For all the rhetoric about Afghanistan being “the ‘good’ war” and where we should be concentrating the fight that we heard during the campaign, it really comes as no surprise to me that politicians, the chattering class, and the liberal left is now pitching abandonment of the effort there just when we are seriously considering that which is necessary to turn the fight around.
As usual it has to do with political will.
The new commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has done his assessment of the situation and has rendered his report.
“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”
Read that carefully – two words in particular are aimed primarily at one particular sphere of influence – the political. What McChrystal is saying to the political community is, “I think we can be successful if we follow the revised strategy I’ve set forward, but without the “commitment and resolve” from the political community to see this through, it will all be for naught.”
Anthony Cordesman, who was involved in McChrystal’s assessment, delivers what I would characterize as a pretty succinct and honest appraisal of why we’re in the situation we’re in now:
The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade.
Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the U.S. Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources.
The Bush administration gave priority to sending forces to Iraq, it blustered about the successes of civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan that were grossly undermanned and underresourced, and it did not react to the growing corruption of Hamid Karzai’s government or the major problems created by national caveats and restrictions on the use of allied forces and aid.
It treated Pakistan as an ally when it was clear to U.S. experts on the scene that the Pakistani military and intelligence service did (and do) tolerate al-Qaeda and Afghan sanctuaries and still try to manipulate Afghan Pashtuns to Pakistan’s advantage.
Further, it never developed an integrated civil-military plan or operational effort even within the U.S. team in Afghanistan; left far too much of the aid effort focused on failed development programs; and denied the reality of insurgent successes in ways that gave insurgents the initiative well into 2009.
Like it or not, Afghanistan has been the second priority when it came to resources. Turning it around is going to take both time and more resources – something, if you read the pundits and politicians today, many are not willing to do.
Cordesman says that “most experts” agree that US troop levels in Afghanistan need to be increased by “three to eight more brigade combat teams”. But he also stresses that those BCTs would primarily be engaged in training Afghan troops and making them “full partners rather than tools”. The need for that training is past critical and was highlighted as a problem when 4,000 plus Marines pushed into Helmand province and only 600 Afghan troops (around a battalion) were able to participate.
However Cordesman’s last point about civil-military plans is just as critical and just as on-point. These programs are critical and lacking. A big plus up in that area is required to turn the situation around.
Militarily, what we must do is “take, hold and keep the Afghan population secure”. Classic COIN.
Just as important but glaringly lacking at the moment is the other and equally important side of the process:
[S]ecure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.
Hamid Karzai is nothing more than the mayor of Kabul in reality. One of the critical tasks we faced and overcame in Iraq was teaching Iraqis at every level how to build those necessary government capabilities and then link them all together in a single functioning entity. While certainly not perfect, it provided a decent basis for governance that they’ve been able to assess and refine as they’ve gained experience.
That task has yet to be done in Afghanistan.
And it may never be done either.
Because the “good war” that the left claimed was legitimate and necessary to fight is suddenly neither.
We’re now treated to daily editorials and op/eds wondering if Afghanistan is Obama’s Vietnam or whether we find ourselves in yet another “quagmire”.
And it is reported that even conservative commenter George Will is preparing to come out against our continued presence there, rationalizing such a pull-out with a foolish solution (his column is now available):
“[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”
Of course such a strategy will secure neither Afghanistan or Pakistan and certainly do nothing at all toward eliminating the al Qaeda threat. Instead it would give the organization a much freer hand in both countries.
Politicians have also begun to weigh in with rationalizations for pulling out of Afghanistan that can only be characterized as ignorant. Take Sen. Russ Feingold who claims he was for the war before he decided now to be against it. And, per Feingold, if we only listen to him, we can have our cake and eat it too:
We need to start discussing a flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan. Proposing a timetable doesn’t mean giving up our ability to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Far from it: We should continue a more focused military mission that includes targeted strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, and we should step up our long-term civilian efforts to deal with the corruption in the Afghan government that has helped the Taliban to thrive. But we must recognize that our troop presence contributes to resentment in some quarters and hinders our ability to achieve our broader national security goals.
Of course Feingold’s solution expects the Taliban and al Qaeda to remain quiescent and cooperate with his plan by leaving the population, the government and our “long-term civilian efforts” alone after we pull our troops out and Afghanistan unable to defend itself.
There are other political moves afoot as well as Cordesman points out. Speaking of the realities of the Afghanistan situation and the required support necessary to change it successfully, he says:
Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.
And his conclusion, based on that is as true as it is unacceptable:
If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.
It will be interesting to see how the Obama team reacts to the McChrystal report. If, as Cordesman suggests, he attempts to put off a decision by caving into the pressure to have Generals Eikenberry and McChrystal provide a series of dog-and-pony shows outlining “a broad set of strategic concepts”, then I’d conclude that the political will to carry the mission to a successful conclusion is likely not there.
What we’ll instead see is a series of these sorts of delays used to push a decision on commitment further and further out until it is politically safe for the administration to pull the plug. That, of course, would be 2012 with a second term safely secured. If my cynical prediction is correct, you’ll see the effort in Afghanistan given enough support to keep it from collapsing but really not furthering the effort toward success.
If that is indeed how it plays out, then politicians will be trading the lives of our soldiers for time to successfully secure their political future. That is both immoral and totally unacceptable.
Afghanistan is a salvageable. But it will take a long time, a full commitment to the mission, patience and above all, political will.
If the political will is not there, the administration owes it to our troops to do its “cutting and running” now, and let the political chips fall where they may.
If, instead, they string this thing out until it is politically acceptable to do that, they deserve to be banished to the lowest level of hell, there to toil in agonized perpetuity for putting politics above the lives of our soldiers.
Politico carries a story today quoting Sen. Chris Dodd saying President Obama needs to “step up” and give Congress “more of a framework to work with on health care reform”.
Or translated into common language that everyone can understand, Dodd is saying it is time for Obama to “step up” and lead.
There’s a problem, however – Obama has never led anything. He’s not a leader although he’s in the ultimate leadership job. His background, as many pointed out ad nauseum during the campaign, isn’t one of leadership. And when he was questioned about that fact, his claimed his successful campaign for the presidency proved his leadership abilities. If that’s not an acknowledgment of a paper thin leadership resume, I don’t know what is.
It has become even more obvious in this health care debate that he lacks the attributes of a leader. His first reaction to opposition was defensive. He and many in Congress attacked those who opposed him (and that continues today).
He then went into campaign mode, not understanding that doing so doesn’t constitute leadership on an issue. Unlike a leader, he’d literally outsourced his signature agenda item to Congress. Then, without apparently realizing it, his statements during his staged townhalls were diametrically opposed to what was actually in the House bill. It ended up hurting his credibility further.
Other examples of his lack of leadership experience and skills have been evident as well. He’s been dismissive of those who oppose him, preferring to wave away or ignore their criticism. He’s rarely involved himself in the nuts and bolts of legislation thereby leaving it to the liberal leaders of Congress to fashion the legislation in their own image, not his. Consequently he’s not seen as a strong leader even by his own party – thus the comment by Dodd.
I’ve heard people say that some people are born leaders. If that is true, Barack Obama isn’t one of them. Charismatic, intelligent and charming?
My years in the military have convinced me that the vast majority of good leaders are made, not born. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I never served with one. However I have watched the development of good solid leaders throughout my career. In fact I was a part of the process, as it is the job of all leaders to train and mentor the next generation of leaders.
From the raw material of recruits and junior officers to Command Sergeants Major and Generals, these leaders were trained, tested, mentored and tested again. To gain the top rank they eventually earn they met the tests and gain the leadership experience necessary at every level to move on up the ladder one rung at a time.
Barack Obama has never been developed as a leader nor has he had to endure the tests a leader must endure. While I’m sure he’d deny it, he’s led a privileged life in which his charm, intelligence, charisma and a good helping of guile have been his primary means of advancement. And his political career has been perfectly tailored to take advantage of those attributes. Centered in the legislative branch where those are valued assets, he’s never been tasked to lead. Leadership in those venues is only vested in a few and with his short tenure at each level, leadership responsibilities were never vested in him. In general, it is one of the reasons that Senators rarely make good Presidents.
So he comes by his lack of leadership honestly – it is simply not something which was necessary in the track his life has taken to this point – but now finds himself in a real dilemma
He’s not a leader.
He really doesn’t know how to be a leader.
But he pursued and won a job that demands a set of skills he, to this point, doesn’t possess. That’s why reversion to what he knows – campaign mode – is his natural answer to “stepping up”. Given the attributes he does have, he feels that if he can just get in front of the media and the people, he can use his charm, charisma, intelligence and guile to convince them to back his agenda just as he was able to do during the election cycle.
What he doesn’t seem to realize is that’s not leadership. His days of uncontested speech loaded with glittering generalities and factual inaccuracies are over. “Feel good” transitions into “make good” when the presidency is won. Instead of talking about what can be, he’s now stuck with talking about what is. And “what is” can be fact checked.
He’s disconnected, not seeming to understand that it isn’t Congress’s job to read his mind and churn out legislation to match his desires. Instead it is his job to work with Congress to make that happen. He seems to want to reign, not lead.
As it stands now, Dodd is asking for something that Obama hasn’t the experience or ability to deliver. Of course Obama’s surrounded by smart advisers who must also understand this problem and are most likely working diligently to find some way to correct it. But again experience says leaders aren’t born or made overnight. And the presidency is far and away much to critical and demanding a job for someone to first be learning what leadership is all about and how to apply it.
Ted Kennedy is being feted by the left as a liberal icon, the liberal lion of the Senate and the new reason for passing health
care insurance reform. Within a few weeks we’ve seen Democrats and the left shift from cost containment (blown away by the CBO) to appeals to religion (blown away because religion doesn’t rely on the state) to the passing of Ted Kennedy. One supposes they believe the emotional argument Kennedy’s death makes will swing support to their side that reason and facts wouldn’t.
There’s one problem with that – although Kennedy may have been “much beloved” among the Senate, the people of Massachusetts and the liberal left, I see no indication that such feelings translate outside of those circles. Certainly not enough to have the public finally throw up its hands and say “oh, the heck with it, let’s pass this travesty for Teddy”.
Let’s make the point again – he was a liberal icon. He was the liberal lion of the Senate. Neither of those mean a whole bunch to folks outside of those relatively small groups.
So that means that Democrats risk “Wellstoneing” this attempt at using Kennedy’s death to push their legislative agenda. If you’re unfamiliar with the public reaction to a memorial to Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) upon his untimely death in an airplane accident, Democrats turned the memorial into an unseemly partisan pep-rally which backfired badly on them. They tried to use Wellstone’s death to rally support for a Democratic successor. It was a pretty sad spectacle and in the end, a Republican Senator emerged as the winner.
I say they “risk Wellstoneing” the Kennedy death because it isn’t clear yet that Democrats have learned and internalized that lesson. They may have. But as I’ve observed the Dems over the years, it seems they always overreach. And recently they’ve done a very, very poor job of reading public sentiment. Oh, and did I mention, they’re obviously desperate right now? Given that, I think they may very well do the same sort of thing again with Kennedy’s death.
An interesting, but unpersuasive argument emerging on the left is that reminding them of the Wellstone fiasco is bad form. Kennedy’s death, apparently, is different and, as I’ve heard any number of them say, he’d be the first to suggest that his name and memory be exploited for political gain.
I think that may be what they truly believe, but even with obvious media support to push the meme, I don’t believe Ted Kennedy has the political heft the left thinks he has. And that sets up precisely what the left needs to avoid – an effect similar to that of the Wellstone memorial, although it will most likely unfold in a different manner than did that event.
Meanwhile, we’re being treated to the beginnings of the exploitation of Kennedy’s death and the overreach for which the left is so famous. As an example, consider liberal talk radio show host Mike Malloy’s recent views on Kennedy:
Good evening, truthseekers, Mike Malloy here, thanks for tuning in…you know as well as I know that the death of Senator Ted Kennedy is the death of a man, absolutely, and everything he was to the people in his extended family, but we also understand it’s the death of an era, one of the remaining, if not THE remaining lynchpin of liberalism in this country is gone.
Aand you know what the term lynchpin means. So with the death of Ted Kennedy last night, liberalism in this country has lost its champion; the person who, in the modern era, personified liberalism to a greater degree than anyone in Congress; I think that his death heralds the beginning of a very, very very dark period in this country.
I remember feeling that way in 1963 and in 1968-when his two brothers were murdered by the right wing in this country.
Lee Harvey Oswald (a communist sympathizer) and Sirhan Sirhan (an Arab Nationalist) have never been considered to be part of the right-wing except, perhaps, in the most twisted of leftist conspiracy theories. But Malloy, who ironically welcomes “truth seekers” isn’t about the truth. It’s about using scare tactics and the left’s favorite boogey man. Of course to do that Malloy must engage in the rewriting of history. His “very, very, very dark period in this country”, presaged by Kennedy’s death, must have right-wing villains. The implication, of course, is that his feelings now, comparable to his feelings when Robert and Jack Kennedy died, can be laid at the feet of the right wing. Case closed.
And so it goes. Expect much more of this in the next few weeks as the desperate left pulls out all the stops, including those of decency and propriety, to push this monstrosity of a health care insurance bill through on the back of a dead Kennedy. As I said, Orwell would have a field day with this stuff.
Coming soon from a lefty near you:
A new survey commissioned by the AARP asks respondents to what degree they support or oppose “[s]tarting a new federal health insurance plan that individuals could purchase if they can’t afford private plans offered to them” — a public option, in other words. The results are interesting, though not necessarily surprising to those who have been closely following the debate.
All: 79 percent favor/18 percent oppose
Democrats: 89 percent favor/8 percent oppose
Republicans: 61 percent favor/33 percent oppose
Independents: 80 percent favor/16 percent oppose
Let that sink in for a moment — 61% of Republicans and 80% of Independents support some sort of “federal health insurance plan” according to MyDD’s Jonathan Singer, who adds:
Indeed, a supermajority of even Republicans supports a federal program to provide individuals with a choice for their health insurance coverage, with just a third of the party membership opposing such a plan.
So why, again, are supporters of a public option finding such difficulty in Congress?
Regardless of the veracity of these numbers, you will hear them spouted over and over again by every leftwing outlet available (yes, that includes the MSM). It will become gospel amongst ObamaCare supporters that 80% of Americans support a public option, just as it’s become gospel that there are 47 Million uninsured individuals in this country, or that Tea Party advocates are in the paid employ of the health insurance lobby. Yet, problems abound with this survey.
Where to begin. Firstly, when I say “according to Jonathan Singer” above, I mean that the poll question he quotes is nowhere to be found publicly, so there is no way to verify its accuracy. The AARP has no link to it (and in fact does not even mention the poll), nor does the company, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (“PSB”), that conducted the survey.
If in fact the question was worded as described by Singer, then the inclusion of the phrase “if they can’t afford private plans offered to them” alters the results dramatically. Although some have suggested that this is the reason we need health
care insurance reform so desperately, it completely ignores the fact that those who can’t afford health insurance are generally covered by Medicaid, SCHIP and other federal and state programs. So when respondents are asked whether such people should be covered, how do we know they aren’t thinking about those federal and state programs already in existence and not the public option as proposed by Obama and Congress? In short, we don’t. To be fair, the question allegedly refers to “starting a new” program, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people understood the question to be asking about ObamaCare’s public option.
Indeed, according to PSB, “only 37 percent define ‘public option’ correctly” and “about one-fourth of those polled believe the ‘public option’ is a national health care system, similar to the one in Great Britain.” Of course, how to “correctly” define the public option is not revealed, but suffice it to say that the survey’s respondents did not reveal they had a concise grasp upon what a public option actually means.
Then there is the transparency problem. Although PSB claims (pdf) its survey has a margin of error of “+/- 3.10% at the 95% confidence level and larger for subgroups” it also states that it was done over the internet “on August 12-13, 2009 among 1,000 Americans”. Because the data are not released (at least, not to the public, although Singer apparently has access to a copy), it’s impossible to tell, and difficult to understand, how an internet survey could determine that only Americans responded, that the respondents were actually associated with any political party (e.g. registered voters), or that respondents were even separate people. In addition, how is that an “internet survey” completed over two days received only (and exactly!) 1,000 responses? Again, we don’t know because the actual poll data are hidden from public view. But it looks awfully suspect when such a survey has 61% of Republicans, and 79% overall, responding favorably to a public option, when numerous other polls out there show much lower support.
Finally, there is a potential bias problem. PSB, the company who conducted the survey, is not exactly a bystander in this debate. The “P” in “PSB” is Penn. As in Mark Penn. Remember him?
Mark Penn, the strategist who dashed Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes, is the Wall Street Journal’s “Microtrend”-spotting columnist. He’s also CEO of PR giant Burson-Marsteller. Only a scumbag would abuse the former to drum up business for the latter.
Mark Penn’s latest (old, and none too insightful) ‘Microtrend’ column is about “glamping”—glamorous camping. It ran last weekend. By Monday, according to an internal email obtained by Gawker, Burson was already trying to recruit companies from the industry featured in the column as clients. Burson Executive Vice President (and former Bill Clinton speechwriter) Josh Gottheimer urged Burson’s senior staff—including Founding Chairman Harold Burson, US President & CEO Patrick Ford, and others, to use Penn’s column as a tool to approach clients in the camping industry about business. Not only that—he recommends that Mark Penn “send a note” to the CEO of these potential clients requesting a meeting.
The WSJ is currently investigating whether the allegation that Penn used his column to generate business created any conflict of interest problems [Ed. – gee, you think?]. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by another one of his companies (PSB) is claiming that support is monstrously high for a public option. And what does PSB do?
Penn, Schoen & Berland (PSB), a member of the WPP Group, is a global research-based consultancy that specializes in messaging and communications strategy for blue-chip political, corporate and entertainment clients.
Any guesses as to which clients PSB might be after, and why they only released their survey results to friendly (i.e. partisan lefty) outlets?
It’s my guess that the 80% number is going to tossed around quite a bit in the next coming weeks as Congress gets back to work
screwing us passing legislation in September. Just remember that, as of right now, there are many, many reasons to be quite skeptical about that number.
UPDATE: As bains points out in the comments, Jonathan Singer has amended his post, without explanation and (still) without any link to the data, so that “commissioned by the AARP” has been struck out. There’s really nothing wrong with that (it’s not as if the words disappeared altogether), but the omissions are more than a bit strange.
Also, with respect to polling data, Rasmussen released this today:
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey show that 43% of voters nationwide favor the plan working its way through Congress while 53% are opposed. Those figures are virtually identical to results from two weeks ago.
As has been true since the debate began, those opposed to the congressional overhaul feel more strongly about the legislation than supporters. Forty-three percent (43%) now Strongly Oppose the legislation while 23% Strongly Favor it. Those figures, too, are similar to results from earlier in August.
While supporters of the reform effort say it is needed to help reduce the cost of health care, 52% of voters believe it will have the opposite effect and lead to higher costs. Just 17% believe the plans now in Congress will reduce costs.
There’s lots more, so go RTWT.
And one last thing. Some of you may notice a certain comment that I let through the filters. It’s not technically spam, but it is one of those pernicious attempts to make some favorite meme go viral that it might as well be spam. You may also notice that I will have gone into the comment and ripped it to shreds. I reserve the right to do so at my leisure, because I have the power and spammenters (as I shall now call these vermin) do not. Neither do they have the common courtesy to even read the post, but instead they simply post their drivel whenever the come across the right keywords. In return, I shall treat these spamments (see what I did there!) as my own personal canvas upon which to express my personal disdain for such ignorant, disrespectful malcontents.
That is all.
MORE: OK, someone went ahead and deleted the comment after I approved it, thus depriving me of my fun. So … carry on.[ad#Banner]
Ted Kennedy died of brain cancer last night at his home in Hyannis Port, MA:
The man known as the “liberal lion of the Senate” had fought a more than year-long battle with brain cancer, and according to his son had lived longer with the disease than his doctors expected him to.
And you can expect him to lionized over the coming weeks. Although I completely disagree with just about everything Kennedy stood for, I wouldn’t wish what he had to suffer on anyone. My sympathies to his family.
However, look for his death to become an emotional rallying point (already begun) for the “reformers” as his death will be shamelessly politicized (also already begun) over the coming weeks in an effort to turn the health care debate around.
On the other hand, the 60 vote “fillibuster proof” Senate is no more. Under MA law the state must hold a special election within 5 months to fill the seat.
The Republican Party is hopeless.
Given a meta-issue from heaven (smaller government, less intrusive government, less taxation, less spending) and a building mandate as exemplified by the anger at townhall meetings, they manage to fumble it completely.
Instead of actually addressing the problem (see meta-issue) they pander and play politics. Instead of talking about market solutions and less government, they decide to establish government health care as a civil right.
The Republican Party issued a new salvo in the health debate Monday with a “seniors’ health care bill of rights” that opposed any moves to trim Medicare spending or limit end-of-life care to seniors.
Intended as a political shot at President Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee manifesto marks a remarkable turnaround for a party that had once fought to trim the health program for the elderly and disabled, which last year cost taxpayers over $330 billion.
What Republicans would commit us to by making this guarantee is debt your grandchildren, and perhaps their grandchildren will have to pay to the tune of 58 trillion in unfunded liabilities. In other words, the promised benefits for Medicare are underfunded by 58 trillion in the outlying years and the Republicans have just guaranteed them. With what is anyone’s guess, but certainly not with “less taxes and less spending”.
The other thing they do, apparently unwittingly, is make health care a “civil right” (how else do you interpret something the Republicans would call a “seniors health care bill of rights?”).
That is all the opening the left needs to, at some point, throw it back in the Republican’s lap and ask why such a right exists for one group of citizens but not another. The “fairness” police will have a field day with this and the Republicans will have no answer.
If this move is indicative of the level of intelligence and leadership within the Republican party, I say go hire any random person off the street to run the party. They could not do any worse. They have a political opponent in the middle of self-destructing, and they make a dumb move like this.
As they say, you can’t fix stupid.
For the first time since 1975, Social Security recipients will not get a cost of living allowance increase in their Social Security check. Another in a long line of ominous indicators that, to quote President Obama’s favorite disavowed preacher, the fiscal “chickens are coming home to roost.”
We seem to have been living in a dream world for the last few decades where the majority of Americans ignored the reality and believed we could continue to increase the size of the welfare state forever with no ill consequences. The small coterie of realists claiming that it was indeed a fantasy world we were living in were declared alarmists who were using scare tactics and dismissed by the politicians.
Now, with huge deficits, we’re about to see the US go from one of the least-indebted developed nations to one of the most indebted. The IMF reports that for the US, general government debt as a percentage of GDP will rise from 63 percent in 2007 to 88.8 percent this year and to 99.8 percent of GDP next year.
That’s huge and, with the revised deficit of almost 10 trillion over 10 years, getting larger.
Even without the numbers and reports, Americans have increasingly come to understand that the government we have and the programs it funds through our tax dollars and massive borrowing are unsustainable. And, as I’ve pointed out, that realization has been brought to a head by the recent financial problems we’ve suffered and government’s reaction (under both the Bush and Obama administrations) to that problem. And yet the supposedly tuned-in Obama and the Democrats simply don’t seem to understand that, or, perhaps worse, don’t want to believe it, given the agenda they’ve undertaken. Matt Welch lays it out well:
After 11 months of federal bailouts and freakouts, Americans have become bone tired of panicky power grabs from Washington. It’s the big government, stupid.
The message of the various Tea Party protests, which predated this summer’s ahistorical media panic over town hall “lynch mobs,” has been pretty simple, says Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the nonprofit that has helped organize the protests, told Reason magazine this spring. “It was: stop spending so much money, stop borrowing so much money, and stop bailing out people who were irresponsible.”
It’s a reality that surely haunts the politically sensitive Obama administration: Ever since George W. Bush first tried to cram the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) down the throats of largely unwilling citizens, bailouts of failed institutions, from AIG to American Axle, have been enormously unpopular.
What Obama and the Democrats are left with then, when pursuing an agenda that is a naked attempt at even more government expansion, is a natural resistance that has been building since before this administration took office. Either the Democrats and Obama completely misread the election results and assumed a mandate that wasn’t at all present, or their natural hubris left them believing that even if that was the country’s attitude, they would be able to allay the fears and talk them into supporting more big government.
As is obvious, it’s not working. And the mood of the country seems to be at a point where it is swinging in exactly the opposite direction.
You have some Democrats who are realizing that – Senator Kent Conrad (D-SD) among them – who are talking about a vastly scaled back health care bill (I stick by my claim that Democrats realize they must pass something called “Health Care Reform” or the Obama presidency is DOA). But that too flies in the face of polling which says that a majority of Americans would like to see this version scrapped and for lawmakers to start over. The obvious implication of that poll result is the public is not happy with the size, depth of intrusion and cost of the current proposals.
Bill Clinton once famously said that the era of big government was over. And most cheered. But that turned out to be a mirage as Republicans took over, became Democrat-lite and expanded government yet again. Big government came back with a vengeance. As pointed out by Welch, the Tea Parties, which were the first public evidence of discontent within the country, began under George Bush and had absolutely nothing to do with Barack Obama.
If, as with most protests, the protesters represent the tip of the iceberg, we may be seeing the political sea change that many government minimalists have been hoping for for decades.
The winning political issue is out there for the politician and party smart enough to grab it. Smaller and less expensive and intrusive government.
Who will grab it and how will turn it into a winner is at this point unknown. But Americans are very uneasy right now and their anger at being marginalized by their politicians and ignored is mounting. Not only is 2010 going to be a very interesting year, but depending on who emerges on the right and how they approach addressing this anger, 2012 could be equally as interesting.
Michael Barone recently wrote an article in which he pointed out, “there are more conservatives than Republicans and more Democrats than liberals”.
Let that soak in for a minute and then consider today’s Paul Krugman article in which he seems a bit surprised by the Obama administration’s surprise that liberals are furious with him about the goings on in the health care debate.
A backlash in the progressive base — which pushed President Obama over the top in the Democratic primary and played a major role in his general election victory — has been building for months. The fight over the public option involves real policy substance, but it’s also a proxy for broader questions about the president’s priorities and overall approach.
This is where “progressives” always go off the track. It is a large dose of hubris which allows them to convince themselves they’re a bigger group than they are, they’re a more influential group than they are and they have played a bigger role than they have.
While Krugman’s point about primary victories has some substance (activists turn out in primaries), in the general election, compared to George Bush and the economy’s one-two combo, they were a non-factor.
Rasmussen took a look at how Americans view themselves in terms of liberal, conservative and moderate. He found that those who consider themselves liberal range from 12% to 30% depending on the issue. On social issues 30% had a more liberal view, which could be the inclusion of libertarians – who normally share the progressive principles on social issues – boosting that number.
But when it came to the the issues of taxes, government spending and the regulation of private business, only 12% claim to be liberals – libertarians would and do not share liberal principles in that regard. And it is within that realm that the health care reform (and the cap-and-trade) debate is taking place.
The 12% are the hard-core “progressives” who, as I stated, think they’re a much larger group than they really are. And it is the political desires of this 12% – reflected in a Congressional leadership which is proportionately completely out of synch with the rest of the country – that is being resisted by the rest country that does not share its principles or ideals.
So there’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that’s why the mixed signals on the public option created such an uproar.
And they’re shocked and surprised by this? Two points. One, Obama knows progressives have nowhere else to go. So in a hunt for support for this legislation, where should he make his appeal? Well not with those who have nowhere else to go. He’s going to fashion his appeal to attract those who do have an option. Politics 101 for heaven sake.
Two – they elected an entirely political creature who “punked” them from the very beginning of his candidacy. The right has neither been shocked or surprised by anything Barack Obama has done since his inauguration, although they have certainly enjoyed pointing out how Mr. Hope and Change is the consummate old-style Chicago pol. It is fun to watch the so-called “reality based” community begin to figure out they’ve bought into a fantasy. In actuality, they “punked” themselves.
So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back.
Really? Does he? See points one and two above. Winning their trust back, given the reality of the situation would most likely guarantee him a one-term presidency and Congressional Democrats an electoral shellacking in 2010. That is if he did what was necessary to actually win back their trust.
Face it, progressives – you’ve played your part, you’ve served your purpose and, in the big scheme of things, you’re a 12% constituency with no other place to go. This is big-boy politics and Obama knows he has to move away from much of what you demand to get this passed. And at this point, he’ll take just about anything that can be called health care or health insurance or whatever it’s called today. Or said more simply – the reality is politicians focus on gaining and maintaining power and they will throw anyone under the bus to do that if the situation requires it.
So lay down and take your medicine – Greyhound is ready when you are.
Once again the reasoning in support of a federal overhaul (and takeover) of national health care has shifted. It started out as a fiscal imperative with Pres. Obama claiming that our money woes were caused by the rising costs of health care. We were told that only government can contain administrative costs and deliver efficient, effective care. Later is was the need to control greedy insurance companies who treat their clients shoddily by denying coverage. Government run care would make sure that nobody was denied insurance, and that we would all pay basically the same rates. Of course, the infamous public option was touted as the primary tool for accomplishing this goal, carefully eliding past the “fiscal sanity” reasons for reform, which option has apparently been set out to pasture after facing fierce public resistance.
So now the reasoning shifts again. As it turns out, you all are just bad, immoral people if you don’t approve of the government taking your money and running your health care.
President Obama sought Wednesday to reframe the health care debate as “a core ethical and moral obligation,” imploring a coalition of religious leaders to help promote the plan to lower costs and expand insurance coverage for all Americans.
“I know there’s been a lot of misinformation in this debate, and there are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness,” Mr. Obama told a multidenominational group of pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders who support his goal to remake the nation’s health care system.
In any event, Obama’s attempt to turn this into a moral debate is not only a naked act of desperation to save his pet cause, it is also the closest to the true reason why health reform is so important to him, and the left in general, in the first place. Supporters of government-run health care are convinced that the presence of a profit motive in the delivery of health services is a bad thing and that wringing every last ounce of market incentive from the process will lead to wonderful new outcomes. And the way they are prepared to sell it is by pushing the idea that health care is a civil right.
Interestingly enough, Jonathan Alter started the ball rolling on this score just a few days before the President (it’s almost as if they are reading from the same playbook or something!):
The main reason that the bill isn’t sold as civil rights is that most Americans don’t believe there’s a “right” to health care. They see their rights as inalienable, and thus free, which health care isn’t. Serious illness is an abstraction (thankfully) for younger Americans. It’s something that happens to someone else, and if that someone else is older than 65, we know that Medicare will take care of it. Polls show that the 87 percent of Americans who have health insurance aren’t much interested in giving any new rights and entitlements to “them”—the uninsured.
But how about if you or someone you know loses a job and the them becomes “us”? The recession, which is thought to be harming the cause of reform, could be aiding it if the story were told with the proper sense of drama and fright. Since all versions of the pending bill ban discrimination by insurance companies against people with preexisting conditions, that provision isn’t controversial. Which means it gets little attention. Which means that the deep moral wrong that passage of this bill would remedy is somehow missing from the debate.
The only thing that should be unbreakable in a piece of legislation is the principle behind it. In the case of Social Security, it was the security and peace of mind that came with the knowledge of a guaranteed old-age benefit. (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush got slam-dunked when they tried to mess with that.) In the civil-rights bills, the principle was no discrimination on the basis of an unavoidable, preexisting “condition” like race.
The core principle behind health-care reform is—or should be—a combination of Social Security insurance and civil rights. Passage would end the shameful era in our nation’s history when we discriminated against people for no other reason than that they were sick. A decade from now, we will look back in wonder that we once lived in a country where half of all personal bankruptcies were caused by illness, where Americans lacked the basic security of knowing that if they lost their jobs they wouldn’t have to sell the house to pay for the medical treatments to keep them alive. We’ll look back in wonder—that is, if we pass the bill.
Just to focus the argument, Alter is suggesting that it is a violation of individual civil rights, akin to discriminating against someone on the basis of race (wow, didn’t see that coming), to deny one insurance because one is sick. This is ludicrous on a number of levels, but that it fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of insurance is one of its worst features. Insurance is meant to protect against the expense of unknown outcomes by paying a small premium based on the statistical probability that one will suffer such an outcome. However, if one of the outcomes already exists then the insurance premium would simply be equal to the cost of treatment since the probability of payment is 1:1. In Alter’s world,and that of too many government health care supporters, insurance isn’t a risk management tool, it’s a medical discount and income redistribution tool. Which leads to the primary failure of his argument.
In briefest terms, health care cannot be a “right” because it is entirely dependent on someone else providing it to you. “Rights” do not ever involve taking from someone and giving to someone else. In order to believe otherwise, one would have to believe that doctors are actually slaves who can legally be commanded to fulfill one’s “right” to health care or suffer the consequences. The very idea is preposterous, which is why, as Alter notes, Americans have not kenned to the idea of there being a “right” to health care.
And yet, this is apparently the ground, this moral Waterloo, upon which Obama will choose to support his cause. The offensive will depend on the idea that a government health care plan is a moral obligation, and a protection of civil rights. Naturally, some imbecilic politician will assert that opposition to the plan is an immoral position, seeking to demonize (yet again) those naysayers who aren’t too keen on more government interference in their lives. After all, why not? They’ve already accused us of being, alternately, well-dressed plants for the insurance lobby and ignorant, racist hicks who just can’t stand having a black man in the White House, and look what those lines of argument achieved. I predict that this latest attack will be equally as effective.
The NY Times tells us this morning that we’re likely to get health care reform whether we want it or not.
Frankly I’m not sure why that should be a surprise to anyone. Democrats know that they have to pass something or they’ll effectively, to use Howard Dean’s phrase, “kill the presidency” of Barack Obama.
So it should come as no surprise, really, that Democrats are finally talking about whatever is necessary, to include completely ignoring Republicans, to get a bill through both houses of Congress for the president’s signature.
But the exclusion of Republicans doesn’t mean smooth sailing for Democrats. Numbers-wise they certainly have the majorities they need in both houses to pass legislation. This particular legislation, however, has become fraught with political danger. Many Democrats are very wary of it because of the demonstrated unhappiness of their constituencies and the probable 2010 impact that may have. This is especially true of more conservative Democrats, even those is primarily Democratic districts. And “Blue Dogs” who managed to win in historically red districts are terrified.
Certainly by cutting out the Republicans, they can write the legislation as they want it. But certain parts, such as the so-called “death panels” and “public option”, have little public support. And, in general, polls continue to make the point that a majority of Americans want this present attempt scratched and want Congress to “start over”.
On top of that, it appears the majority of Americans do not agree that “something” has to be passed quickly. Instead, it appears, the public wants an extended debate and believe that such a debate is just beginning.
That sets up the conflict of political interests the Democrats face. They believe, now that they’ve brought it up and the president has made it one of his signature issues, that unless they pass it (or something they can call “health care reform”) they’ll have set him up for failure. However, they are also coming to realize that passing something now despite a majority of Americans saying slow down and start over could be hazardous to their political health – and majorities.
As they finally did with George Bush and the Republicans, I believe Americans are again realizing not just the benefit but the necessity for divided government to keep both sides “honest”. Government needs a bit of competition too. And if Democrats ram health care reform legislation through, whether with our without Republican support, they’re most likely to see such “competition” become reality in 2010.