As I think about last night’s speech by President Obama, two words kept coming to mind: partisan and combative. The speech was highly partisan, even though he gave lip-service to bi-partisanship. And I thought he was needlessly combative – calling people liars and describing those who disagree in less than flattering terms.
It was not his finest hour. Nor was it a particularly good speech. It seemed to go on forever and that is usually a sign that it isn’t holding the attention of the audience.
As I figured, since I was at a loss as to what else he could do, he attempted to repackage the same old proposals that the country has been rejecting and called it “new and improved”. He promised details, but there were scant few. And that was particularly true in his attempt to describe how he’d pay for the mess.
Let’s look at some quotes:
There are now more than thirty million American citizens who cannot get coverage.
I’m wondering what happened to the 17 million “Americans” that Democrats and Obama have consistently claimed were uninsured. Where did the 47 million uninsured go? Is this an acknowledgment that they’ve been purposely pumping the numbers up for quite some time?
Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action.
This is what I mean about needlessly combative. Those who attended townhalls and other gatherings to voice their opinions and protest what the Democrats were trying to pass do not consider what they did to be “bickering” nor do they feel they were engaged in “games”. Those gaming this were the Democrats who tried their hardest to pass this monstrosity without the benefit of debate, without anyone being able to read and digest it and without Republican participation.
That is gaming the system. There’s no rush to do this and pretending there is also falls under “gaming”.
My health care proposal has also been attacked by some who oppose reform as a “government takeover” of the entire health care system. As proof, critics point to a provision in our plan that allows the uninsured and small businesses to choose a publicly-sponsored insurance option, administered by the government just like Medicaid or Medicare.
So let me set the record straight. My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition.
But it has never been Obama’s guiding principle – not when he insists that “choice” and “competition” can only be achieved by introducing a government run entity into the mix while declining to consider other options.
Remove the regulation that prohibits health care insurance providers from selling across state lines, remove the mandates that require the insured to buy coverage they don’t want or need and facilitate the removal of health care insurance from under employers into the open market. All of those moves – which would require little in the way of tax dollars and government intrusion – would actually deliver choice and competition while driving insurance costs down.
Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable. The insurance reforms that I’ve already mentioned would do just that. But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. Let me be clear – it would only be an option for those who don’t have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5% of Americans would sign up.
And most experts say that 5% would not be enough to keep such a system fiscally sound and it would eventually have to turn to the government for subsidy. Want a real insurance exchange? See my comments above.
That’s why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance – just as most states require you to carry auto insurance. Likewise, businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers. There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still cannot afford coverage, and 95% of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements. But we cannot have large businesses and individuals who can afford coverage game the system by avoiding responsibility to themselves or their employees. Improving our health care system only works if everybody does their part.
Mandatory health insurance – something he said he didn’t believe in during his campaign. So a young person who would prefer to pay for his health care as needed now no longer has a choice.
Key word – choice. Remember Obama’s “guiding principle”. Well he violates it right there. You no longer have a choice. And remember, in the bill now on the House floor, this will involve the IRS fining you if you fail to comply.
Companies are left with no choice as well.
Some of people’s concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.
Certainly there are aren’t any literal panels called “death panels” in the pending legislation, but within the structure of the bill (HR 3200) there are certainly plenty of panels which will be determining what constitutes “best care”. The obvious logical argument then says, if they are there to determine what constitutes “best care” and are using the reimbursement mechanism to encourage their recommendations be followed and the refusal to reimburse if they aren’t, then it isn’t at all incorrect to logically conclude that “best care” when it comes to the elderly may conflict with the desired care the family and doctor want to render the patient.
That argument gets to Obama’s claim that he would prevent any bureaucrat, government or insurance, from getting in between you and your doctor.
So is what those are saying about “death-panels” “a lie, plain and simple”? Or is the lie to be found in the entrails of HR 3200 and in the glib assurances of Obama?
As an aside – is a president calling for “civility” really being civil when he calls those who disagree with him liars in a speech before a joint session of Congress?
There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.
See my post on Joe Wilson. He yelled “you lie” for a reason.
To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end – and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have.
Once again the combative and dismissive of the right. This was not a speech that really welcomed Republicans into the process. And, I found it amusing when he tried to imply the Republicans weren’t a part of the process because they’d refused to participate, Republican members of Congress waved the three bills they’ve submitted in the House for all to see.
First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits – either now or in the future. Period. And to prove that I’m serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don’t materialize. Part of the reason I faced a trillion dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for – from the Iraq War to tax breaks for the wealthy. I will not make that same mistake with health care.
Second, we’ve estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system – a system that is currently full of waste and abuse. Right now, too much of the hard-earned savings and tax dollars we spend on health care doesn’t make us healthier. That’s not my judgment – it’s the judgment of medical professionals across this country. And this is also true when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid.
The stated cost is $900 billion. That’s before the CBO looks at it. But of course the CBO can’t look at it until it is written legislation. But the CBO has already dismissed claims that saving of the amount Obama is claiming can be achieved by “finding savings” in “waste and abuse”.
And isn’t it telling that Obama admits that the system he now runs – Medicare – is “currently full of waste and abuse”. If eliminating fraud and abuse is so easy, one would assume a) there’d be none now or b) he could direct waste and abuse be ended now and those savings accrued immediately.
This is a hand-wave at fiscal responsibility. It is a glib nothing which he can stretch into a claim the cost of his proposal is “covered”.
Also remember that the front end of all these plans are loaded with collections, but no health care reform. Reform doesn’t kick in until 2013 – after Obama hopes to be safely reelected. But in the intervening years, we’ll begin to pay for it. Consequently we’ll have 10 years of money and only 7 or 8 years of reformed health care to pay for in that time frame. That means costs will explode after the 10th year and add to the deficit. Point? His proposal will add heavily to the deficit but not until he’s well out of office.
Knowing seniors were very wary of his plans, and he was losing their support, he attempted to win them back:
In fact, I want to speak directly to America’s seniors for a moment, because Medicare is another issue that’s been subjected to demagoguery and distortion during the course of this debate.
More than four decades ago, this nation stood up for the principle that after a lifetime of hard work, our seniors should not be left to struggle with a pile of medical bills in their later years. That is how Medicare was born. And it remains a sacred trust that must be passed down from one generation to the next. That is why not a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for this plan.
And in his next breath he says:
The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud, as well as unwarranted subsidies in Medicare that go to insurance companies – subsidies that do everything to pad their profits and nothing to improve your care. And we will also create an independent commission of doctors and medical experts charged with identifying more waste in the years ahead.
These steps will ensure that you – America’s seniors – get the benefits you’ve been promised. They will ensure that Medicare is there for future generations. And we can use some of the savings to fill the gap in coverage that forces too many seniors to pay thousands of dollars a year out of their own pocket for prescription drugs. That’s what this plan will do for you.
Well, first, Medicare part D is the Medicare prescription drug plan, so I have no idea who all these seniors are paying “thousands of dollars a year” for drugs.
As I recall, what Obama is primarily targeting, though he is very careful not to actually mention it, is doing away with Medicare Advantage.
If you’re wondering what Medicare Advantage plans are, you can read about them here. One of the things Advantage plans pay for is prescription drugs.
And, as the website points out, “In addition, you might have to pay a monthly premium to your Medicare Advantage Plan for the extra benefits that they offer.”
I guess the Advantage plans must be considered one of those “gold-plated” plans.
Also note the promise of yet another bureaucratic panel – so, could continuing care on grandma at some point in time be considered “waste” and a different form of “care” be encouraged? Is it possible that could conflict with what you and your doctor prefer?
Again, nebulous language that can be interpreted and logically extended to mean precisely what Obama denies is in his proposal.
Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan.
This is the oldest claim in politics and the most bald-faced of its lies.
Obama mentioned demonstration projects for tort reform (and I am glad to see tort reform at least on the edge of the table). I’ve got an idea for a real demonstration project – if it is so easy to reduce the “waste and inefficiency” in Medicare and Medicaid, you have 3 years in which to do it. And once you’ve been successful and that success is unequivocally documented, then come back to us and we’ll talk about further reform.
Overall, as mentioned, not his finest speech. In fact, probably one of his poorer speechs. There was a measure of arrogance that was unattractive. There was a feeling that he wasn’t trying to convince but instead dictate. Nothing I heard last night was new. Nothing I heard last night was particularly compelling in terms of making a convincing argument for doing what he contends we must do.
Instead I heard frustration voiced in surly combativeness. That’s not the way to convince your opposition to see things your way. Leadership was again missing in a speech and moment that practically begged for it.
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The good old media waterboy comes through again. Immediately after the speech last night, CNN released the following:
Two out of three Americans who watched President Barack Obama’s health care reform speech Wednesday night favor his health care plans — a 14-point gain among speech-watchers, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national poll of people who tuned into Obama’s address Wednesday night to a joint session of Congress.
Wow … hot stuff huh? You’d think that the magic was back and the silver tongued orator had done it again wouldn’t you? Of course had you bothered to go to the third paragraph you might have become a little uneasy with the result:
The audience for the speech appears to be more Democratic than the U.S. population as a whole. Because of this, the results may favor Obama simply because more Democrats than Republicans tune into the speech.
And had you then made the “jump” and read the second half of the report, you’d have been downright suspicious of the poll’s results.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted just before and just after the president’s speech, with 427 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey’s sampling error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The sample of speech-watchers in this poll was 45 percent Democratic and 18 percent Republican. Our best estimate of the number of Democrats in the voting age population as a whole indicates that the sample is about 8-10 points more Democratic than the population as a whole.
A 427 sample, loaded with Democrats and a plus or minus 5% sampling error?
Does the word “disregard” say it all?
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More than anything else I couldn’t help but think that Pres. Obama doubled down tonight and went for broke. He’s going to have a health
care insurance plan that includes (i) a public option, (ii) doesn’t add to the deficit, (iii) doesn’t cover illegal immigrants, (iv) covers everybody (whether they want to or not), (v) an independent panel of experts to decide whether doctors are providing the correct treatments or not, (vi) no cuts to Medicare or Medicaid, (vii) finally (FINALLY!) ending waste, fraud and abuse in the health care already provided by government, (viii) an independent panel (same? different?) that controls costs, and (ix) something undefined to address defensive medicine. Essentially, he’s promised HR 3200 plus a bunch of other stuff. In a nutshell, provided that he sticks to these promises (mmhmm) I think Obama just made sure that no health care insurance plan will ever be passed during his administration. Go Obama!
A couple of other quick thoughts:
(A) Regarding the public option, Obama claimed:
Despite all this, the insurance companies and their allies don’t like this idea. They argue that these private companies can’t fairly compete with the government. And they’d be right if taxpayers were subsidizing this public insurance option. But they won’t be. I have insisted that like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects. But by avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits, excessive administrative costs and executive salaries, it could provide a good deal for consumers.
This was his counter to the “myth” that government would not be taking over health care, and that you would be able to keep your plan if you like it. However, assuming the president is correct, if the public option does not have the same “overhead” going towards “profits, excessive administrative costs and executive salaries” then won’t it be passing those saving on to consumers? And if so, won’t that price the private plans out of the market? After all, why would anyone choose to pay more for coverage if they don’t have to?
(B) Also regarding the public option, Obama claimed that its purpose is to introduce competition into the market place for insurance. He even compared it to the way that public schools compete with private ones:
It would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities.
Of course, no one is required to go to college, and these are state-run organizations that are heavily subsidized. Yet, just two breaths earlier, Obama claimed that the public option would not be subsidized by the government (albeit while also claiming that people who could not afford it would be given tax credits to cover it, but one lie at a time please). In addition, don’t we hear more and more complaints every year about how quickly the costs of college are rising? In short, how is this in any way an apt comparison, or if it is, how does it support Obama’s case that a public option is a good thing?
(C) Obama also made this strange claim:
Finally, our health care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers. When health care costs grow at the rate they have, it puts greater pressure on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If we do nothing to slow these skyrocketing costs, we will eventually be spending more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined. Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.
Doctors and hospitals routinely state that because they are not fully compensated by Medicare/Medicaid for the work they do, they are forced to raise prices on patients who pay through private insurance. Now Obama is trying to claim that it’s private insurance causing Medicare/Medicaid to go bankrupt?
Anyway, those are just my initial reactions. I’m really wondering if anyone else sees the same thing I do with respect to Obama’s demanding a bill that includes absolutely everything essentially killing any chance of health care reform being enacted. If the progressives won’t accept anything less than a public option, and the Blue Dogs won’t vote for a public option, and Obama vetoes any bill that adds to the deficit, how the heck is Congress going to pass anything at all?
He was a bit exercised about a certain line in the Obama speech. He’s since apologized for inappropriate behavior and, frankly I agree. It was inappropriate. Just like Obama calling Sarah Palin and other liars was equally inappropriate, especially when later hypocritically calling for “civility”.
But back to Wilson. He was apparently reacting to this line in Obama’s speech:
There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.
So why was Wilson outraged. Most likely because he has actually read the bill in the House and what he has read doesn’t synch with what the president said. Here’s why:
The America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (HR 3200) is extremely complex and there’s no way to know how the bill ultimately will be implemented. First, it is unclear if illegal immigrants will be required to have health insurance, as would citizens and legal immigrants (green card holders). In its summary of the bill, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) states, “Under HR 3200, all legal permanent residents (LPRs), non-immigrants, and unauthorized aliens who meet the substantial presence test … would be required to obtain health insurance.”1 Substantial presence is defined as having been in the United States for at least 31 days during the current year and at least 183 days during the current year and previous two years. No mention is made of legal status in the legislation for determining substantial presence.
So under HR 3200, as long as anyone meets the “substantial presence” definition, regardless of “legal status”, they’re required to get health insurance. That would include illegal immigrants.
That’s why Joe Wilson yelled.
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Despite all the spin by pundits and all the assurances by Nancy Pelosi, Drudge is reporting that the House Whip is claiming the votes to pass the House’s version of health care reform aren’t there at the moment.
At least 44 more moderate Members of the Democrat Caucus have gone on the record in opposition to the current health care bill in the House, a Hill source claims. Likewise, at least 57 liberal Members of the Democrat Caucus have gone on the record saying they will vote against a health care bill without a strong public option.
Unless multiple Democrats flip on their stated position on health care, Speaker Pelosi lacks the votes to pass a bill through the House on the strength of Democrat votes alone.
Obviously, as noted, that is contingent upon those Democrats oppossing the bill remaining in opposition and it requires no Republicans vote for the bill. Of course the arm twisting hasn’t really begun in earnest but the key phrase here is “have gone on record”. Normally that isn’t done with the expectation of backing down, “flipping” and handing your election opponent a gold-plated hammer to pound you flat with in ’10.
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I can only assume Thomas Friedman has finally gone round the bend:
One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.
This, from his lament today in which he waxes idiotic about our country being much to constrained by democracy. The poor Democrats are so hobbled by having to deal with the other side (and public opinion, for heaven sake!) that they’re not able to ram through what Thomas Friedman wishes for.
Ah, for a few “reasonably enlightened” autocrats in our time of need. Sure it has its drawbacks, but what’s a gulag or two when provided the opportunity to “move society forward” with or without its consent?
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As expected, bits and pieces of the contents of the speech President Obama will give tonight before a joint session of Congress are beginning to leak out (naturally they begin to do so right after I posted my thoughts on what he must do tonight). And, it appears, he’s going to go with his base on this one:
President Barack Obama, in a high-stakes speech Wednesday to Congress and the nation, will press for a government-run insurance option in a proposed overhaul of the U.S. health-care system that has divided lawmakers and voters for months.
White House officials say the president will detail what he wants in the health-care overhaul, as well as say he is open to better ideas on a government plan if lawmakers have them.
Democratic plans call for requiring most Americans to carry health insurance. Failure to comply could cost families as much as $3,800 a year, according to a new Senate proposal.
The president is likely to say that a government-run insurance plan, known as the “public option,” will not provide a level of subsidies that give it an unfair advantage over private insurers, according to aides familiar with the speech preparations.
Of course no one is going to believe the claim about the subsidies at all – they’ve seen promises such as that made and broken for decades. Any subsidy is certain to be raised at the whim of Congress at some time in the future. And if you recall, when originally discussed, the claim was there would be no subsidy, but instead an insurance plan paid for strictly by premiums. Any subsidy makes the playing field anything but level and won’t provide “competition” but an unfair advantage to the government plan.
The use of the term “subsidy” in conjunction with a “public plan” will be interpreted by the public as an attempt to do exactly what the public says it doesn’t want – subsidized government run health care.
By early accounts, the President will today deliver a big speech urging an only very slightly slimmed down version of the big health bill before the House of Representatives. Once again it seems that Barack Obama’s idea of “post-partisanship” amounts to: “Let’s everybody do what I say!”
Worse, it’s not even what he says. It’s what the liberal wing of his party in the House says – and what he does not dare to contradict.
Frum notes that the public option is “poison” to the moderate Democrats and Republicans. So tonight’s speech will likely make no attempt at a bi-partisan appeal and instead do what I think will lead to an epic failure – repackage unpopular Democratic ideas and attempt to ram them down the nation’s throat.
That’s not leadership. That just the exercise of power. But Obama has never demonstrated any leadership to this point. So it would come as no surprise if he opted to exercise the power Democrats have accrued while believing he was acting as a “leader”.
Why so stubborn?
Here’s why: What moderate Democrats most want from him is cost control – some assurance that a huge new expansion in government-guaranteed healthcare will not explode costs and burden the country with crippling deficits off to the wild blue yonder. Trouble is that while the Democratic plans contain promises of cost control, they contain scant mechanisms for cost control. Or rather – they contain only one mechanism, a public healthcare provider that can ultimately use the power of government to forbid price increases.
Conservatives warn that controlling prices does not work. They lead only to shortages – rationing – because the government-imposed price does not pay the cost of delivering the service. Instead, sellers and providers substitute a worse and cheaper service for the unaffordable former item.
But while the public option is a bad solution to the cost problem, it is the only solution the president has got. There are no other ideas for intensifying competition to find efficiencies and savings on the table. So… he is clinging bitterly to the religion of state control and betting everything on it.
Heh … I love the final sentence, but there’s certainly a lot of truth in Fthe ability to claim they didn’t participate.
It appears, Obama is going to rely on his rhetorical ability to make the unpalatable palatable again. If so, it’s an unseemly level of hubris which drives someone with an outsized ego to double down on failure instead of seeking a better path. Doing so isn’t leadership. It is, as Frum notes, plain old vanilla stubbornness.
It isn’t clear whether he will endorse mandatory enrollment and fines if people avoid doing so. Obviously if he does endorse it, he would be a direct contradiction of his stand during his campaign. He won’t be allowed to forget that.
If what the WSJ and David Frum are saying is true, Obama is headed for trou
rum’s description. The point, of course, is despite rhetoric in the speech claiming he wants ideas from the opposition (and despite the fact that the opposition has answered), there is no real desire whatsoever to include them. He only wants ble. As many on the left like to point out as they claim they’re going to “win” on this issue of health care reform, polls show the majority of people do indeed want health care reform.
That may be true. But “health care reform” covers as broad a spectrum of approaches to the problem as one could imagine. What polls have shown as well is the public isn’t at all happy with this narrow approach the Democrats are offering and calling reform. To ignore that and plow ahead with what the public has plainly made clear it doesn’t want is indeed stubborn, as David Frum points out.
It is also potentially suicidal, politically speaking.
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Here’s a very interesting clip with QandO’s founder, Jon Henke.
If you haven’t been following this, Jon, now at The Next Right which he helped co-found, has been at war with World Net Daily, claiming that the web site feeds the baser instincts of the right and distracts them from the more important issues. His call is for a boycott, not against WND, but those “respectable” institutions on the right, such as the Republican National Committee, who continue to associate and support WND.
Whether or not you agree, Jon’s point is that if credibility is an issue, and association with the fringe loony conspiracy theorists is a detriment to one’s credibility, then it is best, if you value your credibility, to distance yourself from that fringe.
Or said another way, if Van Jones can be found to be unacceptable for government service because he associated with and supported truthers, the very same credibility issue seems valid for those who associate with and support some fringe loony group on the right such as those who believe the Obama administration is planning to set up concentration camps for political dissidents.
It would be hard for anyone on the right to take anything Van Jones says seriously because his credibility is shot by such an association. How hard, then, is it to understand that when Michael Steel or the RNC say anything, their credibility is suspect because they associate and do business with an organization which claims that there are concentration camps being set up for political dissidents?
Anyway, what is most interesting about the clip is his challenge to Maddow at the end. She dodges it, suggesting that she’s really not that interested in doing what she claims to be interested in, but kudos to Jon for making it.
[HT: Liberty Papers]
Since very few of you (or anybody really) watch the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, you probably missed last night’s segment featuring QandO founder Jon Henke. Jon recently started a bit of a dust-up on the right by taking on WorldNetDaily and those who sponsor the publication’s efforts:
This is just hideously embarrassing for the Right.
[T]he Web site Worldnetdaily.com says that the government is considering Nazi-like concentration camps for dissidents. Jerome Corsi, the author of “The Obama Nation,” an anti-Obama book, says that a proposal in Congress “appears designed to create the type of detention center that those concerned about use of the military in domestic affairs fear could be used as concentration camps for political dissidents, such as occurred in Nazi Germany.”
In the 1960’s, William F. Buckley denounced the John Birch Society leadership for being “so far removed from common sense” and later said “We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the conservative banner.”
I think it’s time to find out what conservative/libertarian organizations support WND through advertising, list rental or other commercial collaboration (email me if you know of any), and boycott any of those organizations that will not renounce any further support for WorldNetDaily.
Unsurprisingly, Jon has taken some grief (intermixed with some positive results) for his choice of target. On Maddow’s show, Jon summarizes the response as about one-third support for what he’s doing, one-third ambivalence, and one-third “no enemies on the right” reactions.
I guess I fall somewhat in the ambivalent crowd: I don’t disagree with Jon’s take on WND, but I also don’t think it’s worth challenging lest its profile be raised in importance. Frankly, everything negative that can be said about WND — e.g. promotes conspiracy theories, plays to the “fevered swamps”, detracts from the intellectual discourse regarding politics, etc. — can also be said about the New York Times, Washington Post and the Legacy Media. The difference, of course, is that far more people get their news from these traditional outlets than from WND. Indeed, if the MSM had not failed so miserably in holding government officials accountable (regardless of party), then I expect many in those fevered swamps would be less inclined to turn to oulets like WND for their “news”. As it stands, however, too many on the right see patently biased opinion pushed as incontrovertible fact and their reasonable critiques of lefty policy either ignored or ridiculed. It doesn’t take too long before they begin looking for a champion on the right, one that at least some of them have found in WND (which, I agree, is to their detriment).
I’m also somewhat disturbed by the notion that “elites” on the right “deserve” to be at the center of the discussion regarding the direction of the conservative/libertarian political movement. From where I sit, “deserve” has nothing to do with it, but instead those who advance the best ideas in line with conservative/libertarian principles, both through coherent thought and digestible delivery, will naturally get that coveted attention. What makes someone “elite” in this sense is his or her ability to connect with voters based on those conservative/libertarian ideas, not being really smart and/or educated at the correct places. That’s something that seems to have been lost recently amongst the self-designated elites on the right. And just as embattled righty voters feel abandoned by the media, in many ways I think they feel just as abandoned by their political leaders. They will fill that void with something if no one of substance steps up.
In any case, Jon does make a good point that when establishments such as the RNC throw their support behind conspiracy-traffickers like WND it hurts the right. Marginalization, therefore, is a good strategy and one that can be fairly easily obtained. Whether it helps the conservative/libertarian movement, however, really depends on what the “elites” offer up to replace the red meat readily devoured by the fever swamps. I’m all for logical, reasoned and effective discourse in the political battle, but on some level that discourse has to connect with how the average voter.
In short, while WND may be a problem for the right it is really a symptom and not a cause. Many voters think that they have no voice in political matters any more, since the MSM all but ignores them except to ridicule them, and their leaders are either absent at worst or ineffectual at best. Personally, I think that is one of the primary reasons underlying the enormous groundswell of support for Tea Parties and townhall dissenters — if nobody is going to say it for them, they’ll do it themselves. If we truly want to marginalize outlets like WND then, the right will need for real leaders to find their way to the forefront. Seeing how leaders such as Sarah Palin (who is the only one talking like Reagan these days) have been treated by the self-appointed leaders on the right, while fools such as Megan McCain and David Brooks have been feted, I honestly don’t know who that will be.
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The presidential speech before a joint session of Congress tonight is probably one of the more highly anticipated speeches in Obama’s young presidency. Some say it is a “make or break” speech, alluding to the fact that if it doesn’t hit the mark, it could doom health care legislation and his presidency.
We’ve heard from Robert Gibbs that Obama will draw some “lines in the sand”. We’ve been led to believe that Obama will get specific and essentially lay out the minimums he’ll accept for health care legislation. There’s debate as to whether the public option will be a demand or optional.
To this point, no one really knows. So I thought I’d throw a few thoughts out here for you to ponder.
One thing I hope to hear is the “purpose” of any reform. It began as a cry to insure the uninsured. It morphed into “health care reform”. And now, it is often called “health insurance reform”. If people seem confused about the purpose of the legislation, it’s because Democrats and the president have been unclear.
If it is about insuring the uninsured, that ought to be about a 50 page bill – the size of the Medicare bill when it was submitted to Congress years ago. Of course that’s not what this reform is about and the extent of what is being considered needs to be made crystal clear.
Another aspect of this is cost. Both the president and Congress have claimed that the reason this reform is necessary is the level of spending is rising such that it will bankrupt us in the future. They believe we must control costs.
Ezra Klein has a piece about the public option which makes a very important point cost control. There are only three ways to do that:
Cost control happens when we use less treatment, need less treatment, or pay less for treatment …
Anyone sharp enough to turn on a light switch should be able to understand what those three things promise. They should also understand that, used in combination, they mean more than “health insurance reform”. They mean a completely different way of treatment in which less costly treatments are encouraged, preventive medicine is encouraged and, regardless of the treatment given, less reimbursement for the care.
So when the president talks about cost controls tonight, that’s what he is talking about. The reality is, someone will have to be making those decisions about cost and treatment, and there’s no question the person doing so will not be you or your doctor. It should also be clear that the third leg of the cost control stool – less reimbursement for the care – does indeed require cuts in Medicare spending. Pretending otherwise is just an odious lie.
On a cultural level, Obama has to be convincing enough to sell the idea that government can handle this sort of change. That is a very tall order.
Paul Krugman, in a post about the public option said this about the politics of reform:
Let me add a sort of larger point: aside from the essentially circular political arguments — centrist Democrats insisting that the public option must be dropped to get the votes of centrist Democrats — the argument against the public option boils down to the fact that it’s bad because it is, horrors, a government program. And sooner or later Democrats have to take a stand against Reaganism — against the presumption that if the government does it, it’s bad.
The problem, of course, is there is nothing the Democrats have done to this point that makes any other case. Krugman needs only to think back to TARP, “stimulus”, GM takeover, financial institution bailout, even “cash for clunkers” have all been mostly ineffective or too intrusive or badly handled. While government certainly has some functions in which it can be effective, for the most part and for most of its history, when it goes outside those basic functions, it fails miserably.
This promises to be one of those failures and the public understands that. As many have pointed out, Medicare – a government health care insurance system run by government as a single-payer – has 58 trillion in future unfunded liabilities. If government can’t control costs in a program that is only part of the whole of the health care system, why should anyone believe it can competently run the whole thing?
Obviously, as polls show, they don’t. And a glib speech is not likely to convince them otherwise.
What Obama has to do tonight is reestablish what he’s been hemorrhaging for months – trust. The majority of people do not trust he or the Democrats on this particular issue. There are a number of reasons why that trust has slipped so badly. The primary reason, however, is neither he nor the Democrats have been able to substantiate the claims they’ve made about health care reform. In fact it has been a debacle for them. Few people who’ve looked into their claims have come away satisfied they can deliver.
So his major problem and his major task tonight is to rebuild that trust that has eroded so quickly. That’s a onerous task because usually, once trust is lost, it is very hard to regain. While what Mr. Obama presents tonight is important, nothing is more important than how he presents it.
If he can produce a clear vision with claims backed by reputable cites, studies and numbers, he might make a difference. But if he has simply repackaged the Democrat ideas to date and is counting on his rhetorical skills to make the case no one else has successfully made, he’s setting himself up for failure.
Additionally, the first time he uses one of the old and tired talking points he loves to throw out at town halls, such as keeping your doctor and your plan, those with whom he is trying to reestablish that critical link of trust will turn him off.
He also needs to avoid partisanship. If he goes after Republicans and claims they have brought nothing to the table, he’ll hurt his cause. Sarah Palin, of all people, laid out what Republicans have been saying for a while in a WSJ editorial today. Most people understand that it isn’t that Republicans haven’t put forward ideas, it is that Democrats have refused to consider them and basically shut them out of this process.
I’m looking forward to this speech for any number of reasons. But, given August, I’m not sure there are that many minds that are going to be swayed by his speech. Speaking of lines in the sand, I think among both the pubic and among legislators, they’re fairly well drawn.
Do I think something called “health care reform” will emerge at some point within the next few months? Yes, I do. Will it be what Obama talks about tonight and the Democrats want? Not necessarily. Not necessarily at all.
So let’s give a listen tonight and see how he does. I expect emotional appeals, moral appeals and financial appeals in the speech. But the question is will the speech have enough appeal to change the direction of the debate? Given the atmosphere in which he must make his appeal, my guess is “no”.
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