Tag Archives: republican party

What does the health care debate reveal about us, and our future?

Summary:  Today we have a glance at the debate about one of the most important domestic public policy debates of our time, repeated in every generation since 1945, that illuminates the moral and intellectual nature of America at this point in time. The photo below captures it perfectly, the aggressive ignorance resulting from generations of skillful propaganda on a weak people. Renewal is an inherent capacity of individuals and societies; we desperately need it (more on how to do this in another post).  This is the second of two posts today.

“Of course we want to have universal health care! We aren’t barbarians!”

— attributed to Margaret Thatcher, said in 1993 at Washington, DC (hat tip to Delong)

Keep govt out of my Medicare

This is America today

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I am applying for health insurance as a self-employed consultant, a painful experience which reminds me of three important facts about America today. Facts which reveal the basic outlines of our situation.

First, our health care system is a disgrace, a failure to adequately handle a public policy issue solved years (or generations) ago by other developed nations. It’s massive cost and low effectiveness (leaving so many poorly covered, or uncovered) reveals the degeneracy of our ethics and folly of our governance. Decent medical insurance (with caps that don’t cause bankruptcy) can easily cost 1/4 to 1/3 of a blue collar family’s after tax income (without Obamacare’s tax credits).

Also, it shows how large vital sectors (finance, defense, health care) have become parasites, consuming resources disproportionate to their role and size. It’s the grifter economy, however well-intentioned the people involved (i.e., in health care and military).

Second, Republicans are the political group most responsible for this, since 1945 having fiercely fought every step to provide health care to America’s poor and working poor from Medicare and Medicaid (1965) to Obamacare. Even today they fight to deprive Americans of affordable health care, with a policy of Repeal and Promise to do something someday.  Rand Paul’s budget proposals call for a slow strangulation of Medicare, while today some GOP governors reject expansion of Medicaid even at no cost to their State (as of September, only 27 States have expanded coverage) — and some fight even the basic terms (e.g., Kansas).  It’s difficult to imagine such callousness, especially as their arguments are largely bogus.

Third, it shows our weakness as citizens that alone among the developed nations Americans have not exerted ourselves to provide adequate health care to all — despite the obvious self-interest in doing so — or run this sector in a rational manner.

Here are links to the latest rounds in the “debate”. Like most public policy debates in America, they’re polarized between facts and delusions. With each groups taking different sides in different debates; sometimes we have bipartisan delusions (e.g, the WOT).

(a) The Anti-Obamacare FAQ“, Reihan Salam, Slate, 14 November 2014 — A fact-free “Everything you need to know about why conservatives want to repeal the president’s health care law.”

(b)  A gentle but thorough rebuttal: “Here’s Why Conservatives Will Never Give Up Their War on Obamacare“, Brian Beutler, The new Republic, 18 November 2014 — Excerpt:

But in any case, none of these basic differences between liberals and conservatives explain, as Salam puts it, why conservatives are “so pissed off about Obamacare.” He attributes their indignation to the belief “that Obamacare only became the law of the land because President Obama misled the public,” then goes on to explain that conservatives aren’t hypocrites for wanting to turn Medicare into an Obamacare-like program for seniors, or for having once supported the individual mandate; then acknowledges that conservatives are miles from consensus on how best to replace Obamacare; and finally concludes that the law should be repealed anyhow.

None of this makes the Obamacare opposition seem even a tiny bit reasonable, but it does present a few good opportunities to explain why liberals think most of this is all window-dressing for a simpler explanation: Conservatives don’t just oppose distributive programs that help the poor and working class — these programs drive them batty in and of themselves. That Obamacare patched up the single biggest hole in the federal safety net, and in so doing extended government-sponsored health benefits to people through every stage of life, intensifies this reaction.

(c)  A detailed and typically brilliant rebuttal by Brad DeLong (Prof Economics, Berkeley): “Continuing on the ‘What Are Conservative Policy Ideas for Replacing ObamaCare?’ Beat”, Washington Center for Equitable Growth, 18 November 2014 — Excerpt:

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Krugman shows us why the Left loses, despite its advantages

Summary: This is the fourth in a series about why the Left loses. America’s drift to the Right since 1980 has not only become impossible to ignore, but has accelerated despite the many fundamentals favoring the Left. Such as demographics and the increasing acceptance of behaviors an anathema on the Right (e.g., gay marriage, abortion). Increased concentration of wealth and income by the 1% explains much of the Right’s success. As this series will show, weakness of the Left explains much of the rest.

Closed Mind

Contents

  1. A symptom of the problem
  2. Diagnosis
  3. Significance
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. More evidence

(1)  A symptom of the problem

Triumph of the Wrong“, Paul Krugman, op-ed in the New York Times, 6 November 2014 — Excerpt:

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet midterms to men of understanding. Or as I put it on the eve of another Republican Party sweep, politics determines who has the power, not who has the truth. Still, it’s not often that a party that is so wrong about so much does as well as Republicans did on Tuesday. … So now is a good time to remember just how wrong the new rulers of Congress have been about, well, everything.

First, there’s economic policy. … In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.

Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ, delivering above-predicted sign-ups, a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, premiums well below expectations, and a sharp slowdown in overall health spending.

And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. As late as 2008, some Republicans were willing to admit that the problem is real, and even advocate serious policies to limit emissions — Senator John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals. But these days the party is dominated by climate denialists, and to some extent by conspiracy theorists who insist that the whole issue is a hoax concocted by a cabal of left-wing scientists. Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.

One of these three things is not like the others. For the first two Krugman clearly identifies the GOP view and provides rebuttals, all supported by links (I agree 100%). The third asserts that the GOP is dominated by climate extremists — and implies that the Democrats represent the consensus of climate scientists. He provides no evidence for either claim; there are reasons to doubt both. Certainly the public does, with climate change near the bottom of major threats (See Gallup polls, other polls, other evidence).

Is the Republican Party “dominated by denialists?” In Leftist usage, “denialist” has no fixed meaning beyond “people who disagree with me about climate change”. Much like “terrorist” to the Right, it’s a political tool rather than a category. It includes prominent climate scientists skeptical of some aspects of the IPCC’s views (e.g., Judith Curry and Roger Pielke Sr) — or critical of the Left’s exaggerations of the IPCC’s views, and have supported their view with studies in the peer-reviewed literature (e.g., Roger Pielke Jr).

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Congress did a great thing 50 years ago, but rot from that day has spread and taken root

Summary: 19 June 1964. I believe on this day America took a wrong turn. It was the day we took a large step to closure on the wound opened by the Civil War, another step to atoning for and overcoming the legacy of slavery. The Senate voted to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. But one of the opponents saw this as an opportunity, and we live with the dark results today

Barry Goldwater button

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Reflecting the parties geographical, not ideological, foundations, the vote passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act was mixed.

  • Democratic Party: 46–21   (69–31%)
  • Republican Party: 27–06   (82–18%)

But one of those “no” votes was by the GOP candidate for the Presidency, who saw an opportunity to redraw America’s political map and end the  dominant position the Democratic Party had held since the Great Depression. The price was betrayal of the Republican Party’s legacy.

Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) lost the 1964 presidential election, but his campaign reforged a Republican Party with racism as a core element — burned into an alliance with the right-wing social and economic ideologies. The poison took time to spread through the GOP, but by 1980 — amplified by Nixon and Reagan — it helped make conservatism become the dominant political force in America (affecting both parties).

That day 50 years ago could have begun a break with our past. Instead we’re still grappling with our racist legacy from slavery.

Here’s the speech Goldwater gave justifying his betrayal. Brad DeLong (Prof Economics, Berkeley) decodes the key phrases he uses to disguise his political logic.

  • “Demagogue” = “Martin Luther King, Jr., and the March on Washington”
  • “Calm environment” = “an end to sit-ins and Freedom Rides”
  • “Special appeals for special welfare” = “desire by African-Americans to eat at lunch counters and stay at hotels open to others”

The text, from DeLong’s post:

There have been few, if any, occasions when the searching of my conscience and the re-examination of my views of our constitutional system have played a greater part in the determination of my vote than they have on this occasion.

I am unalterably opposed to discrimination or segregation on the basis of race, color, or creed, or on any other basis; not only my words, but more importantly my actions through the years have repeatedly demonstrated the sincerity of my feeling in this regard.

This is fundamentally a matter of the heart. The problems of discrimination can never by cured by laws alone; but I would be the first to agree that laws can help — laws carefully considered and weighed in an atmosphere of dispassion, in the absence of political demagoguery, and in the light of fundamental constitutional principles.

For example, throughout my 12 years as a member of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee, I have repeatedly offered amendments to bills pertaining to labor that would end discrimination in unions, and repeatedly those amendments have been turned down by the very members of both parties who now so vociferously support the present approach to the solution of our problem. Talk is one thing, action is another, and until the members of this body and the people of this country realize this, there will be no real solution to the problem we fact.

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America swings to the Right. The Left loses. How has the Left dug itself into this hole?

Summary: Today we look at one of the defining political trends of our time — America’s movement to the Right. Like most political evolutions in our history, it’s bipartisan. Previous posts have examined how the Right has won. Today and tomorrow we look at how the Left has accomplished this (it didn’t just happen), and how they have responded to this long series of defeats. These are just sketches about vast and complex trends. At the end see links to other posts in this series.

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America has been moving to the Right since roughly 1980. Not in all things. The 1% cares about power and money; as a class it does not care who marries who. The US health care system’s decay, and the Right’s indifference to reform, allowed the Left to pass ObamaCare.

But the overall trend has been to the Right. A few examples…

  1. Defunding public colleges.
  2. Cutting taxes on the rich and businesses, shifting the tax burden down (as the GOP is doing in the States today).
  3. Reducing the safety net (e.g., . Reducing the minimum wage (in real terms), Clinton “ending welfare as we know it” in 1996).
  4. Crushing private sector unions.
  5. Deregulation of corporations, especially banks.
  6. Eroding away the 1970s reforms on the military and intelligence agencies.

We can debate the wisdom of these changes (I’m mostly against them all), but let’s leave that debate for another day. How has the Left responded? Today we’ll see how the Left has worked to gain public support — and failed. Tomorrow we’ll examine how they addressed the equally important (in an operational sense) task of maintaining internal cohesion during their long defeat.

The Left fights back

The Left responded its efforts on use of two tactics.

(a)  Legal leverage

The Left used its strength in the Courts to effect public policy measures they could not do through democratic means. Most notably, expansion of environmental protections, plus expanded rights to abortion and same-sex marriage. Although this produced some wins, the long-term effect has been catastrophic for the Left.

The focus on legalistic tactics led to an atrophy of grass-roots organizing, and a loss of legitimacy for the agenda. Legitimacy in the political sense, people’s acceptance of governmental authority. From bussing to abortion to closing logging in the NW to save the spotted owl, court-driven policy measures produce powerful backlashes unless supported with deep measures to gain public support — which step the Left has often skipped. An increasing fraction of the public believes the Left uses anti-democratic (even authoritarian) means to change public policy.

Now the real weakness of this strategy appears, as the increased strength of the Right results in more conservative judges at all levels. Judicial activism works just as well for the Right as the Left. Indeed for most of American history the Courts have been a conservative, even reactionary force. We might return to this old normal.

(b)  Gaining strength by sounding alarms

 

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Stand by for political realignment in America!

Summary:  I’ve long believed that our political system has rapidly accumulating strains, soon to rip the system apart so that new coalitions emerge, centered on new issues — political realignments (see Wikipedia), as has happened before in American history. Not the widely anticipated move to the “middle” (a two-dimensional line), but political reshuffling in multiple dimensions.

Perhaps we now have the first signs of it happening. On the other hand, just as the first Robin doesn’t mean Spring has begun, rising stress does not mean the realignment has begun.

American Extremists

On the Right

The Right, and especially its vanguard — the Tea Party movement — have become servants of the 1%. They’re helping the 1% build the New America described in scores of posts on the FM website. They are one possible future for America.

  1. A belligerent foreign policy, supporting a mad unprofitable empire.
  2. Political divisions between hostile races and religions.
  3. Growing inequality and falling social mobility (e.g., defunding public schools and universities).
  4. Tax burden shifted, as the GOP is doing in the States, from the rich to the middle class.

It’s a common pattern in history. It’s a change from the America-that-once-was. It’s a slow-motion revolution. It might push some into defecting from the Right to a new movement closer to their conservative principles.

Looking to the future, neither the GOP nor its Tea Party faction are all grey-hairs. As shown by this Pew Poll, published 16 October 2013. The Republicans are slightly light on Millennials (born after 1980, so age 18 – 33) and slightly heavy on Boomers. The Tea Party movement is catastrophically light on Millennials and over-weight on Boomers. The cutting edge of society in terms of youth and energy is not with the extreme Right.

Pew Poll of Tea Party Movement

Pew Poll, 16 October 2013

On the Left

There is no equivalent of the Tea Party on the Left. After decades of decay, the Left’s too decrepit to have a broadly political movement; all that remains are single-issue groups. Like the unions and the environmentalists. With an aging membership, and a slow loss of public support.

From an article by Paul Voosen in E&E Publishing, 13 April 2012 (unrelated to this post, which I highly recommend):

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A look into the GOP mind: untethered from reality and drifting in the wind

Summary: Scores of posts have documented the difficulty Americans have seeing the world. Of course this affects both Left and Right. But not equally. The Right has more fully exploited the powerful tools of propaganda developed during the past century, both to motivate the faithful and gain support. Unfortunately decades of shifting the Right’s viewpoint has broken its tether to reality, allowing a slide into delusions. Today we see some evidence of this in the polls.

No rejoicing by the Left, please. Schadenfreude, however natural, should be outweighed by the danger this creates for the Republic, that a large fraction of a major party has lost their bearings.

Alice when the Madness Returns

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Contents

  1. Poll #1
  2. Poll #2
  3. Poll #3
  4. Other posts about the Right in America
  5. For More Information

Poll #1

Democrats and Republicans differ on conspiracy theory beliefs, a survey by Public Policy Polling (PPP), 2 April 2013.

Q#1: Do you believe global warming is a hoax? — 58% of GOP say “yes”.

Poll: global warming by party

Public Policy Polling, April 2013

For more about Republicans’ views of global warming, see this Gallup report, this Pew Research report. And this Pew Poll:

Poll: global warming, by party

Contrast that with the consensus of climate scientists:

“It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”
— conclusion of the IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I. For more about this consensus see these studies.

 PPP Question#8:  Do you believe President Barack Obama is the anti-Christ? — 20% of the GOP say “yes”.

This is a disturbing next step from the “Is Obama not a US citizen” and “Is Obama a Muslim?” questions, whose weirdness we have become accustomed to.

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Look in the polls, as in a mirror, to see America drift to the Right

Summary:  How have the two major parties done in attracting and retaining the public’s confidence and allegiance, from February 2009 to now? The long slow recovery should have boosted the Democratic Party, who have controlled the Executive Branch and the Senate. It hasn’t. In fact the Democrat’s remain locked into the long decline of the Left, which they’ve ridden by following the public’s shift to the Right (Democratic leaders of the 1960’s would be considered radical commies if they ran today). This is interesting since so many Republicans have gone crazy.

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Poll by Hart Research Associates
Commissioned by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal
Done 22 – 25 January 2014.

Question #6:

“Now I’m going to read you the names of several public figures and groups and I’d like you to rate your feelings toward each one as very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, or very negative.”

Compare the results for February 2009 (soon after the inauguration) and January 2014 (% for each answer; the results are similar for December 2008). Political scientists have more sophisticated ways to measure people’s political alignment, but this is the bottom lines for elections.

One party running America

The Democratic Party:

Positive -12, Neutral +4, Negative +9, Don’t know -1

  • Very positive:………….20 vs 10…..10
  • Somewhat positive:….29 vs 27…..02
  • Neutral:………………….18 vs 22…..+04
  • Somewhat negative:…14 vs 20…..+06
  • Very negative:………….17 vs 20…..+03
  • Don’t know:…………….02 vs 01…..-01

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