‐ May we now call it “big §#*$%@! government”?
‐ During the eight years of George W. Bush, we heard constantly that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. The moment Obama was inaugurated, dissent became the highest form of racism, fascism, and so on. Right from the first town-hall protests, anti-Obama opinion and activism were stigmatized. The stigmatization seems to have reached a peak with the passage of Obamacare and the emotions this has aroused. Liberals in general have portrayed the tea partiers and other Obama critics as an undemocratic mob. There are bad elements in every movement, of course, and America — a big, unruly country with 300 million people — has more than its share of fools, jerks, and thugs. But the attempt to rule anti-Obama protest out of bounds is itself out of bounds. Speaking of the present atmosphere, Rep. James Clyburn (D., S.C.) said, “It reminds me of that period in our history right after Reconstruction when South Carolina had a black governor and the political gains were lost because of vigilantism, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.” Never mind that South Carolina never had a black governor; the attempt to put white sheets on Obamacare critics, though common, is low. There have been threats, real and imagined, against Democrats; and there has been at least one very real threat against a Republican congressional leader, Eric Cantor: A man threatened to kill him and his family, adding, “You and your children are Lucifer’s abominations.” Reasonable people can distinguish robust democratic expression from brownshirt stuff. We should guard against the maligning of the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book.
‐ Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) fought such a good fight to staple Hyde Amendment language onto Obamacare that one hoped he might, like a Cinderella team in the NCAA playoffs, go all the way. In the end, he crumpled before the full-court press mounted by the White House and his party’s leadership, who seem to have first duped him into thinking they had the votes to pass Obamacare anyway, then lured him into trading his vote for a meaningless executive order applying Hyde language to the law — until, of course, a judge inevitably knocks it down. Time to retire the phrase “pro-life Democrat,” as only a handful (e.g., Rep. Dan Lipinski) defended the position that Stupak abandoned. Time too to retire the concept “pro-life liberal Catholic.” When it came down to it, the Stupaks of the world were more interested in passing a health-care bill than in doing all they could for the unborn. Enjoy your seamless garments.
‐ The attorneys general of 13 states filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare. (A 14th, Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli, filed a separate suit.) At the heart of the lawsuit lies a question: Do we still have a federal government of limited, enumerated powers — or is there no limit to what the federal government can compel us to do? At issue is Obamacare’s requirement that every American citizen either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty tax. Defenders of the law cite Congress’s authority to regulate interstate commerce, which eight decades of expanding government and lax Supreme Court jurisprudence have rendered distressingly elastic. But the state AGs point out that declining to buy health insurance is not commerce — and if it is, there is no activity that can escape the commerce clause’s tentacles. The Court has historically been averse to striking down big, landmark pieces of legislation, but it recently axed key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. We suppose it will come down to how Justice Kennedy is feeling that day.
‐ Sen. John Cornyn, the Texan who steers the Republican Senate campaign committee, appeared to surrender on repealing the health-care act before the fight was even on: “There is non-controversial stuff here, like the preexisting-conditions exclusion and those sorts of things. We are not interested in repealing that. And that is frankly a distraction.” Distraction? The preexisting-conditions rules are the black heart of this beast: They are what necessitate the mandate that all Americans buy Washington-approved insurance, which in turn necessitates the Rube Goldberg contrivance of bribes and amercements that the Democrats engineered to make that happen. After an earful from National Review Online readers, Cornyn retraced his rhetorical footsteps, saying he backs repeal but hopes to find “ways to ensure that individuals with preexisting conditions can access the coverage they need.” As indeed we should — after repeal.
#page# Deferred Prosperity
As the Obama administration’s rhetorical war against health-insurance companies winds down, its war against American multinationals is picking up. The president can hardly contain his disgust when he talks about these firms. Listen to him, and you’ll discover that our best companies unpatriotically move jobs overseas just so they can dodge U.S. taxes.
President Obama’s goal is to end “deferral.” Currently, the tax law allows U.S. firms that earn money offshore to defer their U.S. tax until they send the money home in the form of a dividend. If a multinational uses its German subsidiary to make money in Germany, it pays German tax, but it can avoid U.S. tax by leaving the money in its German bank account. Obama wants to tax the German profits immediately.
This change would be very consequential, because the U.S. corporate tax rate is so high. Our firms are currently able to compete abroad despite our high taxes only because those high tax rates do not kick in right away. If deferral is ended, then U.S. firms will have little chance of success.
It is correct, of course, that our firms are piling up cash overseas, and it would be great if that money could be put to use here. The right move would be to reduce the U.S. corporate tax rate so that firms do not have an incentive to locate operations in lower-tax jurisdictions. The nearby chart illustrates another reason such a move is urgent: U.S. firms are not the only ones taking their business to countries other than the U.S.
Capital inflows are a big source of growth for many countries. Jobs are created in the U.S. if Caterpillar builds a new factory here, but also if BMW does. A foreign firm that locates here, however, must pay the high U.S. corporate tax immediately. If it wants to have a presence on our continent in order to sell products in this hemisphere, the U.S. is the worst country, taxwise, it could choose.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) measures the money that foreign firms devote to their operations in a given country. The chart shows corporate tax rates and foreign direct investment for the U.S. and Japan, and the average for the rest of our OECD trading partners. The U.S. and Japan stick out in two ways. Their corporate tax rates are much higher than average, and their FDI relative to GDP is much lower.
The crucial observation is that even if President Obama somehow contrives rules that coerce U.S. firms into reducing their overseas operations, those rules will do nothing to solve the problem that our high tax rate discourages foreign firms from investing in the U.S. The solution is not the end of deferral, but a reduction in the corporate tax rate. It is hard to see how we can have a world-class economy if nobody wants to run a factory here.
#page#‐ The health-care bill denies coverage for illegal immigrants in the new “exchanges” (where those not insured through employers can shop for insurance), even if they use their own cash. This is an encouraging assertion of the principle that those settled illegally in the U.S. have no claim on federal benefits. One has to suspect, though, that the first illegal immigrant to be denied access to the exchanges will sue on constitutional grounds, aided by battalions of lawyers from La Raza, MALDEF, LULAC, and the rest of the ethnic-grievance lobbies. California’s Proposition 187, which denied state benefits to illegal immigrants, was overturned at last by the courts. Federal law might prove more resistant to judicial second-guessing than state law, but the attempt will surely be made. The progress of the suit will then most likely follow the principle first stated, so far as we know, by Michelle Malkin: “It ain’t over till the illegal alien wins.”
‐ The fact that Fidel Castro praises you for something does not mean you are guilty — but it might make you gulp once or twice. After the Democrats’ victory on health care, the old monster pronounced it “a miracle.” But he went on to twit the U.S. for being such a sluggard, historically: “It is really incredible that 234 years after the Declaration of Independence . . . the government of that country has approved medical attention for the majority of its citizens, something that Cuba was able to do half a century ago.” Castro was not all sweetness and light about President Obama, however. He called him a “fanatic believer in capitalist imperialism.” If only.
‐ A hiding-in-plain-sight (on page 158) provision in the Democrats’ health-care law exempts some senior congressional staffers from the mandate that they either enroll in a health-care plan created by Obamacare or purchase insurance on the government-run exchanges. President Obama is exempt, too. “‘Must’ is not a word to be used to princes!” Queen Elizabeth I once thundered. Neither, apparently, is “mandate.”
‐ It’s fitting that the nationalization of student loans was tacked on to the health-care bill: The Democrats’ handling of college loans is an excellent indicator of how they will proceed from the ramshackle way station that is Obamacare to the government-run monopoly they not-so-secretly desire. See if this sounds familiar: At first, there was private lending. Then the government decided the system needed some tweaking in the name of access, so it began to subsidize loans. Next, the government got into the game itself, offering its own direct loans — “healthy competition” and all that — but this “public option” was not popular, because the private sector provided better service. Inevitably, the politicians began to complain that the subsidies they had enacted were wasteful. Why subsidize a private service the government itself offers? So the private loans have been defunded, leaving the public option the only option. Look for the same to happen in a few years when Democrats start complaining that the subsidies they’ve just enacted for the insurance industry are, in fact, subsidizing the insurance industry.
‐ The banks have mostly repaid the funds taken under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, but one drain on the program remains: the $50 billion set aside for “foreclosure-relief efforts,” a catchall term for programs that pay banks not to foreclose on defaulting borrowers. This is mostly an exercise in wishful thinking, as defaulting borrowers tend to fall into one of three categories: those who are likely to resume making their payments even without help, those who could resume making payments if the loan were modified, and those who are unlikely ever to make another payment. Banks have little incentive to help the first and last groups, and the middle group is vanishingly small, which is why the administration’s foreclosure-relief efforts to date have helped relatively few borrowers. But this is not an administration that likes to yield when reality refuses to cooperate, and so efforts are under way to spend even more money bribing banks not to foreclose on the last group — people who borrowed far more than they can hope to repay. This is a win for the banks, who get cash in exchange for forestalling a large write-down on a nonperforming loan. It is loss for the taxpayers — one of the few they have so far suffered as a result of the much-maligned TARP.
#page#‐ In the heady triumphalism following passage of the health-care bill, Democrats are speaking of a new push to regularize the status of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants resident in the U.S. Frank Deffer, the Homeland Security Department’s assistant inspector general, had some sobering comments on the idea when testifying before the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee the other day. Adding 12 million applications to the immigration service’s current workload would, said Deffer, generate “the mother of all backlogs.” He added: “Clearly to us the systems could not handle it now.” So much for politicians’ breezy talk about monitoring all the conditions that will be attached to that “path to citizenship” — paying back taxes and fines, learning English, providing valid identity documents, etc. Whatever one may think about immigration amnesty as a political, moral, or economic issue, there is not much doubt that it will be a colossal administrative fiasco.
‐ What if the U.S. Treasury held an auction and no one showed up? We’re not there yet, but a wobble in investor demand for U.S. long-term bonds should have Washington worried. Bond auctions are struggling and long-term yields are surging, leaving many to wonder whether the passage of the health-care bill has finally gotten investors to start wondering whether the U.S. is still good for the money. A quick run through the numbers: The federal public debt stands at over $8 trillion and is projected to grow by another $10 trillion before decade’s end. We are rapidly approaching a debt-to-GDP ratio that is historically correlated with sovereign default (90 percent). And then there’s this statistic: A number of corporate bonds (blue-chip names such as Berkshire Hathaway and Johnson & Johnson) have yields that have gone below that of Treasuries. Investors have concluded that it is safer to lend to Warren Buffett than to Barack Obama — and we’re not sure we blame them.
‐ The FBI raided a “Christian militia group” based in Michigan, arresting nine members. The Justice Department has indicted them for sedition and other crimes. They are accused of plotting to murder law-enforcement officers in a grand plan to foment an anti-government uprising. An FBI agent in Detroit said, “This is an example of radical and extremist fringe groups which can be found throughout our society. The FBI takes such extremist groups seriously, especially those who would target innocent citizens and the law-enforcement officers who protect the citizens of the United States.” Well said and well done. In a sense, these militia groups are easy to go after. Law enforcement does so with relish, and no political or psychological hesitation. A Christian militia group is the equivalent of what Tom Wolfe, in his classic novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, calls the “Great White Defendant” — the perp every prosecutor loves to tuck into. Islamist groups and individuals are much more problematic to combat, as the gingerliness with which the Army treated Maj. Nidal Hasan illustrates. (He is the Islamist who murdered 13 at Fort Hood.) Let the FBI protect us from dangers on all sides, without fear.
‐ Even with large majorities in Congress, Democrats appear unable to pass the card-check legislation that tops Big Labor’s political wish list. So President Obama may be pursuing his next-best option: packing the National Labor Relations Board with union henchmen such as Craig Becker, who now occupies one of the NLRB’s five seats through a recess appointment announced on the last Saturday in March, conveniently outside the weekday news cycle. Becker is a radical pick who can always be relied upon to side with the unions against their capitalist oppressors. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which hasn’t opposed an NLRB nomination in 17 years, considers him a menace. Now that he’s safely ensconced, however, he’ll use the power of the NLRB to force unionization on as many businesses and workers as possible. There’s something sadly poetic about his recess appointment. Just as card check would make a mockery of union elections by denying workers the right to a secret ballot, the decision to install Becker without the Senate’s consent spares Democrats the inconvenience of having to go on the record in support of an agenda that most Americans oppose.
#page#‐ A lady in New York’s Westchester County claimed that the gas pedal of her 2005 Toyota Prius stuck and the brakes would not work, with the result that she crashed into a wall. The car’s computers, however, when examined by federal safety regulators, showed that the throttle was open and the brakes had not been applied when the crash occurred. An inquiry by local police reached the same conclusion. This fortifies our suspicion that the recent stories about runaway Toyotas are not so much to do with matters of mechanical engineering as with driver error, mass psychology, and litigation opportunism.
‐ The prospect of retirement presumably leaves the Marine Corps commandant free to speak his mind, which, on the subject of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, diverges sharply from his commander-in-chief’s. Even if the current policy on gays in the military is overturned, Gen. James T. Conway says, “I would not ask our Marines to live with someone who is homosexual if we can possibly avoid it.” Conway’s Plan B to avoid forcing any straight Marine to bunk with someone who is openly gay: build more BEQs (bachelor enlisted quarters). Plan A, of course, is: Don’t repeal DADT.
‐ The Father Brown stories of G. K. Chesterton shared a premise: Brown, a simple English priest, is a great detective because of all he has learned about sin and humanity in his confessional. The sex-abuse scandal of the Catholic Church inverts the premise: Layers of clergy let child abuse fester because of an inability to fathom the compulsions that fuel it, and a desire to protect their institution rather than tend to the faithful in their care. An inflamed press is trying to pin the scandal to Benedict XVI. As archbishop of Munich and Freising 30 years ago, he seems to have been a slack administrator, like many of his peers; yet once he became pope, he initiated a policy of strictness and transparency that has finally begun to address the scandal. From time to time, defenders of the church point out that rates of child abuse are no higher among priests than among secular schoolteachers. That is a comparison no religion should be content with.
‐ The American-Israeli relationship has come unstuck, and all because an Israeli minister announced a small housing project in Jerusalem just when Vice President Biden was visiting. (The timing made Biden look bad.) There is no real peace process, and rival Palestinian factions are close to civil war. Yet President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are pressing to have a Palestinian state set up within two years, and they have reacted to the housing project as though Israel were sabotaging their hopes and dreams. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to the White House to make amends. Nothing doing. Obama behaved like a Roman emperor with some obnoxious tribal chief from the provinces. Publicity was forbidden. Netanyahu was apparently ordered, among other things, to extend the freeze on Israeli settlements and to withdraw forces from the West Bank. When Netanyahu refused to sign a commitment to these drastic measures, Obama went off to dine privately elsewhere in the White House, with the parting words, according to the Israeli press, “Let me know if there is anything new.” Some say that Obama is out to topple Netanyahu’s shaky government coalition. Others fear that the exaggerated anger over the housing project marks something much more dramatic — a fundamental reassessment of our relationship with the Jewish state.
‐ Ever since 1776, people on either side of the Atlantic have wondered about each other. Famously, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill formed a “special relationship,” but that was in times of war, and both men had a tendency to romanticize. One way to get yourself talked about is to deflate the notion of this special relationship, and the latest to do so are the members of Parliament who compose the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee. In a report, they say that the mere use of the phrase “special relationship” is misleading, and raises unrealistic expectations. British prime ministers have to learn to be less deferential to American presidents and to be “willing to say no.” There are of course real clashes between the two countries, for instance over rendition, or military strategy in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. It is a bad omen that Hillary Clinton offers to mediate the current dispute over the Falklands between the U.K. and Argentina; to repudiate British sovereignty is to side with Argentina. But what this report is really criticizing is Tony Blair’s closeness to George W. Bush; it is another anti–Iraq War salvo disguised as statesmanship. Well, there’s an election in a few weeks, lots of this committee’s members will vanish into limbo, and the special relationship will be left to look after itself, as usual.
#page#‐ It’s quite like old days that the United States and Russia are on the way to a new arms-control agreement that is intended to cut the nuclear arsenals of the two countries. This is presented as a step toward President Obama’s declared aim of a world free of nuclear weapons. The Senate, however, might not ratify a treaty, on the grounds that it restricts U.S. plans for missile defense in Europe (which is still a bogey for the Russians). We don’t yet know all the details of the new agreement, but the intended reduction of deployed strategic nuclear weapons would not bring their number far below levels already agreed to in previous treaties, and the Russians have already cut their number of launchers to the level this latest deal envisions. So at stake is only a small percentage of the arsenals. If the Russians sound glum, it is because they are constrained not by any Obama-type idealism but simply by finance: They can’t afford their nuclear forces. For the U.S. to be embarking so blithely on this course just as North Korea and Iran are going nuclear as fast as they can is a textbook — perhaps a historic — example of irony.
‐ Ayad Allawi, former interim prime minister of Iraq, led the Iraqiya bloc, a coalition of Sunnis and non-sectarian Shiites, to a narrow victory in Iraq’s parliamentary elections. The State of Law bloc of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who won Iraq’s first free election five years ago, finished a close second. Shiite hardliners and the coalition that represents the Kurdish establishment finished third and fourth. Maliki is grumbling about the results; Allawi will have to find allies to assemble a majority in parliament. The voting was marred by violence, and there are fears of more. But no Arab country except Lebanon (and Lebanon is the exception only if you discount Syrian control) enjoys a process so free. Impressive, in and of itself; astounding, after two decades of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and years of turmoil fomented by Iran, Baathists, and al-Qaeda. One day liberal multiculturalists will have to explain why they assumed that Arabs are savages who can be ruled only by brutes.
‐ Radek Sikorski, NR’s roving correspondent in the Nineties, has gone far since then, serving as Poland’s foreign minister. Most recently he lost the presidential nomination of Civic Platform, Poland’s center-right party, in a one-shot primary vote. The winner, Bronislaw Komorowski, speaker of the parliament, thanked Radek “for a good fight, carried out honorably.” The Gipper lost a lot of primaries before he won the brass ring, and we expect to report different results for Radek before long.
‐ One by one, the few remaining media outlets willing to stand up to Venezuela’s dictator, Hugo Chávez, are being shut down. Earlier this year, after RCTV defied a law requiring it to air Chávez’s speeches, the insecure autocrat responded by yanking the station’s license. Now the owner of anti-government Globovision has been arrested and banned from traveling. Numerous journalists, politicians, and judges have received similar treatment for disagreeing with Chávez, says Cardinal Jorge Urosa, whose position as head of Venezuela’s Catholic Church protects him from retaliation — for the time being, at least. And now that dissidents have responded by using Twitter and the Internet, Chávez is threatening to route all Internet traffic through a state-run company. (He also plans to start his own blog, which may prove a less effective tactic.) In the old days, the Soviets carefully controlled access to typewriters and photocopiers; now the possibilities for both illicit communication and government surveillance have vastly increased. But the strength of the human spirit and its desire for freedom endure.
#page#‐ The Chinese language is constructed on monosyllabic principles, under phonetic constraints that limit the number of available monosyllables to 400 or so. This makes it a playground for punsters. The Internet search engine Google, for example, has a Chinese name pronounced gu ge, with written characters meaning “valley of song.” Written with different characters, gu ge means “ancient dove.” Curiously, commentary sympathetic to the “ancient dove” has been turning up on Chinese blogs since Google announced its withdrawal from China following intimidation by the government. References have even turned up in print: The March 27 edition of the Chongqing Evening News, a major newspaper in southwest China, lamented that “the ‘ancient dove’ is an invisible searching bird . . . which faces extinction in China.” This subversive punning is the more remarkable in that the Evening News is owned by the local Communist Party. Plainly not everyone in China is happy to have Internet searches limited to what the Chinese Communist Party thinks suitable.
‐ Since attaining self-government in 1959, the city-state of Singapore has had only three prime ministers, all of the same party, and two of them bearing the surname Lee. The latter Lee, Lee Hsien Loong (PM from 2004 to the present day), is the son of the former, Lee Kuan Yew (PM from 1959 to 1990). Lee Junior received his first political appointment in 1984, at age 32, from the hands of Lee Senior. Does this mean that the younger Lee attained high office other than by merit? That of the 2 million or so adult Singaporeans then extant, there might have been some better equipped to handle affairs of state than Lee Senior’s offspring? Perish the thought! It was a thought that occurred to journalist Philip Bowring, who was incautious enough to commit it to print in the International Herald Tribune, calling the Lees an Asian political dynasty. Bowring had forgotten that Lee Senior holds great-grandmaster rank in the art of using defamation law against political opponents and anyone else who displeases him. The New York Times Company, which owns the Tribune, has settled with the Lees for $114,000 and a groveling apology.
‐ David Frum, sometime contributor to NR, resigned his resident fellowship at AEI. Breaking up is hard to do, and the charges and counter-charges were soon flying. We will not give them the courtesy of repetition, but will say only that we esteem AEI for its scholarship, and respect David, as we do Cyrano, for his devotion to his panache.
‐ Christiane Amanpour has worked for CNN for almost 30 years, peddling a standard left-wing view of the world. She is some mixture of Peter Jennings, Alexander Cockburn, and Hanan Ashrawi. She is poised and crisp, but her biases are clear and obnoxious. Now she is to be host of ABC’s This Week. What a comedown from David Brinkley. Hell, what a comedown from George Stephanopoulos.
‐ Ann Coulter, the conservative columnist and provocatrice, was invited to speak at the University of Ottawa by the Campus Conservatives. Before Coulter left for Canada, the university provost, François Houle, sent her a letter. He warned her that Canadian laws on freedom of expression were much different from the American. The wrong words could lead to criminal charges. “I therefore encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here.” Coulter quipped, “I was hoping for a fruit basket upon my arrival in Canada, not a threat to criminally prosecute me.” Students were prohibited from putting up posters to advertise her speech. She showed up anyway, and so did a 2,000-strong threatening mob. Our Mark Steyn dubbed these mobsters “Houligans,” in honor of the university provost. The organizers canceled the speech, saying that the threat of violence against Coulter and her supporters was too great. The speaker, or would-be speaker, seeming flabbergasted for once, said, “This has never, ever, ever happened before — even at the stupidest American university.” Wrote Steyn, “Alliances between the state’s ideological commissars and street mobs are a familiar feature of certain kinds of societies, and I suppose Canada will soon get used to its membership of this unlovely club.” Our neighbor to the north: so lovely in geography, so deficient in an understanding of liberty.
#page#‐ As we went to press, the alternative-equestrian-sports community was eagerly awaiting the world’s first gay polo tournament, scheduled for April 3 in Wellington, Fla. One might think that “gay polo” is as unnecessary a category as “gay figure skating”; after all, there is a clothing line named after the sport. But as a spokesman told the New York Post, “it’s a very macho sport. The top four players — one on each team — are nongay.” Chip McKenney, founder of the Gay Polo League, which organized the event, boasts, “One umpire told us we’d changed a lot of misconceptions he had about gay people.” On the other hand, the spokesman boasted that “of course, the uniforms are a little chic-er” than in regular polo. McKenney agrees: “The teams look great, with the shined boots and powder blue uniforms. And the tailgate parties are second to none.” A local gay broadcaster predicts, “Every drag queen from Miami will be tailgating at the games.” No reason to let stereotype-busting get in the way of a good time.
‐ Jobs aren’t the only thing vanishing from Michigan; the state’s last wild wolverine was found dead in the woods this month. In the event that UMich decides to change its mascot, we would be happy to furnish suggestions. Go, Michigan Overweening Unions! Beat them Buckeyes!
‐ The obits said that Fess Parker was born in Fort Worth, but as every former child of a certain age knows, he was born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free. Parker’s mid-Fifties turn as Davy Crockett on the Disneyland TV show was both a late instance of the Hollywood studio system, in which stars were icons of personality types, and a breakthrough instance of spin-off marketing, which in the end evolved beyond human stars altogether (Darth Vader masks sold even better than coonskin caps). The historical Crockett, a gaudy self-promoter, would have understood the process. Parker played his roles with conviction and competence (after Davy Crockett, he became Daniel Boone — same shtick, no Alamo). Apart from acting, he had a 50-year marriage and a successful career as a winemaker. Dead at 85. R.I.P.
Nil desperandum — never despair. That is a sentiment that conservatives need to take to heart now that Congress has narrowly passed a bill that simultaneously undermines life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It takes some ingenuity to add to the costs, inefficiency, and dysfunctions that the government has already bequeathed to our health-care system, but the Democrats have proven themselves up to the challenge. Almost nothing about this legislation is free of dispute, but we are convinced that it will increase taxes, increase premiums, and increase debt, while decreasing economic growth, job growth, and the quality of health care.
The Democrats had no mandate to take these steps. In 2008, the president campaigned both against forcing people to buy insurance and against taxing their benefits. The legislation runs counter to the campaign on both points. The president promised to change Washington. He has made its stench more noisome, winning the vote by using every kind of deceit and (legal) corruption, and over the objection of a bipartisan coalition representing most Americans.
We are now being told that the campaign to repeal this legislation is over before it has even begun, that Americans will come to appreciate the benefits that a bountiful government is giving them, and that the growth of the welfare state can never be reversed. We understand the odds against repeal. We understand, indeed, that complete repeal of every provision of the bill is impossible. The doughnut hole — a gap in Medicare’s prescription-drug coverage designed to encourage seniors to economize — is slated to be filled, and it is not going to be reopened.
#page#But the larger thesis seems as superficially plausible, and as ultimately convincing, as were earlier predictions that state socialism and secularization were our inevitable future. It is quite possible that the majority of America that rejects this legislation will get its way in the next few years — if it is given the right leadership. And it is worth the effort to try.
It is possible, for example, that the results of the legislation will turn out to be unpleasant more quickly than most observers realize. The bill requires insurers to charge people with preexisting conditions the same as everyone else, and the only reason for people not to game the system — dropping their insurance until they get sick and the insurer has to take them — is that the law requires them to buy insurance or pay a fine. For many people, the fine will be a cheap price to avoid paying high premiums. The effect of the legislation could be to cause the number of healthy people with insurance to fall dramatically — and for premiums to rise, which would cause more people to drop their insurance. If this happens, we can expect liberals to agitate for a single-payer system; but we can also expect the public to blame the Democrats, whose health-care system it will now be. A less lopsidedly Democratic Congress is not going to respond to this chaos by enacting single payer or raising the fines.
For that matter, the lengthy legislation could turn out to have little time bombs, the nature of which cannot currently be guessed. Nothing about the process that produced the legislation, after all, suggests that it was put together with careful consideration. Two have already exploded. States have realized that they are saddled with unfunded mandates to expand their Medicaid programs. “The federal government has to account for states’ inability to sustain our current programs,” complained one California bureaucrat. (No, it doesn’t.) Meanwhile, in the private sector, a number of companies — including AT&T, Verizon, and Caterpillar — complained that Obamacare makes it more expensive for them to provide prescription drugs for retirees. Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, responded with a call for internal company documents and testimony from CEOs. We’re the federal government, and we’re here to help ourselves to what we want.
Conservatives will be able to capitalize on the discrediting of Obamacare, however it takes place, only if they campaign this fall on a pledge to replace this government-heavy system with true reform. Republicans running against Democrats who voted for the legislation will have the easiest task. But even Republicans running against Democrats who voted against it can advance the cause by challenging those Democrats either to advocate repeal and replacement themselves or to expose themselves as false opponents of Obamacare.
Nor have pro-lifers lost the war. Pro-life candidates should campaign this fall on a pledge to make the Hyde Amendment — the partial ban on government funding of abortion, which now applies to portions of federal spending and has to be renewed each year — a permanent feature of law that applies to all federal spending. The Obama administration and most of liberaldom have pretended over the last year to favor both the principle in general and the Hyde Amendment in particular. And the principle is popular. Their posturing, disingenuous though it was, has handed pro-lifers a winning issue.
The Democrats have abused the system, ignoring both the Founders’ design and public opinion. The first step toward undoing that abuse is to make them pay a political price for it.