An American Editor

February 23, 2011

The Forked Tongue Dialogues: Romneycare vs. Obamacare

Here’s my question, one that no potential Republican candidate for president has been willing to directly tackle, at least not to date: Why is Romneycare good for Massachusetts but bad for America?

I used to be a Republican, back when one didn’t have to pass a special test to be a Republican. Remember those days when what mattered was a belief that big government wasn’t the answer to all questions and people’s rights and well being were important mainstays of Republicanism? The days of the Rockefeller, Ford, even Reagan?

Civil Rights legislation passed in the 1960s because Republicans cared about people, not because Democrats were overwhelmingly in control. It was the Republican Everett Dirksen who ensured that there were enough Republican votes to pass Civil Rights and Medicare and other Great Society legislation as the Southern Democrats and the Dixiecrats rebelled.

But today, I couldn’t be a Republican even if I was desperate to be one because I couldn’t pass the ideological litmus test: I believe that what has made America great is that its politicians ultimately sought the middle ground and compromised. Today, “middle ground” and “compromise” are banned from the Republican lexicon.

Which brings me back to Romneycare. Massachusetts undertook, at the instigation of its then Republican governor, Mitt Romney (who desperately wants to be the next president of the United States), an overhaul of healthcare, requiring that every resident of Massachusetts have health insurance or pay a fine/tax — universal healthcare for Massachusetts. And it apparently is working. The latest information indicates that nearly 99% of Bay Staters are insured and that insurance premiums have declined over the past several years (or at least the rate of increase has declined) as compared to pre-Romneycare.

On the other hand, in my state, not only has it been difficult to get good healthcare insurance, it has been exceedingly expensive and every year premiums have increased by 20% or more over the prior year. Plus there is a large swath of residents who have no insurance, can’t get insurance, or can’t afford insurance. So I ask again: Why is Romneycare good for Massachusetts but bad for America?

Perhaps instead of calling it Romneycare I should call it Republicancare. Maybe then Republicans would own up to having “coerced” citizens of Massachusetts into buying healthcare insurance whether they wanted it or not. Why is it a good argument that Obamacare is unconstitutional because it “coerces” citizens to do something they do not want to do (buy health insurance) but Republicancare/Romneycare is constitutional because it “coerces” citizens to do something they do not want to do (buy health insurance)?

Clearly, or so I would think based on Republican Second Amendment arguments, Republicans don’t believe citizens lose their constitutional rights at the state border. So where is the Republican outrage against Republicancare/Romneycare for Bay Staters? I guess the answer is wrapped up in the old state’s rights argument — states can do harm but the federal government can’t.

The reason that argument fails (at least in my thinking) is that Republicancare/Romneycare has a direct impact on interstate commerce, which the federal government can regulate. So where are Mike Pence (R-Indiana), Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota), and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), or even Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) when their help is needed? Why haven’t they, or one of them, introduced legislation to repeal the Bay State’s Republicancare/Romneycare and rescuing millions of Americans from fiscal enslavement? Or legislation cutting off all federal funding for that bit of socialized medicine?

The answer lies in the origins of that bit of state socialism: it was brought to America by Republicans and therefore cannot possibly be socialism or bad for the citizenry. So I ask yet a third time: Why is Republicancare/Romneycare good for Massachusetts but bad for America? Where is the moral outrage? Where are the witty Palinisms that rile up the Tea Party and the Republican right?

Obamacare is Republicancare/Romneycare just on a broader scale. But one would never know that by listening to the Republicans or the Tea Partiers. I offer this suggestion to Republicans and Tea Partiers: Solve the healthcare reform problem by repealing Obamacare and replacing it with Republicancare/Romneycare. Alternatively, a simpler and quicker approach would be to introduce legislation that renames Obamacare as Republicancare/Romneycare. Now you can trumpet your triumph over big government and socialized medicine yet show that you want to treat all Americans equally — a win-win for Republicans and Americans.

February 21, 2011

From Obamacare to Pencecare: The Illogical Republican

…or Sometimes You Just Gotta Keep Those Matches Away

I admit that since I became a thinking adult way back in the 1960s I have thought there was something wrong with America’s healthcare system. Even then a single-payer system made the most sense to me. But I wasn’t rabid about it. I did think that Medicare, which I strongly supported and wrote my first-ever political letter to my congressperson about, would be the baby step that would move us down that path. As history has demonstrated, 50 years later we haven’t really gone beyond either that first step or beyond the internecine wars regarding what is and isn’t a proper government role in healthcare.

I do respect the views of those who fear government encroachment into healthcare. I don’t discount some of their arguments as some of them do have merit. But I do discount and have little respect for those whose arguments essentially boil down to “your government intervention threatens my freedom and thus is bad; my government intervention threatens only your freedom and thus is good.” Alas, that is the rhetoric being applied to Obamcare (“your government intervention threatens my freedom and thus is bad”) and Pencecare (“my government intervention threatens only your freedom and thus is good”) by Republicans and Tea Partiers.

(For those who haven’t quite caught on, Pencecare is the healthcare plan that Congressperson Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, and his fellow Republicans and Tea Partiers would like to foist on me and America — essentially, fend for yourself. Obamacare needs no definition today.)

What raised my hackles this week was the cutting of all funding for Planned Parenthood, abortion under any circumstance, and Obamacare. I don’t agree with everything Planned Parenthood does; I don’t agree 100% with the current plans for Obamacare; I don’t agree that abortion should be lightly undertaken or given — but I more fervently do not agree that Planned Parenthood should be wholly defunded; that Obamacare is not good for America and should not be funded; or that all abortions should be prohibited or made so difficult to get as to de facto prohibit them. There needs to be middle ground.

The Republican illogic runs many paths. It is not that Democrats aren’t often illogical, they are, but when it comes to healthcare, budgets, and morals, today’s Republicans are significantly more illogical (and more likely to run amuck) than Democrats. Consider this bit of budget busting: According to budget-cutting Republicans it is logical for the U.S. military to spend millions of taxpayer dollars sponsoring NASCAR races (which as a sport has a declining fan base; it would have been more logical to sponsor NFL football) but it is illogical to fund Sesame Street or family planning or universal healthcare. There is a severe disconnect.

And hasn’t the Republican-Tea Party battle cry against Obamacare been government intrusion into personal healthcare decisions — putting the government between the patient and the doctor? OK, let’s step aside from whether I think I am more likely to get an unbiased and better-for-me decision about my healthcare from a government bureaucrat who doesn’t have to worry about quarterly returns for shareholders than from a private insurer whose staff bonuses are determined by how much profit the company makes, not by how much healthcare it delivers to its insured. Instead let’s look at what the Republicans-Tea Party combination wants to give us: Pencecare. Pencecare puts the government squarely between the patient and the patient’s doctor because it has predetermined that universally certain forms of healthcare shall be denied the patient. No ifs, ands, or buts.

The difference between Obamacare and Pencecare is the neutrality factor. Obamacare is neutral. It gives citizens a menu of choices, from among which the citizen can choose. In contrast, Pencecare dictates what is permissible healthcare; it gives no choice. Whereas under Obamacare the patient, the patient’s family, and the patient’s doctors can consider the totality of circumstances and choose to take action (and among actions) or inaction, under Pencecare the patient has no need to consider anything, the family’s decisions are irrelevant, and the doctor might as well not exist — the government has made the decision in advance and regardless of circumstances.

Pencecare is the Republican formulation of Sarah Palin’s “death panels” for the rest of America. Sarah Palin’s “death panels” were dealing with end-of-life decision making (should we, for example, spend $1 million dollars of taxpayer funds to prolong the life of a 90-year-old person for 30 days?); in contrast, the Pencecare “death panels” deal with beginning-of-life decision making (should we, for example, compel a 12-year-old girl who was raped by her father to carry the fetus to term even though it is likely that she will die during the childbirth process?).

The other difference between Obamacare and Pencecare “death panels” is that under Obamacare the end-of-life discussion was voluntary whereas under Pencecare the beginning-of-life discussion cannot be held — to discuss it is forbidden.

One other thing that is striking about Pencecare. Unlike Obamacare which affects all classes of Americans, Pencecare almost wholly affects the lower socioeconomic classes. Enacting Pencecare has to be a relatively easy thing to do when your income is $170,000+ a year, enabling you to financially skirt its effects, and it is clear that the primary people affected will be those who earn less than $35,000 a year and often less than $15,000 a year.

Voters gave the Republicans and Tea Partiers matches to play with in this past election. The Republicans and Tea Partiers seem to be giddy with excitement about finally being able to play with fire, and so indiscriminately keep lighting those matches. The problem is that such giddiness is blinding them to their own hypocrisy. The least we should expect is no hypocrisy.

(For one perspective on the availability and affordability of health insurance, see Money Won’t Buy You Health Insurance, written by Donna Dubinsky, a cofounder of Palm Computer and CEO of Handspring, who begins: “This isn’t the story of a poor family with a mother who has a dreadful disease that bankrupts them, or with a child who has to go without vital medicines. Unlike many others, my family can afford medical care, with or without insurance.”)

January 11, 2011

A Tea Party of the Alice-in-Wonderland Kind

Filed under: Politics — Rich Adin @ 10:35 am
Tags: , ,

The Tea Party movement is all the talk these days. The chances of electing Tea party doctrine adherents to public office is great, as the recent election shows (with the possible exception of the most extreme Tea Partiers like the Senate candidates in Nevada and Delaware). And if Theodore Roosevelt had been able to muster this kind of passion, perhaps his Bull Moose Party would have prevailed.

Yet no one has seriously considered the ramifications of the Tea Party positions. There has been some discussion of the contradictions, such as the desire to do away with Social Security and Medicare for future recipients but the unwillingness to give up their own Social Security and Medicare, but no following of the positions to their logical (or illogical) ends.

Has anyone considered that the final straw that broke the back of the extended family in the United States was the Eisenhower Interstate System, which made traveling across America easy and convenient? That was an unintended consequence of building the system (its original rationale was to create a way to quickly speed troops where they were needed in the event of a Russian invasion), but a consequence nonetheless. So what will the unintended consequences be of electing inflexible Tea Partiers to office? I guess we will soon know.

Consider the idea of going back to only those government agencies identified in the original Constitution. That immediately does away with tons of agencies and multiple cabinet offices, including the Department of Commerce which is responsible for the federal highway system. I can see it now — responsibility for repair and maintenance will fall to the states but without federal funding. Montana will complain loudly because it would have to charge each citizen multiple times what New York or Massachusetts would have to charge its citizens simply based on numbers. Montana has lots of highway miles in a difficult climate but few citizens. How happy will Montana Tea Partiers be? Or will Montana simply let the infrastructure crumble?

I may be one of the few who are bothered by the apparent need for the new Republican House of Representatives to waste time and energy to repeal the health care law, when they know it is purely symbolic. In light of all else that is problematic with America today, I would prefer to see the time and energy devoted to practical things that have a chance of being enacted and helping us on our way to full recovery. The problem with Republicans has always been the need for symbolism, even at the expense of bettering our country. After all these decades of such posturing, one would think the party would finally grow up.

If there was any hope of Republicans and Democrats turning more centrist and putting America first, that hope was shattered by the 2010 elections. I find it to be inherently wrong for any legislator to be so dogmatic that meeting in the middle is considered selling out. Take any congressional district and look at the vote — no candidate for office was elected by 100% of the voters, nor even close to 100%. So does that mean that the elected person intends to represent only a portion of his or her district? In today’s politics, yes, that is exactly what it means.

The rant against the health care legislation is the most galling of the partisanship approaches being taken in the current congress. On the one hand, Tea Partiers and Republicans rail against anything that might be considered a tax increase, at least in so far as it might be an increase for the top 1% of earners. And the cry is often heard that a tax increase will ravage small businesses, which are the economy’s backbone.

Well if the health care law is repealed, my taxes will shoot up because, among other things, I will lose the tax credit I am entitled to for providing health insurance. If the deduction is returned, that will be partial reimbursement, but there is a big difference between a credit and a deduction. So why aren’t the Tea Partiers rallying against that tax increase?

One of the other problems with both Republican and Tea Partiers’ thinking is Social Security. I’m still waiting for the first congressperson to give up his/her pension benefits (paid for by us taxpayers). I’m still waiting for the first Tea Partier to give up his/her Social Security and Medicare. Why is it that under the Republican/Tea Party plans the only ones who need to sacrifice are everyone but them?

Okay, one more bit of tomfoolery — well, maybe idiocy is a better word choice: If you don’t make cuts to Homeland Security and Defense budgets and you don’t increase taxes, how can you ever balance the budget and reduce the deficit? Even cutting Social Security and Medicare completely won’t do the trick.

I am not opposed to some of what the Republicans and Tea Partiers want in the broad sense. I agree that we need to balance the budget and reduce the deficit. (Interesting, isn’t it, that the Republican/Tea Party idol, Ronald Reagan, never submitted a balanced budget and never reduced the deficit — it took a Democrat, Bill Clinton, to accomplish that and provide a surplus that the Republicans flushed down the toilet.) But some common sense has to be part of the equation, something the Republicans/Tea Partiers, as they move further away from the center and toward the right, increasingly seem to lack.

Perhaps the Mad Hatter wasn’t so mad after all, at least not in comparison to the new Congress.

October 20, 2010

The Strangeness of Politics

In a recent New York Times article, “Stand Against Earmarks Grows Lonely as Home State Sees a Need,” it was noted that South Carolinians are upset with their conservative senator, Jim DeMint, because he isn’t supporting a request for $400,000 of federal taxpayer money to conduct a feasibility study on the dredging of the Port of Charleston, which if feasible, would lead to a further request for federal taxpayer funds of up to $250 million to actually do the work. It seems that South Carolinians are willing to accept federal money when they are willing to accept federal money. Seems to me that South Carolinians want it both ways, which, of course, the rest of us would like as well, but which seems to me to negate the idea of the United States being a single nation.

Although I am what DeMint would characterize as a liberal, which is anyone a smidgen or more to the left of Jim DeMint, I have to applaud him for taking a principled stand — he is against earmarks, period! — something many of his coconservatives are not when it comes to getting handouts. Usually they want the handouts but without any strings attached. (And this is not to say that liberals are any less desirous of either handouts or restriction-free handouts — they aren’t! You can take the politics out of the money, but you can’t take the money out of the politics.)

South Carolina is opposed — adamantly — to federal bailouts and handouts, especially to items like mandatory health insurance that could benefit all U.S. citizens — except when they are not, which is hard to predict when that will be. I think South Carolinians should lead the way and simply refuse any and all federal money. This would tell the rest of us that they truly do mean what they say.

But with the recent revelations about the problems with the mortgage foreclosure documents, I wonder how quickly conservative and Tea Party tunes will change should there be a sudden raft of major bank failures that affect their pocketbooks? Bank of America, for example, has dealings with nearly half of Americans. Should it collapse, a lot of currently wealthy people would find themselves wealth-less. And retirees, who are a large portion of the Tea Party movement, would be in trouble as the ripple of such a colossal failure spread. Relying on having an FDIC insured account is problematic because the FDIC doesn’t have enough capital to cover that size failure without further government borrowing, which, of course, we just know Jim DeMint and the Tea Partyers would vehemently oppose, preferring to have all of their wealth disappear in the collapse.

Some economists, including conservative ones, say that the latest banking fiasco could result in a bigger financial crisis for the banks than the subprime bubble burst. Which makes me wonder —

Should we see a bank like Bank of America start to topple as a result of this latest crisis, will the conservatives and the Tea Partyers stick to their principles and filibuster any proposed bailout of the banks? I admit I’m not an economist or much of a financial expert, but even I can see that if banks like JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America are allowed to fail, there are going to be a lot of formerly rich Republicans and Tea Partyers wondering what happened.

Of course, it would be an appropriate payback to all those corporations who are donating nondisclosed millions to the rollback-the-regulation candidates should their supporters let them fail. Isn’t it strange that the big Wall Street firms who were shored up by Democrat officeholders are now spending millions to kick the Democrats out. Grateful the bankers aren’t!

If the Congress swings to the right as expected, here are a few bits of legislation that the new right-wing majority should introduce: legislation to

  1. eliminate all Congressional pay raises until the budget has been balanced for at least 5 consecutive years and the national debt has been fully retired;
  2. do away with all taxpayer-funded medical and retirement benefits for all members of Congress and their spouses and families;
  3. return America to the days of the founding fathers by eliminating the filibuster — it isn’t in the Constitution — and bringing back majority rule.

There is nothing more impressive than seeing our leaders truly lead. And the cry to follow the intent of our founding fathers should be honored in the practice by recreating their work conditions. After all, they couldn’t have foreseen air conditioning, so certainly wouldn’t have considered spending taxpayer money on it to be constitutional — I see no air conditioning clause in the Constitution or even in the Federalist Papers. Perhaps if Congress had to work in the swelter of Washington without air conditioning, there would be less pompousness and more getting the people’s work done.

I grant that this seems silly, but it seems no sillier to me than the idea that we should revert to what the founders thought, especially when the founders weren’t of one voice on any topic, but were of hundreds of voices on every topic. The only single voice the founders had was that of compromise — they realized, which the “party of no” doesn’t seem to grasp, that the art of nation building is really the art of compromise. To their chagrin, the founders learned that confederation (remember the Articles of Confederation?) really doesn’t work and so compromised a different approach, the Constitution, which has worked — so far.

Compromise is the one lesson that Congress and the Supreme Court are in desperate need of learning, as are the South Carolinians who put out their hand to take but not to give. This disease — the lack of compromise — breeds the strangeness of modern American politics, which would even have been strange to the founding fathers as much as it is to the average citizen today. We all compromise everyday as part of our daily lives — unless we are politicians who can reap taxpayer largess while not accomplishing anything.

And if compromise really galls the Tea Partyers and the Jim DeMints of the American political scene, then I offer this bromide: Lead us to salvation by voluntarily giving up your Medicare, your Social Security, your exorbitant congressional pay and benefits. Be austere in your own lives first; go without medical insurance and demonstrate how the free market will take care of all your needs without government intervention. I, for one, am willing to be convinced that you are right; I just want to see you lead by example rather than by decree and platitude.

May 19, 2010

On Words: Politics, Political, and Their Progeny

Okay, I know this is dangerous territory, but I heard a speech by Robert Reich recently in which he amused his audience by defining the origins of politics. Professor Reich noted that poli is from the Greek polis and polites, or city and citizen, respectively, and that tics are blood-sucking insects. Although I found his definition amusing, and perhaps a bit accurate in our current state of political partisanship, I began to think about politics, political, and their various progeny. So here goes a look at the words and a political rant.

One source says politic is a late Middle English word derived from the Old French politique, via Latin from the Greek politikos. A different source traces its roots to a borrowing in 1427 from the Middle French politique. In the end, the birth is the same — from the Latin politicus and the Greek politikos.

But deviant forms also appeared. Politician appears to have been coined in 1588 and meant a shrewd person (and today we might mean a shrew person). One year later the meaning had morphed to a person skilled in politics. And today, when we say someone is a political animal, we can thank Aristotle and a translation from the Greek of his words politikon zoon, whose literal meaning was “an animal intended to live in a city.” Interestingly, polecat, a possible term of endearment for a politician, doesn’t have the same roots as politics.

Politics as the science and art of government dates from the 16th century. Political science first appeared in 1779 in the writings of David Hume. Political appeared in 1551 and was the English formation, believed to have its roots, again, in the Latin politicus with the addition of the English al. Politics is one of those few words that is both singular and plural, depending on context and usage.

In American English, politician originally was a noun that referred to the white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus). In Wilson’s American Ornithology (v. II, p. 166) published 1804, the vireo was described as: “This bird builds a very neat little nest…of…bits of rotten wood,…pieces of paper, commonly newspapers,…so that some of my friends have given it the name of the Politician.” Could this have been the first linking of rotten and politician? (Okay, perhaps a bit harsh.) In 1844, Natural History repeated Wilson’s association. And it was repeated again in 1917 in Birds of America.

In 1914 the Cyclopedia of American Government defined political bargain as “an agreement, usually corrupt, between contending political factions or individuals….” Seems like nothing has changed in 100 years.

Today, politician and political are simply synonyms for stalemate, for corruption, and for abuse. Alright, that’s cynical, but I’m tired of politics and politicians as usual because that is what it generally amounts to — the grinding to a halt of the country’s business to satisfy the egos of those who wield the political power and those who can buy it — especially now that the U.S. Supreme Court has given license to unlimited corporate spending in political campaigns. I can see it now: Goldman Sachs will spend $500 million — probably 1 day’s profits — to buy the next Congress, against which my paltry $500 contribution will be like a single grain of sand thrown at the Rock of Gibraltar as my attempt to influence the crumbling of the Rock.

America is quickly becoming the land of the extremes, a place where centrists, which is what most of us are, wield little to no influence, and a land where doublespeak is the language of the day. (I’m still waiting for my Tea Party neighbors who rail against socialized medicine to give up their Medicare [can I suggest a Burn Your Medicare Card rally?]. The day I see that happen will be the first day I really believe that the Tea Party is a semi-honest political movement. Until then it looks like a “me first and only” movement.)

Group greed is what seems to move America today. In my local school budget vote, my city’s school budget was soundly defeated by a 3:1 margin. I admit that for the first time in my life I voted against a school budget — and that’s a lot of votes cast over many years. The final straw was when the teachers refused to make any sacrifice whatsoever, claiming that they needed their raises and continued free benefits because their living costs have been rising. Are they so naive as to think no one else’s living costs have also been rising, that they are unique?

I know that in reality nothing has changed. Today’s group greed is the same as yesterday’s, only the groups have changed. But somewhere someone besides me must recognize the lack of equilibrium between lower taxes and maintaining or increasing government services. Something has to give. It’s like the demand for electricity to power our summer air conditioners — we want more without brownouts but we don’t want to build the infrastructure to provide more; we want less reliance on foreign oil but we want ever larger and powerful automobiles; we want our children to breathe clean air but we oppose cap-and-trade legislation.

Makes me wonder who the children really are!

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