Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 14, 2009

A Modest Proposal for Health Care

At the Huffington Post, Sam Stein reports on the Netroots Nation keynote speech last night by Bill Clinton, given to a “crowd of bloggers, online activists, and a slew of Democratic lawmakers,” seeking to have them make one last major push to pass health-care reform. Stein quotes Clinton as saying:

I’m telling you no matter how low [Republicans] drive support for this with misinformation, the minute the president signs a health care reform bill his approval will go up. Secondly, within a year, when all those bad things they say will happen don’t happen, and all the good things happen, approval will explode.

I have a different prediction. Within a year after the bill is passed, a lot of the first-term members of Congress who vote for it will be back in the private sector, hoping to find jobs with employers who won’t dump their insurance into the public “option.” What will explode will be something other than the members’ approval ratings—it will be something closer to what happened the last time Bill Clinton sang this siren song.

According to Stein, Clinton urged Democrats not to “lose their nerve.” “I’m pleading with you,” he said, “try to keep this thing in the lane of getting something done. We need to pass a bill.” The slew of Democratic lawmakers may have made a mental note that they—not “we”—are the ones who will be on the ballot next year.

Clinton referred to “a” bill—not “the” bill: right now there is no one bill, just a bunch of bills floating around. At least with cap-and-trade, there was a single bill—Waxman-Markey—even though the version to be voted on wasn’t available to be read until sometime about 3 a.m. the day before it passed.

Here is a modest proposal for those who wish to remain in Washington for the 111th Congress that convenes in January 2011: Cobble together a tentative majority for a specific bill—and then don’t pass it; instead, schedule hearings on it; put it out in written form, with a plain English explanation, so the public can read and comment on it; let experts testify in public about it; and only then put it to a vote. And hold a hearing at the same time on the Republican alternative.

Right now, the public is faced with an administration and a Congress insulting its intelligence. The president seeks to frame the debate as one between those who “want to do nothing” and those who will back his supposedly deficit-neutral, cost-saving, quality-preserving, long-overdue panacea that will cover everyone lacking insurance while changing nothing for those satisfied with what they have. He urges us to support whatever it is that will emerge from the backroom deals still in the process of being cut but that needs to pass right now, preferably a couple of weeks ago.

The debate is better described as one between those who want a wholesale revision of one-seventh of the economy, to be managed from Washington by those currently in charge of the post office, and those who want to enact reforms that will empower millions more individuals to purchase insurance from private companies through legal and tort reform, tax credits, and similar changes. But if the debate remains in its current caricatured form of a choice between (a) pie-in-the-sky and (b) doing nothing, the public will choose the Hippocratic pledge of first doing no harm.

And those who doubt that real harm is possible should read Tevi Troy’s compelling analysis in “The End of Medical Miracles?” in the June issue of COMMENTARY.

At the Huffington Post, Sam Stein reports on the Netroots Nation keynote speech last night by Bill Clinton, given to a “crowd of bloggers, online activists, and a slew of Democratic lawmakers,” seeking to have them make one last major push to pass health-care reform. Stein quotes Clinton as saying:

I’m telling you no matter how low [Republicans] drive support for this with misinformation, the minute the president signs a health care reform bill his approval will go up. Secondly, within a year, when all those bad things they say will happen don’t happen, and all the good things happen, approval will explode.

I have a different prediction. Within a year after the bill is passed, a lot of the first-term members of Congress who vote for it will be back in the private sector, hoping to find jobs with employers who won’t dump their insurance into the public “option.” What will explode will be something other than the members’ approval ratings—it will be something closer to what happened the last time Bill Clinton sang this siren song.

According to Stein, Clinton urged Democrats not to “lose their nerve.” “I’m pleading with you,” he said, “try to keep this thing in the lane of getting something done. We need to pass a bill.” The slew of Democratic lawmakers may have made a mental note that they—not “we”—are the ones who will be on the ballot next year.

Clinton referred to “a” bill—not “the” bill: right now there is no one bill, just a bunch of bills floating around. At least with cap-and-trade, there was a single bill—Waxman-Markey—even though the version to be voted on wasn’t available to be read until sometime about 3 a.m. the day before it passed.

Here is a modest proposal for those who wish to remain in Washington for the 111th Congress that convenes in January 2011: Cobble together a tentative majority for a specific bill—and then don’t pass it; instead, schedule hearings on it; put it out in written form, with a plain English explanation, so the public can read and comment on it; let experts testify in public about it; and only then put it to a vote. And hold a hearing at the same time on the Republican alternative.

Right now, the public is faced with an administration and a Congress insulting its intelligence. The president seeks to frame the debate as one between those who “want to do nothing” and those who will back his supposedly deficit-neutral, cost-saving, quality-preserving, long-overdue panacea that will cover everyone lacking insurance while changing nothing for those satisfied with what they have. He urges us to support whatever it is that will emerge from the backroom deals still in the process of being cut but that needs to pass right now, preferably a couple of weeks ago.

The debate is better described as one between those who want a wholesale revision of one-seventh of the economy, to be managed from Washington by those currently in charge of the post office, and those who want to enact reforms that will empower millions more individuals to purchase insurance from private companies through legal and tort reform, tax credits, and similar changes. But if the debate remains in its current caricatured form of a choice between (a) pie-in-the-sky and (b) doing nothing, the public will choose the Hippocratic pledge of first doing no harm.

And those who doubt that real harm is possible should read Tevi Troy’s compelling analysis in “The End of Medical Miracles?” in the June issue of COMMENTARY.

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Can’t See the Heat for the Cold

If you think it’s been a rough spell for the universal-health-care crowd, imagine what the global warmists have been going through this summer. We just had our single coldest July on record in six U.S. states, second-coldest in four others, and so on. I know, I know—one month isn’t statistically significant unless it’s a hot month. But if you loathe—er, love mankind, don’t despair. With a little negative . . . I mean positive . . . thinking, the sky may yet fall:

In July, “we saw acceleration in loss of ice,” the U.S. [National Snow and Ice Data] center’s Walt Meier told The Associated Press. In recent days the pace has slowed, making a record-breaking final minimum “less likely but still possible,” he said.

This guy sounds kind of crestfallen. If only his beloved planet would stop playing around and boil already! People can continue to call climatology a science if they wish, but just imagine a cancer researcher reading the latest cancer stats, seeing that incidents of the most fatal types have fallen from a recent high, then flopping into his chair with his head in his hands.

But the best part of the story comes next:

“We need some warm temperatures with easterly or southeasterly winds to break up and move this ice to the north,” Mark Schrader, skipper of the sailboat “Ocean Watch,” e-mailed The Associated Press from the west entrance to the passage.

The steel-hulled sailboat, with scientists joining it at stops along the way, is on a 25,000-mile (40,232-kilometer), foundation-financed circumnavigation of the Americas, to view and demonstrate the impact of climate change on the continents’ environments.

In other words, researchers hoping to assess the dire ice loss are being obstructed by . . . too much ice.

If you think it’s been a rough spell for the universal-health-care crowd, imagine what the global warmists have been going through this summer. We just had our single coldest July on record in six U.S. states, second-coldest in four others, and so on. I know, I know—one month isn’t statistically significant unless it’s a hot month. But if you loathe—er, love mankind, don’t despair. With a little negative . . . I mean positive . . . thinking, the sky may yet fall:

In July, “we saw acceleration in loss of ice,” the U.S. [National Snow and Ice Data] center’s Walt Meier told The Associated Press. In recent days the pace has slowed, making a record-breaking final minimum “less likely but still possible,” he said.

This guy sounds kind of crestfallen. If only his beloved planet would stop playing around and boil already! People can continue to call climatology a science if they wish, but just imagine a cancer researcher reading the latest cancer stats, seeing that incidents of the most fatal types have fallen from a recent high, then flopping into his chair with his head in his hands.

But the best part of the story comes next:

“We need some warm temperatures with easterly or southeasterly winds to break up and move this ice to the north,” Mark Schrader, skipper of the sailboat “Ocean Watch,” e-mailed The Associated Press from the west entrance to the passage.

The steel-hulled sailboat, with scientists joining it at stops along the way, is on a 25,000-mile (40,232-kilometer), foundation-financed circumnavigation of the Americas, to view and demonstrate the impact of climate change on the continents’ environments.

In other words, researchers hoping to assess the dire ice loss are being obstructed by . . . too much ice.

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Losing Credibility–and the Health-Care Debate

Charles Krauthammer writes:

In the 48 hours of June 15-16, President Obama lost the health-care debate. First, a letter from the Congressional Budget Office to Sen. Edward Kennedy reported that his health committee’s reform bill would add $1 trillion in debt over the next decade. Then the CBO reported that the other Senate bill, being written by the Finance Committee, would add $1.6 trillion. The central contradiction of Obamacare was fatally exposed: From his first address to Congress, Obama insisted on the dire need for restructuring the health-care system because out-of-control costs were bankrupting the Treasury and wrecking the U.S. economy—yet the Democrats’ plans would make the problem worse.

As Krauthammer points out, Obama and his spin squad have tried to disguise the fiscal implications of ObamaCare by a variety of dodges. “Prevention reduces costs” is just the latest misinformation to be thrown up against the proverbial wall to see what sticks with wary Blue Dogs and an even warier public.

In more than seven months of ObamaCare salesmanship, we’ve seen a boatload of mischaracterizations and outright lies. The public option won’t chase out private insurers. Wrong. We can bend the cost curve without affecting care. Wrong. We can pay for this without massive tax hikes. Wrong again.

Unfortunately for the Obama team, their opponents now—unlike the McCain team, which was trampled in the election—have been able to marshal the facts, make a convincing case against a government-centric health-care system, and (with a large assist from the courageously honest CBO) explain to the public that Obama is frankly making stuff up.

What does the public conclude about Obama more generally now? Perhaps they finally see him in a different light. He is not the master of commonsense and opponent of political chicanery, but the reverse. He’s not the pragmatist, but the ideologue-in-chief. And he just isn’t leveling with the public.

Worse than losing the health-care debate is losing the trust of the voters. And if he keeps this up, Obama will do both.

Charles Krauthammer writes:

In the 48 hours of June 15-16, President Obama lost the health-care debate. First, a letter from the Congressional Budget Office to Sen. Edward Kennedy reported that his health committee’s reform bill would add $1 trillion in debt over the next decade. Then the CBO reported that the other Senate bill, being written by the Finance Committee, would add $1.6 trillion. The central contradiction of Obamacare was fatally exposed: From his first address to Congress, Obama insisted on the dire need for restructuring the health-care system because out-of-control costs were bankrupting the Treasury and wrecking the U.S. economy—yet the Democrats’ plans would make the problem worse.

As Krauthammer points out, Obama and his spin squad have tried to disguise the fiscal implications of ObamaCare by a variety of dodges. “Prevention reduces costs” is just the latest misinformation to be thrown up against the proverbial wall to see what sticks with wary Blue Dogs and an even warier public.

In more than seven months of ObamaCare salesmanship, we’ve seen a boatload of mischaracterizations and outright lies. The public option won’t chase out private insurers. Wrong. We can bend the cost curve without affecting care. Wrong. We can pay for this without massive tax hikes. Wrong again.

Unfortunately for the Obama team, their opponents now—unlike the McCain team, which was trampled in the election—have been able to marshal the facts, make a convincing case against a government-centric health-care system, and (with a large assist from the courageously honest CBO) explain to the public that Obama is frankly making stuff up.

What does the public conclude about Obama more generally now? Perhaps they finally see him in a different light. He is not the master of commonsense and opponent of political chicanery, but the reverse. He’s not the pragmatist, but the ideologue-in-chief. And he just isn’t leveling with the public.

Worse than losing the health-care debate is losing the trust of the voters. And if he keeps this up, Obama will do both.

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The Hope of Obama vs. the Wisdom of Madison

During the campaign, Barack Obama portrayed himself as a unifying figure for America, the balm for our wounds, the man uniquely able to overcome our differences. He would create a spirit of bipartisan goodwill after the divisive Bush years. We are not “red America” or “blue America,” he said during his run for the presidency—there is only “the United States of America.” Through the healing power of his words and his calm reason, he would elevate the national debate and unify the country. He spoke about finding “the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.” Yet like many of his other commitments, this eloquent promise of unity and comity is going unfulfilled.

We know from a Pew Poll earlier this year that Obama ranks as the most polarizing president of the modern era. He never made a serious effort at bipartisan outreach—that is a commitment the administration cast aside months ago and simply ignores these days. Thanks to ObamaCare, much of the nation is inflamed and agitated, and citizens are at odds with one another. Town-hall meetings are spirited, angry, and in some cases turning violent. Democratic leaders are using extraordinarily incendiary rhetoric against American citizens, referring to their “un-American” tactics (Speaker Pelosi and House Majority Leader Hoyer) and to the citizens themselves as “evil-mongers” (Senate Majority Leader Reid).

Key Obama aides tell Democratic members of Congress that they will “punch back twice as hard” against their critics. Some opponents of ObamaCare are shouting down their elected representatives; some elected representatives, in response, are acting in an imperious and dismissive manner. All this rancor, and after only 200 days in office.

What explains this turn of events? Several factors. One is that Mr. Obama is far different from how he was advertised. He turns out to be much closer to hyper-partisan than bipartisan in his governing style, and much more of a liberal than a centrist in his ideology. (It should be said that his brief legislative career offered plenty of clues in this direction.)

In addition, Obama is trying to ram through a massive, wholesale reinvention of American health care, which is alarming and even frightening people, especially the elderly. They, in turn, are reacting en masse, with thousands of people turning out for town halls in venues that can accommodate only several hundred.

President Obama has embraced a my-way-or-the-highway approach, and it is stirring up fierce resistance, not just among Republicans, but also increasingly among independents (where Obama’s support is dropping at a startling rate).

But something else needs to be said about the desire of Obama—and virtually every other president preceding him—to unite rather than divide the country. It is an understandable and, in some respects, admirable aim, but a very difficult one to attain. James Madison, one of the greatest and wisest of the Founders, explains why in Federalist #10:

There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests. It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency. The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise. As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. . . .

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society.

A free nation, then, will have factions—and factions, by their very nature, clash. Those clashes are not only very nearly inevitable, they are often useful. They allow passionate debate to occur while the public judges the merits of the arguments put forth.

It doesn’t mean that common ground is impossible to achieve; we saw widespread bipartisan support for No Child Left Behind and the Patriot Act, for example, during the Bush years, and for welfare reform during the Clinton years. Nor does it mean that factional disputes should be uncivil; civility is, as Stephen Carter has written, a precondition of democratic dialogue. There ought to be rules of etiquette, even (and perhaps especially) in political discourse.

But insisting on civility is different from insisting on agreement. Sometimes it will occur, but often it will not. Disagreement can easily transmute into polarization, which is denounced by almost every “good government” advocate. Yet polarization is in many cases the by-product of advancing principled ends. Lincoln was a deeply polarizing figure in American history; so was Reagan. So was Martin Luther King Jr. Polarization is not itself a good or a bad thing; it depends on the ends one seeks. Polarization on behalf of justice can be a virtue; polarization on behalf of injustice is an awful thing.

My own view is that President Obama has been unnecessarily and unwisely divisive; he is polarizing America in order to advance policies that will hurt rather than help the country. But he, like other presidents before him, is learning that creating good feelings among competing factions and competing parties, at least over a sustained basis, is a very difficult task. That is the way things are, and the way Mr. Madison thought they had to be.

During the campaign, Barack Obama portrayed himself as a unifying figure for America, the balm for our wounds, the man uniquely able to overcome our differences. He would create a spirit of bipartisan goodwill after the divisive Bush years. We are not “red America” or “blue America,” he said during his run for the presidency—there is only “the United States of America.” Through the healing power of his words and his calm reason, he would elevate the national debate and unify the country. He spoke about finding “the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.” Yet like many of his other commitments, this eloquent promise of unity and comity is going unfulfilled.

We know from a Pew Poll earlier this year that Obama ranks as the most polarizing president of the modern era. He never made a serious effort at bipartisan outreach—that is a commitment the administration cast aside months ago and simply ignores these days. Thanks to ObamaCare, much of the nation is inflamed and agitated, and citizens are at odds with one another. Town-hall meetings are spirited, angry, and in some cases turning violent. Democratic leaders are using extraordinarily incendiary rhetoric against American citizens, referring to their “un-American” tactics (Speaker Pelosi and House Majority Leader Hoyer) and to the citizens themselves as “evil-mongers” (Senate Majority Leader Reid).

Key Obama aides tell Democratic members of Congress that they will “punch back twice as hard” against their critics. Some opponents of ObamaCare are shouting down their elected representatives; some elected representatives, in response, are acting in an imperious and dismissive manner. All this rancor, and after only 200 days in office.

What explains this turn of events? Several factors. One is that Mr. Obama is far different from how he was advertised. He turns out to be much closer to hyper-partisan than bipartisan in his governing style, and much more of a liberal than a centrist in his ideology. (It should be said that his brief legislative career offered plenty of clues in this direction.)

In addition, Obama is trying to ram through a massive, wholesale reinvention of American health care, which is alarming and even frightening people, especially the elderly. They, in turn, are reacting en masse, with thousands of people turning out for town halls in venues that can accommodate only several hundred.

President Obama has embraced a my-way-or-the-highway approach, and it is stirring up fierce resistance, not just among Republicans, but also increasingly among independents (where Obama’s support is dropping at a startling rate).

But something else needs to be said about the desire of Obama—and virtually every other president preceding him—to unite rather than divide the country. It is an understandable and, in some respects, admirable aim, but a very difficult one to attain. James Madison, one of the greatest and wisest of the Founders, explains why in Federalist #10:

There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests. It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency. The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise. As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. . . .

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society.

A free nation, then, will have factions—and factions, by their very nature, clash. Those clashes are not only very nearly inevitable, they are often useful. They allow passionate debate to occur while the public judges the merits of the arguments put forth.

It doesn’t mean that common ground is impossible to achieve; we saw widespread bipartisan support for No Child Left Behind and the Patriot Act, for example, during the Bush years, and for welfare reform during the Clinton years. Nor does it mean that factional disputes should be uncivil; civility is, as Stephen Carter has written, a precondition of democratic dialogue. There ought to be rules of etiquette, even (and perhaps especially) in political discourse.

But insisting on civility is different from insisting on agreement. Sometimes it will occur, but often it will not. Disagreement can easily transmute into polarization, which is denounced by almost every “good government” advocate. Yet polarization is in many cases the by-product of advancing principled ends. Lincoln was a deeply polarizing figure in American history; so was Reagan. So was Martin Luther King Jr. Polarization is not itself a good or a bad thing; it depends on the ends one seeks. Polarization on behalf of justice can be a virtue; polarization on behalf of injustice is an awful thing.

My own view is that President Obama has been unnecessarily and unwisely divisive; he is polarizing America in order to advance policies that will hurt rather than help the country. But he, like other presidents before him, is learning that creating good feelings among competing factions and competing parties, at least over a sustained basis, is a very difficult task. That is the way things are, and the way Mr. Madison thought they had to be.

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It Isn’t Even Funny

We have often pointed to “comedy gold” moments of dueling between Jake Tapper, perhaps the most able and fierce combatant in the White House press corps, and the entirely overmatched Robert Gibbs. This exchange perhaps made the leap from comedy to tragedy:

JAKE TAPPER: Polls indicate that the American people are not—or a plurality of the American people are not with the president on health care reform. He’s obviously trying to change that by campaigning.

ROBERT GIBBS: Well, I don’t want to quibble with—I mean, again, I think . . .

TAPPER: A majority of the American people are not with the president on health care reform, the bill that—the legislation he’s trying to get through Congress. How would you say it?

GIBBS: Well, I think if you look at—I think, not to mix networks here, but (pointing to Chuck Todd of NBC) I think if —I think your poll read . . .

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: They disapproved—more people disapproved of the president’s handling of health care than approved, which I think is what Jake was talking about.

GIBBS: OK, that’s clarified the question, because the reason I was quibbling with the phrasing of the question—not to get into the phrasing of polling—but in your poll, if you asked, just straight up, here’s what health care reform—here’s what you get, here’s what it costs, what—the number was 58/38, something like that.

TAPPER: Right. Theoretically, they’re with what you think you’re pushing, what you say you’re pushing, but they’re not with the president.

GIBBS: I don’t know if it’s theoretical, but—go ahead.

TAPPER: The polls aren’t where you want them to be. Would you quibble with that?

GIBBS: On some of those questions, I would not quibble with it.

TAPPER: OK . . . Why not? Why aren’t they working?

GIBBS: Why are they—why do I not agree?

TAPPER: No. If the president is pushing for something that—that the American people when you poll independently support…

GIBBS: Right.

TAPPER: . . . why are they not with the president?

GIBBS: Look, I think part of it is some of these misconceptions. I don’t doubt that. I think they’re—I do think people have questions. I think that’s why—I mean, the president isn’t out doing town hall meetings just for his health. I mean, he wants to—I think he understands the need to address concerns or misconceptions out there. I think—again, I think the president, whether it’s the NBC poll, certainly other polling will demonstrate that people want to see health care reform this year. They want to see legislation that cuts costs. They want to see legislation that provides accessibility of coverage, that has insurance reforms. And that’s what the president will continue to talk.

TAPPER: Is the fact that the American people are not with the president right now—does that indicate that this pushback, whether it’s the viral e-mail you guys sent out today, or the reality check Web site you set up or whatever, does it indicate that you’re pushback is late?

GIBBS: I don’t think so. Again, I—I—largely because your question was based on polling—polling is a snapshot in time. It’s—the debate continues and we’ll see whether numbers move or change as a result of the continuing debate.

BILL PLANTE, CBS NEWS: But doesn’t the fact that you’ve started pushing back indicate that you realize that the initiative is in trouble?

GIBBS: Well, one of the reasons we’ve pushed back is because of those misconceptions. Have some of those misconceptions contributed to the poll numbers? I—I don’t doubt that. But at the same time, I mean, there’s a little cause and effect here, but we’re not going to stop pushing back on the misconceptions. Whether or not the polling shows one thing or another, the president, again, strongly believes that, and has for years, that it’s—it’s better to address what people’s concerns are and take them on head on.

And there is more, but you get the point.

We have finally reached the point where the Washington press corps senses blood in the water, a breakdown in the veneer of White House competence and sense of command. When no less than three reporters are arguing with Gibbs as to whether the White House is losing the debate, you know the White House is losing the debate.

And worse still for the Obama team, the press is now becoming focused on the “process” story—how did the White House mess this up and why were they unprepared for the public’s angry response? We have long since left the “Obama wants to provide health care for all Americans” blather and are well on to the “Obama on defense” story line. For an administration struggling to explain what it is they want to pass, this is bad news.

We have often pointed to “comedy gold” moments of dueling between Jake Tapper, perhaps the most able and fierce combatant in the White House press corps, and the entirely overmatched Robert Gibbs. This exchange perhaps made the leap from comedy to tragedy:

JAKE TAPPER: Polls indicate that the American people are not—or a plurality of the American people are not with the president on health care reform. He’s obviously trying to change that by campaigning.

ROBERT GIBBS: Well, I don’t want to quibble with—I mean, again, I think . . .

TAPPER: A majority of the American people are not with the president on health care reform, the bill that—the legislation he’s trying to get through Congress. How would you say it?

GIBBS: Well, I think if you look at—I think, not to mix networks here, but (pointing to Chuck Todd of NBC) I think if —I think your poll read . . .

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: They disapproved—more people disapproved of the president’s handling of health care than approved, which I think is what Jake was talking about.

GIBBS: OK, that’s clarified the question, because the reason I was quibbling with the phrasing of the question—not to get into the phrasing of polling—but in your poll, if you asked, just straight up, here’s what health care reform—here’s what you get, here’s what it costs, what—the number was 58/38, something like that.

TAPPER: Right. Theoretically, they’re with what you think you’re pushing, what you say you’re pushing, but they’re not with the president.

GIBBS: I don’t know if it’s theoretical, but—go ahead.

TAPPER: The polls aren’t where you want them to be. Would you quibble with that?

GIBBS: On some of those questions, I would not quibble with it.

TAPPER: OK . . . Why not? Why aren’t they working?

GIBBS: Why are they—why do I not agree?

TAPPER: No. If the president is pushing for something that—that the American people when you poll independently support…

GIBBS: Right.

TAPPER: . . . why are they not with the president?

GIBBS: Look, I think part of it is some of these misconceptions. I don’t doubt that. I think they’re—I do think people have questions. I think that’s why—I mean, the president isn’t out doing town hall meetings just for his health. I mean, he wants to—I think he understands the need to address concerns or misconceptions out there. I think—again, I think the president, whether it’s the NBC poll, certainly other polling will demonstrate that people want to see health care reform this year. They want to see legislation that cuts costs. They want to see legislation that provides accessibility of coverage, that has insurance reforms. And that’s what the president will continue to talk.

TAPPER: Is the fact that the American people are not with the president right now—does that indicate that this pushback, whether it’s the viral e-mail you guys sent out today, or the reality check Web site you set up or whatever, does it indicate that you’re pushback is late?

GIBBS: I don’t think so. Again, I—I—largely because your question was based on polling—polling is a snapshot in time. It’s—the debate continues and we’ll see whether numbers move or change as a result of the continuing debate.

BILL PLANTE, CBS NEWS: But doesn’t the fact that you’ve started pushing back indicate that you realize that the initiative is in trouble?

GIBBS: Well, one of the reasons we’ve pushed back is because of those misconceptions. Have some of those misconceptions contributed to the poll numbers? I—I don’t doubt that. But at the same time, I mean, there’s a little cause and effect here, but we’re not going to stop pushing back on the misconceptions. Whether or not the polling shows one thing or another, the president, again, strongly believes that, and has for years, that it’s—it’s better to address what people’s concerns are and take them on head on.

And there is more, but you get the point.

We have finally reached the point where the Washington press corps senses blood in the water, a breakdown in the veneer of White House competence and sense of command. When no less than three reporters are arguing with Gibbs as to whether the White House is losing the debate, you know the White House is losing the debate.

And worse still for the Obama team, the press is now becoming focused on the “process” story—how did the White House mess this up and why were they unprepared for the public’s angry response? We have long since left the “Obama wants to provide health care for all Americans” blather and are well on to the “Obama on defense” story line. For an administration struggling to explain what it is they want to pass, this is bad news.

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Mr. Passive-Aggressive

By now, you’ve probably seen this Jerusalem Post report about J Street’s Arab and Muslim donors. I particularly enjoyed this bit:

“I think it is a terrific thing for Israel for us to be able to expand the tent of people who are willing to be considered pro-Israel and willing to support Israel through J Street,” [Jeremy Ben-Ami] said. “One of the ways that we’re trying to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel is that you actually don’t need to be anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian to be pro-Israel.” [emphasis added]

Savor that for a moment.

By now, you’ve probably seen this Jerusalem Post report about J Street’s Arab and Muslim donors. I particularly enjoyed this bit:

“I think it is a terrific thing for Israel for us to be able to expand the tent of people who are willing to be considered pro-Israel and willing to support Israel through J Street,” [Jeremy Ben-Ami] said. “One of the ways that we’re trying to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel is that you actually don’t need to be anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian to be pro-Israel.” [emphasis added]

Savor that for a moment.

Read Less

It Isn’t Working

The latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll on health care offers more sobering news for Obama:

A FOX News poll released Thursday shows that by a 15 percentage-point margin the public opposes the plans under consideration (34 percent favor and 49 percent oppose). In late July the difference in views was a bit narrower, although even at that time more were opposed by an 11-point spread.

For the most part, the public doesn’t see the upside of reform. Views are mixed on how the plans will affect the country, with a slightly higher number saying “most Americans” will be worse off (36 percent) under the plans as think they will be better off (34 percent). Some 20 percent say the reforms would not make a difference.

[. . .]

Americans say the noisy protesters at town hall meetings are expressing authentic outrage. Some 52 percent think it is real outrage by concerned citizens—significantly more than the 29 percent who think the protesters are fake mobs planned by lobbyists and other opposition groups. More than a third of Democrats (34 percent), most Republicans (74 percent) and nearly half of independents (49 percent) think the meetings are an expression of real anger.

There really isn’t any good news in there for Obama. The effort to shift the debate from “ObamaCare is a scary government takeover of healthcare” to “Aren’t all the protestors goons?” has flopped spectacularly. The voters still think ObamaCare is a scary government takeover of health care, and they now believe the protesters have every right to tell their representatives just that. And yes, it might be that calling protesters everything from racists to “evil-mongers” to insurance-company pawns has made Americans even more wary of a heavy-handed government health-care plan. Americans know when the government is trying to bully them.

Rational and self-reflective people in the White House, when presented with such an avalanche of data from this and other polls, might take the rest of the month off, think about what went wrong, and start over both on substance and rhetoric.

But this administration, more than any in recent memory, is convinced it knows best and that opponents are either plants from the right-wing spin machine or so contemptible as not to be taken seriously. It was that hubris that got them in this fix—the conviction that they could jam through a government-run health-care plan on flimsy assertions and with no time for real scrutiny. And it is that same hubris that may prevent them from recalibrating their policy and reworking their sales pitch.

The latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll on health care offers more sobering news for Obama:

A FOX News poll released Thursday shows that by a 15 percentage-point margin the public opposes the plans under consideration (34 percent favor and 49 percent oppose). In late July the difference in views was a bit narrower, although even at that time more were opposed by an 11-point spread.

For the most part, the public doesn’t see the upside of reform. Views are mixed on how the plans will affect the country, with a slightly higher number saying “most Americans” will be worse off (36 percent) under the plans as think they will be better off (34 percent). Some 20 percent say the reforms would not make a difference.

[. . .]

Americans say the noisy protesters at town hall meetings are expressing authentic outrage. Some 52 percent think it is real outrage by concerned citizens—significantly more than the 29 percent who think the protesters are fake mobs planned by lobbyists and other opposition groups. More than a third of Democrats (34 percent), most Republicans (74 percent) and nearly half of independents (49 percent) think the meetings are an expression of real anger.

There really isn’t any good news in there for Obama. The effort to shift the debate from “ObamaCare is a scary government takeover of healthcare” to “Aren’t all the protestors goons?” has flopped spectacularly. The voters still think ObamaCare is a scary government takeover of health care, and they now believe the protesters have every right to tell their representatives just that. And yes, it might be that calling protesters everything from racists to “evil-mongers” to insurance-company pawns has made Americans even more wary of a heavy-handed government health-care plan. Americans know when the government is trying to bully them.

Rational and self-reflective people in the White House, when presented with such an avalanche of data from this and other polls, might take the rest of the month off, think about what went wrong, and start over both on substance and rhetoric.

But this administration, more than any in recent memory, is convinced it knows best and that opponents are either plants from the right-wing spin machine or so contemptible as not to be taken seriously. It was that hubris that got them in this fix—the conviction that they could jam through a government-run health-care plan on flimsy assertions and with no time for real scrutiny. And it is that same hubris that may prevent them from recalibrating their policy and reworking their sales pitch.

Read Less

Don’t Tell Me How This Ends

There’s a lot of talk right now among opinion writers and policy analysts about how Iraq may be slouching toward civil war again. It’s understandable. Suicide- and car-bomb attacks make headlines every week. After a recent devastating assault on a Shia village, a woman standing amid rubble looked into a television camera and yelled at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: “Look Prime Minister,” she shouted, “look Minister of Interior, where’s the security you’re talking about?”

Iraq is still a violent, dysfunctional mess. It probably will be for a long time. But Iraqis aren’t necessarily doomed to suffer another round of internal bloodletting like they did during the middle years of this decade.

In the dangerous security vacuum that followed the demolition of Saddam’s regime, Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) ignited a civil war by unleashing ferocious terror attacks against the country’s Shia community. Now that American soldiers have withdrawn from urban areas and created another partial security vacuum, the shattered remnants of AQI are trying to ramp up that effort again. It won’t be as easy for AQI now as it was last time.

Iraqis suffered terribly at the hands of militias and death squads before General David Petraeus radically transformed American counterinsurgency with his “surge” strategy. Petraeus succeeded, at least temporarily, thanks to overwhelming cooperation and support from traumatized Iraqis who had a bellyful of politics by bullet and car bomb.

Initially, many Iraqi Sunnis welcomed and sheltered al-Qaeda because of its promise to expel American soldiers and protect the Sunni minority from the Shia majority. In the meantime, three legs of al-Qaeda’s support have been sawed off. American soldiers aren’t a daily irritant anymore. Maliki’s Shia-dominated government smashed the Shia militias. And al-Qaeda proved itself the enemy of even the Sunnis with its barbaric head-chopping behavior.

Terrorist attacks against Shias by AQI won’t likely reignite a full-blown sectarian war as long as the Sunnis continue to hold fast against the psychotics in their own community and Maliki’s government provides at least basic security on the streets.

Iraq’s Sunnis have as much incentive as its Shias to fight the AQI killers among them. They suffered terribly at AQI’s hands, after all. Out in Anbar Province, they violently turned against “their own” terrorist army even before the Shias turned against “theirs.” And Tariq Alhomayed points out in the Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat that Maliki faces the same pressure to provide security on the streets, especially for his own Shia community, that any Western leader would face under similar circumstances—he wants to be re-elected.

The uptick in violence following America’s partial withdrawal shouldn’t shock anyone. If you scale back security on the streets, more violence and crime are inevitable. The same thing would happen in the United States if local police departments purged the better half of their officers. That does not mean, however, that Iraq is doomed to revert to war.

Last time I visited Iraq, Captain A.J. Boyes at Combat Outpost Ford on the outskirts of Sadr City warned me that we should expect this. “When we leave and transition all of what we do now to the Iraqi Security Forces, will there be a spike in [terrorist] activity?” he said. “Absolutely. One hundred percent.” He thinks Iraq will probably pull through just fine, even so. “It should be up to the media to portray this as something expected. There will be a spike in violence because the insurgents are going to test the Iraqi Security Forces, but I have complete faith that the resolve of the Iraqis will be there. Eventually, the bad guys will understand that the Iraqi Security Forces are here to stay. They are improved. They are vastly superior to anything we have seen in the past.”

Some American officers I’ve spoken to in Baghdad think this kind of analysis is too optimistic. They may be right. I really don’t know. I should point out, though, that even they agree the Iraqi army and police are much more competent counterterrorists than they used to be. Last year, when Maliki’s army took on Iranian-backed Shia militias in Sadr City and Basra, almost everybody was certain the government forces would lose. Almost everybody was wrong. The Sadrist militias were soundly defeated in both places.

Captain Boyes’s company in Sadr City helped Maliki’s men in the Jamilla Market area, but the battle of Basra was almost single-handedly fought by Iraqis. Support from the U.S. was minimal. And let’s not forget that American troops are still deployed in Iraq and can be called upon by the prime minister to help out in a pinch if it proves to be necessary.

Before he was promoted to commander in Iraq, General Petraeus was known for his mantra “Tell me how this ends.” It was something everyone needed to think about, though no one could possibly know the answer to. Iraq makes a fool of almost everyone who tries to predict the course of events. How all this ends isn’t foreseeable. Nor is it inevitable. But the current spate of violence we’re seeing was.

There’s a lot of talk right now among opinion writers and policy analysts about how Iraq may be slouching toward civil war again. It’s understandable. Suicide- and car-bomb attacks make headlines every week. After a recent devastating assault on a Shia village, a woman standing amid rubble looked into a television camera and yelled at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: “Look Prime Minister,” she shouted, “look Minister of Interior, where’s the security you’re talking about?”

Iraq is still a violent, dysfunctional mess. It probably will be for a long time. But Iraqis aren’t necessarily doomed to suffer another round of internal bloodletting like they did during the middle years of this decade.

In the dangerous security vacuum that followed the demolition of Saddam’s regime, Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) ignited a civil war by unleashing ferocious terror attacks against the country’s Shia community. Now that American soldiers have withdrawn from urban areas and created another partial security vacuum, the shattered remnants of AQI are trying to ramp up that effort again. It won’t be as easy for AQI now as it was last time.

Iraqis suffered terribly at the hands of militias and death squads before General David Petraeus radically transformed American counterinsurgency with his “surge” strategy. Petraeus succeeded, at least temporarily, thanks to overwhelming cooperation and support from traumatized Iraqis who had a bellyful of politics by bullet and car bomb.

Initially, many Iraqi Sunnis welcomed and sheltered al-Qaeda because of its promise to expel American soldiers and protect the Sunni minority from the Shia majority. In the meantime, three legs of al-Qaeda’s support have been sawed off. American soldiers aren’t a daily irritant anymore. Maliki’s Shia-dominated government smashed the Shia militias. And al-Qaeda proved itself the enemy of even the Sunnis with its barbaric head-chopping behavior.

Terrorist attacks against Shias by AQI won’t likely reignite a full-blown sectarian war as long as the Sunnis continue to hold fast against the psychotics in their own community and Maliki’s government provides at least basic security on the streets.

Iraq’s Sunnis have as much incentive as its Shias to fight the AQI killers among them. They suffered terribly at AQI’s hands, after all. Out in Anbar Province, they violently turned against “their own” terrorist army even before the Shias turned against “theirs.” And Tariq Alhomayed points out in the Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat that Maliki faces the same pressure to provide security on the streets, especially for his own Shia community, that any Western leader would face under similar circumstances—he wants to be re-elected.

The uptick in violence following America’s partial withdrawal shouldn’t shock anyone. If you scale back security on the streets, more violence and crime are inevitable. The same thing would happen in the United States if local police departments purged the better half of their officers. That does not mean, however, that Iraq is doomed to revert to war.

Last time I visited Iraq, Captain A.J. Boyes at Combat Outpost Ford on the outskirts of Sadr City warned me that we should expect this. “When we leave and transition all of what we do now to the Iraqi Security Forces, will there be a spike in [terrorist] activity?” he said. “Absolutely. One hundred percent.” He thinks Iraq will probably pull through just fine, even so. “It should be up to the media to portray this as something expected. There will be a spike in violence because the insurgents are going to test the Iraqi Security Forces, but I have complete faith that the resolve of the Iraqis will be there. Eventually, the bad guys will understand that the Iraqi Security Forces are here to stay. They are improved. They are vastly superior to anything we have seen in the past.”

Some American officers I’ve spoken to in Baghdad think this kind of analysis is too optimistic. They may be right. I really don’t know. I should point out, though, that even they agree the Iraqi army and police are much more competent counterterrorists than they used to be. Last year, when Maliki’s army took on Iranian-backed Shia militias in Sadr City and Basra, almost everybody was certain the government forces would lose. Almost everybody was wrong. The Sadrist militias were soundly defeated in both places.

Captain Boyes’s company in Sadr City helped Maliki’s men in the Jamilla Market area, but the battle of Basra was almost single-handedly fought by Iraqis. Support from the U.S. was minimal. And let’s not forget that American troops are still deployed in Iraq and can be called upon by the prime minister to help out in a pinch if it proves to be necessary.

Before he was promoted to commander in Iraq, General Petraeus was known for his mantra “Tell me how this ends.” It was something everyone needed to think about, though no one could possibly know the answer to. Iraq makes a fool of almost everyone who tries to predict the course of events. How all this ends isn’t foreseeable. Nor is it inevitable. But the current spate of violence we’re seeing was.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Now the town-hall protesters are “evil-mongers” according to Sen. Harry Reid. One wonders if they are trying to be offensive or if they simply can’t help themselves.

Mike Huckabee will be speaking at the East Jerusalem hotel, which was the subject of a recent fit of pique from the Obama administration. It is actually a team: Huckabee and Hikind—”‘This is an opportunity to shine the spotlight on Obama’s policy in Jerusalem, which has just been a horror,’ New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind told The Jerusalem Post.”

Mary Robinson thinks that Durban got a bad rap. So much for the spinners who suggested she had been a Durban critic.

The Wall Street Journal editors on Obama’s senior problem: “Elderly Americans are turning out in droves to fight ObamaCare, and President Obama is arguing back that they have nothing to worry about. Allow us to referee. While claims about euthanasia and ‘death panels’ are over the top, senior fears have exposed a fundamental truth about what Mr. Obama is proposing: Namely, once health care is nationalized, or mostly nationalized, rationing care is inevitable, and those who have lived the longest will find their care the most restricted.”

ObamaCare has done wonders for the party’s reputation on health care—it just so happens that it is the Republican party. “For the first time in over two years of polling, voters trust Republicans slightly more than Democrats on the handling of the issue of health care. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that voters favor the GOP on the issue 44% to 41%.”

Meanwhile, Obama’s approval rating dropped to an all-time low of 47 percent in Rasmussen.

And it’s not only Rasmussen: Pollster.com shows his favorable/unfavorable margin across all polls narrowing again.

Politico asks: “Are Dems losing August?” Ya think?

The Washington Post opines that Arlen Specter’s angry performance at a health-care town hall was a turning point. If so, it seems to be for worse. He now trails his potential Republican challenger by double digits. And his unfavorable rating is up to 54 percent.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren reminds us that while Obama is obsessing over settlements, real and meaningful progress is being made on the West Bank. “The West Bank’s economic improvements contrast with the lack of diplomatic progress on the creation of a Palestinian state. Negotiators focus on the ‘top down’ issues, grappling with legal and territorial problems. But the West Bank’s population is building sovereignty from the bottom-up, forging the law-enforcement, civil, and financial institutions that form the underpinnings of any modern polity. The seeds of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called ‘economic peace’ are, in fact, already blossoming in the commercial skyline of Ramallah.” Were the Obama administration not blinded by its own spin and not devoted to creating “daylight” between itself and Israel, this might be worthy of attention—or even praise.

Now the town-hall protesters are “evil-mongers” according to Sen. Harry Reid. One wonders if they are trying to be offensive or if they simply can’t help themselves.

Mike Huckabee will be speaking at the East Jerusalem hotel, which was the subject of a recent fit of pique from the Obama administration. It is actually a team: Huckabee and Hikind—”‘This is an opportunity to shine the spotlight on Obama’s policy in Jerusalem, which has just been a horror,’ New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind told The Jerusalem Post.”

Mary Robinson thinks that Durban got a bad rap. So much for the spinners who suggested she had been a Durban critic.

The Wall Street Journal editors on Obama’s senior problem: “Elderly Americans are turning out in droves to fight ObamaCare, and President Obama is arguing back that they have nothing to worry about. Allow us to referee. While claims about euthanasia and ‘death panels’ are over the top, senior fears have exposed a fundamental truth about what Mr. Obama is proposing: Namely, once health care is nationalized, or mostly nationalized, rationing care is inevitable, and those who have lived the longest will find their care the most restricted.”

ObamaCare has done wonders for the party’s reputation on health care—it just so happens that it is the Republican party. “For the first time in over two years of polling, voters trust Republicans slightly more than Democrats on the handling of the issue of health care. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that voters favor the GOP on the issue 44% to 41%.”

Meanwhile, Obama’s approval rating dropped to an all-time low of 47 percent in Rasmussen.

And it’s not only Rasmussen: Pollster.com shows his favorable/unfavorable margin across all polls narrowing again.

Politico asks: “Are Dems losing August?” Ya think?

The Washington Post opines that Arlen Specter’s angry performance at a health-care town hall was a turning point. If so, it seems to be for worse. He now trails his potential Republican challenger by double digits. And his unfavorable rating is up to 54 percent.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren reminds us that while Obama is obsessing over settlements, real and meaningful progress is being made on the West Bank. “The West Bank’s economic improvements contrast with the lack of diplomatic progress on the creation of a Palestinian state. Negotiators focus on the ‘top down’ issues, grappling with legal and territorial problems. But the West Bank’s population is building sovereignty from the bottom-up, forging the law-enforcement, civil, and financial institutions that form the underpinnings of any modern polity. The seeds of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called ‘economic peace’ are, in fact, already blossoming in the commercial skyline of Ramallah.” Were the Obama administration not blinded by its own spin and not devoted to creating “daylight” between itself and Israel, this might be worthy of attention—or even praise.

Read Less




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