Free Markets, Free People

Billy Hollis

High wire Democrats

I’ve been wondering for a while about a contradiction at the heart of the Democrats on healthcare reform. If they really thought it was so important, necessary, and right, why didn’t they get it done earlier? In particular, why didn’t they get it done before Scott Brown’s election?

A correspondent at The Corner has been wondering the same thing, which got me thinking some more about it. There are really only two possibilities:

1. Some set of Democrats really didn’t want it to pass, but at the same time they didn’t want to be seen as stopping it from passing.

2. The Democrats are utterly incompetent politicians.

As the person at The Corner points out, if you’re a pro, you better not assume your party has an election for an open seat in the bag. For all you know your candidate could drop dead a week before the election.

Plus, the Democrats started the entire process with two senators with one foot in the grave each: Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd. It simply doesn’t make sense to dawdle under those conditions.

Of course, Obama didn’t want to. He was setting his deadlines, because he clearly understood this. It’s beyond my capacity to believe that Democratic leaders didn’t also understand the reasons for the urgency, and transmit them downstream to all the Democrats in Congress.

Yet, here we are, with healthcare reform on life support, and the Democrats are in worse position to pass it than they’ve been since Obama took office.

So what happened? Option 2 above is just for completeness. The Democrats can’t possibly be that unprofessional as politicians.
I don’t think Reid and Pelosi are the sharpest knives in the drawer, but they got to their positions for a reason.

The only possibility, really, is option 1. Some set of astute Democrats figured out along about April or May of last year that healthcare reform as envisioned by Obama, Reid, and Pelosi was an electoral disaster for them personally, and perhaps for their party in general. I’d like to think that at least some of them had qualms about the effectiveness of the monstrosity that evolved too, even if they favored healthcare reform in general, but that was probably a side issue. Whether it’s establishment Democrats or establishment Republicans, a threat to their power is about all that would really force them to go against their party’s official position.

However, preserving power and position is not just about staying in office. At the federal level, you also have to keep your position within the party heirarchy, and not damage your prospects for moving up over time.

This was especially tricky in the Senate. A House member might bargain with Pelosi to vote against a healthcare bill, because she had votes to spare. Senators had no such option. It became apparent last summer that the likelihood of getting some Republicans to provide cushion and the cover of faux “bipartisanship” was not good. So every Democratic senator was a potential blocking vote.

In these circumstances, an uncompromising public stance against healthcare would have marked a Democratic senator for being scalped by his own base, and even if he survived, he would have been likely relieved of power within the party. Yet, being seen as a supporter of this particular monstrosity carries big risk for electoral defeat, especially in certain red or purple states.

So I believe that Landrieu, Nelson, and others from those states walked the high wire doing a delicate balancing act for the last year. They threw just enough sand in the gears to slow things down, all in the name of “improving the bill” and such. Heck, they might have even believed their own bullsh!t. But they were no more interested in seeing the thing passed than we were. At various points, when pressed to the wall and being given all the ridiculous stuff they asked for, at least in some form, they finally voted for a bill, hoping that it couldn’t be reconciled with the House, or something, because they really didn’t want it to pass.

If this supposition is correct, it explains why healthcare is dead in the sense of a chicken with its head cut off. It’s still flopping around, but the outcome is pre-ordained. There are just too many Democrats who really don’t want it to pass, but can’t come right out and say so.

It also explains the bribes to Nelson and Landrieu. They didn’t really want the bribes. They probably asked for them to give them a face-saving way to continue to oppose the bill and draw out the process. They knew that it would be politically unpopular for the Democrats to put such obvious bribes in the bill, so they hoped it wouldn’t happen. Then Reid, realizing the situation was getting desperate, gave them the bribes anyway, estimating that the risk of the bribes was less than the risk of not getting the bill passed.

I don’t know how close this armchair analysis is to being correct, but I can’t think of any other reason for the comedy that has played out over the last year. The Democrats can’t be that incompetent as politicians.

National Tea Party Convention running into problems

Since it’s in my backyard, I’ve been curious about the national Tea Party Convention scheduled for Nashville from February 6 to February 8.

My initial hope was to do some coverage of it for QandO, perhaps with some video. I contacted the organizer Judson Phillips, who politely let me know that press credentials were extremely limited. Undeterred, I replied, asking if I would be allowed to do video and such if I paid the rather large entrance fee ($549). No answer, I’m afraid, probably because right after that inquiry the event sold out.

I didn’t take it askance, because I’m sure he’s got his hands full. And I fully understand his desire to have some measure of control over press coverage, given the often biased coverage of Tea Party events in the legacy media.

This morning I noticed that he also turned down Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit). That was downright silly. If I had to choose one person with the right combination of strong understanding of the Tea Party cause and a very large megaphone, it would be Glenn.

Glenn pointed to an article on Politico detailing the trevails faced by the organizer. The event was intended to be for-profit, which apparently Judson didn’t work very hard to communicate to the sponsors, one of which pulled out after learning the details.

The for-profit thing seems to have run into trouble too, as it appears that despite selling out, the event might lose money. It makes me wonder how much experience the organizer has. I’ve done events with several hundred people. It takes massive amounts of planning. Getting the details right can be costly and staggering in terms of time. Plus he’s picked the Opryland Hotel, where I have a bit of past experience. They are expensive, and are they charge for things you might not expect; I wouldn’t be surprised to see a line item on their invoice for air breathed by the attendees.

It appears that part of the problem is a contradiction at the heart of the event. It’s billed as a “working convention”, which implies that it’s not about getting publicity. But having Sarah Palin as a headliner pretty much guarantees a lot of attention. Given that the attention will be there no matter what, if I were the organizer, I’d be working hard to make it favorable. Sympathetic bloggers such as Glenn are an obvious way to do that.

I want to see the Tea Party movement do well. I also recognize that the generally amateur nature of the movement has been a part of its charm, because it contrasts so strongly with the dreary professionals who dominate politics.

But the downside of amateur efforts is the potential for mistakes that pros wouldn’t make. I think we’re seeing some of them in this case. Given the distaste of the legacy media (and legacy politicians) for the Tea Party movement, they’ll use any opportunity to make it look bad. I’m afraid this national convention is shaping up to be just such an opportunity.

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Today’s Democrat healthcare strategy: Waiting until their opponents calm down [with update]

As noted in other posts, the Democrats have mostly given up on some kind of cram-it-down-the-throat option for healthcare legislation. They’re going to seat Scott Brown, and various Democrats such as Barney Frank have noticed that trying to outmanuveur the Republicans with tricks smacks of desperation, not to mention setting themselves up to get slaughtered in the fall.

So what is their strategy at this point? I’m not sure it’s well thought out, but from what I can tell, it’s simply this: wait for the furor to die down, and get back to business as usual. At least among the leaders, there’s no indication that they’ve given up.

For example, Nancy Pelosi says she doesn’t have the votes to pass the Senate version in the House. Nevertheless, her bottom line is still “We have to get a bill passed….” And then she follows that up with “We’re in no rush.” She must therefore feel that slowing down at this point has better chances than to keep pressing the urgency button.

As another example, here’s Obama in the New York Times (found via The Corner):

“Well, if you’ve got insurance companies spending hundreds of millions of dollars scaring the daylights out of people into thinking that somehow this is a government takeover of health care, that it’s unpaid for, that it means huge new taxes on them, that it’s going to mean higher premiums — if that’s the information you’re getting, shoot, I’d be against it, too,” the president told me. “Once this thing is passed and signed, then suddenly The New York Times and other newspapers are going to have a big article saying what does this mean for you, and people will take a look at it and say, ‘You know what, this is a lot better deal than I thought.’ And I think that will serve Harry very well.”

This is either delusional or outright lying. It is a large expansion of government control of healthcare, it could very well lead to a takeover (and various Democrats have admitted that), it isn’t paid for, it probably does mean higher premiums for many, especially those with so-called Cadillac plans, and it does mean a new tax because the penalty for not satisfying the mandate has been classified as a tax.

If Obama really believes what he says above, then he’s trying to play a longer term game of letting the dust settle and hoping against hope that the natural attraction of many people for something-for-nothing will kick in. I don’t see how that works; if his umptyump speeches so far have not gotten his message across, what hope does he have of doing it now, when opinions have mostly solidified?

The waiting game also carries huge risk for Democrats. The longer the healthcare game plays out, the closer we are to the elections and the more anger they are likely to engender in the electorate. With Brown’s election plus miscellaneous sudden retirements, it’s already apparent that incumbent Democrats are in big trouble. Do the Democratic leaders think it just can’t get much worse? I think it can.

Perhaps the go-slow game has become their default strategy because Obama and company have no good options at this point. Obama first squandered much political capital by passing a leftist and highly political response to economic problems in the form of the stimulus widely referred to as Porkulus. Then he squandered the attention span of the electorate by over-exposing himself with lackluster speeches about his desired laws, chiefly healthcare. Then he shattered the image of some kind of magical touch by gambling and losing twice in Copenhagen and once in Massachusetts.

One year ago Obama was almost a blank slate. He could have defined himself just about any way he wanted, riffing off his generic hope/change mantra.

He chose to define himself as a vigorous proponent of policies far left to those of the typical American. He inadvertantly defined himself as someone prone to wild gambles because he has no better ideas on how to get what he wants.

Anyone who works in marketing will tell you that it’s ten times as hard to change an existing perception of a product or service as it is to establish a new reputation for something previously unknown. That dynamic works in politics too. Obama is now defined in the public’s eye. Changing his own image in any signficant way is very, very hard, and perhaps impossible for someone as out of touch as he appears to be. Therefore his ability to bend the healthcare debate in his direction looks to me to be just about nil.

I conclude that:

1. The Democrats have indeed decided to go slower on healthcare, simply because they’ve had their face rubbed in the fact that the level of anger and pushback right now is too high to overcome.

2. They have not given up; they truly believe it’s the key to their long-term dominance of the electorate.

3. They don’t have a clue what to do with the current level of anger, and they were caught flat-footed by Brown’s victory.

4. The best they can think of is just to wait, hoping for the anger to die down and some tactic to become apparent that will allow them to move foreward.

5. That strategy is almost certain to fail, and carries grave risk for them.

We’re seeing Democrats like Evan Bayh start feeling out the options for walking back on healthcare, and by extension on other leftist causes such as cap-and-trade. It will only take a few such high-profile defections to begin a rush to the exits. At that point, Obama and Pelosi can be as delusional as they like, but they’ll just end up sitting around making up strategies they don’t have the ability to carry out.

** Update 2:04 PM CST **

Robert Gibb verifies that go-slow is now the current strategy for the Democrats:

Asked today if health care was on the back burner, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “The president believes it is the exact right thing to do by giving this some time, by letting the dust settle, if you will, and looking for the best path forward.”

Coakley campaign: Feel the excitement… (with update, Brown wins)

I noticed this ad for Coakley, with Obama as the star. Here’s a still from the beginning of the video:

Coakley supporters behind Obama: feel the excitement

Wow, those Coakley supporters are just radiating enthusiasm, aren’t they?

I did see a smile on one older woman later in the ad. I think she shows up in two places. Otherwise, it’s nothing but glum phizzes all the way through the ad, except for perfunctory smiles by Coakley herself.

Does this mean anything? I don’t know. But the pictures of Brown rallies I’ve seen certainly seem to show more enthusiasm.

** Update 8:20 PM CST **

Guess it did mean something. Fox just called it for Brown, and Coakley has conceded in a phone call to Brown. 70% of vote in, Brown leads by almost 7%.

Quote of the Day

From Lord Monckton, as he takes apart climate alarmists:

The fact is, they’re crooks. That’s what they really are. I call them the traffic light tendency. They call themselves green because they’re too yellow to admit they’re really Reds.

It’s at about 8:25 in the video. But watch the whole thing, even though it’s about half an hour. It’s worth it if you want a no-holds-barred slamming of the climate Cassandras. Charts and graphs included, no extra charge.


Healthcare bill due in May August November uh, maybe next year

Democrats in the Senate have given some backdoor acknowledgement that the healthcare bill probably won’t be voted on this year.

Despite President Obama’s goal of signing healthcare reform legislation this year — one backed by assurances from congressional Democrats — Senate Democratic leaders Tuesday subtly acknowledged that’s not likely to happen as they started the delicate dance of walking back expectations.

Putting the legislation together has proved exceedingly difficult, and most aides now say there is virtually no way a bill can get to Obama’s desk this year.

This zombie refuses to die, but I suspect tonight’s election results will put a shotgun blast in it. Certainly the closer the 2010 elections loom, the more those healthcare disapproval ratings will matter.

A quiz from Bill Quick

Bill Quick has been pondering why the GOP establishment can look so lost:

I’ve been wondering why the suicidal wing of the GOP – the elites and others who want to turn the party into an echo of the Democrats – think that way. I finally believe I may have a glimmer.

He then summarizes the state of the disconnect between the establishment GOP and the wider world, and finished with:

It’s easy to say they don’t get it because they’re stupid, but the truth is much worse: They don’t get it because they don’t want to get it.

Your quiz for today, then, is to answer the question: Why don’t they want to get it?

The quiz answer has got to be some variation of “They’re getting what they want right now, so why change?” If it were not in their self-interest to try and perpetuate the status quo, then they wouldn’t do it, at least not again and again the way they have.

Here’s my own mental model: they are members of a separate society from the rest of America. That society consists of politicians, lobbyists, top-tier media people, A-list celebrities, and top-level bureaucrats. The GOP establishment politicians are far more loyal to the society they belong to (including the most liberal members of it) than they are the wider American society.

So they regularly and consistently do what their own tribe expects and demands, rather than what the rest of us want. They grow to see us as simplistic rubes who don’t know any better, and they talk themselves into believing that the ways of their tribe are the right ways. Anyone who thinks otherwise is just ignorant or confused.

Being chauferred around in limos and having 95% of the people you run into pay obeisance to you smooths their assimilation into the tribe and and serves to remind them every hour of ever day of their special status and the vast gulf separating them from the rest of us. They also get security in the form of big pensions, various perks from those who want to get their attention, and respect far beyond what their abilities would otherwise command.

When someone comes in who was not formerly a member of the tribe, they take special effort to initiate that person into the tribe and ensure that they know the unwritten rules of membership. This is how a Bill Frist goes from being a campaigner for limited government in his first campaign in 1994 to being a senator who helped pass a bunch of Bush welfare state programs – in only about six or eight years.

The tribe ostracizes anyone who does not take to the assimilation process, but that’s seldom necessary. The immense craving for acceptance that is a part of the typical politician’s personality profile is almost always enough to eventually suck them in.

This is perhaps an inevitable result of having a professional political class and ever-growing government.

Spending all their time in the tribe, and accustomed to being buffered and covered by the media wing of the tribe, it’s hard for them to assess when a level of dissatisfaction is reached that will seriously threaten very many members of the tribe. The tribe was caught flat-footed in 1994 and they saw several members forced into new roles or even retirement. As a whole, though, they recovered quite well. In two or three years things were back to normal. They assimilated the new members, ramped up the media control, and prepared to ride out the next such wave.

They passed a bunch of new rules to keep the outsiders in line: Campaign Finance Reform, Sarbanes-Oxley, and others. Since the nominal process they thought they controlled got a little beyond their control, they simply passed rules to give themselves more control.

That gave them the confidence that they can ride out any such episodes in the future; nothing the barbarians outside the tribe have attempted has worked to cause any real change in decades. So they’re paying lip service to the principles of the Tea Parties, but they don’t really think those barbaric outsiders can do anything that really threatens them.

Maybe they’re right. It’s up to us to prove them wrong.

A hypothetical for QandO readers

From a short post about The Wire by Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

A lot of conservatives today are too quick to think that because liberals have some affinity for Marxist sentiments that they are actual Marxists. Liberals often make the same mistakes as Marxists, but they’re not Marxists.

I suppose this is true, but it got me to wondering. So I have a question for QandO readers.

Suppose, completely hypothetically, that Obama were a hard-core Marxist who wanted to go in the direction of Marxist programs as quickly as the system in place in this country allowed him to move.

Looking at his history in office so far, do you think there are any decisions that the hypothetical Obama-the-Marxist would obviously have made differently than the real Obama? If so, which ones?

A wee bit of Terminator-style creepiness

A company named Boston Dynamics has developed a robot that mimics the way a human being walks – well, at least the way a slightly tipsy human being walks:

It was built to “to test military suits used to protect soldiers in chemical warfare”, and you can read the rest here.

Seeing that tipsy walk with red tennis shoes and a droid-looking body on top was mildly creepy. I can’t believe they missed the opportunity to increase the effect by putting an Arnold Schwarzenegger mannequin head on top.

(Found on GeekPress)

The Republicans are lost

I just watched a video in which House Republican Whip Eric Cantor appeared with one of his Democratic colleagues from Virginia to discuss healthcare. You can watch it here if you like.

Though I can tell you right now that there’s not much point to it. It consists virtually 100% of empty, meaningless politician-speak from both congressmen. Despite some decent attempts on the part of the interviewer to get them to answer some tough questions, they both just dodged them and mumbled platitudes about “educating voters” and “the status quo is unsustainable”.

Educating voters isn’t going to do a damn thing. Voters are sick to death of Washington telling them what to do. Democrats in Congress (and many Republicans) insist that there be a mandate to buy health insurance, and I think they have vastly underestimated the pushback they are getting right now and how much worse it would be if they actually passed it. Any bill with a ghost of chance of passing also has new taxes and new spending, and voters are (1) not fooled by any shell games claiming otherwise, and (2) profoundly sick of both taxes and spending.

Saying “the status quo is unsustainable” is pointless because it says absolutely nothing about whether any of the current proposals would make the system any more sustainable. Given the $47 trillion Medicare and Social Security already has in liabilities, creating another entitlement to increase that amount looks like the silliest possible response.

I expected such empty blathering from the Democrat. Any Democratic member of Congress is caught right now between a hard-left leadership who want government control over when people go to the bathroom and the Blue Dogs who know they’ll be looking for another job if any healthcare bill with a lot of government interference is passed. Not to mention a president who can’t seem to make up his mind on what he’s willing to settle for on healthcare, and whose only strategy is to flap his gums.

But have the Republicans learned nothing from 2006-2009? Has the Tea Party movement made no impact on them? Do they not sense the rising anti-government attitude in voters? Are they so incredibly clueless that they can’t learn the lesson from Reagan’s landslide and the 1994 takeover of Congress?

Look, you idiots: You can win big when you strongly advocate smaller government principles. When you don’t, at best you tread water, and at worst you get your butts kicked.

Watching Cantor pour out the same old politician’s blather was painful. Based on that one video, I never expect to support this guy for anything. And he’s part of the GOP leadership, supposedly the best they’ve got. Well, if he’s one of the best, they’re still as lost as they were in 2006.

I see many signs that 2010 could be a landmark year. Two months ago, I summarized Obama’s failings to that point, and since then he’s racked up scandals with his czars, seen his buddies at ACORN exposed as the criminals many of us thought they were, and had his make-nice efforts toward Iran shown to be naive and pointless.

But absent any Republican leadership on a real change in direction, none of that will make a big difference. Oh, I think the Democrats will lose a fair number of seats in the House in any case, because of depressed turnout among Democrats in marginal districts. The Republicans may well pick up three or four Senate seats too. But without a clear message concerning their desire to trim the size, cost, and intrusiveness of government, they will gain no loyalty or long-term support from those people who have finally reached their agony threshold on big government.

They’ll just drift for two years, using the same strategy that got the Democrats in the White House, which is to hope voters are so sick of the other side they will vote for a change, any change. And, of course, even if that works, they won’t do anything about reducing the size and scope of government, hoping the whole debt mess doesn’t finally reach critical mass on their watch.

With a clear message, I believe the GOP could do a rerun of 1994. But I don’t know a single person among them capable of carrying the banner for that message. It sure as heck is *not* Eric Cantor.