The Flying Wedge Issue

by Rich Lowry

A few more points about the NFL fracas:

I agree with Michael that the NFL is going to find itself in an uncomfortable spot now that it’s in the middle of a wedge issue. The league has to side with its players, many of whom now hate Trump, but the renewed protests aren’t going to do its image any favors.

Whenever there’s a controversy like this, some commentators on the left make slavery analogies. Jesse Jackson, for instance, thinks Trump is exhibiting a “slave-master-servant mentality.” This trope is absurd, of course. Standing for the national anthem is hardly an outrageous demand, and NFL players obviously aren’t like slaves — for starters, they get paid for their labor.

People who say that Trump is losing because there are more protests are getting the politics backward — Trump gains when there are more protests because it makes his opponents look more unreasonable.

Trump is a culture warrior, but he has reoriented the battlefield away from questions of sexual morality to the conflict between populism and elitism, and nationalism and cosmopolitanism. The Left vastly overestimates its strength on this new cultural battlefield.

I tend to think that Trump is right, as he said on Twitter today, that standing and linking arms is much better than kneeling. It’s kind of ridiculous, though, that the president of the United States is expressing opinions at this level of granularity about what NFL players are doing on the sidelines.

Finally, while I think Trump probably has the better of the politics here, it’s another step in his isolation. He’s not just alienated from the liberal media and Hollywood elites, like most Republican presidents, but also from corporate leaders and, now, a swath of the sports world.


A Graham-Cassidy News Roundup

by Robert VerBruggen

A lot of stories have broken this weekend; here’s a quick overview of what’s going on. As you consider these tidbits, the key facts to remember are (a) the bill won’t pass if more than two Republican senators oppose it and (b) John McCain has already said he’ll vote no.

Susan Collins, who’s consistently opposed the party’s health-care bills this year, said it’s “difficult to envision” how she could end up voting for this one.

Rand Paul finally spelled out what it would take to win his vote. Unfortunately, it’s narrowing or dropping the part of the bill that converts Obamacare spending into block grants to the states. The other provisions are worth passing on their own if that’s the only way forward — they include spending caps for Medicaid, looser restrictions for health savings accounts, and state waivers from Obamacare regulations — but the block grants are the bill’s core.

Ted Cruz said he opposes the bill in its current form and believes Mike Lee does as well. He said he’d suggested revisions that could reduce premiums, but that the latest draft of the bill doesn’t include them. (He didn’t elaborate as to the changes he wants. Earlier this year, Cruz and Lee collaborated on an amendment to an earlier bill that would allow insurers to sell plans that didn’t meet Obamacare regulations so long as they also sold at least one plan that did.)

The bill’s authors said they’ll have the new version ready Monday. That’s about the time the Congressional Budget Office plans to release its preliminary evaluation of the last one. (There won’t be time for a full score of either before the Senate’s September 30 deadline for passing the bill.)

I’ve been skeptical from the beginning that this thing would pass. The “actually it has a real chance!” phase last week was exciting, but it’s over now. This is a looooong shot.

Tradition and the Individual Talent (American Catholic Edition)

by Nicholas Frankovich

“We just weren’t good enough,” said Ralph McInerny, the late novelist and legendary Thomist at Notre Dame. He meant that the American Catholic literary bloom that began in the mid-20th century withered after the ’60s not because the world turned against it but because the talent dried up.

Joseph Bottum says he expected McInerny to mention Vatican II. After all, it coincided with what Bottum sees as the beginning of the end of America’s Catholic literary moment. Modernizing reforms that began in earnest in the ’60s rapidly made Catholicism over into something that no one in an earlier generation would have recognized as Catholic.

By many measures, the Church is shrinking in the West but burgeoning elsewhere, as I outlined last week. The percentage of the global population that is Catholic has remained remarkably constant over the past century: about 17 percent. What is changing is that population’s distribution. It’s shifting away from the West. Americans and Europeans find it less compelling than their great-grandparents did.

In America, the star Catholic novelists of mid-century were formed in the Catholicism of the Latin Mass and Old World practices and attitudes that were later extinguished overnight in most parishes. The liturgical revolution began just after Flannery O’Connor died in 1964. Walker Percy wrote into the 1980s but laced his fiction with searing commentary on what he regarded as the increasing banalization of Catholic life in America.

Catholic writers born into this impoverished religious milieu have not been as good as their counterparts who grew up when Catholicism on the ground was thicker and stronger: That’s the thesis, although Bottum is more cautious than I am about reading meaning into the simultaneity of literary decline and Vatican II.

He praises Alice McDermott’s new novel The Ninth Hour, as does Nick Ripatrazone in the next issue of NR magazine. But it’s “a tale of a world gone by,” Bottum writes. “A looking backward at what we no longer have, good and bad, rather than an account of the present or a promise of the future.”

The traditional Catholicism that is the setting of that backward-looking novel included a lot of looking backward itself, of course. That’s what made Catholicism traditional. For believers immersed in the faith, the past was alive no less than the present. They could see ghosts.

A heavyweight from the Norman Mailer generation of American letters once commented on the Catholic writers of her generation. They were sure of themselves, she recalled, though not preachy. Spend time with them and it was hard to escape the impression that they knew something you didn’t.

That’s gone. So the flowers in the garden aren’t what they used to be? Blame the flowers if you like, but it remains the case that the soil has been depleted.

Germany’s Election – Merkel Stumbles (But Still Wins)

by Andrew Stuttaford


Angela Merkel, Germany’s worst postwar chancellor, but the leader (to some) of the free world and paramount defender (to some) of ‘liberal values’ appears to have stumbled (just a bit, at least: She still won) in today’s parliamentary elections. 

The Guardian:

Angela Merkel has secured a fourth term as German chancellor but with her authority diminished, after her conservative bloc secured the lead position in parliamentary elections but failed to halt the march of rightwing populists. The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) was celebrating its historic third place success on Sunday night, having secured 13% of the vote, according to exit polls, marking the first time in almost six decades that an openly nationalist party will enter the Bundestag.

As a reminder, the AfD, which began life defined (more or less) by its opposition to the euro, has evolved (after splits and the departure of its founder) into a much harder line party of the nationalist right, a party that has clearly been given a big boost by Merkel’s irresponsible and narcissistic behavior during the migrant/refugee crisis in 2015. 

The Guardian:

Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrat-led alliance secured around 33.5% of the vote according to exit polls, 12.5 points ahead of her main rivals, Martin Schulz’s centre-left Social Democrats, who according to initial results had secured 21 points, marking a historical low for Germany’s oldest party and pushing it on to the opposition benches.

The arrogant  and condescending Schulz, a eurofundamentalist and a lion of the ‘European’ Parliament (he was its president), has now discovered that winning a real parliamentary election is rather more difficult than was the case with the EU’s sad facsimile. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh. 

The Guardian:

Addressing CDU supporters in Berlin, a somewhat subdued looking Merkel thanked “voters who put their trust in us”. She said the “strategic goals” of her party’s election campaign had been reached, and gave her a clear mandate to form the next government, but she called the outcome “a result which was not as good as we had expected”.

She also promised to listen to the “concerns and anxieties” of AfD voters in order to win back their votes.

And if you believe that…

There will be plenty more to say about this election, but Angela Merkel will serve a remarkable fourth term as chancellor (whatever happened today, that’s still an impressive achievement), with her CDU and Bavaria’s CSU probably (best guess) in an somewhat awkward coalition with the free market FDP (now back in parliament) and the Greens.  The AfD will be given the cold shoulder, and not only by Merkel. This may enable them to portray themselves as the ‘real’ opposition, a strategy that has worked well for the Sweden Democrats, a somewhat similar party that was shunned by all the other parties after it first made it into the Swedish parliament.

One interesting question is the degree to which the Social Democrats will now grow closer to the Left Party, a party with roots in East German Communism and which took (judging by the exit polls) a little under 9 percent of the vote.

Not such a dull election after all. 

On #TakeTheKnee

by Michael Brendan Dougherty

Rich Lowry is probably correct about the political dynamics at work when president Trump said NFL owners should fire players who don’t stand for the national anthem. In his crude way, Trump found a way to activate a majoritarian kick reflex. But, what might be good for Trump in the short term is horrible for the NFL and probably bad for society. 

Although I’ve drifted away from watching football for the past few years for no particular reason, I hope the league has some very creative minds working on what is bound to be an immense problem.  Cultural partisanship is now probably stronger than any other form of affiliation in this country other than family. And its further intrusion into every pre-game ceremony is bound to alienate some portion of fans. 

The president’s comments on Friday have opened up the protests to new meanings. Players can kneel during the national anthem in a way that looks like a protest of the president,  or in solidarity with their fellow athletes. Consequently, more are joining them. But the protests may still be perceived as against the flag or anthem, whether by fans, the local big-wig season ticket buyers, or advertisers.  Probably millions of football watchers will construe these protests as against them in some way, for voting for Trump, or disapproving of Colin Kaepernik’s original protest. This dynamic is a disaster for the NFL. 

The passion of partisanship is now so great, that we seem determined to misunderstand each other. Dislike protests that take the flag or the national anthem as their object? Well, you must really only object to powerful statements of anti-racism. Cheering on the protesting players? You must think your current partisanship transcends the importance of our country and all those who sacrificed for it. It seems as if everyone is falling into the trap set by their opponents. 

There’s also an strange feeling about it all, don’t you think? I don’t mean to say that symbols, gestures, ceremony and protest are unimportant. But this is the sort of outrage news cycle that seems likely to appear in the history books as a way of demonstrating how distracted or innocent we were while some great national challenge or calamity was well on its way to crashing on us. 

Have a great Sunday evening!

The Warriors Won’t Go to the White House — What W Would Have Done

by Nicholas Frankovich

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. A few months later, they went to the White House for the traditional round of presidential congratulations.

Manny Ramirez was a no-show. Why? He didn’t like the president, George W. Bush, a baseball man himself, a former part-owner of the Texas Rangers? Sox officials said Ramirez was visiting his sick grandmother.

Boston won the Series again a few years later, and the president invited the team back to the White House. Again, no Ramirez. Bush’s response? A shrug, a teasing smirk. “I guess his grandmother died again,” he said.

Ramirez was not one to speechify, and there the analogy to the current fracas between Trump and the Golden State Warriors breaks down: Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry did hold forth on their political disagreements with the president. He didn’t have to acknowledge them, however. A statesman would have ignored them.

The most cutting comeback would have been for him to express affection for the entertaining celebrity athletes. He could have learned from the proverbial southern church lady whose rejoinder to any slight or insult is to smile sweetly and say “Bless your heart!”

But for men who need a masculine example, let’s go back to W. An aide told him once that Keith Olbermann was fulminating against him on TV. Bush’s response: “Keith Olbermann? Why is he talking about me? He does SportsCenter. I love that guy!”

The anecdote may be apocryphal, but that’s beside the point, which is not (at least in my telling) that W was a better man than his media critics or successors in office. It’s that, while peevishness and carping are effete, magnanimity is manly and disarming.

Manliness is a much derided concept these days — ask Harvey Mansfield. It’s also sorely missed by many, women and men alike. Some men aspire to it but bluster, miss the mark, and end up being catty instead. It’s called Twitter. In contrast, competition on the court can still be uplifting.

Quebec Alzheimer’s Caregivers Support Medical Homicide

by Wesley J. Smith

My wife and I cared for my late mother in our home for the last five months of her life.

She had Alzheimer’s, so I know what that disease is up close and personal. Believe me, it’s more than memory loss. Far more.

That is one reason this story chills me to my bones. Caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients in Quebec want euthanasia available to the demented. From the Montreal Gazette story: 

The survey by Université de Sherbrooke epidemiologist Gina Bravo found that 91 per cent of respondents support the idea of assisted dying for individuals suffering from dementia who are at the terminal state of their illness, showing signs of distress and who have an advance written directive.

What’s more, 72 per cent said they were for assisted dying even for Alzheimer’s patients who did not sign a written directive before their illness.

Did you get that last part?

Here’s the thing: As bad as Alzheimer’s can be, the afflicted still can experience moments of clarity and joy. Even without that, these are human beings who have the greatest claim to our unconditional love and care precisely because they are so vulnerable.

Here’s another thing: Alzheimer’s can be far worse on the caregiver than it is on the afflicted, who often don’t remember their worst moments. 

Anyone who doesn’t see the potential for caregivers working to put the patient out of their own misery, is ignoring the foibles of human nature.

And who can forget the Dutch Alzheimer’s patient lethally injected by a doctor as her family held her down because she was struggling against being killed.

Euthanasia corrupts everything it touches, including our duties to care properly for those who can no longer care for themselves.

Why Donald Trump Is President

by Rich Lowry

Response To...

Comments Like Trump’s Make ...

Regarding Trump’s fire-the-NFL-protesters line last night that Teddy noted, it is a classic example of Trump’s, at times, gut-level political savvy. This kind of thing is why he’s president.

He takes a commonly held sentiment — most people don’t like the NFL protests — and states it in an inflammatory way guaranteed to get everyone’s attention and generate outrage among his critics. When those critics lash back at him, Trump is put in the position of getting attacked for a fairly commonsensical view.

Of course, NFL owners firing players on the spot for protesting isn’t necessarily common sense, but this is where “seriously, not literally” comes in. Since everyone knows that owners aren’t going to do this, Trump’s statement registers for his supporters merely as forceful opposition to the protests, not as a specific plan of action. His advocacy for a Mexico-funded border wall and for the Muslim ban played in a roughly similar way (although The Wall was taken more literally, hence Trump’s exertions to make a colorable case that it is being built).

Finally, when Trump is criticized and doesn’t back down it is taken by his supporters as a sign of strength. If a political consultant came up with this strategy, he’d deserve a huge raise. But it’s just Trump himself operating on instinct.

Comments Like Trump’s Make the Sports World a Political Battleground

by Theodore Kupfer

Last night, the president came after the assorted NFL players who have been kneeling for the national anthem. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired,’” Trump asked the crowd at his Alabama rally. This morning, he criticized NBA player Stephen Curry for hesitating to accept an invitation to the White House, and rescinded the invitation to Curry’s league-champion Golden State Warriors. Comments like these make sports a political battleground.

People may want to live in a world where they can follow sports without having to follow politics. That state of affairs certainly seems nice to me, and I think interested fans can cultivate it for themselves. Sick of hearing about national-anthem protests instead of analysis of the game? Turn off First Take and read Pro Football Focus. Care more about Colin Kaepernick’s football ability than his affection for dictators? Don’t complain that your team might sign him if he’ll help them out on the field.

Sports has never been completely separate from politics — athletes are human beings with convictions, after all — but it’s true that the distance between the two is growing smaller. But it is impossible to assign all the blame to athletes and anchors when the president makes comments like this. Nobody can fairly demand that Curry or his teammates stay silent, and no one can reasonably expect national-anthem protests to subside. Athletes will react to what Trump said, and journalists will cover their reaction. The president stoked the debate.

Yes, the sports media can be glib in its coverage of politically fraught stories. When athletes engage in political conduct, sports journalists say they have no choice but to cover it, but they tend to cover politics in a way that ignores the heterogeneous leanings of their audience. Just last week SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill tweeted that the president is a “white supremacist,” which indicts millions of people who watch her show.

Yet after Hill’s tweet, the president’s press secretary chimed in, appearing to recommend that Hill be fired. And over the last twelve hours, the president called football players sons of bitches and scolded a basketball player and his team. If people are genuinely upset that politics has entered the arena, they should know who to blame.

Helping Jeremy Corbyn - May’s Florentine Fail (2)

by Andrew Stuttaford

It’s a grim little task, but I’ve been thinking some more about British Prime Minister Theresa May’s vacuous and ill-consideredbig speech’ about Brexit yesterday, and specifically its political implications. Best guess: her damp squib will blow up in the Tories’ faces. Explosives geeks, spare me your pedantry.

To recap, May has walked away from the relatively easy ‘out’ offered by the ‘Norway option’ (leaving the EU, but remaining in the EEA – the Single Market). What she wants instead is a bespoke arrangement of a type that the EU is unlikely to agree to unless it is very much in the EU’s favor. Showing some realism in one respect at least, May has conceded that a bespoke solution will not be able to be put in place overnight, so she is also asking for a two year transition period, during which the UK will (de facto, if not de jure) remain in the EU.

One of the lessons of Britain’s last election (badly bungled by May and a small cabal of advisors), is that Theresa May is incapable of fighting another. Another is that the political impact of Brexit was not as expected. The Tories did gain some blue collar constituencies, but that benefit was outweighed by the support they lost in the more affluent south of England, where there were enough Conservative or Conservative-leaning voters outraged by Brexit to vote for someone else and thus put an end to the Tories’ parliamentary majority. 

By trying for a bespoke deal, May has ensured that the debate over Brexit, possibly the most divisive that I have ever seen in the UK, will continue to roil the Tory party and will, quite likely, lead to a long series of close-run votes in parliament (the Conservative government is, of course, now a minority government). Should the government fall, the best guess is either that it would be replaced by a minority government of the left or that there would be a fresh election. Should that take place, the Labour Party (headed by the far left Jeremy Corbyn) would likely win it, in alliance, presumably, with the Scottish Nationalists. 

Now, imagine you are running a business either in the UK or abroad. At the moment, you don’t know what the UK’s relationship with its largest trading partner (the EU) will be. You do know there is a reasonable chance that Corbyn’s Labour will be running the country before too long. Under those circumstances, you might be somewhat less willing to invest in the UK. In fact, you might prefer to invest elsewhere, whether to lock in access to the Single Market, dodge Corbyn or both. If enough businesses feel the same way that increases the chance that the economy will falter. If the economy falters, that increases the likelihood that Corbyn, enjoying the luxury of opposition, will prevail. Such an improvement in Labour’s prospects will deter yet more investment, and so the vicious circle turns.

Negotiating an acceptable bespoke deal will not, to put it mildly, be straightforward. May may well face a choice between accepting a humiliating Brussels diktat or presiding over a British ‘crash’ out of the EU, a crash that is unlikely to proceed very prettily. Neither alternative is a natural election winner for the Tories.

Let’s try optimism for once and assume for a moment that May is able to cut a reasonably decent deal with the EU and that the deal is acceptable to parliament. The transition period starts in 2019 as planned and the UK’s ‘final final’ departure from the EU is in 2021. That’s just a year before the next election is due, too short a time, I suspect, for a certain percentage of Tory Remainers to forgive, forget and return to the fold. Meanwhile, with Brexit in the bag, blue collar euroskeptics in the Labour heartlands will return to Corbyn’s fold. The transient boost that Brexit gave the Tories in those seats will be lost, but Brexit’s political cost (or some of it) will, so to speak, remain. 

Five years is, of course, a long time in politics. There’s plenty that could change between now and then (a Labour split, perhaps, although I doubt it), but it’s hard not to think that, by choosing the type of Brexit that she has, Theresa May, queen of the own goal, has done it again.

And for what?

The Great Books Podcast

by John J. Miller

If you believe that politics is downstream of culture, then check out my new podcast, The Great Books. These are weekly, 30-minute conversations with scholars and experts about the books they love. We’ve posted three so far, on Macbeth, Pride and Prejudice, and Xenophon’s Expedition of Cyrus (aka Anabasis). Next week we’ll cover Walt Whitman and future episodes will include Paradise Lost and Beowulf. Subscribe today!

How Reconciliation Made Repeal-and-Replace Even More Difficult

by Rich Lowry

The GOP’s hurry-up-and-give-up cycle on Obamacare hasn’t served it well. Congressional Republicans would have been much better off setting out deliberately from the beginning and accepting that trying to pass such momentous legislation would take most of the year, at best. Then, they could have worked through the various political and substantive tensions, thought through the policy carefully, and built a public case. Instead, every effort has been vulnerable to process complaints from within the party and—in the constant rush to pass the bill—there has never been a concerted campaign of public persuasion. The latest bout with Graham-Cassidy is just another instance of Republicans losing the public argument in a rout (although Graham himself has been an effective advocate).

On top of this, the reconciliation process has been a significant burden. People tend to sneer when Trump calls for eliminating the filibuster, pointing out that it would still take 50 votes to pass a health-care bill, the same threshold as under reconciliation. But reconciliation has contributed to the incoherence of the GOP bills by making it impossible to repeal some of Obamacare’s regulations. And, in the push for Graham-Cassidy, reconciliation has created the artificial deadline of September 30 and made it difficult to horse-trade and accept improvements to the bill because changes may make it impossible for the CBO to score the bill by that deadline.

Maybe the political will is not there regardless. Given the choice between holding his nose and advancing a major ideological and policy goal of his party, or making his process concerns paramount and turning his back on the party, John McCain has now done the latter twice. The bill is hanging by a thread and it’s hard to see how someone else doesn’t come out against it. If so, it will be a sorry end to a sorry legislative chapter.

Mizzou Digs a Deeper Hole

by George Leef

The University of Missouri has been cratering ever since school leaders caved in to BLM radicals in 2015. Enrollments are way down, the budget has been cut (good for the legislature!), and people have been released. (It took the Board of Regents to get rid of the odious Melissa Click.)

That being the case, you’d think that university officials would be extremely careful to avoid further missteps. But you’d be wrong, as law professor Thomas Lambert discusses in this Martin Center article.

The administration has picked a fight with one of Lambert’s colleagues on the law faculty, Royce Barondes, over his criticism of the university’s stance on concealed weapons on campus. A recently adopted provision of the state constitution protects the right of people to carry concealed weapons, but the university has declared itself above that law. When Professor Barondes sued to make the university obey the law, the administration responded with a truly vicious counterattack.

Lambert writes,

In addition to forcing Professor Barondes to defend against three spurious counterclaims, the university sued him for its attorney fees. Those fees will be tremendous, given that the university injected unnecessary complexity with its countersuit and outsourced the litigation to one of the state’s most expensive law firms (where the judge assigned to the case previously practiced law). The message from University of Missouri officials seems clear: Do not challenge us, or we will bankrupt you. We will not allow constitutional niceties to disrupt our agenda. We cannot be expected to comply with silly rules put in place by the unwashed masses of Missouri voters.

You have to wonder how much of Missouri’s flagship university will be left after the “progressive” crowd in charge gets done with it.

McCain Strikes Again

by Rich Lowry

If he doesn’t want to repeal and replace Obamacare, he should just say so — and should have said so, as Robert notes, from the outset. The bi-partisan approach he pines after is a fantasy and the Schumer statement praising McCain for his courage and promising to cooperate on a bi-partisan process is a joke.

The Liberty Files: The Kids Are Not Alright

by David French

In this week’s podcast, I speak with UCLA professor and Brookings senior fellow John Villasenor about his much-discussed survey demonstrating that a surprisingly high percentage of college students support censorship, with a shocking percentage even supporting violence to shut down “offensive” speech. We discuss the results, the reasons for the lack of support for free speech, and some potential remedies. It’s a sobering podcast, and neither side of the partisan divide covers itself with glory. 

Give it a listen, and you can click here to subscribe on multiple platforms, including iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn. 


On Graham-Cassidy and Pre-Existing Conditions

by Ramesh Ponnuru

While I was writing this post, it looks like the Graham-Cassidy health bill died, with John McCain holding the bloody knife. But you never know, so I’m going to publish it anyway.

My latest Bloomberg View column explains some of the reasons I favor passage of the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill. (This editorial has a few more.) In the column I suggest that people with pre-existing conditions should not fear the bill. It

allows states to apply for waivers from the Obamacare regulation that requires insurers to charge the same premiums for the sick and the healthy. Before granting them, the federal government has to certify that those with chronic conditions will still find coverage affordable.

Progressives worry that states will apply for waivers without making adequate provision for the chronically ill and the federal government will rubber-stamp its approval. I assign a low probability to that scenario because political pressure will militate against it. It’s because it is highly unpopular to put those with pre-existing conditions at risk that opponents of the bill have made this possibility one of their chief attacks.

I go on to suggest that states

could ask for a waiver that let insurers charge higher premiums — say 20 percent higher — for those without insurance who become sick and then want to buy insurance. At the same time, it could use its federal block grant to fully fund a high-risk pool for those who fall through the cracks. That policy mix would enable cheaper insurance and encourage healthy people to buy it.

On Twitter, Dennis Shea asks why, given my argument, people with pre-existing conditions weren’t adequately protected prior to Obamacare. Continuous-coverage protections and high-risk pools were around back then, and people with pre-existing conditions were presumably just as sympathetic, but a lot of people—while it’s a disputed question, I think two to four million is the most reasonable estimate—could not get affordable insurance.

My answer starts by noting the differences between the policy mix I’m advocating and the pre-Obamacare one. The first difference is that the federal continuous-coverage protection that existed then required insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions but did not limit the price they could be charged. Under the protection I’m discussing, people with continuous coverage would have to be charged the same price whether or not they had a pre-existing condition, and people without it would have their premium hike capped.

The second difference is that people without access to Medicare, (traditional) Medicaid, or employer coverage received no help from the government in getting health insurance. Under Graham-Cassidy, states would be able to use their block grants to give people in that situation money to buy insurance on the individual market. That’s how I’d recommend they use the bulk of the money. (And while I don’t mention it in my column, I’d also recommend that states use auto-enrollment to assign people to a catastrophic policy, as Senator Cassidy has suggested they could.)

As a result of those two differences, we should expect the population that would need help from a high-risk pool to be much smaller than the pre-Obamacare population, and thus expect any given amount of funding for the high-risk pools to cover a higher percentage of those applying for it.

Assuming this policy mix would work, would states actually either adopt it, keep the Obamacare regulations, or design some other carefully-considered way to take care of people with pre-existing conditions? Or would they instead come up with a band-aid solution and get federal sign-off?

As I said, I think there would be strong political pressure to provide real protection. In part that’s because Obamacare changed the policy baseline and the political background. Covering people with pre-existing conditions was always popular, and has probably become more so after the last few years of debating health policy, but taking coverage away from them is even more unpopular. Covering people required an affirmative act of government, and there were multiple veto points that could block it, so the existence of a pro-coverage sentiment wasn’t enough by itself to prevail. Now it’s a change in regulatory protections that would require an affirmative act, by both a state and the federal government.

I’m not sure, in fact, that a single state would apply for a waiver on the treatment of people with pre-existing conditions, even the one I’d like them to apply for, if Graham-Cassidy were to pass. Thanks to Senator McCain, Rand Paul, and others, I suppose we are unlikely to find out.

Machiavelli Laughs: Theresa May’s Florentine Fail

by Andrew Stuttaford

Something strange happened in Florence today. Visitors to the Basilica of Santa Croce, one of that fine city’s finer churches, were left with the unmistakable impression that they heard the sound of laughter from Machiavelli’s tomb.

It was, I am sure, only a coincidence that Theresa May, Britain’s stumblebum prime minister, gave her ‘big speech’ on Brexit somewhere else in Florence today:

New chapter. Vibrant debate. Partner. Shared challenges. Partnership. International order. Commitment. Resolve. Partners. Climate change. Shared values. Family of European nations. Profound. Concrete progress. Significant progress. Generations to come. Dynamic. Bold. Comprehensive. Unprecedented. Strategic. Versatile. Dynamic. Shared values. Partnership. Cooperation and partnership. Partnership. Partnership and friendship. Vision.

Leave Alliance went in for a little dietrologia:

Mrs May has today given her much vaunted Florence speech. Billed as a set-piece aimed at unlocking the talks, it has fallen flat. It is remarkable only in how little is actually said… The real question, we suspect, is really one of what she intended to say when she booked this speech. The location and timing were far from accidental and talks were delayed to make space for the speech. It had to have been something more substantive originally. She can’t have thought this was worth our time.

There is a good chance that Boris Johnson’s intervention on the weekend was designed to sabotage the intended speech and what we actually got was Speech B, designed to buy time to avoid a civil war before the Tory conference. This though, only adds to the uncertainty. May has to make choices before spring next year or major banks will walk.

There may be something to that. Not long after the speech concluded, Johnson, a clown content for now to remain in the big tent, tweeted this:

PM speech was positive, optimistic & dynamic – and rightly disposes of the Norway option! Forwards!

Forwards! The spirit of the Somme endures. 

Another perpetual, if clumsier, plotter, Michael Gove, decided—today, at least—to play Uriah rather than Judas, and tweeted this: 

An excellent speech from the PM in Florence – delivering on the wishes of the British people

To be fair, the speech wasn’t all nothing:

[P]erhaps because of our history and geography, the European Union never felt to us like an integral part of our national story in the way it does to so many elsewhere in Europe.

Very true. And that matters.

But the substance was either missing, or bad.

Take this:

We are proposing a bold new strategic agreement that provides a comprehensive framework for future security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation: a treaty between the UK and the EU.

No one sensible should argue about the need for close cooperation in these areas (such as member states of the EU currently enjoy with allies elsewhere, whether in law enforcement or, in many cases, NATO) but this seems to suggest something deeper, a suggestion that, coming from an authoritarian who was (and is) a staunch supporter of the noxious European Arrest Warrant , has ominous implications for Britons’ individual rights.

Then there’s May’s rejection of post-Brexit membership of the European Economic Area (the ‘Single Market’) on the same basis (the ‘Norway option’) as that now enjoyed by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, three countries that are neither in the EU nor (I mention this yet again for the avoidance of remarkably persistent doubt) its Customs Union:

European Economic Area membership would mean the UK having to adopt at home – automatically and in their entirety – new EU rules. Rules over which, in future, we will have little influence and no vote.

Some EU rules, with a right of reservation and, under certain circumstances, an opt-out. As to the ‘no say’, it is amazing that that is a canard that still flies, but there we are.

Having rejected the obvious off-the-shelf solution represented by ‘Norway’, May then says that what she wants is:

A new economic partnership, would be comprehensive and ambitious. It would be underpinned by high standards, and a practical approach to regulation that enables us to continue to work together in bringing shared prosperity to our peoples for generations to come.

All clear?

To be fair, May recognizes that agreeing a bespoke agreement (something in which the rest of the EU has shown little interest) might be a touch complex, an uncomfortable reality that may lead to chaos if it’s not in place by the time that the deadline (March 2019) foolishly triggered by May arrives.

And it won’t be in place.

So what May proposes is a transition period (she estimates it would last about two years) during which the UK will effectively be in the EU, but without, ahem, any say.

And if that extra two years is not enough?


To believe that this ‘solution’ offers the sort of certainty that businesses need (the sort of certainty that the Norway option—if available— would have offered) is delusional. In that last respect, at least, Theresa May’s Brexit policy is consistent.

The EU’s chief negotiator, the sinister Michel Barnier, welcomed May’s “constructive spirit”, but the penultimate sentence of his response says all that needs to be said:

We look forward to the United Kingdom’s negotiators explaining the concrete implications of Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech.

As do we all.

The Editors: Rocket Man

by NR Staff

Check out the latest episode of The Editors, in which Rich, Reihan, Charlie, and Michael Brendan Dougherty discuss Donald Trump’s speech at the UN, Graham-Cassidy, and more!

You can subscribe to The Editors on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher, and TuneIn. You can also download this episode here.

John McCain Is a No on Graham-Cassidy

by Robert VerBruggen

You can read his full statement here.

This is a serious blow to the bill’s chances; it can lose only one more Republican and still pass. Rand Paul, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski are all possible or likely no votes.

Update: It’s worth noting, by the way, that his rationale is rather bizarre. His key point — one he reiterated in his tweet announcing the decision — is this:

We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009. If we do so, our success could be as short-lived as theirs when the political winds shift, as they regularly do. The issue is too important, and too many lives are at risk, for us to leave the American people guessing from one election to the next whether and how they will acquire health insurance. A bill of this impact requires a bipartisan approach.

Fine, but if so, what was literally all of this about? It’s been clear since early this year, when Democrats rebuffed the original Cassidy-Collins bill, that no Democrat would support a repeal or deep reform of Obamacare. If McCain sincerely believes this, he should have been a firm no from the start, and shouldn’t have teased everyone by flirting with support for the various bills the Senate considered.

What the CBO Might Have Said about Graham-Cassidy

by Robert VerBruggen

Matthew Fiedler and Loren Adler of the Brookings Institution have a speculative but interesting analysis of the Graham-Cassidy bill; it’s their best guess as to what the Congressional Budget Office would say if it had time to fully score the legislation. The top-line result is that Graham-Cassidy would reduce the number of insured by 21 million during the 2020–2026 period.

More than anything, it reminded me of Ramesh Ponnuru’s argument that there’s no point waiting for CBO because it’s pretty easy to imagine what they’d say, but it’s worth digging into the report a bit.

Standard disclaimer: The bill does not lay out what happens to Obamacare funding after 2026. Congress will have to act again at that point, and you should completely ignore any estimate, from any source, going beyond that year. I will observe that rule here.

The first thing to bear in mind is that their estimates are (naturally) based on previous work by the CBO, which rightly or wrongly believes the individual mandate to be quite effective. As many conservatives have pointed out, much of the CBO’s coverage losses thus can be characterized as people voluntarily going uninsured when they’re no longer required to. In fairness, though, there’s a follow-on effect as well: As healthy people opt out of insurance, premiums go up, causing more to opt out.

The second thing to bear in mind is that since the whole point of Graham-Cassidy is to give states leeway to use (most of) Obamacare’s funding to set up their own health-care solutions, Fiedler and Adler have to guess as to what the states will do. Their solution is to divide states into four tiers that take approaches of varying generosity.

Here they make a point that I think some conservatives will appreciate: Since money is fungible and the block grants have few strings attached, states can in effect use the cash to fund projects that have nothing to do with health care. This is how:

All states would need to do is identify existing state health care programs that qualify for block grant funding, thereby freeing up the state dollars currently devoted to those program to be used in whatever way the state wishes. If this were a state’s goal, the legislation makes it easy to achieve. Total block grant funding under the Graham-Cassidy proposal is $200 billion in 2026. States could almost certainly use block grant funds to support programs that provide substance abuse and mental health services; non-Medicaid state and local government spending on such services is likely to be on the order of $50 billion in 2026. As another example, states could likely use block grant funding to finance health benefits for state and local employees; state costs in this area are likely to be on the order of $200 billion in 2026. Thus, these expenditures alone are more than sufficient to absorb the block grant funding that the Graham-Cassidy legislation would make available in 2026.

States would likely identify many other categories of existing programs that could be funded with block grant dollars, such as programs that compensate medical providers for uncompensated care or spending on health care for prison inmates. In other instances, states might be able to direct money into their general funds by funneling them through public hospitals. While it is likely that some of these uses are not intended by the legislation’s authors, many of them may be difficult to disallow while still providing states with the broad discretion over the use of the block grant funds that the authors clearly do intend.

On one hand, this just means Graham-Cassidy will be even more “federalist.” After all, it translates to more freedom for states to put the money to the use they think best — it allows them to decide the level of health-care spending in the state, not just the system through which the money will be spent. But on the other, conservatives are not fans of the federal government doling out cash to state governments for no particular reason. (An interesting possibility that occurred to me: Could liberal states play this shell game as well, and use the diverted money to, say, provide plans that cover abortion?)

Fielder and Adler’s division of states seems at least defensible, however much guesswork it entails. States that declined to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government promised to pick up the overwhelming bulk of the tab, would be inclined to divert their money; blue states would be more inclined to continue Obamacare’s policies. The authors caution that their estimates do not account for the turmoil states will experience as they set up their own marketplaces, or for the bill’s cap on traditional Medicaid spending.

Like I said: highly speculative, but worth digging into.