Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 13, 2009

Atran’s Silly Thesis

Anthropologist Scott Atran shows that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Having studied the battle against Islamist extremists in Indonesia, he argues in the New York Times that we should be using similar methods in Afghanistan — namely leaving the battle to local authorities who have a better understanding of local tribal dynamics than we do. I too have visited countries where the locals are doing very well in fighting against guerrillas and terrorists with much less assistance than we have poured into Afghanistan and Iraq; see my reports from the Philippines here and from Colombia here.

But while admiring the efforts of the Filipinos and Colombians — just as I respect the efforts of the Indonesians and others — I am acutely conscious that their example cannot be replicated in Afghanistan, a country whose government disintegrated when our forces entered in 2001. It takes a long time to build up a functioning state, and in the meantime, we have to send our own forces to provide security. A failure to do enough in that regard results in dangerous gains for the enemy, as we saw in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2005 to today.

Atran doesn’t seem to realize this. Instead he comforts himself with foolish fairytales about how supposedly benign the Taliban would be if only we left them alone. He adopts the “accidental guerrilla” thesis propounded by Dave Kilcullen, which holds that it is American military action that is driving the Pashtuns into the Taliban’s hands. This flagrantly ignores the historical record which shows that the Taliban were far more powerful back in the 1990s when there was not a single American soldier on the ground in Afghanistan. In those days, too, the Taliban cemented a close alliance with al-Qaeda, which they have never renounced even though it would have been to their advantage to do so. This suggests rather strongly that if we followed Atran’s advice and left Afghanistan to its own devices, it would soon be taken over by jihadists bent on attacking not only Pakistan but also Europe and the United States.

To argue otherwise, Atran engages in ridiculous speculation. He writes:

After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Mr. bin Laden was the country’s guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause his host problems, Mr. bin Laden should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the United States ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.

In other words, he believes that our initial decision to intervene militarily in Afghanistan after 9/11 was a major mistake. He thinks we should have relied on the Taliban’s good graces to kick out al-Qaeda, ignoring the fact that we offered them an opportunity to do just that and they passed on it. Atran’s argument is not a serious analysis; it is wishful thinking. To President Obama’s credit, he considered such views during the course of his Afghan policy review—and rejected them.

Anthropologist Scott Atran shows that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Having studied the battle against Islamist extremists in Indonesia, he argues in the New York Times that we should be using similar methods in Afghanistan — namely leaving the battle to local authorities who have a better understanding of local tribal dynamics than we do. I too have visited countries where the locals are doing very well in fighting against guerrillas and terrorists with much less assistance than we have poured into Afghanistan and Iraq; see my reports from the Philippines here and from Colombia here.

But while admiring the efforts of the Filipinos and Colombians — just as I respect the efforts of the Indonesians and others — I am acutely conscious that their example cannot be replicated in Afghanistan, a country whose government disintegrated when our forces entered in 2001. It takes a long time to build up a functioning state, and in the meantime, we have to send our own forces to provide security. A failure to do enough in that regard results in dangerous gains for the enemy, as we saw in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2005 to today.

Atran doesn’t seem to realize this. Instead he comforts himself with foolish fairytales about how supposedly benign the Taliban would be if only we left them alone. He adopts the “accidental guerrilla” thesis propounded by Dave Kilcullen, which holds that it is American military action that is driving the Pashtuns into the Taliban’s hands. This flagrantly ignores the historical record which shows that the Taliban were far more powerful back in the 1990s when there was not a single American soldier on the ground in Afghanistan. In those days, too, the Taliban cemented a close alliance with al-Qaeda, which they have never renounced even though it would have been to their advantage to do so. This suggests rather strongly that if we followed Atran’s advice and left Afghanistan to its own devices, it would soon be taken over by jihadists bent on attacking not only Pakistan but also Europe and the United States.

To argue otherwise, Atran engages in ridiculous speculation. He writes:

After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Mr. bin Laden was the country’s guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause his host problems, Mr. bin Laden should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the United States ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.

In other words, he believes that our initial decision to intervene militarily in Afghanistan after 9/11 was a major mistake. He thinks we should have relied on the Taliban’s good graces to kick out al-Qaeda, ignoring the fact that we offered them an opportunity to do just that and they passed on it. Atran’s argument is not a serious analysis; it is wishful thinking. To President Obama’s credit, he considered such views during the course of his Afghan policy review—and rejected them.

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Like a Stone

Something interesting is going on. Jennifer this morning reported that Obama had reached a new low in the Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll yesterday, at -16. The latest results, released a couple of hours ago, show the president at -19 a mere 24 hours later.

Not surprisingly, Obama’s popularity began declining right after Inauguration Day, as the messy reality of actually governing replaced the warm glow of rhetoric. He was at +28 on January 21st but down to +10 a month later. He slipped into negative territory in June, when he was at -2 on June 21st. By November 21st, he was at -13.

But the last week was been brutal: -11 last Monday, -10 on Tuesday, -11 on Wednesday, -12 on Thursday and Friday, -16 on Saturday, -19 today.

Perhaps even worse for Obama has been the sharp decline in the number of those who strongly approve. That number dropped by 4 percentage points this week, from 27 percent to 23 percent, while the strongly disapproving increased an equal amount.

And the decline is across the board:

Just 41% of Democrats Strongly Approve while 69% of Republicans Strongly Disapprove. Among voters not affiliated with either major party, 21% Strongly Approve and 49% Strongly Disapprove.

Polls, like markets, fluctuate on a daily basis. One day’s or even one week’s change doesn’t amount to much. But the chart below sure looks like a political bear market to me. And in politics, that translates into a loss of power to persuade other politicians to go along. With public approval of the Senate Health Care bill at an all-time low (-32 in the latest CNN poll), it seems as though it will be increasingly difficult for the president to persuade all 60 Democrats and Independents in the Senate to walk that particular plank.

My guess is that if just one of the needed 60 senators were to announce that he or she would not vote for cloture this month, regardless of what Harry Reid comes up with in the next few days, (“I’m in favor of health-care reform, but we need to consider this more carefully” — translation: I like my job and want to keep it) others would quickly follow. That would push it into 2010 and, almost surely, into a richly deserved political oblivion.

Something interesting is going on. Jennifer this morning reported that Obama had reached a new low in the Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll yesterday, at -16. The latest results, released a couple of hours ago, show the president at -19 a mere 24 hours later.

Not surprisingly, Obama’s popularity began declining right after Inauguration Day, as the messy reality of actually governing replaced the warm glow of rhetoric. He was at +28 on January 21st but down to +10 a month later. He slipped into negative territory in June, when he was at -2 on June 21st. By November 21st, he was at -13.

But the last week was been brutal: -11 last Monday, -10 on Tuesday, -11 on Wednesday, -12 on Thursday and Friday, -16 on Saturday, -19 today.

Perhaps even worse for Obama has been the sharp decline in the number of those who strongly approve. That number dropped by 4 percentage points this week, from 27 percent to 23 percent, while the strongly disapproving increased an equal amount.

And the decline is across the board:

Just 41% of Democrats Strongly Approve while 69% of Republicans Strongly Disapprove. Among voters not affiliated with either major party, 21% Strongly Approve and 49% Strongly Disapprove.

Polls, like markets, fluctuate on a daily basis. One day’s or even one week’s change doesn’t amount to much. But the chart below sure looks like a political bear market to me. And in politics, that translates into a loss of power to persuade other politicians to go along. With public approval of the Senate Health Care bill at an all-time low (-32 in the latest CNN poll), it seems as though it will be increasingly difficult for the president to persuade all 60 Democrats and Independents in the Senate to walk that particular plank.

My guess is that if just one of the needed 60 senators were to announce that he or she would not vote for cloture this month, regardless of what Harry Reid comes up with in the next few days, (“I’m in favor of health-care reform, but we need to consider this more carefully” — translation: I like my job and want to keep it) others would quickly follow. That would push it into 2010 and, almost surely, into a richly deserved political oblivion.

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The Difference Between Drefyus and al-Qaeda

I have not read novelist Louis Begley’s new book Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, which received a favorable review in today’s New York Times Book Review section. However, there are some things that may be confidently asserted even without having perused that tome.

One is that there is absolutely no analogy to be drawn between Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the one hand, and Khalid Sheik Muhammad and the other al-Qaeda operatives on the other, who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay over the last several years.

A second is that there is no analogy between the machinations of the French Army’s High Command, which covered up the identity of the real German spy in Paris in the 1890s and instead chose to place the blame for a security breach on a loyal French Jew, and the efforts of the Bush administration to defend the United States against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

A third would be to note that if there is any common thread between the actors of 9/11 and those of the Dreyfus affair, it is not between the anti-Dreyfusards and the Bush administration but rather between the former and their fellow Jew haters in al-Qaeda, not to mention the lunatic Left, which has rationalized Islamist terrorism and attacked those who fight it.

One would think that such elemental facts would be known to the editors of the Book Review or to Ruth Scurr, who gave Begley’s book a rave. But apparently in this case political prejudices trump even the barest knowledge of history. Scurr applauds Begley when he asks: “Will some day in the near future the crimes of the Bush administration, like … the crimes against Dreyfus, disappear under the scar tissue of silence and indifference?” She goes on to note approvingly his desire for the emergence of “an American Zola or Proust” to speak up against Bush as those French writers did against the Dreyfus persecutors.

What can one say about such nonsense? Most Americans probably know little of the Dreyfus Affair. So it’s worth pointing out a few facts about the difference between our contemporary war on terror and the political and cultural conflict that turned France upside down over 100 years ago.

Unlike the al-Qaeda murderers who planned and executed 9/11, Dreyfus was innocent. One may criticize the zealousness of the Bush administration in their counter-offensive against al Qaeda. One may even criticize Guantanamo though when compared to the Devil’s Island accommodations offered Dreyfus, it looks more like a stay at the Waldorf than a prison. But in the end, the notion that KSM and other al-Qaeda members are the victims of persecution and, as Scurr put it, of “kangaroo trials,” is beyond absurd.

Unlike Bush’s critics, those who defended Dreyfus were speaking up for a genuine victim of injustice, a patriot wrongly accused and convicted solely because he was a Jew. But it is a telling insight into the depth of the political bias that Bush-haters have descended to observe that some are even prepared to analogize Dreyfus and al-Qaeda. The bizarre notion that virtually everything done by Bush after 9/11 was an attack on American liberty has become so firmly ingrained in the popular imagination that anything can and will be said to besmirch his administration. That it occurs to neither Begley nor Scurr that the anti-Semitism of the anti-Dreyfusards finds its echo in the forces that Bush sought to fight speaks volumes about the tone-deaf nature of their political vendetta.

Of course, the Dreyfus Affair does matter. For those who want to actually learn about the Dreyfus Affair, there is still no better place to turn to than Jean Louis Bredin’s 1986 The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.

But it matters not just because speaking out against injustice is the duty of all decent persons but also because the forces that sought to delegitimize Jewish identity in the 1890s are once again on the march in Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in our time is due, in no small measure, to the influence of political Islam and the unwillingness of many Westerners to defend their democratic traditions. If any analogy is to be found today for the persecution of Dreyfus, it is in the lies that are hurled by Europeans and their Islamist friends against the State of Israel.

The spectacle of Dreyfus’s degradation in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris – as Dreyfus’s pitiful cries of his innocence and loyalty to France were drowned out by a mob screaming for the death of the Jews — helped motivate Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” and launch the modern Zionist movement. Today, as then, there are many in Europe and elsewhere who cry out for Jewish blood or attempt to portray Israel’s terrorist foes as innocent victims. Those like Begley and Scurr — who seem to think the fight against Islamist terrorists is the real evil of the day – have the bully pulpit of venues such as the Times from which to vent their spleen against Bush. But there is no resemblance between such jeremiads and a defense of Western values or of the Jews for which Zola is better remembered than his novels.

I have not read novelist Louis Begley’s new book Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, which received a favorable review in today’s New York Times Book Review section. However, there are some things that may be confidently asserted even without having perused that tome.

One is that there is absolutely no analogy to be drawn between Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the one hand, and Khalid Sheik Muhammad and the other al-Qaeda operatives on the other, who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay over the last several years.

A second is that there is no analogy between the machinations of the French Army’s High Command, which covered up the identity of the real German spy in Paris in the 1890s and instead chose to place the blame for a security breach on a loyal French Jew, and the efforts of the Bush administration to defend the United States against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

A third would be to note that if there is any common thread between the actors of 9/11 and those of the Dreyfus affair, it is not between the anti-Dreyfusards and the Bush administration but rather between the former and their fellow Jew haters in al-Qaeda, not to mention the lunatic Left, which has rationalized Islamist terrorism and attacked those who fight it.

One would think that such elemental facts would be known to the editors of the Book Review or to Ruth Scurr, who gave Begley’s book a rave. But apparently in this case political prejudices trump even the barest knowledge of history. Scurr applauds Begley when he asks: “Will some day in the near future the crimes of the Bush administration, like … the crimes against Dreyfus, disappear under the scar tissue of silence and indifference?” She goes on to note approvingly his desire for the emergence of “an American Zola or Proust” to speak up against Bush as those French writers did against the Dreyfus persecutors.

What can one say about such nonsense? Most Americans probably know little of the Dreyfus Affair. So it’s worth pointing out a few facts about the difference between our contemporary war on terror and the political and cultural conflict that turned France upside down over 100 years ago.

Unlike the al-Qaeda murderers who planned and executed 9/11, Dreyfus was innocent. One may criticize the zealousness of the Bush administration in their counter-offensive against al Qaeda. One may even criticize Guantanamo though when compared to the Devil’s Island accommodations offered Dreyfus, it looks more like a stay at the Waldorf than a prison. But in the end, the notion that KSM and other al-Qaeda members are the victims of persecution and, as Scurr put it, of “kangaroo trials,” is beyond absurd.

Unlike Bush’s critics, those who defended Dreyfus were speaking up for a genuine victim of injustice, a patriot wrongly accused and convicted solely because he was a Jew. But it is a telling insight into the depth of the political bias that Bush-haters have descended to observe that some are even prepared to analogize Dreyfus and al-Qaeda. The bizarre notion that virtually everything done by Bush after 9/11 was an attack on American liberty has become so firmly ingrained in the popular imagination that anything can and will be said to besmirch his administration. That it occurs to neither Begley nor Scurr that the anti-Semitism of the anti-Dreyfusards finds its echo in the forces that Bush sought to fight speaks volumes about the tone-deaf nature of their political vendetta.

Of course, the Dreyfus Affair does matter. For those who want to actually learn about the Dreyfus Affair, there is still no better place to turn to than Jean Louis Bredin’s 1986 The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.

But it matters not just because speaking out against injustice is the duty of all decent persons but also because the forces that sought to delegitimize Jewish identity in the 1890s are once again on the march in Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in our time is due, in no small measure, to the influence of political Islam and the unwillingness of many Westerners to defend their democratic traditions. If any analogy is to be found today for the persecution of Dreyfus, it is in the lies that are hurled by Europeans and their Islamist friends against the State of Israel.

The spectacle of Dreyfus’s degradation in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris – as Dreyfus’s pitiful cries of his innocence and loyalty to France were drowned out by a mob screaming for the death of the Jews — helped motivate Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” and launch the modern Zionist movement. Today, as then, there are many in Europe and elsewhere who cry out for Jewish blood or attempt to portray Israel’s terrorist foes as innocent victims. Those like Begley and Scurr — who seem to think the fight against Islamist terrorists is the real evil of the day – have the bully pulpit of venues such as the Times from which to vent their spleen against Bush. But there is no resemblance between such jeremiads and a defense of Western values or of the Jews for which Zola is better remembered than his novels.

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Calling a Crime a Crime

It’s a measure of how badly the “peace process” has warped Israel’s language of values that the most intelligent response to Friday’s torching of a mosque near Nablus, allegedly by extremist settlers, came from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Its secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, correctly identified the crime as “blatant aggression against the sanctity of sacred places.”

That’s more than Israeli politicians seemed capable of doing. Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak, for instance, sounded as if the real crime were the potential damage to the peace process. “This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government’s efforts to advance the political process,” he declared. Similarly, opposition leader and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned it as a “despicable act of provocation” — as if the crime were the response it might provoke.

If the perpetrators were settlers, they probably did intend to undermine the peace process by provoking a violent Palestinian response. But that’s not what made their act criminal. The crime isn’t the impact on the peace process; it’s the wanton destruction of a house of worship.

This perversion of language began when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres deemed the suicide bombings that followed the 1993 Oslo Accord “crimes against the peace process” and the victims, “sacrifices for peace.” For them, this was a political necessity: If Oslo were seen as producing more anti-Israel terror rather than less, Israelis would turn against Oslo — and its sponsors. Hence they had to paint the attacks not as the same old anti-Israel terror, but as a new form of terror, aimed equally at Israel and its Palestinian partner — i.e., at the peace process itself.

This recasting of the crime led inevitably to the next perversion: the frequent labeling of settlers by leftist politicians and journalists as Israel’s equivalent of Hamas. If Hamas’s crime is mass murder, this comparison is clearly false: Blowing up buses and cafes is not a standard practice of settlers. But if the real crime is opposition to the “peace process,” the comparison becomes plausible: Settlers were trying to stop Oslo. The only difference was their choice of tactics: demonstrations and lobbying rather than violence.

And that is precisely what makes this new language, and the value system it embodies, so warped. If the crime is what you oppose rather than how you choose to oppose it, there is no difference between a peaceful protest and blowing up a bus. So why shouldn’t settler extremists torch a mosque, if they deem that a more effective means of “harming … the political process”? Their very opposition to the process makes them criminals regardless of what tactics they use.

Clearly, most Israelis think no such thing. But language does shape thought. So if they don’t want to raise a generation that indeed sees no difference between peaceful and violent tactics, Israelis need to realign their language with their values. That starts with saying clearly that the crime is torching the mosque — not its impact on the peace process.

It’s a measure of how badly the “peace process” has warped Israel’s language of values that the most intelligent response to Friday’s torching of a mosque near Nablus, allegedly by extremist settlers, came from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Its secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, correctly identified the crime as “blatant aggression against the sanctity of sacred places.”

That’s more than Israeli politicians seemed capable of doing. Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak, for instance, sounded as if the real crime were the potential damage to the peace process. “This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government’s efforts to advance the political process,” he declared. Similarly, opposition leader and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned it as a “despicable act of provocation” — as if the crime were the response it might provoke.

If the perpetrators were settlers, they probably did intend to undermine the peace process by provoking a violent Palestinian response. But that’s not what made their act criminal. The crime isn’t the impact on the peace process; it’s the wanton destruction of a house of worship.

This perversion of language began when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres deemed the suicide bombings that followed the 1993 Oslo Accord “crimes against the peace process” and the victims, “sacrifices for peace.” For them, this was a political necessity: If Oslo were seen as producing more anti-Israel terror rather than less, Israelis would turn against Oslo — and its sponsors. Hence they had to paint the attacks not as the same old anti-Israel terror, but as a new form of terror, aimed equally at Israel and its Palestinian partner — i.e., at the peace process itself.

This recasting of the crime led inevitably to the next perversion: the frequent labeling of settlers by leftist politicians and journalists as Israel’s equivalent of Hamas. If Hamas’s crime is mass murder, this comparison is clearly false: Blowing up buses and cafes is not a standard practice of settlers. But if the real crime is opposition to the “peace process,” the comparison becomes plausible: Settlers were trying to stop Oslo. The only difference was their choice of tactics: demonstrations and lobbying rather than violence.

And that is precisely what makes this new language, and the value system it embodies, so warped. If the crime is what you oppose rather than how you choose to oppose it, there is no difference between a peaceful protest and blowing up a bus. So why shouldn’t settler extremists torch a mosque, if they deem that a more effective means of “harming … the political process”? Their very opposition to the process makes them criminals regardless of what tactics they use.

Clearly, most Israelis think no such thing. But language does shape thought. So if they don’t want to raise a generation that indeed sees no difference between peaceful and violent tactics, Israelis need to realign their language with their values. That starts with saying clearly that the crime is torching the mosque — not its impact on the peace process.

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Why the Universal Health-Care Insurance Fetish?

Republicans have been tossing out alternatives to government-centric ObamaCare for some time. They have suggested, among other ideas, that we change the tax treatment of individually purchased insurance plans, reform the tort system, and allow interstate insurance sales. But now Jim Prevor raises an interesting and compelling question: if people want to go without insurance and instead self-insure, why is it the government’s job to stop them? Or put differently:

The fact that the national debate has focused on insurance for health care–as opposed to the accessibility of care–is a byproduct of the particular worldview that all “basic needs” should be provided by communal institutions, preferably the government but, alternatively, highly regulated companies that do the government’s bidding.

Prevor suggests that we “give families money or vouchers that they could use to buy health insurance or any other thing they deemed helpful to their family’s future” and urges lawmakers to work on the supply side of care, not insurance, by among other things “wreak[ing] havoc on the American Medical Association’s efforts to restrain the supply of doctors.” Along the lines of Prevor’s argument, one of the more successful ventures in the Bush administration was emphasis on community health centers that expand care for needy Americans, quite apart from the insurance part of the equation. And expansion of medical accounts, which allows individuals to either buy insurance or pay for medical cost directly, would, following Prevor’s argument, maintain personal responsibility, individual choice, and make health-care purchases more accessible by allowing individuals to use pre-tax dollars to pay for their own care.

But what of the “cost shifting” problem caused by uninsured people? Well, now that the Democrats propose to dump millions of people into Medicare, which doesn’t fully compensate doctors and hospitals, it appears as though that argument is going by the wayside. Furthermore, as Mike Tanner of CATO has explained, cost shifting in the current system has been exaggerated and may account for a small portion of health-care costs. He notes that “it is a manageable problem. According to Jack Hadley and John Holahan of the left-leaning Urban Institute, uncompensated care for the uninsured amounts to less than 3% of total healthcare spending — a real cost, no doubt, but hardly a crisis.”

Tanner has also addressed the implied assumption of health-care reformers that universal health-care insurance will improve the nation’s collective health. He says that “in reviewing all the academic literature on the subject, Helen Levy of the University of Michigan’s Economic Research Initiative on the Uninsured, and David Meltzer of the University of Chicago, were unable to establish a ‘causal relationship’ between health insurance and better health. Believe it or not, there is ‘no evidence,’ Levy and Meltzer wrote, that expanding insurance coverage is a cost-effective way to promote health.” A New England Journal of Medicine article in 2006 likewise found that “health insurance status was largely unrelated to the quality of care.” It seems as though even if we force people to self-insure, they may not wind up much healthier.

In sum, Prevor raises a key point: the fixation on universal health-care insurance has distorted the health-care debate. It might, as he suggests, be a good time to take a step back and see whether the quest for universal insurance is really where we should be focusing our attention. Maybe it is time, as he puts it, to remember that “the moral imperative is not making everyone buy insurance. The moral imperative is freedom.”

Republicans have been tossing out alternatives to government-centric ObamaCare for some time. They have suggested, among other ideas, that we change the tax treatment of individually purchased insurance plans, reform the tort system, and allow interstate insurance sales. But now Jim Prevor raises an interesting and compelling question: if people want to go without insurance and instead self-insure, why is it the government’s job to stop them? Or put differently:

The fact that the national debate has focused on insurance for health care–as opposed to the accessibility of care–is a byproduct of the particular worldview that all “basic needs” should be provided by communal institutions, preferably the government but, alternatively, highly regulated companies that do the government’s bidding.

Prevor suggests that we “give families money or vouchers that they could use to buy health insurance or any other thing they deemed helpful to their family’s future” and urges lawmakers to work on the supply side of care, not insurance, by among other things “wreak[ing] havoc on the American Medical Association’s efforts to restrain the supply of doctors.” Along the lines of Prevor’s argument, one of the more successful ventures in the Bush administration was emphasis on community health centers that expand care for needy Americans, quite apart from the insurance part of the equation. And expansion of medical accounts, which allows individuals to either buy insurance or pay for medical cost directly, would, following Prevor’s argument, maintain personal responsibility, individual choice, and make health-care purchases more accessible by allowing individuals to use pre-tax dollars to pay for their own care.

But what of the “cost shifting” problem caused by uninsured people? Well, now that the Democrats propose to dump millions of people into Medicare, which doesn’t fully compensate doctors and hospitals, it appears as though that argument is going by the wayside. Furthermore, as Mike Tanner of CATO has explained, cost shifting in the current system has been exaggerated and may account for a small portion of health-care costs. He notes that “it is a manageable problem. According to Jack Hadley and John Holahan of the left-leaning Urban Institute, uncompensated care for the uninsured amounts to less than 3% of total healthcare spending — a real cost, no doubt, but hardly a crisis.”

Tanner has also addressed the implied assumption of health-care reformers that universal health-care insurance will improve the nation’s collective health. He says that “in reviewing all the academic literature on the subject, Helen Levy of the University of Michigan’s Economic Research Initiative on the Uninsured, and David Meltzer of the University of Chicago, were unable to establish a ‘causal relationship’ between health insurance and better health. Believe it or not, there is ‘no evidence,’ Levy and Meltzer wrote, that expanding insurance coverage is a cost-effective way to promote health.” A New England Journal of Medicine article in 2006 likewise found that “health insurance status was largely unrelated to the quality of care.” It seems as though even if we force people to self-insure, they may not wind up much healthier.

In sum, Prevor raises a key point: the fixation on universal health-care insurance has distorted the health-care debate. It might, as he suggests, be a good time to take a step back and see whether the quest for universal insurance is really where we should be focusing our attention. Maybe it is time, as he puts it, to remember that “the moral imperative is not making everyone buy insurance. The moral imperative is freedom.”

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A New Ballgame, Perhaps

If one looks at the recent polling for senate and gubernatorial races in 2010, it looks like the flip side of 2008. Then it was a sea of blue; now there is a lot of red. In swing states like Ohio, John Kasich is ahead of incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland and Rob Portman has made up ground against potential Democratic opponents in the senate contest. In Connecticut, Sen. Chris Dodd is in trouble, and in Pennsylvania Pat Toomey is running strongly against both Democratic contenders. There are two noteworthy aspects to these and other races (e.g., Nevada and New Hampshire senate contests): the Republicans’ new found appeal in diverse regions and the burden of incumbency, which is currently weighing down veteran Democrats.

The worry for Republicans after the 2008 wipe out was that their base was shrinking to white, religious males from the South. Independents, women, and minorities were falling away. But the victories of Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey, as well as the strong standing of 2010 Republican candidates in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mountain West (e.g., the Colorado and Nevada senate races), suggest that voters around the country haven’t permanently shifted loyalties. In 2008 they were miffed at the Republicans, wary of the economic collapse, and willing to give the other party a chance to get it right. If the other party is demonstrating that they can’t get it right either on jobs, spending, entitlements, and the rest, then voters are more than willing to throw them out. Democrats won’t have George W. Bush to kick around or a frantic, crotchety presidential campaign to run circles around. They will have to defend an agenda that is, at least for now, exceptionally unpopular — and an economic record that is utterly undistinguished. Republicans will seek to take their message nationally to voters who in 2008 were not willing to listen to anyone with an “R” by their name.

But what of the power of incumbency? Certainly incumbent governors and senators have the advantage of name recognition, plenty of free media, and the power to sprinkle goodies in key districts. A community center here and a bike path there, they figure, will endear voters to the bearer of the pork. But just as 2006 and 2008 were “throw the bums out” elections, 2010 may be yet another year in which incumbency is a burden, not an asset. If it’s not corruption issues (Chris Dodd) or high unemployment (Ted Strickland), it is the burden of identification with the ultra-liberal president and Congress which candidates like Sens. Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln will have to manage.

But Republicans would be foolish to think that they have a lock on 2010. Just as Democrats over-estimated the staying power of their 2008 gains, Republicans may not solidify the gains they have made or hold their position in the polls. The White House and Congress may shift gears and get off the lefty legislation binge. Unemployment may drift downward. The Democrats fumbled the ball this year by overestimating the public’s tolerance for big-government power grabs. But there is another year before the votes are cast. Republicans should know better than anyone how quickly the political landscape can change.

If one looks at the recent polling for senate and gubernatorial races in 2010, it looks like the flip side of 2008. Then it was a sea of blue; now there is a lot of red. In swing states like Ohio, John Kasich is ahead of incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland and Rob Portman has made up ground against potential Democratic opponents in the senate contest. In Connecticut, Sen. Chris Dodd is in trouble, and in Pennsylvania Pat Toomey is running strongly against both Democratic contenders. There are two noteworthy aspects to these and other races (e.g., Nevada and New Hampshire senate contests): the Republicans’ new found appeal in diverse regions and the burden of incumbency, which is currently weighing down veteran Democrats.

The worry for Republicans after the 2008 wipe out was that their base was shrinking to white, religious males from the South. Independents, women, and minorities were falling away. But the victories of Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey, as well as the strong standing of 2010 Republican candidates in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mountain West (e.g., the Colorado and Nevada senate races), suggest that voters around the country haven’t permanently shifted loyalties. In 2008 they were miffed at the Republicans, wary of the economic collapse, and willing to give the other party a chance to get it right. If the other party is demonstrating that they can’t get it right either on jobs, spending, entitlements, and the rest, then voters are more than willing to throw them out. Democrats won’t have George W. Bush to kick around or a frantic, crotchety presidential campaign to run circles around. They will have to defend an agenda that is, at least for now, exceptionally unpopular — and an economic record that is utterly undistinguished. Republicans will seek to take their message nationally to voters who in 2008 were not willing to listen to anyone with an “R” by their name.

But what of the power of incumbency? Certainly incumbent governors and senators have the advantage of name recognition, plenty of free media, and the power to sprinkle goodies in key districts. A community center here and a bike path there, they figure, will endear voters to the bearer of the pork. But just as 2006 and 2008 were “throw the bums out” elections, 2010 may be yet another year in which incumbency is a burden, not an asset. If it’s not corruption issues (Chris Dodd) or high unemployment (Ted Strickland), it is the burden of identification with the ultra-liberal president and Congress which candidates like Sens. Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln will have to manage.

But Republicans would be foolish to think that they have a lock on 2010. Just as Democrats over-estimated the staying power of their 2008 gains, Republicans may not solidify the gains they have made or hold their position in the polls. The White House and Congress may shift gears and get off the lefty legislation binge. Unemployment may drift downward. The Democrats fumbled the ball this year by overestimating the public’s tolerance for big-government power grabs. But there is another year before the votes are cast. Republicans should know better than anyone how quickly the political landscape can change.

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Look for the Raft

Dana Perino cracks that Harry Reid’s Medicare buy-in gambit was the equivalent of going “water skiing to jump the health-care reform shark.” He hoped to make a leap of logic and fiscal sanity, induce Democrats hungry for a deal to play along, and get out to town before anyone realized what was up. Not so fast, says Perino:

For a day or two, thanks to complicit journalists, it looked like he cleared the jump and was a Democratic hero. Headlines cheered, “There’s a deal, there’s momentum, and the Senate will be going home for Christmas having passed healthcare reform. Let us rejoice!” . . . After a few days it was clear that the Senator hadn’t cleared the shark but that it reached up and bit him in the you-know-what.

But as Perino notes, there wasn’t ever a deal, just a decision by Reid to send his scheme to the CBO for scoring and to try to spin the appearance of agreement. And as for the politics, Perino notes that the “public opinion for this bill is worse today than the last days of Hilarycare, and a poll this week showed majority of people think what the Democrats are trying to do is unconstitutional. Grassroots anger is sprouting up and threatening to spoil the season of good cheer.”

So what’s next? Well, for months Republicans have been outlining discrete reforms for which they’d be willing to vote and which would deliver a legislativ victory of sorts to the White House. No, it won’t be the grand dream of liberals to take over the health-care industry, but they certainly can come up with discrete and focused reforms that would improve access (e.g., lifting bans on interstate insurance) or reduce costs (by encouraging, rather than penalizing, states to limit punitive and non-economic damages in malpractice suits). Reid hasn’t been distinguished by his ability to think more than one step ahead. But someone on the Democratic side should figure out Plan B. Reid’s gambit looks as thouigh it will sink and they’ll all need a political life raft if they want to avoid complete humiliation.

Dana Perino cracks that Harry Reid’s Medicare buy-in gambit was the equivalent of going “water skiing to jump the health-care reform shark.” He hoped to make a leap of logic and fiscal sanity, induce Democrats hungry for a deal to play along, and get out to town before anyone realized what was up. Not so fast, says Perino:

For a day or two, thanks to complicit journalists, it looked like he cleared the jump and was a Democratic hero. Headlines cheered, “There’s a deal, there’s momentum, and the Senate will be going home for Christmas having passed healthcare reform. Let us rejoice!” . . . After a few days it was clear that the Senator hadn’t cleared the shark but that it reached up and bit him in the you-know-what.

But as Perino notes, there wasn’t ever a deal, just a decision by Reid to send his scheme to the CBO for scoring and to try to spin the appearance of agreement. And as for the politics, Perino notes that the “public opinion for this bill is worse today than the last days of Hilarycare, and a poll this week showed majority of people think what the Democrats are trying to do is unconstitutional. Grassroots anger is sprouting up and threatening to spoil the season of good cheer.”

So what’s next? Well, for months Republicans have been outlining discrete reforms for which they’d be willing to vote and which would deliver a legislativ victory of sorts to the White House. No, it won’t be the grand dream of liberals to take over the health-care industry, but they certainly can come up with discrete and focused reforms that would improve access (e.g., lifting bans on interstate insurance) or reduce costs (by encouraging, rather than penalizing, states to limit punitive and non-economic damages in malpractice suits). Reid hasn’t been distinguished by his ability to think more than one step ahead. But someone on the Democratic side should figure out Plan B. Reid’s gambit looks as thouigh it will sink and they’ll all need a political life raft if they want to avoid complete humiliation.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling observes that Sen. Michael Bennet is trailing all Republicans in a potential 2010 race, one by as much as nine points. He notes that this “is a reminder that Democratic Governors sure didn’t do their party in the Senate any favors with their appointments last year. The appointments of Michael Bennet in Colorado, Ted Kaufman in Delaware, Roland Burris in Illinois, and Kirsten Gillibrand in New York put all of those seats in play for next year and it really didn’t have to be that way.”

James Capretta and Yuval Levin explain ReidCare: “In other words, rather than build on the failed cost-control model of Medicare, they now want to actually further burden Medicare itself. Why take a roundabout path to failure when a direct one is available? The irrationality of this solution is staggering. But, of course, it’s a solution to Reid’s political problem, not to the nation’s health care financing crisis.”

The New York Times thinks ReidCare is in trouble too: “Democratic leaders hit a rough patch Friday in their push for sweeping health care legislation, as they tried to fend off criticism of their proposals from a top Medicare official, Republicans and even members of their own party. . .Republicans said [the Medicare actuary's] report confirmed what they had been saying for months. ‘It is a remarkable report,’ said Senator Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska. ‘It is a roundhouse blow to the Reid plan.’” We’ll see.

Dana Milbank thinks Senate Democrats could find a better leader. He explains that “as his public-option gambit demonstrated, merely dangling proposals, regardless of how meritorious they may be, doesn’t cause them to become law — and it may cause Democrats from more conservative states, such as Lincoln’s Arkansas, to lose their jobs.” And lose his own as well. Millbank thinks his caucus might be happier with Dick Durbin or Chuck Schumer. Well, they might get their wish, given Reid’s polling.

Looking at the dismal polling on ObamaCare and the CBS polling showing Obama leading George W. Bush by only a 50-to-44-percent margin, James Taranto argues that “these results almost surely represent a backlash against Obama and Congress’s Democrats. Their insistence on pushing ahead and forcing on the country a health-care scheme that by now is almost as unpopular as it is monstrous is without a doubt a major factor here.” And it might be that a cold, ultra-liberal president who blames his problems on his predecessor really isn’t what they all had in mind.

An excellent development, and perhaps a sign that the Obami are waking up to the reality of the thugocracy of Iran: “More than $2 billion allegedly held on behalf of Iran in Citigroup Inc. accounts were secretly ordered frozen last year by a federal court in Manhattan, in what appears to be the biggest seizure of Iranian assets abroad since the 1979 Islamic revolution. . .President Barack Obama has pledged to enact new economic sanctions on Iran at year-end if Tehran doesn’t respond to international calls for negotiations over its nuclear-fuel program.”

Obama is still sliding: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 25% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -16. That’s the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President.”

It’s the “international community” after all: “Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe plan to address negotiators at international climate talks in Copenhagen next week.”

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling observes that Sen. Michael Bennet is trailing all Republicans in a potential 2010 race, one by as much as nine points. He notes that this “is a reminder that Democratic Governors sure didn’t do their party in the Senate any favors with their appointments last year. The appointments of Michael Bennet in Colorado, Ted Kaufman in Delaware, Roland Burris in Illinois, and Kirsten Gillibrand in New York put all of those seats in play for next year and it really didn’t have to be that way.”

James Capretta and Yuval Levin explain ReidCare: “In other words, rather than build on the failed cost-control model of Medicare, they now want to actually further burden Medicare itself. Why take a roundabout path to failure when a direct one is available? The irrationality of this solution is staggering. But, of course, it’s a solution to Reid’s political problem, not to the nation’s health care financing crisis.”

The New York Times thinks ReidCare is in trouble too: “Democratic leaders hit a rough patch Friday in their push for sweeping health care legislation, as they tried to fend off criticism of their proposals from a top Medicare official, Republicans and even members of their own party. . .Republicans said [the Medicare actuary's] report confirmed what they had been saying for months. ‘It is a remarkable report,’ said Senator Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska. ‘It is a roundhouse blow to the Reid plan.’” We’ll see.

Dana Milbank thinks Senate Democrats could find a better leader. He explains that “as his public-option gambit demonstrated, merely dangling proposals, regardless of how meritorious they may be, doesn’t cause them to become law — and it may cause Democrats from more conservative states, such as Lincoln’s Arkansas, to lose their jobs.” And lose his own as well. Millbank thinks his caucus might be happier with Dick Durbin or Chuck Schumer. Well, they might get their wish, given Reid’s polling.

Looking at the dismal polling on ObamaCare and the CBS polling showing Obama leading George W. Bush by only a 50-to-44-percent margin, James Taranto argues that “these results almost surely represent a backlash against Obama and Congress’s Democrats. Their insistence on pushing ahead and forcing on the country a health-care scheme that by now is almost as unpopular as it is monstrous is without a doubt a major factor here.” And it might be that a cold, ultra-liberal president who blames his problems on his predecessor really isn’t what they all had in mind.

An excellent development, and perhaps a sign that the Obami are waking up to the reality of the thugocracy of Iran: “More than $2 billion allegedly held on behalf of Iran in Citigroup Inc. accounts were secretly ordered frozen last year by a federal court in Manhattan, in what appears to be the biggest seizure of Iranian assets abroad since the 1979 Islamic revolution. . .President Barack Obama has pledged to enact new economic sanctions on Iran at year-end if Tehran doesn’t respond to international calls for negotiations over its nuclear-fuel program.”

Obama is still sliding: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 25% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -16. That’s the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President.”

It’s the “international community” after all: “Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe plan to address negotiators at international climate talks in Copenhagen next week.”

Read Less




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