Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: August 17, 2009


Representiative Democracy or Rule Of The Elite?

On paper, we are a Constitutional Republic, meaning we elect representatives to represent our interests in Congress. So in theory and reality these representatives work for us, since they can’t get into office unless we hire them via the vote. We elect them, we direct them, and if and when we become displeased with their performance or they’re not representing our best interests, we give them the opportunity to find new employment.

That’s how most of us understand it is supposed to work. One of the first indicators it isn’t working exactly that way right now is the attitude of Democratic lawmakers toward their constituents at townhalls who have, obviously, been a bit confrontational.

Instead of trying to figure out what is causing the obvious frustration, Democrats have further stoked it by calling their constituents names and characterizing them as a ‘mob’ or ‘political terrorists’ or ‘un-American’ for opposing what they’re legislatively pushing. Then after insulting the constituency the irony-impaired Democrats have the audacity to lecture them on “rudeness” and “incivility”. Apparently using the term “brownshirts” to describe voters in your district is neither “rude” or “uncivil”.

Certainly all of those are indicators of something that constituents have been unhappy with for quite some time (and that is why I continue to say that this isn’t just about health care). The theory seems to not represent what is actually happening.

But it’s hard to point at one thing and say, “this isn’t representative democracy, it has become the rule of the elite.”

Thankfully there’s always someone who hasn’t figured out that we have both video cameras and digital recorders and will, in an unguarded moment when he or she thinks they’re among friends, say what they really believe without spin.

Meet Democratic New York Representative Eric Massa, who, while reveling in the cocoon of the Netroots Nation over the weekend (instead of holding a townhall meeting in his usually Republican district) provided a glimpse of why the Democrats sound like they do:

MASSA: I’m not going to vote for 3200 as it’s currently written. Step one, I will vote for a single payer option or a bill that does have a medicare coupled public option, which we don’t have right now. If my town hall meetings turn into the same media frenzies and ridiculousness, because every time that happens we lose, We lose another three million people in America. They see that happening and negate us.

PARTICIPANT: It changes America.

MASSA: Every time that occurs. So what happens in my town hall meetings frankly is important, because I am in one of the most right wing Republican districts in the country, and I’m not asking you guys to go back to wherever and send people to me. This is a generic statement of what can I do? Well that’s one thing we can do.

PARTICIPANT: So if we got your meetings to sixty forty, you’d vote…and there was single payer in a bill you would vote for it?

MASSA: Oh absolutely I would vote for single payer.

PARTICIPANT: If there was sixty forty sentiment in the room?

MASSA: Listen, I tell every audience I’m in favor of single payer.

PARTICIPANT: If there was eighty twenty in the room?

MASSA: If there was a single payer bill?

PARTICIPANT: And there was a single payer….

MASSA: I will vote for the single payer bill.

PARTICIPANT: Even if it meant you were being voted out of office?

MASSA: I will vote adamantly against the interests of my district if I actually think what I am doing is going to be helpful.

(inaudible participants’ comments regarding the “interests” of the district statement from Mr. Massa)

Massa: I will vote against their opinion if I actually believe it will help them.

Folks it doesn’t get any clearer than that. Mr. Massa isn’t there to “represent” anyone. He’s made it clear that his agenda and his party’s agenda take precedence over anything his constituency wants. If they agree with him fine. But if they don’t, he obviously doesn’t care one whit. His mind is made up, he’s not going to hold any townhalls and his constituency can go pound sand, because Mr. Massa has already decided what is best for them.

They should just sit down and shut up and let their betters decide what’s good for them.

As you might imagine, and as demonstrated at the various townhalls you’ve seen (and which Mr. Massa refuses to hold), that isn’t sitting well with many Americans. 2010 may indeed provide an opportunity for Americans to let quite a number of lawmakers with Mr. Massa’s attitude seek new employment.

Correction: It has been brought to my attention that Rep. Massa has held townhall meetings and plans to hold more.

~McQ


Public Option Questions

The reasoning behind the much ballyhooed, on-again, off-again “Public Option” has never made much sense to me, but lately I’ve noticed a few things that make it even less understandable.

For example, as Bruce highlighted below, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said the following about it on Sunday:

“The only way we can be sure that very low-income people and persons who work for companies that don’t offer insurance have access to it, is through an option that would give the private insurance companies a little competition,” she said.

Johnson added that House liberals have already told Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that she should insist on White House support for a public option.

How does a public plan offer competition to insurance companies by covering people who don’t have access to insurance? Apparently, these are people who insurance companies aren’t interested in catering to, so there is no competition to gain them as clients. Giving them “free” health insurance from the government isn’t going to change that. Instead, it’s just going to cost more taxpayer money.

Here’s another head-scratcher from Susie Madrak:

Oh, the Republicans have been having a field day with this mantra – that employers would shunt their employees into the public plan. But they’re really upset for the same reason Sebelius mentioned as a positive: Job lock. Above all else, the Republican party stands for cheap, disposable labor with no rights or protections. God forbid you should have a public option – you could up and leave your job anytime you wanted!

While I agree that we would all be better off if health insurance was decoupled from our jobs, I’m not sure that the public option prevents “job lock”. Presumably, what keeps most of us from “up and leaving” our employment on a whim is the paycheck we receive and not the health care insurance. And even if we do, COBRA is already in place to help maintain coverage, and HIPAA prevents insurance companies from refusing to cover any pre-existing conditions. Moreover, if having a public option encourages people to cease being productive members of society (i.e. working at a job), that would be a net negative for society, and would surely cause a loss of tax revenues (which we would need a lot more of in order to pay for all that “free” health care). I just don’t see how a public option can prevent “job lock” any more than we already have now, and even if it did, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

And then there is this little ditty from Publius that requires the suspension of an enormous amount of disbelief to even begin pondering:

In terms of broader perspective, Jacob Hacker has one of the best defenses of the public option that I’ve seen. One important point he raises is that it’s actually a way to prevent overreliance on excessive regulations and bureaucracy.

The argument is fairly simple. Any type of reform is going to require a lot of regulatory oversight. That means detailed regulations, lots of regulators, etc. If, however, the country had a public option, the insurers would suddenly have a market incentive to comply with these requirements without so much regulatory coercion and administrative costs.

In this respect, the public option actually reduces the need for government — and reduces the threat of agency capture and other public choice-ish problems (especially at the state level).

First of all, has there ever been any government program that didn’t have a slew of regulators accompanying it, much less one so massive as to cover the entire nation?

Secondly, if you go and read Jacob Hacker’s post, you will see that the whole point of the public plan (in his view) is to make all the private plans that may be left (i.e. those accepted to be offered within the insurance exchange run by the government) act just like the public plan. Yet the private plans will never be able to function the same way that the Public Option does, and so the chances are that such plans will go bankrupt trying.

In essence, there would be three types of plans: Public Option, Inside the Exchange, and Outside the Exchange. The Outside plans would be prohibited from signing up new insureds, so they will eventually die off. The Inside plans will be forced to compete against the Public Option for new customers as well as for keeping the ones it already has. Because the Public Option will be unchallengeable — that is, immune from lawsuit by competitors — and financed by the deepest pockets in the world, the Inside plans will be at a grave disadvantage. Not only will the Public Option be able to offer lower cost plans at the expense of taxpayers, it will also have the ability to hide administrative costs thus making itself appear much more efficient than the Inside plans. The Inside plans, therefore, will have to compete against a much better capitalized, immune from lawsuit, more efficient on paper Public Option without any of the Public Option’s benefits or access. There is simply no way for them to act like a better government plan than the real thing, and they will eventually collapse.

How does that make anything better, much less cheaper, if the Public Option drives all the competition out of the market, leaving taxpayers holding the bag for everyone’s health care?

It is this competition that Hacker thinks will force the Inside plans to behave pursuant to the laws and regulation granting them access to the exchange, and which Publius thinks will save money on regulatory costs, etc. Yet those laws are going to have to be policed, and the regulations will still have to be promulgated to carry out the Act. While the Inside plans may have a little extra incentive to behave in the way that the government wants (Hacker’s example is using across-the-board community rating so that everyone pays the same premium for insurance) by having to compete against the Public Option, they would still have to comply with Act if there were no Public Option. Moreover, what would make the regulators jobs even easier is that each of Inside plans would be more than happy to rat out a plan that doesn’t behave, thus possibly reducing competition and grabbing a larger slice of the exchange market for itself.

In short, there is simply no way that having a Public Option is going shrink the government or save any money in regulatory costs. To believe so, one has to ignore all history of government and disregard how market competition under a regulatory regime actually works.

Those are just of few of the questions I’ve had about why a Public Option is so gosh darn important. The fact of the matter is that, other than the hardcore progressives, no one will say the real reason that they want the Public Option: so that all profit incentive is wrung out of the delivery of health care. It’s a stupid reason to want government run health care, but I think it’s pretty clear that’s the real reason. All these other excuses are lame attempts to hide the ball. Which is probably why they don’t make any sense.


Alinsky’s Rule 12: starting to wear thin

Andrew Briebart makes some pretty good points in his editorial about the “GWB43 virus”. He posits that the demonization of Bush by the left, which worked pretty well, is now being applied to any target of opportunity who dares stand up to leftist dogma and threatens to be effective at it. He quotes one of the sources of this strategy, Saul Alinsky’s infamous Rule 12:

Rule 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)

I never cared that much for Bush, but I certainly didn’t feel the molten hatred for him exhibited by the left. As a result, I didn’t realize just how effective Bush hatred was as a strategy until early 2008.

It was clear from very early on in the campaign that any GOP candidate would be running into the wind. The feckless Republicans didn’t help their own cause, of course, yet there wasn’t really any possibility of “running against Bush” within the GOP to try and change the party’s direction. The left, with the complicity of the media, made darn sure of that.

The only person involved who leaned that way, Sarah Palin, was subjected to the most vicious character assassination I’ve seen in my lifetime. I’m not a great fan of Palin, but that doesn’t blind me to the way she was treated. The molten hatred came out again, and it didn’t matter if it was founded on anything but rumors and emotional impressions.

Since then, Breibart lists the others who have endured the same treatment, including individuals such as Joe the Plumber and Carrie Prejean. We even saw Obama and his lackeys get into the act when they targeted Rush Limbaugh.

However, none of those were particularly effective. Oh, the left went along with the usual vitriol, but in the wider world Joe the Plumber and Carrie Prejean are more likely to be seen as victims who stood up for themselves.

Alinsky’s Rule 12 has limits. Using it too often makes it progressively less effective. The left is diluting the tactic to the point that it becomes meaningless, or even counter-productive.

Next up for Alinskyite demonization are the tea party / town hall attendees. Again, the media is all too complicit. But this attempt faces big obstacles. First, people are simply tiring of it. Plus, a large, diffuse target is not nearly as easy to demonize as a person.

According to the polls on Obama’s healthcare plan, it doesn’t seem to be working. Nancy Pelosi had to do some backtracking after calling them “un-American”. Even though leftists and media types raise the spectre of a violent mob, the most significant case of violence so far was perpetrated by bussed-in union thugs supporting the healthcare bill.

The left apparently thought they had been given a weapon with infinite ammunition. But it doesn’t work that way. If you go into your office today and accuse a particular co-worker of dishonesty, you’ll probably be taken seriously. If you do it with a different co-worker every week for a few months, you won’t.

Everyone involved starts to realize that it’s just a tactic. Then they begin to wonder why you’re doing it. Are you trying to cover up something?

Alinsky’s advice works well if leftists choose their targets carefully, and use Rule 12 about once or twice a decade. Using Rule 12 once a month isn’t going to work. Perhaps Saul should have warned them about that.


Obama Admin’s Messaging Confused

First we have hints by Obama that the public option isn’t critical to health care reform.

“The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform,” Obama said at the town hall event in Colorado. “This is just one sliver of it. One aspect of it. And by the way, it’s both the right and the left that have become so fixated on this that they forget everything else.”

That’s followed up by Kathleen Sebelius, HHS Secretary, and Robert Gibbs, White House Press secretary, dropping the same sort of hint. First Sebelius:

Sebelius said that what the president sees as essential is to set up competition to private insurers in the healthcare system. But she said that doesn’t have to come from a public health insurance option.

“Well, I think there will be a competitor to private insurers,” she said on CNN. “That’s really the essential part, is you don’t turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing. We need some choices, we need some competition.”

Then Gibbs:

“What the president has said is in order to inject choice and competition. . . people ought to be able to have some competition in that market,” Gibbs said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Asked if he was hedging on support for a public plan, Gibbs said, “The president has thus far sided with the notion that that can best be done with a public option.”

Gibbs and Sebelius both leave their sentences unfinished – “but it doesn’t have to be the public option which introduces that competition”.

Like 1200 insurance companies wouldn’t compete in a real open market and not the rigged market the government has established – but that’s a post for another time.

You can’t help but draw the conclusion that the administration is backing away from support for the public option if their nebulous goal, “competition”, is still the final result of the bill.

That flies right in the face of the House’s liberal caucus, 77 liberal lawmakers who have said the public option is a must. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) told CNN on Sunday it would be “very difficult” for her and other liberals to support legislation that does not include a public option.

“The only way we can be sure that very low-income people and persons who work for companies that don’t offer insurance have access to it, is through an option that would give the private insurance companies a little competition,” she said.

Johnson added that House liberals have already told Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that she should insist on White House support for a public option.

In fact, the liberal caucus has stated in the past that it won’t vote for a health care bill without a public option.

Then today:

An administration official said tonight that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “misspoke” when she told CNN this morning that a government run health insurance option “is not an essential part” of reform. This official asked not to be identified in exchange for providing clarity about the intentions of the President. The official said that the White House did not intend to change its messaging and that Sebelius simply meant to echo the president, who has acknowledged that the public option is a tough sell in the Senate and is, at the same time, a must-pass for House Democrats, and is not, in the president’s view, the most important element of the reform package.

A second official, Linda Douglass, director of health reform communications for the administration, said that President Obama believed that a public option was the best way to reduce costs and promote competition among insurance companies, that he had not backed away from that belief, and that he still wanted to see a public option in the final bill.

“Nothing has changed.,” she said. “The President has always said that what is essential that health insurance reform lower costs, ensure that there are affordable options for all Americans and increase choice and competition in the health insurance market. He believes that the public option is the best way to achieve these goals.”

Confusion reigns. Any reasonable person listening to the president in Grand Junction might have taken his remarks to mean exactly what has been reported – that the public option isn’t critical to the final bill as long as something is in there to increase “competition”. That something, of course, could be the co-op plan (or the trigger plan) being pushed in the Senate.

I bring all this up to point out that what was considered a media savvy group during the election campaign seems to have either forgotten how to impose message discipline or, if that’s not the case, hasn’t yet realized that scrutiny of every word, phrase and nuance and the comparison of what is said by various players in the administration and Congress is standard operating procedure among the old and new media.

Their world changed in a way on January 20th that I still don’t think they quite understand. Then they were able to get away with glib nonsense and glittering generalities then. But now they’re forced to deal with warring factions (many times within their own party) who aren’t going to be satisfied with anything but specifics. Every word uttered is going to be analyzed and spun. And situations like this make the administration seem confused, defensive and not on top of their game. It also gives the public even less reason to feel confident about giving them the power over their health care for which they’re asking.

All in all, not a stellar performance by the administration thus far.

~McQ


Chavez Calls Obama A Space Cadet

OK, not precisely, but you could infer that from remarks made by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez:

“President Obama is lost in the Andromeda Nebula, he has lost his bearings, he doesn’t get it,” he said.

His remarks were apparently a reaction to something Obama said about the situation in Honduras as well as Latin America as a whole:

Last week Obama said critics of U.S. involvement in Latin America who are now asking Washington to do more to restore the ousted president of Honduras “can’t have it both ways.”

Saying you can’t ask for help on the one hand and then demand the US get out of Latin America on the other apparently makes you a space cadet lost in “the Andromeda Nebula”.

“We are not asking you to intervene in Honduras, Obama. On the contrary, we are asking that “the empire” get its hands off Honduras and get its claws out of Latin America,” Chavez said in a rambling weekly television and radio show.

Well so far so good on improving relations in Latin America. Of course, if you read the article, you’ll see that Reuters goes out of its way to make the case that this is all a side-show and in fact, Chavez thinks Obama is ok. I guess, like the reporting on the economy in which the media finds negative numbers that aren’t as negative as expected to be good news, this somehow qualifies as good news on the foreign relations front.

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