Commentary Magazine


Topic: health insurance reform

Where Is Obama Going?

Obama is now politically toxic in many states. So where is he going on the campaign trail? The White House schedule is telling. He’s going to Delaware, where the Democrat is already running away with the race. He’s going to Massachusetts, the bluest state until the voters disregarded his advice and elected Scott Brown. He’s going to California and Nevada, but for fundraisers, not big public events. He’s going to Rhode Island (Rhode Island?), where one supposes he can do no harm.

The number of competitive races in which he is holding public events is limited to Washington (Patty Murray), Minnesota (gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton), and Ohio (Gov. Ted Strickland). That’s it. And he better be careful in both Washington (where a large plurality think his economic policies have hurt more than they’ve helped) and Ohio (where his approval rating has plummeted). Oh, and he’s going to Oregon for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who had this to say:

Oregon’s Democratic candidate for governor said Tuesday that President Obama’s health care reform bill will be a “toxic” issue in 2012 unless states are given the opportunity to address the problem of rising medical costs. …

“I supported the passage of the bill but I think we need to recognize that this was really health insurance reform and not health care reform,” he said in an interview over coffee at a Portland diner. “What it’s done is provided most people in the country financial access to medical care by 2014. The problem is it didn’t deal with the underlying cost drivers, and those are embedded in the delivery system.”

Should be a fun campaign trip.

It’s tricky finding places where Obama won’t do damage to the candidates he’s supposed to be helping. The White House seems to think gubernatorial races are “safer” for Obama than the Senate contests, where all those unpopular votes on the stimulus, ObamaCare, etc., are sure to come up. But the reality of a 24/7 news environment is that wherever Obama goes, he makes the news — and Republican Senate and House candidates have the benefit of free media to remind voters across the country whose agenda they are opposed to and who has been making all those silly promises (e.g., ObamaCare will save money). Unfortunately for the Dems, you really can’t hide the president of the United States.

Obama is now politically toxic in many states. So where is he going on the campaign trail? The White House schedule is telling. He’s going to Delaware, where the Democrat is already running away with the race. He’s going to Massachusetts, the bluest state until the voters disregarded his advice and elected Scott Brown. He’s going to California and Nevada, but for fundraisers, not big public events. He’s going to Rhode Island (Rhode Island?), where one supposes he can do no harm.

The number of competitive races in which he is holding public events is limited to Washington (Patty Murray), Minnesota (gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton), and Ohio (Gov. Ted Strickland). That’s it. And he better be careful in both Washington (where a large plurality think his economic policies have hurt more than they’ve helped) and Ohio (where his approval rating has plummeted). Oh, and he’s going to Oregon for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who had this to say:

Oregon’s Democratic candidate for governor said Tuesday that President Obama’s health care reform bill will be a “toxic” issue in 2012 unless states are given the opportunity to address the problem of rising medical costs. …

“I supported the passage of the bill but I think we need to recognize that this was really health insurance reform and not health care reform,” he said in an interview over coffee at a Portland diner. “What it’s done is provided most people in the country financial access to medical care by 2014. The problem is it didn’t deal with the underlying cost drivers, and those are embedded in the delivery system.”

Should be a fun campaign trip.

It’s tricky finding places where Obama won’t do damage to the candidates he’s supposed to be helping. The White House seems to think gubernatorial races are “safer” for Obama than the Senate contests, where all those unpopular votes on the stimulus, ObamaCare, etc., are sure to come up. But the reality of a 24/7 news environment is that wherever Obama goes, he makes the news — and Republican Senate and House candidates have the benefit of free media to remind voters across the country whose agenda they are opposed to and who has been making all those silly promises (e.g., ObamaCare will save money). Unfortunately for the Dems, you really can’t hide the president of the United States.

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A Damning Admission

In his superb column today, Charles Krauthammer highlights a paragraph from Peter Baker’s New York Times story on Barack Obama as commander in chief:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

“If this is true,” Krauthammer writes, “Obama’s military leadership can only be called scandalous.”

Quite right. And it’s not the first time such a thing has been said about Obama. Here is a paragraph from a June 23 Washington Post article on the controversy then surrounding General Stanley McChrystal:

McChrystal’s apparent disdain for his civilian colleagues, and the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, have exposed the enduring fault lines in the agreement Obama forged last fall among policymakers and military commanders. In exchange for approving McChrystal’s request for more troops and treasure, Obama imposed, and the military accepted, two deadlines sought by his political aides. In December, one year after the strategy was announced, the situation would be reviewed and necessary adjustments made. In July 2011, the troops would begin to come home. [emphasis added]

These are damning admissions — war policies not only being influenced by partisan considerations but in important respects being driven by them.

In embracing a new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama made the right decision. At the same time, he made a political accommodation on the withdrawal date, which we now know is undermining our efforts. Earlier this week, I pointed out that Marine Commandant General James Conway, in speaking about the 2011 deadline, said this: “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself … ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’” Intelligence intercepts suggest that Taliban fighters have been encouraged by the talk of the U.S. beginning to withdraw troops next year, according to Conway. Yet in Tuesday’s prime-time address to the nation, Obama, rather than walk back from his arbitrary withdrawal date, went out of his way to re-emphasize it. “Make no mistake,” the president said, “this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

It turns out that the locution “our interests” refers not to America’s national interests but to Obama’s political self-interest instead.

I worked for President George W. Bush for most of two terms. It is not only inconceivable that he would have allowed such a thing to happen, as he showed in his embrace of the surge despite gale-force political winds and intense pressure from Republicans to withdraw from Iraq because it was damaging the GOP. And I would wager a good deal of money that if a political adviser had even suggested such a thing to him, he would have exploded in anger and probably fired the offending party on the spot. And he would have been right to do so.

“Among the thirty-five men who have held the presidential office,” Dean Acheson wrote in Present at the Creation, “Mr. Truman will stand with the few who in the midst of great difficulties managed their offices with eminent benefit to the public interest. … In the last analysis Mr. Truman’s methods reflected the basic integrity of his own character.”

If only such a thing could be said now.

In his superb column today, Charles Krauthammer highlights a paragraph from Peter Baker’s New York Times story on Barack Obama as commander in chief:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

“If this is true,” Krauthammer writes, “Obama’s military leadership can only be called scandalous.”

Quite right. And it’s not the first time such a thing has been said about Obama. Here is a paragraph from a June 23 Washington Post article on the controversy then surrounding General Stanley McChrystal:

McChrystal’s apparent disdain for his civilian colleagues, and the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, have exposed the enduring fault lines in the agreement Obama forged last fall among policymakers and military commanders. In exchange for approving McChrystal’s request for more troops and treasure, Obama imposed, and the military accepted, two deadlines sought by his political aides. In December, one year after the strategy was announced, the situation would be reviewed and necessary adjustments made. In July 2011, the troops would begin to come home. [emphasis added]

These are damning admissions — war policies not only being influenced by partisan considerations but in important respects being driven by them.

In embracing a new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama made the right decision. At the same time, he made a political accommodation on the withdrawal date, which we now know is undermining our efforts. Earlier this week, I pointed out that Marine Commandant General James Conway, in speaking about the 2011 deadline, said this: “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself … ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’” Intelligence intercepts suggest that Taliban fighters have been encouraged by the talk of the U.S. beginning to withdraw troops next year, according to Conway. Yet in Tuesday’s prime-time address to the nation, Obama, rather than walk back from his arbitrary withdrawal date, went out of his way to re-emphasize it. “Make no mistake,” the president said, “this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

It turns out that the locution “our interests” refers not to America’s national interests but to Obama’s political self-interest instead.

I worked for President George W. Bush for most of two terms. It is not only inconceivable that he would have allowed such a thing to happen, as he showed in his embrace of the surge despite gale-force political winds and intense pressure from Republicans to withdraw from Iraq because it was damaging the GOP. And I would wager a good deal of money that if a political adviser had even suggested such a thing to him, he would have exploded in anger and probably fired the offending party on the spot. And he would have been right to do so.

“Among the thirty-five men who have held the presidential office,” Dean Acheson wrote in Present at the Creation, “Mr. Truman will stand with the few who in the midst of great difficulties managed their offices with eminent benefit to the public interest. … In the last analysis Mr. Truman’s methods reflected the basic integrity of his own character.”

If only such a thing could be said now.

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He Really Doesn’t Want to Be Commander In Chief

It is not that we didn’t know this before, but reading the New York Times surely designed to be as favorable toward Obama as the reporter could possibly manage — one is left slack-jawed. Obama doesn’t like being commander in chief, isn’t good at it, and has relied on one tutor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is leaving next year. The report should be read in full. But a few low-lights:

A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.

A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama’s relationship with the military was ‘troubled’ and that he ‘doesn’t have a handle on it.’ …

Reliant on Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama has made limited efforts to know his service chiefs or top commanders, and has visited the Pentagon only once, not counting a Sept. 11 commemoration. He ended Mr. Bush’s practice of weekly videoconferences with commanders, preferring to work through the chain of command and wary, aides said, of being drawn into managing the wars. …

Last December, the president gave the military 30,000 more troops, but also a ticking clock. … “He didn’t understand or grasp the military culture,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a former Pentagon official at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He got over that particular quandary and put them back in the box by saying, ‘O.K., I’m giving you 18 months.’ ”

As we all suspected, he compromised our Afghanistan war strategy for the sake of domestic politics:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

He simply doesn’t want to do the things that are expected of the commander in chief, and the military’s ire is profound:

The schisms among his team, though, are born in part out of uncertainty about his true commitment. His reticence to talk much publicly about the wars may owe to the political costs of alienating his base as well as the demands of other issues. Senior Pentagon and military officials said they understood that he presided over a troubled economy, but noted that he was not losing 30 American soldiers a month on Wall Street. …

“From an image point of view, he doesn’t seem to embrace it, almost like you have to drag him into doing it,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Bush adviser with military contacts. “There’s deep uncertainty and perhaps doubt in the military about his commitment to see the wars through to a successful conclusion.”

This was a man not only unprepared to be president but disposed to shirk the most important aspect of the job. It is a measure of his hubris and stubbornness that he has refused to, as Feaver succinctly puts it, “embrace” the role, that is, to commit in word and deed his full attention and effort to leading the country in war. He doesn’t want to be a wartime president? Well, sorry — he is.

The only comfort one can draw from this appalling portrait is that perhaps, just perhaps, after November, when his dream of transforming America is crushed by an electoral blow-back, he will belatedly do his job.

It is not that we didn’t know this before, but reading the New York Times surely designed to be as favorable toward Obama as the reporter could possibly manage — one is left slack-jawed. Obama doesn’t like being commander in chief, isn’t good at it, and has relied on one tutor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is leaving next year. The report should be read in full. But a few low-lights:

A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.

A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama’s relationship with the military was ‘troubled’ and that he ‘doesn’t have a handle on it.’ …

Reliant on Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama has made limited efforts to know his service chiefs or top commanders, and has visited the Pentagon only once, not counting a Sept. 11 commemoration. He ended Mr. Bush’s practice of weekly videoconferences with commanders, preferring to work through the chain of command and wary, aides said, of being drawn into managing the wars. …

Last December, the president gave the military 30,000 more troops, but also a ticking clock. … “He didn’t understand or grasp the military culture,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a former Pentagon official at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He got over that particular quandary and put them back in the box by saying, ‘O.K., I’m giving you 18 months.’ ”

As we all suspected, he compromised our Afghanistan war strategy for the sake of domestic politics:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

He simply doesn’t want to do the things that are expected of the commander in chief, and the military’s ire is profound:

The schisms among his team, though, are born in part out of uncertainty about his true commitment. His reticence to talk much publicly about the wars may owe to the political costs of alienating his base as well as the demands of other issues. Senior Pentagon and military officials said they understood that he presided over a troubled economy, but noted that he was not losing 30 American soldiers a month on Wall Street. …

“From an image point of view, he doesn’t seem to embrace it, almost like you have to drag him into doing it,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Bush adviser with military contacts. “There’s deep uncertainty and perhaps doubt in the military about his commitment to see the wars through to a successful conclusion.”

This was a man not only unprepared to be president but disposed to shirk the most important aspect of the job. It is a measure of his hubris and stubbornness that he has refused to, as Feaver succinctly puts it, “embrace” the role, that is, to commit in word and deed his full attention and effort to leading the country in war. He doesn’t want to be a wartime president? Well, sorry — he is.

The only comfort one can draw from this appalling portrait is that perhaps, just perhaps, after November, when his dream of transforming America is crushed by an electoral blow-back, he will belatedly do his job.

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Bring Back Political Diplomacy

In an interview last week, President Obama asserted that his “core decisions” have been right, but he “identified political diplomacy as his greatest shortcoming so far.”

“What I have not done as well as I would have liked to is to consistently communicate to the general public why we’re making some of the decisions,” he said. “Because we’ve been so rushed over the course of the last year and a half, just issue after issue and crisis after crisis, we haven’t been as effective.”

Here’s a suggestion: hold a prime-time news conference, like the last one … 279 days ago.

Not that the last one was an unqualified success. The president began it by saying he wanted to “talk for a few minutes” about health-insurance reform — and proceeded to deliver a 1,388-word statement asserting that his plan would “keep government out of health care decisions,” give everyone “the option to keep your insurance if you’re happy with it,” and finance two-thirds of itself by “reallocating money that is simply being wasted in federal health care programs.” He thought there were only “a few issues to work out” and reaffirmed his August 1 deadline for doing so. Congress returned home a week later to discover that many citizens found the president’s “political diplomacy” unconvincing.

But that is no reason not to try again. There are questions only the president can answer — about Iran, North Korea, the Middle East peace process, disparate treatment of allies and adversaries, the federal budget, immigration reform, climate control, the cost of ObamaCare, continuing high unemployment, the economic impact of the stimulus, huge projected tax increases at the end of this year, financial-reform legislation, and various other issues on which the public would undoubtedly welcome an explanation of his views.

Part of the process of making “core decisions” in a democracy is subjecting them, on a regular basis, to the questions of a variety of experienced reporters, in a forum the entire citizenry can conveniently observe. President Obama has now ignored that basic presidential responsibility for more than nine months. It is most probably not due to his being so rushed, but — whatever the reason — it is time that meeting that responsibility should resume.

In an interview last week, President Obama asserted that his “core decisions” have been right, but he “identified political diplomacy as his greatest shortcoming so far.”

“What I have not done as well as I would have liked to is to consistently communicate to the general public why we’re making some of the decisions,” he said. “Because we’ve been so rushed over the course of the last year and a half, just issue after issue and crisis after crisis, we haven’t been as effective.”

Here’s a suggestion: hold a prime-time news conference, like the last one … 279 days ago.

Not that the last one was an unqualified success. The president began it by saying he wanted to “talk for a few minutes” about health-insurance reform — and proceeded to deliver a 1,388-word statement asserting that his plan would “keep government out of health care decisions,” give everyone “the option to keep your insurance if you’re happy with it,” and finance two-thirds of itself by “reallocating money that is simply being wasted in federal health care programs.” He thought there were only “a few issues to work out” and reaffirmed his August 1 deadline for doing so. Congress returned home a week later to discover that many citizens found the president’s “political diplomacy” unconvincing.

But that is no reason not to try again. There are questions only the president can answer — about Iran, North Korea, the Middle East peace process, disparate treatment of allies and adversaries, the federal budget, immigration reform, climate control, the cost of ObamaCare, continuing high unemployment, the economic impact of the stimulus, huge projected tax increases at the end of this year, financial-reform legislation, and various other issues on which the public would undoubtedly welcome an explanation of his views.

Part of the process of making “core decisions” in a democracy is subjecting them, on a regular basis, to the questions of a variety of experienced reporters, in a forum the entire citizenry can conveniently observe. President Obama has now ignored that basic presidential responsibility for more than nine months. It is most probably not due to his being so rushed, but — whatever the reason — it is time that meeting that responsibility should resume.

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Answering William Galston

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

Read Less

What’s the Plan?

If you’d like to see just how phony the administration’s latest ploy on health care is, go to the White House website and read this. Under the headline “Will the Republicans Post Their Health Plan… and When?” the White House bemoans the lack of a Republican plan while, not surprisingly, touting its own.

The President believes strongly that Thursday’s bipartisan meeting on health insurance reform will be most productive if both sides come to the table with a unified plan to start discussion – and if the public has the opportunity to inspect those proposals up close before the meeting happens.

That’s why yesterday the White House posted online the President’s proposal for bridging the differences between the Senate- and House-passed health insurance reform bills.

Fair enough. Except that a summary and the full text of the Republican proposed legislation has been posted for months right here.

The New York Times, its staff heavy with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters indefatigable in the search for truth, can’t seem to find that website either. Its page-one story this morning states:

With the two parties scheduled to meet Thursday for a televised session on the health care overhaul, Mr. Obama appeared intent on forcing the Republicans into a choice: either put a specific alternative on the table, giving Democrats a chance to draw pointed contrasts between the parties’ approaches, or be cast as obstructionist and not serious about addressing an issue of great concern to voters.

The President’s tactic, it seems, is to demand that the Republicans put forth a plan, regardless of how often Republicans say, “Here it is!” Obama will just keep demanding that the Republicans put forth a plan. He is confident — obviously with very good reason — that the MSM, in full lapdog mode, will help all it can in convincing the public that the Republicans have no plan.

The cynicism is just stunning.

If you’d like to see just how phony the administration’s latest ploy on health care is, go to the White House website and read this. Under the headline “Will the Republicans Post Their Health Plan… and When?” the White House bemoans the lack of a Republican plan while, not surprisingly, touting its own.

The President believes strongly that Thursday’s bipartisan meeting on health insurance reform will be most productive if both sides come to the table with a unified plan to start discussion – and if the public has the opportunity to inspect those proposals up close before the meeting happens.

That’s why yesterday the White House posted online the President’s proposal for bridging the differences between the Senate- and House-passed health insurance reform bills.

Fair enough. Except that a summary and the full text of the Republican proposed legislation has been posted for months right here.

The New York Times, its staff heavy with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters indefatigable in the search for truth, can’t seem to find that website either. Its page-one story this morning states:

With the two parties scheduled to meet Thursday for a televised session on the health care overhaul, Mr. Obama appeared intent on forcing the Republicans into a choice: either put a specific alternative on the table, giving Democrats a chance to draw pointed contrasts between the parties’ approaches, or be cast as obstructionist and not serious about addressing an issue of great concern to voters.

The President’s tactic, it seems, is to demand that the Republicans put forth a plan, regardless of how often Republicans say, “Here it is!” Obama will just keep demanding that the Republicans put forth a plan. He is confident — obviously with very good reason — that the MSM, in full lapdog mode, will help all it can in convincing the public that the Republicans have no plan.

The cynicism is just stunning.

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The Opposition Coalition

Conservatives will most likely nod in agreement with this critique of the Senate’s health-care plan:

The last thing the American middle class needs right now is a big new tax on health insurance plans. … But the U.S. Senate wants to further impoverish the American middle class. As many as 30 million working people will pay a massive new tax in the first five years of the Senate health care reform plan. …

The tax would apply to one-fifth of all employers in 2013, the first year that health reform takes effect. More and more people would get hit each year after that. The threshold for taxable plans is indexed for inflation, which doesn’t rise as fast as health care costs.

Here’s an example of how it would work for federal workers covered by the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard plan. Single people in the plan will immediately pay an average of about $1,600 more per year for 10 years. Families will get hit in the third year, paying an average of about $2,000 more per year for 10 years.

By 2022, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard family plan will cost $5,500 in taxes per worker. Single people could pay as much as $3,500 per worker.

Middle-class families in private and public sector jobs, union and non-union alike, will be hit hard by this tax on health care benefits.

Yuval Levin? Sen. Jim DeMint? No, it’s Teamster president James Hoffa. Nevertheless, the President Obama is bent on adopting the Senate tax scheme. The result, as Hoffa and conservative critics of the plan have observed, will be a repudiation of the president’s pledge not to tax those making less than $200,ooo. Democrats, who fancy themselves as the protectors of “working” Americans, are understandably nervous about the president’s desire to impose a heavy tax on their constituents:

“We did in our house bill something that protects middle class Americans from having to pay more for health insurance and health insurance reform,” Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., a member of the House leadership, said Wednesday. “So far we want to stay to that principle.” House members “have been very clear on that issue and working with the president to stick to what he said when he was campaigning for president, we’re trying to make sure this does not affect middle class Americans,” Becerra said.

So far they want to stay to that principle? Well that doesn’t sound like Hoffa’s members are going to be able to count on Becerra and his colleagues. And if the Democrats do follow the president’s lead, a political firestorm may well ensue.

What’s at risk here is an unraveling of the Democratic coalition that elected Obama and the Democratic majority. Union members, elite urbanites (who will get slammed with new taxes), high-tech entrepreneurs (who get a new employer mandate), young voters (who will have to buy insurance plans they don’t want), and older voters (whose Medicare benefits will be slashed) may find common cause with fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and, yes, those angry Tea Party protesters, who all find ObamaCare objectionable. Obama, Pelosi, and Reid seem determined to ignore all these groups. For the sake of passing a “historic” bill and out of fear of appearing inept, they seem bent on passing something their own core political supporters find highly objectionable. Do they really imagine they can do so with no adverse political consequences?

Conservatives will most likely nod in agreement with this critique of the Senate’s health-care plan:

The last thing the American middle class needs right now is a big new tax on health insurance plans. … But the U.S. Senate wants to further impoverish the American middle class. As many as 30 million working people will pay a massive new tax in the first five years of the Senate health care reform plan. …

The tax would apply to one-fifth of all employers in 2013, the first year that health reform takes effect. More and more people would get hit each year after that. The threshold for taxable plans is indexed for inflation, which doesn’t rise as fast as health care costs.

Here’s an example of how it would work for federal workers covered by the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard plan. Single people in the plan will immediately pay an average of about $1,600 more per year for 10 years. Families will get hit in the third year, paying an average of about $2,000 more per year for 10 years.

By 2022, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard family plan will cost $5,500 in taxes per worker. Single people could pay as much as $3,500 per worker.

Middle-class families in private and public sector jobs, union and non-union alike, will be hit hard by this tax on health care benefits.

Yuval Levin? Sen. Jim DeMint? No, it’s Teamster president James Hoffa. Nevertheless, the President Obama is bent on adopting the Senate tax scheme. The result, as Hoffa and conservative critics of the plan have observed, will be a repudiation of the president’s pledge not to tax those making less than $200,ooo. Democrats, who fancy themselves as the protectors of “working” Americans, are understandably nervous about the president’s desire to impose a heavy tax on their constituents:

“We did in our house bill something that protects middle class Americans from having to pay more for health insurance and health insurance reform,” Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., a member of the House leadership, said Wednesday. “So far we want to stay to that principle.” House members “have been very clear on that issue and working with the president to stick to what he said when he was campaigning for president, we’re trying to make sure this does not affect middle class Americans,” Becerra said.

So far they want to stay to that principle? Well that doesn’t sound like Hoffa’s members are going to be able to count on Becerra and his colleagues. And if the Democrats do follow the president’s lead, a political firestorm may well ensue.

What’s at risk here is an unraveling of the Democratic coalition that elected Obama and the Democratic majority. Union members, elite urbanites (who will get slammed with new taxes), high-tech entrepreneurs (who get a new employer mandate), young voters (who will have to buy insurance plans they don’t want), and older voters (whose Medicare benefits will be slashed) may find common cause with fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and, yes, those angry Tea Party protesters, who all find ObamaCare objectionable. Obama, Pelosi, and Reid seem determined to ignore all these groups. For the sake of passing a “historic” bill and out of fear of appearing inept, they seem bent on passing something their own core political supporters find highly objectionable. Do they really imagine they can do so with no adverse political consequences?

Read Less




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