I am not alone

FWIW, I see that Kevin Drum agrees with me. First he quotes Jeremy Scahill:

Let’s be clear here:  This is a complete and total sellout to the interests of the insurance lobby by the Obama administration. This is, as Michael Moore has said, a complete victory for the ultra-capitalists.

Drum disagrees. In his opinion, the bill is

not only an enormous first step forward, but the only way to make that first step. A government-run single-payer solution was never even remotely politically plausible, and anyone who insisted on jettisoning our current framework of private insurers as a condition of reforming healthcare would never get any serious reform passed. End of story.

[…]

As for the private insurance industry, I’ll make a prediction:  within 20 years it will be gone in all but name. Either the federal government will fund the vast majority of health insurance, or else private insurers will essentially be regulated utilities, as they are in Germany or the Netherlands. This bill is the beginning of the end for all of them.

On the latter point:  Jonathan Bernstein agrees that the Affordable Care Act is merely a first step. The public option that Aaron argued for in the comment section of my previous post? It may arrive in the near future:

I think the public option is going to be a major plank of future (including 2010) Democratic campaigns, and is likely to become law in the not-distant future. Short version of the argument:  liberals really love it, it polls well [as Aaron pointed out] and so candidates are unlikely to believe that it will hurt them, and it can be passed through a future reconciliation bill (and it scores well, so it can be used to “pay” for higher subsidy levels, or unrelated items, or even deficit reduction).

I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure from liberals to add a public option through reconciliation in the next Congress, if Democrats still have the majority, and if it doesn’t happen then I do think Obama is likely to campaign for it in 2012.

President Obama? Would he really campaign on the public option?

According to xpostfactoid, President Obama is an incremental reformer with a comprehensive soul. Again:  fundamental change by degrees is what he’s after. xpostfactoid quotes the President:

The ship of state is an ocean liner; it’s not a speed boat. And so the way we are constantly thinking about this issue of how to bring about the changes that the American people need is to — is to say, if we can move this big battleship a few degrees in a different direction, we may not see all the consequences of that change a week from now or three months from now, but 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, our kids will be able to look back and say that was when we started getting serious about clean energy, that’s when health care started to become more efficient and affordable, that’s when we became serious about raising our standards in education.

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Barack Obama makes history … again

I’m breaking my blog silence to celebrate a historic achievement by President Obama and the Democratic Party. I refer, of course, to the passage of a health care reform bill:  first in the Senate and, tonight, in the House of Representatives.

I understand why some individuals who supported Barack Obama during the 2008 election campaign have been disappointed in his performance to date. In particular, I concede that civil libertarians like Glenn Greenwald have legitimate cause for concern (i.e., over government infringement of the rights of individual citizens).

But President Obama staked his credibility on the issue of health care reform, which was one of the key planks in the Democrats’ 2008 election platform. Accordingly, I have refused to join the rush to judgement. After all, the President assumed office only 14 months ago!

I have bided my time, waiting to see whether the President would succeed or fail on this extraordinarily important matter.

President Obama pursued health care reform as a legislative priority despite a terrifying economic crisis. He pursued it despite a cynical misinformation campaign on the part of Republicans. (Which succeeded insofar as a majority of Americans expressed disapproval of the Democrats’ bill, based on widespread ignorance of what the bill actually would do.) President Obama pursued this priority when many of his supporters — i.e., activists on the left of the political spectrum — called for the defeat of the bill. Those supporters were disappointed that bill was not more radical — even as Republicans and Tea Party “patriots” condemned the initiative as socialism, totalitarianism, or worse.

And the President continued to pursue health care reform after the Democrats lost a special election in Massachusetts in January, which led many observers to conclude that health care reform was dead.

Tonight, against long odds, President Obama has succeeded where several presidents before him, both Democrats and Republicans, have tried and failed. Political observers have questioned whether Democrats could govern; whether they would lose courage and flee the field of battle, demoralized and confounded. Instead, it is the Republican Party which has suffered a monumental political defeat.

Americans will soon experience what health care reform means for them and their loved ones. And when they experience it, they will like it. The Republican misinformation campaign will be exposed as the hollow sham it always was.

In my opinion, President Obama has been vindicated by tonight’s events. His critics — at least, those on the left — ought to change their tune, and acknowledge that the President has delivered the goods on a key, perennial Democratic priority.

Health care reform is the most significant legislative achievement in nearly 50 years. Tonight, Barack Obama has made history — again.
 
Obama over the top 2(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Convicting words

Stephen Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister, comments, “It is impossible to underestimate the significance of the rule of law in a modern society”:

It is a profoundly inclusive concept. One that subordinates all social, economic, political, and individual behaviour to an agreed set of codes and regulations. To have meaning, these rules must not be the exclusive preserve of a privileged few. They must be the common property of all citizens. They must be clear to everyone, taught to everyone and applied to everyone in a uniform way.

No one can be above the law. And no one can be forgotten by the law or denied its protection.

That’s a quote from the Prime Minister’s speech in Shanghai last week (hat tip, Paul Wells).

The remarks were intended as an exhortation to the Chinese government, to clean up its act. How sad that the words are equally convicting when applied to the government of the United States of America.

“No one is above the law.” Except for the President, who can flout the U.S. Constitution any time he claims he is acting in the interests of national security.

“No one can be forgotten by the law or denied its protection.” Except for any person who is accused of terrorism, in whose case there is no presumption of innocence, and no right of habæus corpus. Such individuals can be held in prison indefinitely without ever proceeding to trial, or even being formally accused of a crime.

When I say, “How sad …”, I mean that phrase quite literally. The ethical degeneration of the U.S.A. in the aftermath of 9/11 is arguably the saddest geo-political development of my lifetime.

I remain hopeful that President Obama will undo the offenses against human rights committed by his predecessor in the office. Obama has made progress, but only on certain fronts. He has a long way to go yet, to undo the damage and blot out the stain on the U.S.A.’s reputation as a civilized, just nation.

Paying the political price

I have been reading Edward Kennedy’s memoir, True Compass, in my free time. It’s a lively read:  rather strange insofar as it centres on the peculiarly privileged Kennedy family, but fascinating insofar as the Kennedy family has been at the centre of many epochal events (the Cuban Missile Crisis, the civil rights movement, the assassination of both JFK and Bobby Kennedy).

In the next few days, I plan to share a couple of excerpts that stand out for me. First up:  the passage of civil rights legislation, originally championed by JFK — and the political price the Democrats paid for doing the right thing.

The bill was passed into law just seven months after JFK’s assassination.

On June 19, 1964, a year to the day after my brother sent his civil rights bill to Congress, it passed into law on a vote of seventy-three to twenty-seven.

We knew that the Democratic Party would pay a price for this achievement. [President] Lyndon Johnson himself put it most succinctly when he remarked, “We may win this legislation, but we’re going to lose the South for a generation.” And he was right; this marked the onset of the transformation of the region from Democratic to Republican.

Other Democratic leaders foresaw this as well, yet they acted to pass the bill nonetheless. I’m convinced that they acted, as had my brother in his speech, beyond political calculus:  this was simply the right thing to do.

(pp. 217-18)

Today, the Democrats — who won the election in 2008, decisively — are struggling to pass legislation which would reform the health care system in the USA. They face opposition from both Republicans and certain conservative Democrats.

Sometimes the opposition is grounded in legitimate concerns (Is the cost sustainable?) and sometimes it is grounded in an utterly cynical political calculation (If Republicans defeat health care reform, we will have dealt President Obama a crippling blow.)

I quote Kennedy’s memoir to make this simple point:  politicians have been known to put the public interest ahead of personal or partisan political interests.

What would happen if Republicans voted in favour of health care? They would assist President Obama in realizing a historic achievement.

They would also perform a great public service. Literally tens of millions of Americans would benefit hugely as a direct result. The question is, are Republicans (and the aforementioned conservative Democrats) willing to pay a political price, as the Democrats did in passing a civil rights act in 1964?

It is abundantly clear that the answer is No. Grasping power matters more than the public good, to this generation of Republicans.

Of course, there shouldn’t be any negative political consequences for passing legislation that will benefit tens of millions of Americans. Unfortunately public debate has been poisoned by persistent, pernicious distortions and outright lies about what health care reform would entail.

That, of course, is a deliberate strategy on the part of those for whom the public good is an incidental concern.

Another perspective on Palin

Is Sarah Palin a prophet, a liar, or a bullshitter? This reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog argues for the last mentioned:

I’d argue that what [Sarah Palin] says has no relation whatsoever to the truth — you can’t count on it to be false anymore than you can count on it to be true. […] I know you’ve invested a great deal of time proving her to be a liar, but to my mind Palin’s a bullshitter, as defined by Harry G. Frankfurt in his book, On Bullshit.

According to Frankfurt, a bullshitter is the greater enemy of truth than a liar. The liar, by acting in opposition to truth, at least has some sense of what it is. The bullshitter, on the other hand, says only what he or she thinks will serve their immediate agenda and therefore pays little attention to what actually “is.” Over time their ability to recognize truth becomes attenuated.

Here is Frankfurt’s own description of the distinction between liars and bullshitters.
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The Prophet

Sarah Palin is in the news again. No — she is the news. Judging by the blogosphere, there is absolutely nothing else of consequence happening in the world.

The catalyst for all this coverage, favourable and unfavourable, is Palin’s new book:  Going Rogue.

This analysis seems right to me:

On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann went to considerable pains to cite passages in her book that were contradicted either by facts or by past statements Palin had made herself. […]

What Olbermann and the word-obsessed, meaning-seeking media cannot grasp is that Sarah Palin is not someone you believe. She is someone you believe in.

She is not a politician. She is a prophet.

The utterances of a prophet don’t have to make sense. Not on the rational plane.

To the degree that the utterances don’t make sense, they only become more profound. It is then that the Prophet speaks in exalted mysteries and ciphers which cannot be interpreted by the rules of mundane speech:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

(St. Paul, 1 Cor. 2:12-16, English Standard Version.)

That’s the claim Sarah Palin makes every day. It is implicit every time she opens her mouth.

Outsiders — unbelievers — shouldn’t dare to pass judgment on Palin. She speaks in exalted utterances which only initiates can interpret. Mundane rules do not apply.

Do not parse the grammar, or look for inconsistencies between yesterday’s utterance and today’s. Only believe! And adore.

Saviour of last resort

The quote of the day, adapted from Conrad Black, writing in the National Post:

We operate in the vortex created by three facts:

  1. Capitalism works better than any other economic system because it is based on self-interest;
  2. That self-interest eventually crowds out caution and leads to a crack-up [witness the current financial crisis]; and
  3. Governments are the only salvation, not because they have any aptitude for salvation, as the public sector is generally even less competent than the private sector, but because governments make and enforce laws and control the money supply.

In sum, government is the saviour of last resort:  “They are the last resort, ex officio, not from any natural vocation to make things better.”

Black’s low opinion of government is typical of right wing commenters. And I think even left-leaning folks would concede that government is not the most efficient instrument for getting things done. Thus we might ruefully acknowledge Black’s point:  that government is our saviour only because it has its hands on the key levers (laws, money supply), not because government is especially capable.

It would be nice if right wing commenters were able to acknowledge Black’s other two points.

First, the engine that drives capitalism is naked self-interest. That’s why capitalism succeeds. But surely people who value morality — not least, Christian morality — might concede that a system built on naked self-interest is problematic, from an ethical point of view.

Second:  self-interest, if it is not held in check (by government) eventually leads to a “crack-up” of the sort we are living through right now. Absolutely unfettered markets ultimately are not a good idea. But of course, right-leaning folks are loathe to acknowledge any such thing.

In sum:  government oversight of markets is necessary, because some actor must provide a check against naked self-interest. And yes, it’s true that government is inefficient and only semi-competent.

There is no shame in being a saviour of last resort. That’s when saviours are welcome:  when circumstances are desperate.

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