The G-File

Help Us Socialized Medicine, You’re Our Only Hope

Dear Reader (particularly any of you with great Cherokee crab recipes you’d like to share),

If you’re like me, you never miss a column by Nick Kristof. No wait, I said that wrong. If you’re like me, you often go months without reading Nick Kristof’s column.

I stumbled on this one thanks to Mark Hemingway’s Twitter feed. It’s kind of fascinating. Kristof wants to launch a nationwide boycott of Anheuser-Busch products because the company legally sells beer. The problem is the beer ends up in the hands of the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota. Not surprisingly, there are lots of alcoholics on the reservation. Kristof even advocates having the federal government move the border of the reservation to include the tiny off-reservation town that sells the beer so that the Indian authorities can extend their reservation-wide booze ban.

I think Kristof is sincere and admirable in his concern. Alcoholism among Native Americans is a huge problem and I have sympathy for the tribal authorities eager to do something about it. I’m not prepared to second-guess their decision to ban the sale of booze on their lands.

But it is an intriguing thing to see a liberal embracing Prohibition. And that’s what he’s doing. His argument boils down to his belief that Indians can’t handle the freedom to buy booze on their own. And he may be right for cultural, historical, and biological reasons. Some Native Americans, like some Asians, have a genetic handicap when it comes to alcohol.

Still it’s intriguing because it is a widely held article of faith – on the left and the right – that Prohibition was stupid. Amusingly, today’s progressives never like to mention that their ideological forebears were at the forefront of Prohibition, and that the temperance movement was inextricably entwined with the suffrage movement. I always chuckle when progressives brag about all the wonderful things progressives did, but conveniently skip over Prohibition.

The contradiction becomes even more acute when you consider the fact that drug legalization is so fashionable among progressives today. Kristof himself has come out in favor of drug legalization.

It should be obvious to people that many illegal drugs – meth, heroin, cocaine – are just as destructive and addictive as booze, at least for very large numbers of Americans. Of course, some people can try hard drugs or alcohol and then turn their backs on it forever without much trouble. Other people can’t. My own brother, who died in no small part because of his troubles with booze and drugs, was one such person.

Call me crazy, but I find it very hard to reconcile support for banning Budweiser for Indians with advocating the legalization of narcotics for everybody.

Help Us Socialized Medicine, You’re Our Only Hope

There are other ironies here as well. Life expectancy for the Oglala Sioux is according to some estimates as little as 48 years and the infant-mortality rate is 300 percent the U.S. average. That’s horrific (and one reason we should have some humility before we condemn tribal leaders for advocating prohibition). But it’s also worth noting that Oglala Sioux have long benefited from the one thing liberals insisted above all else would raise the national life expectancy rate in the U.S.: socialized medicine, in the form of the Federal Indian Health Service. And yet things are not all going well in South Dakota. How could that be?

Culture and genetics are far more relevant to American life expectancy than is access to health care. And yet, Paul Krugman, Bill Clinton, and Michael Bloomberg – just to name three – routinely claim that our lack of government-provided health care is to blame for our trivial shortcomings when it comes to life expectancy compared to Europeans and the Japanese.

This is a point I talk about at some length in The Tyranny of Clichés:

Cultural choices and genetic nonchoices play a role, too. Here are some interesting statistics: According to the 2006 study Eight Americas, Asian American women have a life expectancy of 87 years (in Bergen County, New Jersey, Asian American women live on average to 91 years). Asian Americans as a group – e.g., men and women – have a life expectancy of 84.9 years. This isn’t because they’re rich. Their per capita income according to the study: $21,556. Second-generation Asian American women live three years longer than women in Japan – the longest-living national group in the world. . . . Black inner-city men do almost as badly [as Native Americans], living to only 66.7 years. White folks in the Northern Plains live longer than most other whites, especially whites from Appalachia and the Mississippi Valley.

Are you really going to tell me that implementing ObamaCare will smooth all that out? If we really want to improve life expectancy for black men, we could put them all in jail, because their life expectancy in prison is higher than it is outside of it (which, for the record, is just a monumentally depressing statistic). The point here isn’t to relitigate the debate over our health-care system or to claim that our system was great before Obama got his mitts on it. . . .

Our life expectancy is just three years and four months lower than number one-ranked Japan’s. Moreover, if you factor out things like murder, car crashes and other fatal accidents, etc. – problems that have little to nothing to do with our health-care system – guess what happens? America has the highest life expectancy in the world. Indeed, in America, the longer you live, the longer you’re likely to live (at least until you die).

I have no great overarching lesson here. Freedom has costs. And I think it is reasonable to ask whether some of those costs are too great for society to bear. Conversely, there are very strict limits to what you can accomplish with paternalism. And I think it’s beyond foolish to ignore those limits out of a desire to fix a demand-side problem with supply-side solutions. As a society, we’ve decided not to ban alcohol. That was the right decision, but it had costs. As a society, we are pondering whether to lift the ban on drugs. Excepting marijuana, I think that is the wrong decision. Reasonable people can disagree and they may be right. But reasonable people cannot dispute that doing so will have costs, too.  

Obama’s Birther Literary Agent & Elizabeth Warren

I find it absolutely hilarious that Obama’s own literary agent touted him as Kenyan-born. I still believe Obama was actually born in Hawaii, but that’s not the end of the story, is it? What if Obama’s Kenyan birth was actually just a bit of embellishment, like Elizabeth Warren’s equally hilarious claims to be an Indian. Warren benefitted, whether she admits it or not, from her claim to be (1/32nd) Cherokee. Perhaps Obama was simply trying to make himself more exotic by touting his Kenyan birth? If this story has legs, I expect that a lot of people will start making the Elizabeth Warren comparison as a safe-harbor criticism so as to avoid being labeled a birther (“Sort of like you just did here?” – The Couch).

And Now for the Really Important Thing

I have added a new category of people to my misanthrope’s List of Humans I Can’t Stand: people whose self-esteem is deeply bound up in their rights as a pedestrian.

I don’t know if this is a major issue where you live. I know it’s not in New York, where “Don’t Walk” signs are as binding as the rule to lift the toilet seat before peeing in Porta-Johns at Black Sabbath concerts.

But here in Washington, D.C, there are an inordinate number of people who feel like their ability to walk through a crosswalk is not only an inalienable right but a reflection of their autonomy and identity. “I, sir, am the kind of person who is not intimidated by your newfangled horseless carriage.” In my neighborhood, there are very few stoplights. There are mostly stop signs and those painted crosswalks which drivers are supposed to yield to when someone is in them.

I have no problem stopping for pedestrians – some of my best friends are pedestrians – but some of these people seem seriously aggrieved that a photographer isn’t there to capture the bravest moment since those black kids tried to walk to school in Arkansas or since that guy stared down those tanks in Tiananmen Square. Particularly annoying: Some even wait until the cars are approaching the intersection and then suddenly walk out to assert their God-given pedestrian rights in the most inconvenient manner possible.

And yet, if I were to mow down one of these people with my car, I would be the one to go to jail.

The Book

Since many of you have been asking, here’s how it’s going. Feel free to skip if you don’t care.

The Tyranny of Clichés was an instant bestseller as they say. It opened at ten on the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post bestseller lists, but at 24 on the NYT list. What happened there? Well, it’s complicated. They say their super-secret formula doesn’t count bulk sales. And we had some. AEI bought a bunch and so did NR for the subscription promotion (I’m sure you’ve seen those not-at-all-annoying pop-up ads). So, according to bookscan, if you include all of the bulk sales, I sold more books than any but the top four books on the NYT list. If you take out the bulk sales, I should have landed around ten on the NYT list. How they got to 24 is beyond me.

After the first week, it looks like sales are okay, but not as boffo as I – or the publisher – hoped. It’s early yet, graduation presents, summer reading, etc. are still in the mix. And, of course, we can count on Obama to keep my book(s) relevant for a long time to come. But the book market is incredibly crowded and conservative books over all aren’t doing very well (unless you have a radio or TV show of your own). What will matter the most in the long run is word-of-mouth. And on that front, I think I am in very good shape.

In fact, what’s funny is that the critical reception of Tyranny of Clichés is so much stronger than it was for Liberal Fascism at the outset. Commentarypanned Liberal Fascism. The Wall Street Journal review was a mess. Steve Hayward’s review in the Weekly Standard was positive and so was theClaremont Review of Books and the NY Sun, but Liberal Fascism didn’t even get a particularly good review in National Review (from Paul Johnson!). This time around the conservative reviews have been uniformly positive. The Weekly Standard’s Andy Ferguson calls it “Dazzling.” Mark Hemingway’s actual review at the Standard was a qualified rave, and over at Goodreads.com he said it ”might be the best and most fun-to-read primer on the tenets of conservative politics since P.J. O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores.” My only problem with Rob Long’s wonderful review [BROKEN LINK] in NR is that it’s too short. And John Nolte’s review at Big Government makes me blush. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

One big difference between Liberal Fascism and Tyranny of Clichés, is that LF generated a kind of hysterical pants-wetting on the left, and TOC so far hasn’t. Until this Sunday. Joe Klein has a thoroughly asinine review of my book in the upcoming New York Times book review. I hope to respond in the Tyranny blog this weekend.

Various & Sundry

Breaking ground on academic hooey:

“This point may not be popular. It may not win me friends. But I must make it. Harpo [Marx], like most men, has a symbolic vagina, somewhere on his person. Harpo, a starry man, has many vaginas. One is his wig. Another is his silence.”

Star Trek White Rabbit.

Eleven fantastic regional phrases we should all adopt.

19 facts about junk at Toys R Us.

I didn’t think this was all that funny, but it does show how subtle anti-southern bigotry isn’t going away.

If the climate-change crowd had been talking up dinosaur farts from Day One, things would be going a lot better for them today.

20 animals in milkshake comas.

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