Saturday, August 08, 2009

A Compendium on Present Issues and Good Governance

With predictably rambling style, we herein attempt to string together observations from multiple news and opinion sources with the aim of describing comprehensively the political realities of the moment.

It's by now obvious that the Obama administration and the party he "leads" are facing the consequence of their hubristic overreaching since the November elections. The gracious Peggy Noonan notes this well as she details and interprets the Democrats' remarkably awful response to the inevitable resistance to their healthcare reform plans.

Dems in Congress have been organizing "town hall meetings," a form of political theater designed to imitate the storied populist democracy of New England small towns. Such ersatz events are stage managed to the degree that their organizers possess the ability to do so. The purpose of such meetings is to represent the congressperson as concerned about and responsive to constituents, as if such meetings gave the congressperson any better idea of what is happening within the constituency than do polls, emails, phone calls, or the like, or were more influential than lunches and golf games with lobbyists.

The opposition's obvious response to such political theater is more theater. So historically such meetings have periodically been scenes of disruptive behavior whenever such opposition is sufficiently emboldened. Ds have taken to slamming the many noisy opponents who lately show up at these town halls as organized and funded by all the wrong people: insurance companies and drug companies, whose sins are providing products that people buy, and worst of all, Republicans, whose sins are self evident in the Manichean worldview of the left.

With Ms. Noonan, we are not at all pleased by the specter of citizens shouting in public, however they are organized, dressed and placarded. But with her we affirm confidently that no external motivator will alone induce people to behave this way. People are organized because they're mad, not vice versa. Lots of folks don't like what they see of the Democrats now, but the Democrats prefer to believe that November 2008 is a permanent mandate empowering them to bring about what is historically inevitable. Meanwhile, Dems forget that they themselves have always been happy to fight organized political theater with organized political theater, but everyone else remembers just that thing, not least that the present President once was employed as a "community organizer."

One of the worst of these sins is the White House's suggestion that concerned citizens alert the President's women and men to internet sites and emails that circulate what the White House views as distortions of the healthcare issue. The portal for such reporting, gentle readers should know, is flag@whitehouse.gov. Distortions, of course, are what another perspective labels as dissent.

SWNID has taken the proactive step to self-report to Big Brother, having sent the following message last night:

The blog "Seldom Wrong, Never in Doubt" has made repeated statements criticizing the administration's plans for healthcare reform.

The blog's URL is http://seldomwrong.blogspot.com.

As the blog's author, I am glad to provide this report.

Best wishes and kindest personal regards, etc.


On the side, we urge gentle readers to send similar messages every time they themselves either post something even remotely critical of the administration's position to a blog or social networking site, forward an email similarly critical, or observe any act of communication that uses internet technology for the same purpose. Politely, obliquely but clearly we urge that gentle readers double-dog dare the administration to respond--and that gentle readers tie up the White House's server in the process. First Amendment and all that.

So what of the particulars of healthcare? Today again we are blessed with the thoughts of one Theodore Darymple, nom du plume for a British physician, who compares the UK's healthcare for humans with its healthcare for dogs. Dogs, he argues from a perspective of personal knowledge, have it better:

As a British dog, you get to choose (through an intermediary, I admit) your veterinarian. If you don’t like him, you can pick up your leash and go elsewhere, that very day if necessary. Any vet will see you straight away, there is no delay in such investigations as you may need, and treatment is immediate. There are no waiting lists for dogs, no operations postponed because something more important has come up, no appalling stories of dogs being made to wait for years because other dogs—or hamsters—come first.

The conditions in which you receive your treatment are much more pleasant than British humans have to endure. For one thing, there is no bureaucracy to be negotiated with the skill of a white-water canoeist; above all, the atmosphere is different. There is no tension, no feeling that one more patient will bring the whole system to the point of collapse, and all the staff go off with nervous breakdowns. In the waiting rooms, a perfect calm reigns; the patients’ relatives are not on the verge of hysteria, and do not suspect that the system is cheating their loved one, for economic reasons, of the treatment which he needs. The relatives are united by their concern for the welfare of each other’s loved one. They are not terrified that someone is getting more out of the system than they.


For those who believe that Mr. Darymple is leaving out significant considerations, we can only urge reading the entire article.

Our point today is that observations like Darymple's are getting traction with the public, which realizes it has more to lose than to gain with the trajectory of so-called reforms. Still, Ds are desperately posturing that any opposition must be coming from the wrong people.

Well, who have they to blame but themselves? The WSJ's editorial board today notes that drug companies initially agreed to certain terms of healthcare reform because Democrats promised them that their initial concessions would be all that was demanded of them. Pelosi, Durbin, et al. now acknowledge such agreements but grandly and nobly assert that they are not bound by them. As players of the classic board game "Diplomacy" know, pols can break their promises at any time. They just can't expect to make deals thereafter.

So when you break your word, make very sure that you're so strong that you can crush your opponents in your final, short series of moves. The Dems falsely imagine that they are ready to crush, an obvious misoverestimation by anyone's estimate but their own.

So, to return near where we began, Ms. Noonan ties this awful reading of the situation not simply to healthcare but to policy in general:

And frankly they ought to think about backing off. The president should call in his troops and his Congress and announce a rethinking. There are too many different bills, they’re all a thousand pages long, no one has time to read them, no one knows what’s going to be in the final one, the public is agitated, the nation’s in crisis, the timing is wrong, we’ll turn to it again—but not now. We’ll take a little longer, ponder every aspect, and make clear every complication.

You know what would happen if he did this? His numbers would go up. Even Congress’s would. Because they’d look responsive, deliberative and even wise. Discretion is the better part of valor.


Obama started with a laundry list of number-one priorities, a move patently foolish and reflecting an unproved self-image of singular political ability that exempts him from the conventional wisdom of leadership and governance. Now we see the consequences. This is the hubris. This is the overreach. This comes of trying to be historic, because "yes, [the royal] we can."

And such consequences are apparent all over. The Gray Lady's David Brooks reviews the soon-to-be-released In Fed We Trust, an early attempt at chronicling and analyzing the government's response to the financial crisis. Brooks's conclusion is that no one in the government really knew what was going on, but efforts succeeded because leaders were willing to adjust quietly what they were doing to get through with minimal damage. Such governance is often (always?) more effective than the ideological crusade to remake the world in a stroke. Such governance is not what Obama aims for, even if some among his administration have managed it. Now, as they move from successfully muddling through a financial crisis to avowedly remaking the economic system, a reality check is in order.

Elsewhere at the Times and concerning other issues, the peripatetic Nicholas Kristoff does an about-face to argue that the NoKos can only be handled roughly, with sanctions backed by military threats to contain their racketeering nuclear proliferation. When such idealists as Kristoff say such, the grim realities of human nature must be evident in the extreme, as are the follies of imagining the present as a unique moment of opportunities presented by an anointed chief executive. At least, they are evident to many other than the chief executive and his loyalest loyalists.

Amidst all this, American unemployment went down in July, not, of course, because jobs were added but because job losses slowed while seasonal workers and others left the employment market. Our buddies at WSJ note that this is a highly likely indicator that the recession is beginning its inevitable leveling-off and recovery. More tellingly, they note that such is happening when only about 10% of "stimulus" funds have been spent. What to do? Call off the rest of the stimulus and take over $600 billion off the federal liabilities table. Doing that would require the Obama administration to view itself as Less Necessary Than Formerly Believed. But it would have the virtue of realism.

So there's the thread in this otherwise incoherent string. What will triumph, realism or that hopey-changey thing? Our sour opinion of human nature leads us to expect that at best, we've got a lot of arguing ahead.

1 comment:

Bryan D said...

I plan on sending in all of the myths I am hearing in support of the plan—ones like that it would only cost $900 million a year or that it could be paid for with a $.03 tax on every can of soda sold as well as the larger mythological claims like it reflects the right of all humans to a particular level of healthcare, that it will reduce costs and increase efficiency, etc.