Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
They Said It:
If we attend carefully to the psychology of the persons who manifest such an eagerness to serve us, we shall find that they are even more eager to control us. What one discovers, for example, under the altruistic professions of the leaders of a typical organization for humanitarian crusading, like the Anti-Saloon League, is a growing will to power and even an incipient terrorism . . . .
On the pretext of social utility they are ready to deprive the individual of every last scrap and vestige of his freedom and finally to subject him to despotic outer control. No one, as Americans of the present day are only too well aware, is more reckless in his attacks on personal liberty than the apostle of “service.” He is prone in his furtherance of his schemes of “uplift” not only to ascribe unlimited sovereignty to society as against the individual, but also to look on himself as endowed with a major portion of it, to develop a temper, in short, that is plainly tyrannical.
Irving Babbitt, Democracy and Leadership, 1924.
JIMMY KIMMEL AND THE END OF LIBERTY.
As you may have heard, last week was a pretty rough one in the annals of late-night comedy. On one network, a bitter “comedian” demonstrated the Left’s famous “tolerance” by declaring that the President of the United States is “only good” for performing homosexual acts on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Note here the Left’s perpetual rage, but also its longstanding and ongoing duplicity. The Left claims perfect enlightenment on gay issues, except when its denizens feel the need to lash out at their opponents, at which point, their enlightenment gives way to puerile schoolyard taunts. Note as well the Left’s disconnect from reality. As usually happens in cases like this one, a wealthy celebrity – who earns more than $15 million a year and has an audience of more than 3 million viewers every night – realized belatedly that his joke hadn’t gone over terribly well, and so he painted himself as the victim. He insisted that his “joke” was merely his small but courageous attempt to afflict the powerful and discomfort the comfortable. Or something like that.
Meanwhile, on another network, another late night comedian told a very touching, very heartfelt, and very personal story about his new baby. And then he used this touching, heartfelt, and personal story to attack Republicans.
If you take a long, hard, psychoanalytical look at these two late-night episodes . . . you have our deepest sympathies. Additionally, we suspect that you will find that they are both part and parcel of the same phenomena. One was vile and hateful. The other was poignant and sincere. Yet, the ideas and feelings that produced both can be traced back to the same ideological wellspring, the same notions about man and government and the interaction between the two.
For a variety of reasons, we will focus today on the latter incident, rather than the former. For starters, Stephen Colbert, the host of CBS’s “The Late Show,” is a tiresome bore. He is not funny and his shtick hinges entirely on condescension and derision. If you happen to agree with him politically, then he reinforces your prejudices. If not, well . . . then you’re stupid. That’s it. That’s the sum total of his comedic appeal.
More to the point, the second story – told by Jimmy Kimmel on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” – is more comprehensive, which is to say that it covers greater ground and is demonstrative of a greater number of the pathologies extant in American social and political culture today.
For those who may have missed it, Kimmel began his monologue by telling the story of his newborn son, who was born with a heart defect and had to be operated on immediately. He was understandably emotional and thanked countless people for their thoughts, prayers, and support. Then he got political:
We were brought up to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, but until a few years ago, millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance at all. Before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance you’d never be able to get health insurance because you had a pre-existing condition. You were born with a pre-existing condition. And if your parents didn’t have medical insurance, you might not live long enough to even get denied because of a pre-existing condition.
If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something that, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?
“This isn’t football. There are no teams. We are the team, it’s the United States. Don’t let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants.
If you watch the video of Kimmel’s monologue, you’ll see that it’s emotional. The man is clearly genuine in his distress – and understandably so. Unfortunately, he is also mistaken and confused. And his confusion stems from the fact that he embraces the political and social ideology that predominates in this country. Not only does he misunderstand the problem, he does so because he has been conditioned to do so, like countless millions of others in this country and throughout the West.
The first problem with Kimmel’s plea that the Republicans in Congress rethink their position on the Affordable Care Act – a.k.a. Obamacare – is that it is woefully ill-informed. Kimmel has been told that rescinding Obamacare will be bad for people’s health, and therefore Republicans who vote to do so are committing an act of evil. And he accepts this blindly. Likewise, he has been told that before Obamacare, preexisting conditions were never, ever covered and people who had them were doomed to early death. And again, he accepts this as fact. Finally, Kimmel has been told that only people with health insurance receive health care services, and relatedly, everybody with Obamacare insurance receives the same services. And once more, this informs his world view.
The only catch is that ALL of these are flatly false.
For our purposes today, we’ll skip the recitation of the data showing that Obamacare has increased health insurance coverage but has NOT increased health outcomes and has, possibly, contributed to an INCREASE in premature death. Those data exist; they’re available to anyone who wants to be informed; and it serves our purposes today simply to note their existence. Obamacare has not made the nation as a collective any healthier, despite the increase in health insurance coverage.
That said, the biggest problem with Kimmel’s admonition of Republicans is that he understands neither health insurance nor Obamacare’s effect on it. Before Obamacare was enacted, most people in most states could, in fact, receive coverage for preexisting conditions. And most did.
First, group health insurance plans are large enough that they build in actuarial probabilities of pre-existing conditions, which is to say that most such conditions are covered under these group plans (sometimes after waiting periods). And a majority of people in the country are fortunate enough to have group insurance plans, most through their employers. Second, for those without group plans, even before Obamacare, a majority of states – almost two-thirds of states, including Kimmel’s home state of California – had traditional “high-risk” pools. That means that Kimmel’s son would have been able to get health insurance on the individual market, regardless of his prior health – as long as he had a provable history of insurance coverage.
It is true that high-risk pool coverage would have been more expensive, but that’s the way health insurance works, the way it has always worked. In health insurance terms, the extra expense that comes with pre-existing conditions amounts to a necessary “pre-payment” of the cost of covering said conditions. The conditions exist. The insurance company is going to have to pay to cover them. They simply get their payment up front in the form of higher premiums. In the Obamacare world, that same necessary pre-payment is collected, but it’s collected from EVERYONE, not just those with preexisting conditions. All of which is to say that under Obamacare, everyone in the individual market is sharing the expenses associated with high-risk pool coverage. That’s not efficiency or fairness. That’s wealth redistribution pure and simple. It’s also a big reason why health insurance costs have increased under Obamacare.
As for Kimmel’s immediate worry, countless observers have noted that it would have been against the law for either the hospital at which Kimmel’s son was born – Cedars Sinai Los Angeles – or the hospital to which he was transferred – Children’s Hospital Los Angeles – to have denied the boy the life-saving surgery he needed. No one would have died for lack of insurance, even before Obamacare. If Phil and Phyllis Kimmel came in off the streets without insurance and had a son with the same defect, he would have been treated precisely as Jimmy Kimmel’s son was, BY LAW.
Additionally, and more to the point, Kimmel apparently doesn’t understand how Obamacare works. And that means that he doesn’t understand – it has probably never occurred to him – that having insurance under Obamacare might actually make one LESS likely to get treatment by a world-renowned pediatric heart surgeon at Children’s Hospital than having no insurance at all. This is so for two reasons.
First, the fact of the matter is that many of the patients at Children’s DO NOT have insurance. You read that right. They have NO insurance, yet have received or will receive the same treatment Kimmel’s son did, at NO CHARGE to their parents. These children are treated pro bono by the hospital, which receives literally millions of dollars in charitable donations every year to cover precisely such expenses.
Second, those unfortunate Californians with Obamacare plans likely wouldn’t have had access to Cedars Sinai or Children’s in the first place because of the incredibly restrictive networks into which they’ve been forced by Obamacare. Obamacare plans limit choice – of doctors, of hospitals, of treatments, etc. That’s how they work. That’s how they keep costs down. And this is especially true in California, where networks are particularly restrictive. Kimmel, of course, doesn’t know this because he is a multimillionaire with gold-plated insurance provided either by ABC-Disney or by the Screen Actors Guild. He has no idea at all what he is talking about or what conditions are like in the Obamacare individual health insurance market. He is indeed fortunate, not because of Obamacare, but in spite of it. He is one of the lucky Californians who has never had to deal with the effects of Obamacare directly. He is too insulated from reality to know it.
Now, you will note here that we speak with some first-hand knowledge of both the pre-Obamacare high-risk pools and the Obamacare individual market. One of us – the one not covered by Medicare – has a preexisting medical condition – a congenital heart defect, fittingly enough. Eight-plus years ago, that defect was corrected surgically, but having had heart surgery is, in and of itself, a preexisting condition. For ten years before Obamacare became the law of the land, we purchased two health insurance policies – an individual policy from the high-risk pool and a broader policy for the rest of the family. They were expensive. In the years after Obamacare went into effect, however, we purchased one government approved insurance plan for the whole family – which last year was THREE TIMES AS EXPENSIVE as our previous two policies (one of which, remember, was a high-risk policy) combined. Prior to Obamacare, we pre-paid for ONE pre-existing condition; after Obamacare, we pre-paid for a whole array of potential pre-existing conditions for an entire family. And yet people still wonder why premiums have increased so dramatically, even as insurer losses have mounted.
Given our experience with the Obamacare marketplace, we know that Kimmel doesn’t have a clue – and neither do most people on the Left who think that Obamacare is great. At the same time, we empathize with Kimmel’s plight and his concerns.
But that brings us to the second major flaw in Kimmel’s vision of politics and society, his overreliance on empathy and emotional appeals to sell flawed ideas. Again, if you watch Kimmel, you’ll see that he is not messing around here. He’s serious. He’s upset. He’s crying for cripes sake. All of which means that he is in precisely the wrong state of mind to make any broad decisions affecting this country. He knows what happened to him and his family. He knows how traumatic it was. But that doesn’t mean that he has any idea about public policy or, moreover, that his emotions would direct him toward protective and useful policy for anyone else. In fact, the truth is that he is likely to move in the other direction, away from rational decisions and toward political silliness that soothes his emotions but does nothing for the public at large. Sadly, this is the criteria on which policy decisions are made today – emotional, self-serving, and, frankly, dangerous.
We’ll spare you another narration of Alasdair MacIntyre’s great classic After Virtue, but this is precisely the problem the great moral philosopher identifies. In a world in which traditional morals and values have been destroyed and replaced with nothing, “feelings” and sentiments predominate. One’s personal emotional response comes to substitute for morality-based analysis. “This is good” comes to mean nothing more than “I like this.” Or conversely, as in this case, “this is bad” means nothing more than “I don’t like this.” In an exceptionally and understandably emotional moment, Kimmel didn’t like what he thought could theoretically have been the case. And so he decided, based on his emotion alone, that what he disliked was therefore bad, necessarily evil. As MacIntyre noted, this breeds moral insanity.
Late last week, Jonah Goldberg penned a column cautioning against public policy choices made based on overly emotional appeals. Specifically, he criticized the notion of empathy playing too significant a role in decisions made by the collective. In so doing, he cited the work of Paul Bloom, a Yale Psychologist who has written a book titled Against Empathy, the Case for Rational Compassion. Goldberg cited Bloom as follows:
Bloom, a liberal transplant from Canada, distrusts empathy because empathy is like a drug. It distorts our perspective, causing us to get all worked up about an individual or group. He compares it to a spotlight that illuminates a specific person or group, plunging everything and everyone else into darkness.
“When some people think about empathy, they think about kindness. I think about war,” Bloom writes . . . .
Adolf Hitler was a master of empathy — for ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland, Austria, and elsewhere. The cause of nationalist empathy for the German tribe triggered profound moral blindness for the plight, and even the humanity, of Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs.
Again, Bloom is a squishy liberal by his own account, but he’s also a leading scholar of how the mind actually works, not how we wish it would work.
Human beings are naturally inclined to sympathize and empathize with people like them. There has never been a society where people didn’t give priority to helping family and friends over strangers. This tends to blind us “to the suffering of those we do not or cannot empathize with,” writes Bloom. “Empathy is biased, pushing us in the direction of parochialism and racism.”
With respect to Kimmel, Goldberg concludes the following:
His story about his son aroused a riot of empathy across the nation. And he used that response to make an argument about health-care policy that was largely devoid of any consideration of the facts, trade-offs, or costs of what is the best way to deal with people, including babies, who have pre-existing medical conditions. He was largely wrong on the facts: Babies with dire medical conditions are covered by their parents’ insurance, and when their parents are uninsured, doctors don’t just let the baby die on the table. That doesn’t mean there aren’t inequities in the system or that the current health-care regime is anywhere close to perfect.
But it is very difficult to have a rational discussion about the trade-offs inherent to any health-care system — including socialized medicine — when all anyone can think about is the ordeal of a newborn baby and his loving parents.
Goldberg is right, of course, as were Bloom and MacIntyre before him. Emotional appeals, which tug at the heart strings of those who share the context of those specific emotions, are both natural and understandable. But they are also quite dangerous. They preclude not just “rational” debate, as Goldberg writes, but functional moral debate as well. Jimmy Kimmel’s emotional upset is perfectly reasonable. To be honest, so is his frustration with the insurance system and the thought that someone, somewhere might fall through the cracks of that system. But none of that means that he his pronouncements should carry any weight on the matter. In truth, they should be dismissed out of hand, though they almost certainly won’t be. Our post-Christian, post-teleological society cares unduly about emotional appeals, whether or not they are coupled with staggering ignorance, as Kimmel’s was. Emotion – anger, rage, distress, hurt, offense – rule our lives and dominate our political discussions. They also warp those discussions immeasurably.
Finally, we come to what is likely the most egregious and serious American pathology exhibited last week by Jimmy Kimmel: the politicization of the personal and the personalization of the political, two related and liberty-killing phenomena.
Think for a minute about Kimmel did and said. His newborn son almost died. If it hadn’t been for an attentive nurse, we would be having a much different discussion right now, one about the impossibility of ever recovering from a tragedy so devastating. As Kimmel says in his monologue, it was the most frightening – and, we’d imagine, most emotionally exhausting – day of his entire life. And we have no reason to think otherwise.
Yet, in response, to this fear, this emotional exhaustion, this incredible pain and joy that he feels all at the same time, his thoughts turn to . . . to 536 preening peacocks in Washington. Seriously. He almost lost his newborn son and immediately, he starts thinking about President Trump and the members of Congress. What. The. Heck? What kind of person does this? What kind of person takes a near-tragedy, an emotional and draining PERSONAL moment and turns it into a petty, partisan, political diatribe?
An American person, unfortunately.
Charles Hurt, the opinion editor at The Washington Times, responded to Kimmel’s heartfelt monologue by calling him an “elitist creep” and telling him to “shut up.”
I mean, really, Jimmy, does your newborn child not mean more to you than petty politics? How do you look at the miracle of your child and think — partisan politics! . . .
Yes, that’s right. He just had a kid and the kid nearly died and he wants you to know that if you are not for bloated federal bureaucracy, socialized medicine, higher taxes and tons of more debt piled onto your grandchildren, then you are not a “decent person.”
Actually Jim, if you were a “decent person,” you would shut your fat trap about partisan politics and go care for your kid, who just nearly died, you elitist creep.
We understand Hurt’s point and even agree with the sentiment that turning an event such as Kimmel’s into a political moment is unfortunate. At the same time, however, doing so doesn’t make Kimmel an “elitist” or a “creep.” It makes him your standard, 21st century American. It’s not just Kimmel, you see. Everyone thinks that their problems are a matter of national importance. Everyone thinks that their lives should be fodder for the policy-making process. Everyone, in short, believes that the “personal is political,” to borrow a phrase from the Second Wave feminists.
As a general rule, whenever someone starts prattling on about how “this” or “that” has been politicized by one party or the other, we roll our eyes and tune out. Most of the time, these discussions are about things like Supreme Court nominations or cabinet confirmation hearings or the scourge of gun deaths in American cities. “Republicans are politicizing the Supreme Court,” Democrats and the media shriek. Or “Democrats are politicking gun violence in Chicago,” the Republicans respond. We hate to break it to the shriekers and the responders, but these are political matters, matters of public policy. And therefore politicizing them is what you do in a democracy. To be clear: we have no problem whatsoever with people politicking political matters; what bothers us is the ever expanding definition of “political matters.”
Should Jimmy Kimmel’s kid be a political matter? Of course not. The very idea is silly. But that’s where American political discourse is these days: the personal is political, which means that everything is political.
Over the course of the last few years, everything from the precautions one takes to prevent unintentional pregnancy to the validity of relationships has become a “political matter.” The Obama administration decided that everyone, everywhere must have “free” birth control, and thus the sexual practices of the American people became grist for the political mill. The Obama administration also determined that the government had a stake in advocating for transgender rights, and thus where people go to the bathroom became a “political matter.” Likewise, the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution, meaning that everyone has the right to marriage equality and, moreover, meaning that the government is now in the business of sanctifying personal relationships. Or, as we put it almost exactly a year ago:
What happened at Stonewall was libertarianism writ large; a complete and unambiguous rejection of government intrusion into private lives. The patrons of the bar – and by extension the gay community throughout New York and throughout the country – were tired of the government treating them unjustly. They were tired of government enforcing its cruel and insufferable laws. Stonewall was more than a mere rebellion. It was an overt and invigorating declaration of independence, a cry for liberty against the Leviathan.
Now consider the difference between what happened at Stonewall with what has happened in the process of achieving marriage equality. In the former, the state was the enemy, the imposer of domineering hegemony. In the latter, by contrast, the state was the principal ally, but still the imposer of domineering hegemony. Brendan O’Neill, the editor of the libertarian-leaning Spiked magazine, has called this a transformation from a “politics of autonomy” to a politics of validation. “For much of the past 50 years,” O’Neill wrote last year, “radical gay-rights activism was in essence about saying ‘We do not need the approval of the state to live how we choose’; now, in the explicit words of The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage, it’s about seeking ‘the sanction of the state for our intimate relationships’.”
The problem with all of this is that it creates a self-reinforcing cycle, whereby people – generally on the Left – decide that government should be involved in some personal matter or another; government dutifully becomes involved that matter, expanding its power; and then people come to see that government involvement as the rightful and natural order of things.
In a blog post we sent out last week, we noted comments made by the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer about the future of health insurance in this country. Health care, Krauthammer opined, “is something people now have a sense that government ought to guarantee.” And why do people have this sense? Because Obamacare gave them this sense. We could go on for days and days about the failures of Obamacare, but the fact of the matter is that it succeeded beyond any liberal’s wildest imaginings on one score: it prepared the ground for health care as an entitlement. Big Government begets a reliance on Big Government which, in turn, begets more Big Government.
Big government turns men into boys, women into girls, and all of us into dependents of the state. Along the way, it makes everything a “political matter,” which too many people are all too willing to accept. Consider, if you will, the following, which comes from a piece we penned in September, 2003, in the aftermath of a rash of heat-related deaths in France:
As it turns out, the heat wave that gripped France came at an exceptionally inconvenient time for the French. July and August are when much of France shuts down and goes on vacation. And while on vacation, too many French, by their own admission and that of their political leaders, simply couldn’t be bothered to worry a whole lot about their elderly relatives literally roasting to death back home. According to an August 28 article in The International Herald Tribune, the debate in France and Italy, where an additional thousand or so people died from the heat, “broadened to a general discussion on the dissolution of the traditionally tight-knit family structure.” “Many older people died, it is said,” the IHT noted, “because they had been abandoned by families going on vacation.”
Sadly, that’s not even the worst of it. Literally hundreds of corpses were stored throughout Paris in both real and makeshift refrigerated morgues for weeks because the same relatives who couldn’t be bothered to interrupt their vacations to assure their alleged “loved ones” were alive, also couldn’t be bothered to interrupt their vacations to claim the old gal after she’d already died.
According to The New York Times, Bernard Mazeyrie, a managing director of General Funeral Services, confirmed that many relatives simply didn’t want their holiday weekends screwed up by an old relative who’d had the discourtesy to die inopportunely. The Times reported that Mazeyrie told them “Some [of the notified families] . . . informed of the death of relatives, postponed funerals, not to interrupt the August 15 holiday weekend, and left the bodies in the refrigerated hall.”
Two weeks after the heat wave had ended and the last of the corpses had piled up, some 400 remained “unclaimed.” Of those, only 57 were finally determined to have no family to claim them. The families of the remaining 340-plus had to be tracked down by a special government task force and compelled to come pick up their “loved one.”
Of course, one could make up any number of explanations why the French don’t care much about their elderly, so little in fact that they would let them die before letting them become an inconvenience. But such conjecture is mostly unnecessary, as the answer is pretty clear to anyone who is paying attention.
As the IHT noted above, “tight-knit family structure” is dying throughout Europe. And the reason it is dying is because in the big- government, socialist nanny states of the EU, the family structure is no longer all that necessary. Whereas the family, the Church, or even the community at large, once took responsibility for the aged, today the ubiquitous state has assumed the responsibility.
In the wake of the heat wave deaths, one of France’s largest daily newspapers, Le Parisien, opined that, “It is not up to the state to take care of our elderly. It is up to us.” But nothing could be further from the truth. The leviathan governments of Europe have usurped the role and the responsibility of the family with regard to the aged, in this case with deadly consequences.
For years, we argued that Obamacare would be a disaster – even if it worked remarkably well. By turning health care over to the government and thereby absolving the private sector from responsibility for it, we were forever changing the relationship between the government and the governed. As a nation, we would never be the same, never enjoy the same liberties, and never again be free to choose our own destinies.
We hate to say we told you so . . . but . . . we told you so. Today, a man who makes $10 million a year and who has a reported net worth of more than $35 million can’t even take all the necessary steps to ensure the well-being of his newborn without first thinking about the government and how it factors into his decisions. If someone like him isn’t free to become a father without government intruding into the matter, then what hope do the rest of us – less wealthy and less powerful – have? The answer, sadly, is “none.”
Last week, Jimmy Kimmel bared his soul to the American people. In so doing, though, he bared the soul of the American people as well. As a people, we are ignorant of the facts, self-absorbed, emotionally obsessed, and convinced that all of our issues are matters for government action. Big Government causes a host of maladies, but among them these are the most destructive. Americans have been conditioned to think that anything and everything is a matter for government intervention. And the government is doing its best to oblige.