Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sick About Health Care "Reform"

As the health care summit/charade opens today in Washington, a few thoughts come to mind. First is the recognition of what's really happening here when you boil it all down. Undoubtedly, all the incredible minutia is confusing (a fact that the statists use to their advantage), but when all is said and done, it still funnels out to a few basic principles. What kind of country are we going to be?

For much of America's history, liberty was its primary value. Our Constitution set out a cherished set of negative rights: things the government could not do to us. Now, those rights are being stripped away one by one in favor of the newer, progressive notion of "positive rights"--those things that the government must do for me (which, as it turns out, is pretty much everything). Barack Obama has been unvarnished in his view on this. He (now famously) said in a 2001 radio interview:
The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society...[T]he Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what the states can't do to you, says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf....I'm not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. The institution just isn’t structured that way.
Well, he's found another way. In all the health care debate, know this: whatever else health care reform movement is about, it's about dramatically curtailing liberty.

The other day driving home from work, I was listening to a program on NPR ("where thousands work so that hundreds may listen"). I used to think the reason I arrived home cranky every day from my commute was because of the traffic and horrible South Florida drivers. Now I'm realizing it might be because of my "entertainment" choices. Anyway, this particular program (On Point with Tom Ashwood) was discussing health care, and as expected, they had a balanced panel: one proponent for universal health care from Princeton University, and one proponent for universal health care from the leftist Center for Media and Democracy.

Discussions like this happen all over the place every day, so it's not as if this were a sudden, isolated bolt of insight. I was just impressed by how clearly the matter was stated. It's bald Marxism ("From each according to his ability, to each according to his need")--and predictably on NPR, nobody flinched.

The guest was Uwe Reinhardt, who is a professor at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The snippet begins at 15:25 of the program:
REINHARDT: The problem is that health care in America is very expensive. It's twice as much as it costs in Canada, per capita.

HOST: Mmm hmm.

REINHARDT: And some people, this lady who just called, are simply too poor to be able to afford health care for their families out of their own income, and they need help from their fellow citizens who have more money or who are healthier. And that's really the debate. To what extent do I have to...or should I brother's and sister's keeper with health care in America? All other nations have solved this. They have said, "If I'm healthy, I should subsidize the sick. If I'm rich, I should subsizize the poor." Americans have not agreed. When Senator McConnell says the American people don't want this bill, I am not so sure. Because that lady who just called definitely wants this bill. [Chuckles]

HOST: Yeah.

REINHARDT: There are richer people who need to be asked to the cashier's window, uh, myself included, by the way. Uh, some rich people may not want this bill because they don't want to pay any more.

HOST: But do you think that the plan that went so far in the Senate and then ground to a halt, and now is kind of back, and that's the president's plan...would that control the costs that you're talking about, enough that even if we're sharing...uh...the burden, it would work out?

REINHARDT: Not in the short run. I have said...I've put it in the short run, say in the next five years, even the Pope couldn't do it. It is very difficult to control costs, because...I always joke and say there's Alfred E. Newmann's equation: every dollar health spending is someone's health care income, including fraud, waste, and abuse. So when you're talking in the business community, when they're talking cost control, they're really talking about controlling the income of doctors and hospitals and pharma and device manufacturers, so you have tremendously powerful lobbyists protecting the income of these providers. It'll take at least a ten year wrestling match between Congress and these, uh, interest groups before you can ever have costs under control...
Read that last section again. In order to get "health care reform," you'll have to get costs "under control." And in order to do that, the federal government will have to begin controlling personal incomes of people in 1/6th of the American economy. Reinhardt later enthusiastically affirmed that the current health care bill is a good first step toward putting us on this road.

And they will get us down that road. Looking over the landscape in the last few days has brought to mind just how pitifully ineffectual the Republican Party has been in opposing the statist, socialistic agenda over the past, oh, 50 years. With Obama's health care reform plan seemingly going down in flames at the time of Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts, Republican after Republican could be heard pathetically squeaking about how this was really about "getting a seat at the table" and "having our voices heard." They actually seem to consider it a victory when they can kick a field goal in the other guy's stadium, on the other guy's field, playing by the other guy's rules. By sitting down to "negotiate" the nuts and bolts of the health care bill, they've once again adopted the premise and are now simply sorting out the details.

In 1993 when Bill Clinton came to office, he floated a universal health care plan (Hillarycare) which got eaten alive. But liberals spent the next 16 years pushing the concept anyway. Now, Republicans are willing to have some give and take on it. In another 16 years, complete, universal, socialized health care in this country will be a fait accompli. The shills of the GOP long ago swallowed the statist hook. They've long since conceded the notion that government should be involved in most areas of American life. As a result, all that's left to argue about is how much it's going to cost.

The Democrats want massive government programs and entitlements to bankrupt us to the 13th generation; the Republican "opposition" only wants them to bankrupt us to the 10th. As always, we must reject the idolaters wherever we find them. Statists are idolaters, believing that the government is God and can provide for our every need. And that's true whether they have a D- or an R- next to their name.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Chris Hitchens does today to Al Haig what he usually does to high profile dead folks. While there's much truth in Hitchens' gleeful torching of the corpse--Haig was a notorious schemer and maneuverer even by Washington's standards--it seems to me that Haig ends up yet again wrongly pilloried for his most celebrated incident.

Everyone remembers (or has heard about) the sweaty, bug-eyed, out-of-breath Haig taking to the White House podium in the wake of the shooting of Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981, and uttering those now-infamous words:
Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of State in that order, and should the President decide he wants to transfer the helm to the Vice President, he will do so. He has not done that. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the Vice President and in close touch with him.
The first problem with this, of course, is that it was factually incorrect. Haig, as Secretary of State, was actually fifth in line, constitutionally. After Vice President George H.W. Bush, constitutionally, there was the Speaker of the House (Tip O'Neill), President Pro Tempore of the Senate (Strom Thurmond), and then Haig.

Hitchens sums up the popular sentiment, hardened into history, about the episode:
...[T]his neurotic narcissist seized the microphone and made a clumsy attempt to seize power....nothing could equal that day's performance, which evinced all the sweaty, pasty-faced, trembling symptoms of a weak king or of a slobbering dauphin who could not wait to try on the crown.
Haig, without doubt, had his flaws, and power-hunger was among them. Still, I've always felt that he got a bad rap on this, and that--in context--he actually did the right thing.

What is almost always forgotten about the incident is what directly preceded it. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, there was a great deal of confusion. It was not even known that Reagan had been hit for at least half an hour. White House press secretary James Brady had been gravely wounded. That left assistant press secretary Larry Speakes, who was back at the White House, to address reporters in the White House press room.

Vice President Bush was aboard Air Force Two, which was en route back to Washington from Texas. Understandably, with Reagan wounded and the VP in the air, the press asked who was in charge of the country. Speakes, giving one of the most disastrous press briefings in history, answered "I cannot answer that question at this time."

According to the reports of those who were there, Secretary of State Al Haig, the man in the administration charged with keeping the closest eye on the Soviet Union at one the highest-tension periods in the Cold War, watching the disaster unfold on television as Speakes essentially tells the world that nobody seems to be in charge for the moment, shoots out of his chair and bolts down to the press room. I've asked myself, "What would I have done if I were in Al Haig's shoes that day, as the highest ranking person in the White House?" The answer I always come back to is: I would've run downstairs and assured the world that the United States was not rudderless and asleep at the switch. I would've wanted to send the message that someone is in charge here.

Did he argue incorrectly from the Constitution? Yes. Would it have been better if he hadn't? Of course. But if Haig's concern at that moment was that the world see there was someone at the helm (as he maintained ever-after), then he did about the only responsible thing one could do. Read it again, with the context in mind. This is not someone trying to pull off a coup d'etat:
As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending the return of the vice president and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course. [Emphasis added]
Haig's press conference can be viewed in the last few minutes of this and continues into the first few minutes of this. (The second bit is interesting in that it is followed immediately by a discussion between Bernard Shaw and Daniel Schorr on the nascent Cable News Network. Schorr, who was about 85 even then, has always been a left wing kook even among journalists. He immediately goes after Haig on the constitutional misunderstanding, saying that "the alacrity with which he fills vacuums has been well-noted." One wonders if this is where the harshly negative casting of the incident in the "conventional wisdom" began?)

Much of the criticism of Haig's life and legacy is deserved. But in his most infamous moment, he was actually doing the right thing where history has immortalized him as doing the wrong thing.