.
DEPENDENCY, GOVERNMENT, AND OBAMACARE.
Earlier this month, a writer called Esme Deprez penned one of the most tiresome and tendentious columns we have ever read. Published by Bloomberg, the column focused on “flea-market abortions” in Texas, which Ms. Deprez claims are thriving because – and get this – “Rules set to pass as soon as tomorrow might result in the closing of most, if not all, abortion facilities in the state.” Did ya get that? Rules then-not yet passed, which “might” close abortion facilities that were at that time still open, had caused women to seek abortion-inducing drugs at places like an “open-air flea market outside McAllen, Texas, near the Mexican border, [where] shoppers can buy a goat and get their car windows tinted.”
As we said, this is one of the most absurd things we have ever read. If it weren’t so deadly serious, it would be almost comical. Indeed, it is difficult, we think, to overestimate the lengths to which the pro-abortion crowd will go to make it appear that any restrictions on abortion will prompt a return to “back alleys” and “coat hangers.” Narrative over truth, we guess.
Yet, this story is an important one. Both the “abortion gambit” undertaken by Texas Republicans and the abortion supporters’ reaction to it are telling and politically relevant. Nevertheless, we would like this week to focus on another aspect of the column written by Ms. Duprez, one that describes in one brief snippet the warranted fears that many in this country have about big government and liberalism in general and the health care reform act in particular.
That snippet appears just after the introduction and reads as follows:
Women in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, along the southeastern border with Mexico, said it’s already harder for them to control their reproductive lives since the state cut funding for birth control in 2011.
This is puzzling, to say the very least. For starters, Deprez doesn’t provide any evidence of this assertion. So it leaves one wondering whether it is true. On the other hand, it could well be true, which would make it even more puzzling. You see, it seems to us that controlling one’s “reproductive life” is one of the easier things in the world to do, and one that could be done without any government support at all. But, as Duprez tells it, it is nigh on impossible for women who have become dependent on government to control their reproductive lives themselves.
Glenn Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law professor who moonlights as the world’s most influential political blogger, Instapundit, has, over the course of the Obama administration, developed an internet meme about government dependency. Every time he posts on or links to a story establishing either the increase in government dependency under Obama or the deleterious effects of that dependency, he adds a line at the end: “they’ll turn us into beggars, ‘cause they’re easier to please.” The line comes from a song called “Government Cheese” by the Kansas City rock band the Rainmakers.
The moral of the song, as well as Reynolds’ meme, is an old and well-established lesson, i.e. over the long term, government dependency creates only one thing, more government dependency. Politicians who wish to consolidate power and to increase the size and the authority of the state very shrewdly establish programs by which otherwise freeborn men and women come to depend on government and, concomitantly, come to lose their ability to function independently of government. They become, in essence, slaves to the state. As Tocqueville put it in his Memoir on Pauperism:
Man, like all socially organized being, has a natural passion for idleness. There are, however, two incentives to work: the need to live and the desire to improve the conditions of life. Experience has proven that the majority of men can be sufficiently motivated to work only by the first of these incentives . . .
Any permanent, regular administrative system whose aim will be to provide for the needs of the poor will breed more miseries than it can cure, will deprave the population that it wants to help and comfort, will in time reduce the rich to being no more than the tenant-farmers of the poor, will dry up the sources of savings, will stop the accumulation of capital, will retard the development of trade, [and] will benumb human industry and activity.
Oddly enough, Marx understood this phenomenon also. He discussed it this way in 1842 in a radical newspaper called Neue Rheinische Zeitung.
Pastor Bonavita Blank of the Paradise monastery near Schaffhausen trained magpies and starlings to fly in and out. He had cut away the lower part of their bill so that they were unable to get their own food and could only receive it from his hands. The philistines who from a distance saw the birds alight on the Reverend’s shoulders and seem to be friendly with him, admired his great culture and learning. His biographer says that the birds loved their benefactor.
For the better part of a year-and-a-half now, the Right in this country has been fighting with the Obama administration about the Health and Human Services mandate on birth control. The Right, understandably, views this as a fight over religious liberty and the right of employers not to be compelled to pay for birth control and abortion services to which they are morally opposed. The Obama administration, by contrast – and indeed the entire Left – views the fight as a battle over the creation of a new, government-protected entitlement. Once the masses grow accustomed to “free” birth control, woe be unto any man or woman who dares to try to take it away. Or at least that’s the plan. The way the Obama folks see it, once they establish a “right” to birth control, then every woman in the country will be just like the “women of the lower Rio Grande Valley,” i.e. unable to regulate her own “reproductive life” without government help.
The same principle, of course, applies to a whole host of other government “services.” You name a concern – food subsidies, mortgage relief, child care, higher education funding, health insurance, employment, whatever – and the government has a plan for you! All you have to give in return, of course, is your desire and then your ability to make any of those (and countless other) decisions for yourself. Government is here for you. It cares. It takes a village, after all.
Now, as any schoolboy knows, and as we (among others) have been saying for years, the big prize in all of this is healthcare. Once the government has its grubby little hands all over healthcare, then it has, essentially, won the war; that is, it controls the life and death of every citizen.
The Republicans in Washington, for their part, want everyone to believe that they understand this and to know that they are working hard to repeal the health care reform. This is all well and good we suppose, but it’s not going to be enough. Obamacare may be a train wreck in the making. And it may the proverbial albatross around the necks of Democrats in next year’s midterm elections. But none of that is going to change the fact that it is also the law of the land. More to the point, none of that is going to change the fact that Democrats are fully aware – even as Republicans seem blissfully unaware – that the key to making Obamacare permanent is making enough people dependent on it that it cannot be repealed without sparking a massive populist upheaval.
Given this, two recent stories have us more than a little uneasy about the future of healthcare – and thus the future of liberty – in this country. The first of these comes in a study released last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Over at National Review Online, Eliana Johnson summarized the study thusly:
The Affordable Care Act may encourage nearly one million low-income workers to leave their jobs and the nation’s welfare rolls, according to a working paper distributed by the non-partisan National Bureau of Economic Research. The study, “Health Insurance, Labor Supply, and Employment Lock,” concludes that Americans employed primarily to gain private insurance coverage may leave the workforce when they become eligible for free or heavily subsidized health insurance. The authors, Craig Garthwaite, Tal Gross, and Matthew J. Notowidigdo, write that the Affordable Care Act, which “affects adults not traditionally eligible for public health insurance, may cause large reductions in the labor supply of low-income adults.” . . .
Garthwaite, Gross, and Notowidigdo find “strong evidence that public health insurance affects labor supply decisions” — in particular, they conclude public health-insurance provides a “strong work disincentive” to those who qualify for it.
What this means is that Obamacare will relieve up to a million Americans of the incentive to work described by Tocqueville as “the need to live.” With government picking up the tab, that incentive will disappear, which is to say that up to a million men and women who are currently gainfully employed will no longer feel compelled to stay that way. They will become dependent for healthcare not on their jobs, but on the government, which demands nothing in return, except, of course, perpetual support for those in the government who provide the service.
The second story comes from the same Bloomberg News that carried the Esme Deprez piece. And although it was published three weeks ago, it takes on greater relevance in light of last week’s bankruptcy filing by the city of Detroit. It reads as follows:
Detroit is facing bankruptcy, and Chicago wants to cut retiree benefit costs. Both are turning to President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul in what could become a road map for cash-strapped cities.
The municipalities plan to end or limit health coverage for retirees under 65 who don’t yet qualify for Medicare, with the expectation they can get insurance in the exchanges opening Jan. 1 under President Barack Obama’s health-care law.
With U.S. cities facing rising benefit costs and billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, more municipalities will consider moving retirees off city rolls and into the exchanges . . .
In Detroit, reducing benefits for 30,000 employees and retirees is part of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s plan to avoid the largest U.S. municipal bankruptcy by erasing a $386 million deficit and attacking a long-term debt of at least $17 billion.
The city had 19,389 retirees eligible for health, life-insurance and death benefits as of June 30, 2011, according to Orr’s plan. The insurance benefits cost the city $177.4 million in fiscal 2012. Retirees contributed an additional $23.5 million . . .
Orr wants to give current and former workers health-reimbursement accounts. The city would pay from $100 to $250 a month to help with medical costs or premiums under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to a proposal to city unions . . .
Chicago plans to phase out retiree health coverage by the beginning of 2017, according to a May 15 letter from Comptroller Amer Ahmad.
It goes without saying, we suppose, that this is brilliant. The cities of Detroit, Chicago, and heaven-only-knows-which-others will reduce retired public employees’ dependence on them, thereby improving their fiscal conditions. At the same time, these public employees’ dependence on the federal government, and specifically its healthcare “reform,” will increase dramatically. Detroit and Chicago will provide small subsidies for the purchase of exchange plans, and since these former employees are almost all, by definition, on fixed incomes, the federal government will possibly provide subsidies as well. What could be better, from the perspective of the political Left, that is? Cities abandon a big chunk of their legacy costs and thus get to “Pass Go,” collect $200, and continue spending wildly on current public-sector employees. The federal government creates more dependents and the need for a bigger subsidy budget. And no gets hurt in the process, except the poor taxpayer. But what the hell?
You wanna repeal Obamacare, Republicans? We just dare you! Go ahead. Make our day!
Like we said, this is brilliant. Obamacare, obviously, has some serious problems. And those problems continue to grow worse, rather than better, as the date for implementation approaches. Nevertheless, those problems will become inconsequential if enough people can be made dependent on Obamacare.
The House Republicans (whom we praise above) think that they’re doing a good and noble thing by symbolically voting to repeal Obamacare, which they’ve done some 33 times now. And perhaps they are.
Unfortunately, the GOP is, in some ways, complicit in the permanent dependence that will be fostered by Obamacare, if for no other reason than the party couldn’t find a presidential candidate capable of beating Barack Obama. Whatever you think about Mitt Romney, the guy just couldn’t get it done. And that likely sealed the country’s fate.
We don’t know that this is the case for certain, of course. And we hope that we’re wrong. Still, we’re concerned that the Republicans are preoccupying themselves with procedural attacks on Obamacare, while the Obama folks and their allies (in Chicago, most notably) are preparing to make repeal of the law impossible by generating as much dependency as possible.
The old proverb has it that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime. Today, if you give a man a government benefit, he keeps it for a lifetime. And so, unfortunately, does the government.