Commentary Magazine


Topic: Arnold Schwarzenegger

CALGreen: Regulatory Nirvana

Now and then, circumstances come along that put in perspective the level of regulatory autonomy currently enjoyed by our governments. A prominent example is the implementation in California of “CALGreen” building standards, which entered effect on January 1. Shepherded through the legislature in 2008 by Arnold Schwarzenegger, CALGreen proposes to reduce the greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions attributable to California’s newly constructed buildings — residential and nonresidential — by 3 million metric tons per year in 2020.

Much has been written by conservatives about the poor economic timing of the CALGreen implementation. But two of its other features are worth particular note. The first is that 3 million metric tons of GHG is vanishingly small compared with the globe’s total anthropogenic GHG emissions. Those global emissions were calculated at 31.3 billion metric tons in 2009. A reduction of 3 million metric tons represents .0096 percent of that global total (the actual fraction is .000096). Considering the number of state-government agencies involved in administering CALGreen, and the building industry’s estimate that it will increase construction costs 3 to 12 percent depending on the project, the cost of CALGreen is a questionable commitment in light of its projected benefits.

The other feature of note is CALGreen’s promise to relieve builders of $30,000 to $50,000 per project — by CALGreen’s estimate — in design and private inspection costs. Builders who wish to “build green” have, until now, sought the services of firms that specialize in complying with the industry standards promulgated through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Program. With some state and local governments making LEED compliance mandatory, contractors have been driven to pay private consultants for their expertise. By setting very specific state requirements, however, CALGreen’s documentation implies that it will eliminate the leeway in design and execution that creates a demand for such expert judgment. And as the CALGreen publicity material points out, state inspectors — unlike private consultants — will not represent an additional cost to the builder.

Not in the builder’s capacity as a builder, at any rate. In his capacity as a taxpayer, he will naturally be paying every bit of the cost of CALGreen regulation. And the difference between privately contracted experts and publicly funded regulators is that the latter get paid regardless of the market’s demand for their services. That reality will be a highly visible one in California’s foreseeable future: as observed by the developer interviewed by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal (link above), “There is really no one building anything right now.”

To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, regulation has its reasons which reason does not know. Average Californians want a thriving economy, accountable schools, reliable police and fire services, a functioning penal system, and fiscal responsibility from the state. Sacramento is giving them instead a new set of regulations — for a dormant industry — which will employ hundreds of public servants to keep the CALGreen promise of reducing global GHG emissions .0096 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, the public is invited to rejoice that more of the cost of green regulation will be borne by the taxpayer. I’m not sure the art of regulation for regulation’s sake can be perfected much more than this.

Now and then, circumstances come along that put in perspective the level of regulatory autonomy currently enjoyed by our governments. A prominent example is the implementation in California of “CALGreen” building standards, which entered effect on January 1. Shepherded through the legislature in 2008 by Arnold Schwarzenegger, CALGreen proposes to reduce the greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions attributable to California’s newly constructed buildings — residential and nonresidential — by 3 million metric tons per year in 2020.

Much has been written by conservatives about the poor economic timing of the CALGreen implementation. But two of its other features are worth particular note. The first is that 3 million metric tons of GHG is vanishingly small compared with the globe’s total anthropogenic GHG emissions. Those global emissions were calculated at 31.3 billion metric tons in 2009. A reduction of 3 million metric tons represents .0096 percent of that global total (the actual fraction is .000096). Considering the number of state-government agencies involved in administering CALGreen, and the building industry’s estimate that it will increase construction costs 3 to 12 percent depending on the project, the cost of CALGreen is a questionable commitment in light of its projected benefits.

The other feature of note is CALGreen’s promise to relieve builders of $30,000 to $50,000 per project — by CALGreen’s estimate — in design and private inspection costs. Builders who wish to “build green” have, until now, sought the services of firms that specialize in complying with the industry standards promulgated through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Program. With some state and local governments making LEED compliance mandatory, contractors have been driven to pay private consultants for their expertise. By setting very specific state requirements, however, CALGreen’s documentation implies that it will eliminate the leeway in design and execution that creates a demand for such expert judgment. And as the CALGreen publicity material points out, state inspectors — unlike private consultants — will not represent an additional cost to the builder.

Not in the builder’s capacity as a builder, at any rate. In his capacity as a taxpayer, he will naturally be paying every bit of the cost of CALGreen regulation. And the difference between privately contracted experts and publicly funded regulators is that the latter get paid regardless of the market’s demand for their services. That reality will be a highly visible one in California’s foreseeable future: as observed by the developer interviewed by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal (link above), “There is really no one building anything right now.”

To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, regulation has its reasons which reason does not know. Average Californians want a thriving economy, accountable schools, reliable police and fire services, a functioning penal system, and fiscal responsibility from the state. Sacramento is giving them instead a new set of regulations — for a dormant industry — which will employ hundreds of public servants to keep the CALGreen promise of reducing global GHG emissions .0096 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, the public is invited to rejoice that more of the cost of green regulation will be borne by the taxpayer. I’m not sure the art of regulation for regulation’s sake can be perfected much more than this.

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Competitive California

Even in California, Republicans are surging in the polls. A new Public Policy Institute of California survey shows Meg Whitman crushing her primary opponent in the gubernatorial race and now leading Democratic candidate Jerry Brown by a 44 to 39 percent margin. The surprise is in the Senate race, where Carly Fiorina has shot up in the polls and now edges out Tom Campbell: “The Republican primary race for U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer’s seat has tightened since January, when Tom Campbell led both Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore among Republican likely voters (27% Campbell, 16% Fiorina, 8% DeVore). Today, Campbell and Fiorina are in a close race (24% Fiorina, 23% Campbell), and DeVore’s level of support is unchanged (8%).” In short, Fiorina is up eight and Campbell down four since the poll’s January survey. And in the general election matchup, Barbara Boxer is in a one-point race with both Campbell and Fiorina.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Campbell’s lead has vanished. Part of that advantage was name recognition, since  Campbell has been a familiar figure in California politics for over a decade. But Fiorina has had a good run — wacky, high-profile ads, a strong showing at the California Republican convention, and pounding away at Campbell’s tax record. And then there is the Israel issue. Given the focus over the past two weeks on the president’s Israel-bashing, pro-Israel voters have every reason to be concerned that Campbell seems to be rather sympathetic to the Obami approach to Israel. (Campbell previously voted against resolutions confirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and voiced support for it as the capital of both a Jewish and a Palestinian state.)

But the real shocker here is Boxer’s vulnerability. This is not the only poll to show that the race is in a virtual dead heat. It is perhaps indicative of a strong anti-incumbent sentiment that is sweeping the country. The pollsters tell us:

[T]he state legislature’s approval rating among likely voters has sunk to single digits—9 percent. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s record-low approval rating of 25 percent hovers near Governor Gray Davis’ lowest level before recall (21% in June 2003). Likely voters give their own state legislators a 27-percent rating, close to the record-low 25 percent last December. Congress gets an approval rating of 14 percent—a 15-point drop since January (29%)—from likely voters in the survey, which was taken during the heated debate about health care reform. Asked to rate the performance of their own representative in the U.S. House, likely voters are more favorable: 44 percent approve. But this is a record low. President Obama fares better, but his approval rating has also dipped to a new low of 52 percent.

Well, if Massachusetts can supply a wake-up call to Washington — which was promptly ignored — so can California. And soon, I suspect, we’ll see pollsters move the Senate race from “leans Democratic” to “toss up.” What’s next — Wisconsin? Uh, yup.

Even in California, Republicans are surging in the polls. A new Public Policy Institute of California survey shows Meg Whitman crushing her primary opponent in the gubernatorial race and now leading Democratic candidate Jerry Brown by a 44 to 39 percent margin. The surprise is in the Senate race, where Carly Fiorina has shot up in the polls and now edges out Tom Campbell: “The Republican primary race for U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer’s seat has tightened since January, when Tom Campbell led both Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore among Republican likely voters (27% Campbell, 16% Fiorina, 8% DeVore). Today, Campbell and Fiorina are in a close race (24% Fiorina, 23% Campbell), and DeVore’s level of support is unchanged (8%).” In short, Fiorina is up eight and Campbell down four since the poll’s January survey. And in the general election matchup, Barbara Boxer is in a one-point race with both Campbell and Fiorina.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Campbell’s lead has vanished. Part of that advantage was name recognition, since  Campbell has been a familiar figure in California politics for over a decade. But Fiorina has had a good run — wacky, high-profile ads, a strong showing at the California Republican convention, and pounding away at Campbell’s tax record. And then there is the Israel issue. Given the focus over the past two weeks on the president’s Israel-bashing, pro-Israel voters have every reason to be concerned that Campbell seems to be rather sympathetic to the Obami approach to Israel. (Campbell previously voted against resolutions confirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and voiced support for it as the capital of both a Jewish and a Palestinian state.)

But the real shocker here is Boxer’s vulnerability. This is not the only poll to show that the race is in a virtual dead heat. It is perhaps indicative of a strong anti-incumbent sentiment that is sweeping the country. The pollsters tell us:

[T]he state legislature’s approval rating among likely voters has sunk to single digits—9 percent. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s record-low approval rating of 25 percent hovers near Governor Gray Davis’ lowest level before recall (21% in June 2003). Likely voters give their own state legislators a 27-percent rating, close to the record-low 25 percent last December. Congress gets an approval rating of 14 percent—a 15-point drop since January (29%)—from likely voters in the survey, which was taken during the heated debate about health care reform. Asked to rate the performance of their own representative in the U.S. House, likely voters are more favorable: 44 percent approve. But this is a record low. President Obama fares better, but his approval rating has also dipped to a new low of 52 percent.

Well, if Massachusetts can supply a wake-up call to Washington — which was promptly ignored — so can California. And soon, I suspect, we’ll see pollsters move the Senate race from “leans Democratic” to “toss up.” What’s next — Wisconsin? Uh, yup.

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The Ballot Box Solution

The Wall Street Journal editors zero in on Sen. Ben Nelson’s infamous deal, the “Cornhusker Kickback,” which is going to replace the Bridge To Nowhere in legislative infamy. They explain:

Under the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the federal government will pay all of Nebraska’s new Medicaid costs forever, while taxpayers in the other 49 states will see their budgets explode as this safety-net program for the poor is expanded to one out of every five Americans.

“In addition to violating the most basic and universally held notions of what is fair and just,” the AGs wrote last week to the Democratic leadership, the Article I spending clause is limited to “general Welfare.” If Congress claims to be legitimately serving that interest by expanding the joint state-federal Medicaid program, then why is it relieving just one state of a mandate that otherwise applies to all states? In other words, serving the non-general welfare of Nebraska—for no other reason than political expediency—violates a basic Supreme Court check on the “display of arbitrary power” that was established in 1937’s Helvering v. Davis.

I am not a fan of reconstituting policy arguments as Constitutional claims, even when the legislative offense is as gross as this. At bottom, noxious legislation calls out for a legislative solution: a no vote by the other lawmakers whose constituents rightly see this as unfair and, at bottom, immoral. After all, why are Californians’ health needs not given the same consideration as Nebraskans’? And just because Sen. Feinstein and Boxer allowed Nelson to get away with a better deal in the Christmas rush doesn’t mean they and their colleagues shouldn’t take a second look. As the Journal‘s editors point out, Blue states really have reason to gripe:

In a December letter Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger lamented that ObamaCare would impose the “crushing new burden” of as much as $4 billion per year in new Medicaid spending in a state that is already deeply in the red. And in a Christmas Day op-ed in the Buffalo News, New York Governor David A. Paterson protested the almost $1 billion in new costs as well as the “unfairness of the Senate bill” when “New York already sends significantly more money to Washington than it gets back.”

There are, after all, Senate races in New York and California this year. It seems as though it would behoove Sens. Boxer and Gillibrand to defend their taxpayers’ interests. The same goes for the 53 California House members and the 29 New York representatives. Don’t at least a handful of the Democrats in those and other states object to the fact that their voters are going to be subsidizing Nebraskans only so that the latter don’t get too mad at Ben Nelson?

Perhaps the courts will find some legal infirmity with the deal. But the ultimate solution to this sort of chicanery is found at the ballot box.

The Wall Street Journal editors zero in on Sen. Ben Nelson’s infamous deal, the “Cornhusker Kickback,” which is going to replace the Bridge To Nowhere in legislative infamy. They explain:

Under the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the federal government will pay all of Nebraska’s new Medicaid costs forever, while taxpayers in the other 49 states will see their budgets explode as this safety-net program for the poor is expanded to one out of every five Americans.

“In addition to violating the most basic and universally held notions of what is fair and just,” the AGs wrote last week to the Democratic leadership, the Article I spending clause is limited to “general Welfare.” If Congress claims to be legitimately serving that interest by expanding the joint state-federal Medicaid program, then why is it relieving just one state of a mandate that otherwise applies to all states? In other words, serving the non-general welfare of Nebraska—for no other reason than political expediency—violates a basic Supreme Court check on the “display of arbitrary power” that was established in 1937’s Helvering v. Davis.

I am not a fan of reconstituting policy arguments as Constitutional claims, even when the legislative offense is as gross as this. At bottom, noxious legislation calls out for a legislative solution: a no vote by the other lawmakers whose constituents rightly see this as unfair and, at bottom, immoral. After all, why are Californians’ health needs not given the same consideration as Nebraskans’? And just because Sen. Feinstein and Boxer allowed Nelson to get away with a better deal in the Christmas rush doesn’t mean they and their colleagues shouldn’t take a second look. As the Journal‘s editors point out, Blue states really have reason to gripe:

In a December letter Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger lamented that ObamaCare would impose the “crushing new burden” of as much as $4 billion per year in new Medicaid spending in a state that is already deeply in the red. And in a Christmas Day op-ed in the Buffalo News, New York Governor David A. Paterson protested the almost $1 billion in new costs as well as the “unfairness of the Senate bill” when “New York already sends significantly more money to Washington than it gets back.”

There are, after all, Senate races in New York and California this year. It seems as though it would behoove Sens. Boxer and Gillibrand to defend their taxpayers’ interests. The same goes for the 53 California House members and the 29 New York representatives. Don’t at least a handful of the Democrats in those and other states object to the fact that their voters are going to be subsidizing Nebraskans only so that the latter don’t get too mad at Ben Nelson?

Perhaps the courts will find some legal infirmity with the deal. But the ultimate solution to this sort of chicanery is found at the ballot box.

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The Consequences of Being the 60th Health-Care Vote

Senate Democrats from less-than-pristine Blue States are banking that their constituents won’t mind that they voted with their party leadership for a controversial health-care power grab. But that may be a bad bet:

A new poll suggests that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) seriously endangered his political prospects by becoming the decisive 60th vote allowing health care legislation to pass through the Senate. The Rasmussen survey shows Nelson, who isn’t up for re-election until 2012, badly trailing Gov. Dave Heineman by 31 points in a hypothetical matchup, 61 to 30 percent. A 55 percent majority of Nebraska voters now hold an unfavorable view of the two-term senator, with 40 percent viewing him favorably. The health care bill is currently very unpopular in Nebraska, according to the Rasmussen poll. Nearly two-thirds of voters (64 percent) oppose the legislation while just 17 percent approve.

Now of course each and every Democratic senator is the 60th vote, so this poll should cause some heartburn for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and his troops. Somehow the White House and their more liberal colleagues convinced the so-called moderate Democrats that they could vote with the liberal pack, and their skeptical constituents would eventually come to appreciate their “historic” vote. But that seems not to be the case. What if, in the next few weeks, other polls mirroring this result appear in state after state? Do the lawmakers still plunge ahead with the conference committee and once again vote for a hugely unpopular measure?

Nor should Blue State senators rest easy. Their handiwork is under attack as well, as this report makes clear:

The governors of the nation’s two largest Democratic states are leveling sharp criticism at the Senate health care bill, claiming that it would leave their already financially strapped states even deeper in the hole. New York Democratic Gov. David Paterson and California GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are urging congressional leaders to rework the Medicaid financing in the Senate-passed bill, warning that under that version their states will be crushed by billions in new costs.

In their rush for a “historic deal,” Blue State senators paid little or no attention to the details of what they were foisting on their own states. You can imagine what New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s general election opponent will have to say about this in November:

The problem is that New York and California, both of which already have expansive Medicaid programs, will pay a higher share of the new expansion costs than many other states that have traditionally limited coverage. “The inequity built into the bill puts hardship on states and would put them in the position of making cuts to providers,” said Susan Van Meter, vice president of federal relations for the Healthcare Association of New York State.

So where does that leave embattled senators and congressmen? Congress might “pivot” in many ways in January: to sanctions on Iran; hearings on our anti-terrorist policies; and a real pro-jobs agenda to encourage rather than retard the hiring of new workers. It might be beneficial for the country and for the political outlook of incumbent lawmakers to turn their attention to these very urgent issues rather than an artificially created “health-care crisis.” ObamaCare has become a political poltergeist, and lawmakers would do well to race to find something else to occupy their time. Especially those who don’t have the luxury, as Nelson does, of several more years before facing the angry voters.

Senate Democrats from less-than-pristine Blue States are banking that their constituents won’t mind that they voted with their party leadership for a controversial health-care power grab. But that may be a bad bet:

A new poll suggests that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) seriously endangered his political prospects by becoming the decisive 60th vote allowing health care legislation to pass through the Senate. The Rasmussen survey shows Nelson, who isn’t up for re-election until 2012, badly trailing Gov. Dave Heineman by 31 points in a hypothetical matchup, 61 to 30 percent. A 55 percent majority of Nebraska voters now hold an unfavorable view of the two-term senator, with 40 percent viewing him favorably. The health care bill is currently very unpopular in Nebraska, according to the Rasmussen poll. Nearly two-thirds of voters (64 percent) oppose the legislation while just 17 percent approve.

Now of course each and every Democratic senator is the 60th vote, so this poll should cause some heartburn for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and his troops. Somehow the White House and their more liberal colleagues convinced the so-called moderate Democrats that they could vote with the liberal pack, and their skeptical constituents would eventually come to appreciate their “historic” vote. But that seems not to be the case. What if, in the next few weeks, other polls mirroring this result appear in state after state? Do the lawmakers still plunge ahead with the conference committee and once again vote for a hugely unpopular measure?

Nor should Blue State senators rest easy. Their handiwork is under attack as well, as this report makes clear:

The governors of the nation’s two largest Democratic states are leveling sharp criticism at the Senate health care bill, claiming that it would leave their already financially strapped states even deeper in the hole. New York Democratic Gov. David Paterson and California GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are urging congressional leaders to rework the Medicaid financing in the Senate-passed bill, warning that under that version their states will be crushed by billions in new costs.

In their rush for a “historic deal,” Blue State senators paid little or no attention to the details of what they were foisting on their own states. You can imagine what New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s general election opponent will have to say about this in November:

The problem is that New York and California, both of which already have expansive Medicaid programs, will pay a higher share of the new expansion costs than many other states that have traditionally limited coverage. “The inequity built into the bill puts hardship on states and would put them in the position of making cuts to providers,” said Susan Van Meter, vice president of federal relations for the Healthcare Association of New York State.

So where does that leave embattled senators and congressmen? Congress might “pivot” in many ways in January: to sanctions on Iran; hearings on our anti-terrorist policies; and a real pro-jobs agenda to encourage rather than retard the hiring of new workers. It might be beneficial for the country and for the political outlook of incumbent lawmakers to turn their attention to these very urgent issues rather than an artificially created “health-care crisis.” ObamaCare has become a political poltergeist, and lawmakers would do well to race to find something else to occupy their time. Especially those who don’t have the luxury, as Nelson does, of several more years before facing the angry voters.

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No Chair When the Music Stops

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed doubt and concern on Monday about the Senate health-care reform bill. National media haven’t given this nearly the coverage they awarded his expressions of support for the overall ObamaCare effort in July and October. But under the mainstream media’s radar, the Governator was going soft on the Democrats’ health-care reform as early as last week, and the reason for his shifting posture is the cost to California.

Schwarzenegger’s prior attempt at health-care reform in California makes a superb cautionary tale. The 2006 proposal, advanced by Democrats in Sacramento and substantially endorsed by the governor, was eerily similar to the U.S. Senate bill to be voted on this week. It incorporated an individual mandate to purchase health insurance; increased employer costs through either insurance premiums for workers or a tax penalty; vague and open-ended bureaucratic measures to control costs; expanded enrollment in Medicaid/Medi-Cal; and subsidies to those with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level who would be required by law to buy insurance.

There was no question this plan would cost more. Even friendly analysts concluded that it would add between $6.8 and $9.4 billion in state costs, while causing private health expenses to rise by 9.9 percent per year and employer costs to rise by 8.8 percent per year. California, the analysts pointed out, has 12 times as many “uninsured workers under 65” as Massachusetts; the Bay State’s solutions would be overwhelmed by sheer numbers in the Golden State.

Yet, until the housing-market collapse stopped California’s decade-long spending spree in its tracks, state Democrats were pushing their health-care reform proposal vigorously — with the support of the Republican governor. A CATO Institute analysis pinpointed why: the state Democrats’ plan relied heavily on federal matching funds. A bit of comically transparent budgetary sleight-of-hand would have enabled California to shift most of its additional costs to the other 49 states.

The bill in the U.S. Senate this month, however, will impose on California all the inevitable costs of mandating universal “insurance coverage” in California, and then some. California doesn’t have the advantage of recalcitrant Democratic senators whose votes need to be bought with Medicaid-funding relief, as Ben Nelson’s (NE) and Mary Landrieu’s (LA) were. California’s senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, are some of the “safest” party-line voters in Congress. The result is a case of unpleasant consequences that must be humorous to those who don’t live in the Golden State.

The game of “musical health care costs” is only just starting across America. Senators Nelson and Landrieu think they have already grabbed their states’ seats for when the music stops. But the impact on the states — especially an unequal impact — may well be the spike on which the Democrats’ plan is ultimately impaled. Federalism, uniquely strong in America, has not yet had its say on this topic.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed doubt and concern on Monday about the Senate health-care reform bill. National media haven’t given this nearly the coverage they awarded his expressions of support for the overall ObamaCare effort in July and October. But under the mainstream media’s radar, the Governator was going soft on the Democrats’ health-care reform as early as last week, and the reason for his shifting posture is the cost to California.

Schwarzenegger’s prior attempt at health-care reform in California makes a superb cautionary tale. The 2006 proposal, advanced by Democrats in Sacramento and substantially endorsed by the governor, was eerily similar to the U.S. Senate bill to be voted on this week. It incorporated an individual mandate to purchase health insurance; increased employer costs through either insurance premiums for workers or a tax penalty; vague and open-ended bureaucratic measures to control costs; expanded enrollment in Medicaid/Medi-Cal; and subsidies to those with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level who would be required by law to buy insurance.

There was no question this plan would cost more. Even friendly analysts concluded that it would add between $6.8 and $9.4 billion in state costs, while causing private health expenses to rise by 9.9 percent per year and employer costs to rise by 8.8 percent per year. California, the analysts pointed out, has 12 times as many “uninsured workers under 65” as Massachusetts; the Bay State’s solutions would be overwhelmed by sheer numbers in the Golden State.

Yet, until the housing-market collapse stopped California’s decade-long spending spree in its tracks, state Democrats were pushing their health-care reform proposal vigorously — with the support of the Republican governor. A CATO Institute analysis pinpointed why: the state Democrats’ plan relied heavily on federal matching funds. A bit of comically transparent budgetary sleight-of-hand would have enabled California to shift most of its additional costs to the other 49 states.

The bill in the U.S. Senate this month, however, will impose on California all the inevitable costs of mandating universal “insurance coverage” in California, and then some. California doesn’t have the advantage of recalcitrant Democratic senators whose votes need to be bought with Medicaid-funding relief, as Ben Nelson’s (NE) and Mary Landrieu’s (LA) were. California’s senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, are some of the “safest” party-line voters in Congress. The result is a case of unpleasant consequences that must be humorous to those who don’t live in the Golden State.

The game of “musical health care costs” is only just starting across America. Senators Nelson and Landrieu think they have already grabbed their states’ seats for when the music stops. But the impact on the states — especially an unequal impact — may well be the spike on which the Democrats’ plan is ultimately impaled. Federalism, uniquely strong in America, has not yet had its say on this topic.

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All This Pales

Arnold Schwarzenegger will endorse John McCain tomorrow. Today it was Rudy. More will follow in the days ahead. The consolidation of the party continues.

Arnold Schwarzenegger will endorse John McCain tomorrow. Today it was Rudy. More will follow in the days ahead. The consolidation of the party continues.

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Arnold’s Failure Is The GOP’s Gain

Aside from the Florida primary, the biggest news this week, and the event with the most potential to affect the 2008 presidential race, was the defeat in California of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s healthcare proposal. It foundered when the Democratic state legislature figured out that it would have cost a boatload of money. Just how much? $14.9 billion.

The Wall Street Journal points out that this is an important policy lesson. An individual or government mandated health care system is very expensive and does nothing to stem rising healthcare costs, which are the real issue. The Journal‘s editors explain:

What the California collapse should discredit in particular is the individual mandate as a policy tool for Republican reformers. This was Mr. Romney’s enthusiasm for a time, helped along by the Heritage Foundation. But in order to be enforceable, such a mandate inevitably becomes a government mandate, and a very expensive one at that.
Voters are rightly concerned about health care, but they also don’t want to pay higher taxes to finance coverage for everyone. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s spectacular failure shows that there’s an opening for Republicans to make the case for health-care reform based on choice and tax-equity, not mandates and tax hikes.

If John McCain is indeed the nominee, he will have clean hands on this issue and a market-based healthcare plan that even the Cato Institute, which has led the charge against healthcare mandates, could love. McCain will now have some powerful examples to highlight why the healthcare approach of the two potential Democratic nominees is a recipe for failure.

Aside from the Florida primary, the biggest news this week, and the event with the most potential to affect the 2008 presidential race, was the defeat in California of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s healthcare proposal. It foundered when the Democratic state legislature figured out that it would have cost a boatload of money. Just how much? $14.9 billion.

The Wall Street Journal points out that this is an important policy lesson. An individual or government mandated health care system is very expensive and does nothing to stem rising healthcare costs, which are the real issue. The Journal‘s editors explain:

What the California collapse should discredit in particular is the individual mandate as a policy tool for Republican reformers. This was Mr. Romney’s enthusiasm for a time, helped along by the Heritage Foundation. But in order to be enforceable, such a mandate inevitably becomes a government mandate, and a very expensive one at that.
Voters are rightly concerned about health care, but they also don’t want to pay higher taxes to finance coverage for everyone. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s spectacular failure shows that there’s an opening for Republicans to make the case for health-care reform based on choice and tax-equity, not mandates and tax hikes.

If John McCain is indeed the nominee, he will have clean hands on this issue and a market-based healthcare plan that even the Cato Institute, which has led the charge against healthcare mandates, could love. McCain will now have some powerful examples to highlight why the healthcare approach of the two potential Democratic nominees is a recipe for failure.

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Nicolas Sarkozy

Next Sunday, France will hold its first round of balloting for a new president. This is the first of three posts on the leading candidates by the French editor and journalist Michel Gurfinkiel. A longer and more in-depth look by Gurfinkiel at the condition of present-day France will be coming out in the May issue of COMMENTARY.

Nicolas Sarkozy is the candidate for the presidency of France best known in America—and the most popular, since he is as pro-American and as knowledgeable in all things American as a French political leader can be. A short, thin man with an angular face, ribbed eyebrows, and big dark eyes, he looks a bit like a character in an El Greco painting. French cartoonists, however, tend to portray him as a turbulent, devilish little figure. In spite of being born and raised in the affluent West End of Paris, he speaks with a hoarse, almost working-class, accent. But his command of the French language and his talent as a debater are truly astounding: he was trained as a lawyer and graduated at the Paris Institute for Political Science. No less astounding is his meteoric political career: mayor of Neuilly, a posh suburb of Paris and one of the wealthiest townships of France, at twenty-eight; member of the National Assembly at thirty-three; budget minister at thirty-eight. Before the age of forty, he had achieved membership in the charmed circle of French political leaders thought to have un destin national—a real shot at the presidency, in American English.

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Next Sunday, France will hold its first round of balloting for a new president. This is the first of three posts on the leading candidates by the French editor and journalist Michel Gurfinkiel. A longer and more in-depth look by Gurfinkiel at the condition of present-day France will be coming out in the May issue of COMMENTARY.

Nicolas Sarkozy is the candidate for the presidency of France best known in America—and the most popular, since he is as pro-American and as knowledgeable in all things American as a French political leader can be. A short, thin man with an angular face, ribbed eyebrows, and big dark eyes, he looks a bit like a character in an El Greco painting. French cartoonists, however, tend to portray him as a turbulent, devilish little figure. In spite of being born and raised in the affluent West End of Paris, he speaks with a hoarse, almost working-class, accent. But his command of the French language and his talent as a debater are truly astounding: he was trained as a lawyer and graduated at the Paris Institute for Political Science. No less astounding is his meteoric political career: mayor of Neuilly, a posh suburb of Paris and one of the wealthiest townships of France, at twenty-eight; member of the National Assembly at thirty-three; budget minister at thirty-eight. Before the age of forty, he had achieved membership in the charmed circle of French political leaders thought to have un destin national—a real shot at the presidency, in American English.

But the closer he came to the inner core of French politics, the stranger he appeared. Sarkozy is best described, perhaps, as a neo-Frenchman: he is the son and the grandson of immigrants. His father, Pàl Sàrközy de Nagybocsa, was for years depicted as a Hungarian grandee, the “scion,” according to a Wikipedia profile probably written under his own supervision, “of an aristocratic family who owned lands and a castle in Alattyàn and a domain with 200 peasants.” In reality, he seems to have been a poor relation of the Alattyàn lords who somehow, after a number of unexplained vicissitudes, ended up after World War II in the French Foreign Legion. Honorably discharged in 1948, he soon married Andrée Mallah, a French girl of Salonikan-Jewish descent. Nicolas, born in 1955, was “baptized and confirmed as a Catholic.”

This is a rather convoluted pedigree, a far cry from what was until very recently the unwritten, unspoken, and yet inescapable prerequisite of a bid for the presidency: being connected from time immemorial with a French Christian family, or, at the very least, being the heir of some long-settled Christian or Jewish immigrant dynasty. As a matter of fact, Sarkozy’s swift ascent among French conservatives in the 1980’s and the 1990’s—he became the Gaullist party’s top boss in 1999—elicited many xenophobic and anti-Semitic reactions.

Then, in 2002, after Jacques Chirac’s reelection, the landscape suddenly changed. The Right’s dissatisfaction with Chirac—who was busy recasting himself, after his duel with Le Pen, as a left-of-center liberal—burgeoned explosively. Chirac loyalists countered by forming the UMP, the Union for a Progressive Majority. But their would-be champion, Alain Juppé, was indicted for minor financial crimes committed as Chirac’s former deputy in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, and barred from politics for three years. In the ensuing vaccum Sarkozy took Juppé’s putative place as the UMP’s favorite politician (having meanwhile secured for himself the long-coveted ministry of the interior). He became immensely popular, and immensely controversial, for his abandonment of politically correct rhetoric and for his handling of the riots in the Paris suburbs in 2005.

Although Sarkozy is seen in France as a rightist, his politics are—by American standards—only mildly conservative, with occasional liberal outbursts: somewhere between Britain’s Tony Blair and California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. He stands for law and order, an important concern in a crime-ridden country. He intends to curb illegal emigration and defend France’s “national identity” while at the same time favoring affirmative action for ethnic or racial minorities and providing French Muslims adequate mosques and other facilities. These are not just words: as minister of the interior, he promoted Muslim prefects (state commissioners) and organized a National Council of the Muslim Religion (since taken over by radical groups). Sarkozy also stands for lower taxes and a dismantling of the welfare state’s most rigid and costly provisions, although he dares not advocate, at least in public, outright elimination of the 35-hour work week. In international affairs, he opposes Turkey’s accession to the EU but would grant it the status of a “special partner.” To the dismay of many of his advisers, he quite openly supports the United States and Israel, his only concession being to state that Chirac was right to oppose the Iraq war.

For the past three years, Chirac loyalists have done their utmost to block Sarkozy’s rise. In 2005, they nearly succeeded: A new prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, suddenly overtook Sarkozy in approval ratings. In 2006, however, Villepin disintegrated almost overnight, because of an ill-conceived reform bill on juvenile employment and the “Clearstream affair,” an attempt to bring Sarkozy down through the publication of forged documents purporting to incriminate him in shady financial dealings (the matter is still awaiting judicial determination). All to no avail: on January 14 of this year, the UMP unanimously endorsed Sarkozy for president. The entire conservative camp had suddenly realized that it had to unite against a major threat: the socialist Ségolène Royal.

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Franken’s Shtick

The comedian Al Franken, author of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, recently announced that he is running for Senate from Minnesota, where he grew up. An alumnus of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Franken made his name satirizing conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and National Review’s Rich Lowry, whom he challenged to a fist fight in his garage.

His candidacy has been greeted with predictable enthusiasm. As Time gushed, “Enter the clown, who’s ready to play not Hamlet but Disraeli.” But is Franken really ready? Obviously, Americans have taken a political chance on ex-entertainers before, most notably with Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Franken’s case poses special difficulties because his work has always been so harshly political and partisan.

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The comedian Al Franken, author of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, recently announced that he is running for Senate from Minnesota, where he grew up. An alumnus of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Franken made his name satirizing conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and National Review’s Rich Lowry, whom he challenged to a fist fight in his garage.

His candidacy has been greeted with predictable enthusiasm. As Time gushed, “Enter the clown, who’s ready to play not Hamlet but Disraeli.” But is Franken really ready? Obviously, Americans have taken a political chance on ex-entertainers before, most notably with Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Franken’s case poses special difficulties because his work has always been so harshly political and partisan.

In the final episode of his program on Air America, the now-bankrupt liberal radio station, Franken announced his candidacy with old-fashioned American optimism. “I know I have an awful lot to learn from the people of Minnesota,” he declared. I want “to help our country become everything I hope it can be and everything I know it can be.”

But reconciling aw-shucks populist rhetoric with the well-established cynicism of Franken’s public persona won’t be easy. After all, this is a “comedian” who once ironically raised the possibility that George Bush and Dick Cheney should be executed for treason, quickly adding that “we should never ever, ever, ever execute a sitting President.” He has also made snide comments about McCain’s POW experience: “I don’t understand why all this war hero stuff. I mean, anybody can get captured. Isn’t the idea to capture the other guy? As far as I’m concerned, he sat out the war.”

There are many who find humor in Franken’s shtick, and his candidacy can’t be judged solely on the basis of his stand-up routine and the books he has written. But episodes like the one at a Dean fundraiser in 2003, when Franken went on an expletive-laced, demagogic rant about Brit Hume and Fox News, are among many troubling instances when he has seemed authentically malicious–and out of control.

At Franken’s official campaign website, you can listen to him talk about middle-class values and his hardscrabble family history; you can even hear this Harvard grad use the expression “guv’ment.” But his attempts at folksy spontaneity seem flat and scripted. After ten minutes of self-mythologizing, he finally gets to a subject he can warm to: his agenda, which sounds like leftovers from a 2003 John Kerry press release.

Franken is clearly an intelligent man. He knows that rural-style charm and meat-and-potatoes liberalism play well in Minnesota. But unless he is a preternaturally gifted politician, his humble-pie charade will not survive the extreme rhetoric and partisan titillation in which he has always trafficked. In the run-up to the election in 2008, Minnesotans will have to be on the look-out for the real Al Franken.

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