Friday, August 28, 2009

What duty?

Today's USA Today [Opinionline, p. 7A] includes a quote from Jonathan Cohn, senior editor of The New Republic, as follows:

"[Ted] Kennedy...was a crusader....He saw a country full of people made vulnerable--by circumstances of birth, economic misfortune, illness, or injury....He believed we had an obligation, as a nation, to protect them. And so he spoke out--for universal health care, for civil rights, for aid to people with disabilities, for more generous assistance to the poor. And when opponents criticized those moves, because they meant bigger government or bigger taxes, Kennedy didn't deny the charge. He justified it, in a way few Democrats would dare to do today. It was, he said, the way Americans fulfill their duty to one another."

Americans duty to one another? Now, there's a novel notion. Of course, there are millions of Americans who step up to the plate to help other Americans in need through charitable service or private donations. This is all very good. However, there are some ways of helping our fellow Americans for which private charity simply cannot get the job done. One of those areas is health care. Nor is the free market the answer. Why? Because when it comes to health care, profitability, prevention, and doctor-patient privilege just do not mix well. Cost efficacy judgments must be made by those with the most at risk in the treatment, not by those whose stake is measured solely by the advantage to shareholders.

It's like one of the health care professionals said tonight on Bill Moyers' Journal: "We live in a society, not just an economy." Kennedy understood that. The question now is, does Obama get it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In Memorium--Edward M. Kennedy

I became a Democrat in November of 1960, when John F. Kennedy was elected the 35th president of the United States. I was 14 years old and just on the cusp of forming my own moral and political consciousness. President Kennedy's assassination, three years later, shattered whatever illusions I had about the nobility of politics in America. It cauterized my naivete as to the superiority of America's ideals and ushered in a brief but devastating era of the worst form of anarchy--ballot by bullet. It was that mind-numbing insanity that brought down another of my heroes, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., in 1968. What idealism about America I had left at that point, bled to death in that same moment.

Today is the first day in my life as a socially sentient being that there is not a Kennedy brother walking the earth--no voice, unabashedly liberal, yet willing to speak with, to, and for those of a very different ideology. Yet, I cannot say that Ted Kennedy was my idol; a hero, yes, but not my ideal. Like every tragic hero whose story has ever been written, he was noble, yet flawed. He drank too much, womanized far too often, and indulged his enormous appetites more than I could fathom. Yet, his voice was raised, in defense of those less fortunate, more loudly and clearly than I could ever muster. He understood his wealth and how to enjoy it to the fullest. But he never forgot that "there, but for the grace of God, go I". For that, I will always admire the man and seek to emulate him.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thought dot II

"When the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail."--Abraham Maslow, 1962 [Also known as "The Law of the Instrument"]

The trademark cry of fiscal conservatives and libertarians is "low taxes, small government" as the solution to each and every problem that comes before Congress. It is, in Maslow's vernacular, the only tool in their toolbox. In times of economic contraction, such as we are experiencing now, their response is to use a larger hammer.

Even in matters of life-and-death, such as health care reform, tight-wad true-believers will consistently pull out the same tool and pound on the problem with all the enthusiasm of a preschooler gleefully driving a square peg into a round hole--oblivious to the damage done to both peg and hole. Thus, we hear [USA Today, Monday, August 24, 2009, page 6A] the voices of Senators Lieberman and Conrad calling for delaying any further action on health insurance reform legislation "until the economy's out of recession".

Despite the fact that some economists are now saying the worst of the recession is likely over, in almost the same breath they caution us that employment may not return to normal levels for several years. Since our current health insurance system is joined at the (artificial) hip to employment, delaying action on reform--again!--after 50 years of dissembling and demurral by the same mindset that is calling for yet more delay will only mean more Americans suffering delayed treatment and premature death due to a lack of money to pay for sick care. These voices deserve to be ignored and, if necessary, bowled over before they can strike one more blow against sanity, humanity, and reality.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dot thought

[Editor's note: This is my first attempt to come up with very succinct "dot thoughts" that capture a profound truth which hopefully will cut through some of the confusion and obfuscation that rampages amongst the citizenry.]

Subject: The health care public option

Background: Those opposed to the public option opine that it would eventually lead to a "government takeover of U.S. health care".

The Question: Are they right?

The Short Answer: Yes...and that's a good thing.

The Dot Thought for today: Who would you trust more with your life (and the availability and source of health care insurance fundamentally gets down to this question)? Option 1: a private, for-profit company bureaucrat whose bonus and salary is determined by the difference between the amount taken in via premiums and the amount paid out in claims. Option 2: a government bureaucrat whose salary and performance review is based upon the level of service delivered to the customer/taxpayer (or is based on time-in-service with indirect relation to performance, if at all).

Conclusion: If you chose Option 1, your interests are probably tied to those of the private insurance industry, either due to your investments in the industry or its investments in you. Your health is probably good and your income better than average. If you chose Option 2, you probably have no financial stake in the game at all--outside of the hope that your premiums will be lower or coverage more readily available--and feel some level of insecurity that you will have medical coverage when you need it.

Because the latter group is many times larger than the former, the public option would become reality, if left to a vote of the people. If it doesn't, the outcome will have been driven by beltway politics and not democracy.

It's that simple.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Categorizing the Electorate Redux

First of all, I'd like to thank Lewis for using the word "redux" recently, and hence bringing it into my vocabulary.

A few months ago I posted a categorization of the U.S. electorate which looked something like this, each with about 25%:

  • Social Conservative
  • Economic Conservative / Libertarian
  • Moderate
  • Progressive

Another way of looking at things is that globalists account for 50% of the electorate, and isolationists account for 50%. Social Conservatives and Progressives tend to be more isolationist, at least in terms of being against the multi-national mindset which looks at the world as one big integrated economy. The powerful centrists -- Moderates and Economic Conservatives -- tend to be more globalist in perspective.

Of course, there are exceptions. The Ron Paul Libertarians tend to be isolationist. And many progressives have a strong global perspective. So the globalist v isolationalist categorization doesn't map all that neatly on top of my previous categorization schema. But there is a generalization which can be made: the centrists tend to be in favor of free trade and a more integrated global economy, while the left and right wing tends to be against the recent torrid pace of globalization.

Both the left and right are in this sense conservative. They oppose different aspects of rapid change. The right is conservative with regard to behavioral standards. The left is conservative with regard to the environment. Both are conservative with regard to the economic dislocation caused by globalization.

In this regard, the Obama Administration, like the Clinton Administration before, is right smack in the center. Both the left and right are marginalized. However, if the economy fails to improve and, in fact, worsens, the center will become weaker as more and more American realize the global economy isn't working to their benefit these days...