Magazine January 27, 2014, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

‐ The de Blasio administration is just aiming for a zero net impact on the city’s quantity of horse****.

‐ The revelations in the new Robert Gates memoir, Duty, may be bombshells, but they aren’t surprising. The former defense secretary writes that President Obama lost faith in the Afghan war after ordering more troops there — “for him it was all about getting out.” Gates also recounts how the president and Hillary Clinton admitted that their opposition to the Iraq surge was political. All of this has been obvious to anyone who reads the newspapers, but confirmation from such a highly placed and credible source as Gates is still devastating. The president asked his fellow Americans to die for what he thought was a mistake.

‐ Can forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to offer coverage of contraception (and drugs that may cause abortion) be the least burdensome way for the federal government to advance a compelling interest? That’s the Obama administration’s position. The Little Sisters have filed suit, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor has enjoined the enforcement of the contraceptive mandate. Most courts so far have sided with religious-liberty claims. The administration’s supporters, notably the New York Times, are trying to maintain that the real issue in the case is that the Little Sisters and like-minded groups are trying to impose their religious views on unwilling workers. If you consider the failure of your employer to provide you with contraceptive coverage an intolerable violation of your human rights, then you probably are not working for the Little Sisters of the Poor. But that is the kind of practical understanding of a free society that the administration has banished from its deliberations.

‐ Colorado has made the prudent choice to legalize the use of marijuana, not only for medical purposes but for the much more common purpose of getting high. Here the argument from principle and the argument from consequences both counsel against prohibition: The cost of banning marijuana, whether measured in police expenditures or in the more relevant currency of liberty lost and privacy violated, is far too high to justify such scanty benefits as may be had from our mostly fruitless efforts to suppress the use of a largely benign drug. The experience of other legalizers, such as the Netherlands, suggests that Colorado can expect higher rates of drug use, though not radically so, and that the most significant problem associated with legalizing marijuana is likely to be stoner tourism, which presents unique problems of its own. This is not to say that we should be indifferent to the use of drugs — we should, as WFB put it back in 1988, “emancipate ourselves from the superstition that that which is legal is necessarily honorable.” Colorado has taken a step away from the world in which everything not compulsory is forbidden.

‐ The New York Times wants the U.S. government to offer amnesty to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, on the grounds that he has done a public service by revealing illegal behavior by government. That he has done so is a debatable proposition. What is not debatable is that he has revealed a lot of secret government activity that is clearly legal and raises no privacy concerns at all. He has revealed, for example, some details of our surveillance of foreign leaders — and, worse, how we spy on the Afghan Taliban. In no way does this exposure make Americans freer. It merely makes us less safe. Snowden has done huge damage to the work of his country’s security services, now and in the future, and is hiding from the due punishment by seeking refuge in a hostile foreign country that benefits from the fallout of his work. He is acting more like a defector than a whistleblower.

‐ The Times also published an ostensibly comprehensive investigation of the Benghazi attack that turned up no evidence of involvement from al-Qaeda, and suggested that the infamous YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims” had led to the violence. In doing so, the Times ignored its own previous reporting, which found strong evidence that al-Qaeda-linked groups participated in the attack, and the reporting in its own story, which found only late-coming bystanders angered by the video. The al-Qaeda links are everywhere for anyone who’d like to look: Just a week later, U.S. officials confirmed that they now believe an Afghanistan-trained former associate of Osama bin Laden helped plan the attack — a suspect the Times specifically ruled out. Even more appalling than the credulity of the Times, however, is that of the White House. When Islamic terrorists who support the ideology and sport the heraldry of the global al-Qaeda network killed an American ambassador on the anniversary of 9/11, the Obama administration eagerly accepted their version of the story: that locally based protests had responded to offensive Western blasphemy. The president will never contest another election, so he may not have to answer for this. The Times has done its best to ensure that Hillary Clinton doesn’t have to, either.

‐ There’s a good argument and a bad argument against extending unemployment insurance, and Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) is making both of them. He says that it raises unemployment by reducing the incentive of recipients to take jobs, and he says that he would be fine with it if spending cuts elsewhere in the federal budget offset the cost. The first argument is the weaker one, though even it would have merit in different circumstances. Right now, however, there are three job seekers for every job opening, so extended benefits are probably doing much more good than harm. Congress should cut spending to make room for them. (If it needs a list, we recommend combing through our back issues.)

‐ Obamacare was supposed to save money by cutting down on ER visits by the uninsured. But a new, careful study on Oregonians undermines that promise. Medicaid patients, it turns out, visit the emergency room significantly more often than the uninsured, seeking ordinary or acute care there rather than securing an appointment. We already had reason to doubt the promise, since Massachusetts did not see any reduction in ER use following its own universal-coverage program. Post-Obamacare, the whole health-care system seems headed for the ER.

#page#‐AN APPEAL FOR HELP AND AN UPDATE: As readers of our website are well aware (from our constant dunning of them for help, if nothing else), National Review is getting sued by climate scientist Michael Mann. He took offense at a Mark Steyn post in our blog The Corner that mocked his famous “hockey stick” graph. When he threatened legal action, our editor, Rich Lowry, wrote an online piece telling him to get lost — which become part of his complaint against us. The case has dragged drearily on, but it looks as though an initial, misbegotten decision siding with Mann against our motion to dismiss has been tossed aside, and our motion to dismiss Mann’s current complaint will now likely be heard by a different judge. This is heartening. Nonetheless, it is all very expensive, and we hope you can see fit to contribute to support our legal defense (215 Lexington Ave, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10016). At stake most narrowly is the question of whether Mann’s work can be vigorously criticized, and more broadly is the fate of free speech in an increasingly politically correct society. When Mann first threatened to sue, we promised to teach him a lesson in the First Amendment, and that’s exactly what we intend to do.

‐ Oregon has been a generous fount of health-care news for conservatives lately. In the two months after the state rolled out its exchange, “Cover Oregon,” with a psychedelic series of promotional videos, zero people signed up. The exchange’s website wouldn’t work at all, forcing the state to enroll people with paper applications. That method yielded about 12,000 enrollments by the end of the year, but no one knows how many of the applications are valid or complete, and therefore how many Oregonians have actually gotten private insurance. Cover Oregon’s executive director and chief information officer have both resigned over the fiasco. Between jobs, they may come to regret the wreckage of their state’s individual-insurance market.

‐ All Marine recruits are supposed to be able to do three pull-ups. While 99 percent of male trainees meet this requirement, only 45 percent of females do. A spokeswoman says that Corps brass “will continue to gather data and ensure that female Marines are provided with the best opportunity to succeed.” Translation: The Pentagon will lower the requirements or find some way to evade them, most likely by “gender-norming” so that women have to meet different standards than men. We’ll have to pick our future enemies very carefully indeed.

‐ Look here upon this picture, and on this. At year’s end, MSNBC hostess Melissa Harris-Perry and a panel of colleagues mocked the Romney family’s Christmas card, which included Kieran Romney, an adopted grandchild who is black. The MSNBCniks whooped and laughed: “One of these things is not like the other,” one sang; the picture was like a GOP convention, said another, with one black face. Days later, Harris-Perry gave a tearful on-air apology. And Romney — accepted it. “If you get in the political game, you can expect incoming,” he said. “[But] for children that’s beyond the line. I think [the folks at MSNBC] understand that and feel that as well. I think it’s a heartfelt apology, and I think for that reason we hold no ill will whatsoever.” Class act, governor. Maybe MSNBC should play the clip in their talent’s dressing rooms; they might learn something.

‐ Frank Wolf, the Virginia Republican, has served in Congress since 1981. He has announced his retirement at the end of the present term. He has been one of the great champions of human rights in Congress, and in America. In the world, actually. Very few congressmen have cared to champion what he has: One thinks of the late Tom Lantos (a Hungarian refugee and Holocaust survivor); Lincoln Diaz-Balart (born in Cuba); Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (ditto); Chris Smith; Eliot Engel. Wolf has been indefatigable, irrepressible, and a credit to public life.

‐ Elizabeth Cheney dropped her bid to be a senator from Wyoming, citing family health issues. The polls had her behind the incumbent Republican, Mike Enzi, who has voted in line with his state’s conservatism even if he has not offered much leadership. Press coverage of the race had dwelt primarily on whether she was a carpetbagger (having spent most of her life outside the state) and on her family’s divisions over same-sex marriage (she opposes it, her sister is in one). Cheney is a talented public servant and conservative advocate, and we hope we will be hearing more from her in a more auspicious year.

#page#Free the Freeways!

As President Obama and the Democrats prepare for the midterm elections, they have once again turned their focus to economic policies, such as increasing the minimum wage, that they think give them political advantage. An underappreciated contributor to excessive partisanship is the tendency for politicians to focus all of their attention on the few things we disagree about most.

Our policies are such a mess that there are potential areas for progress lurking around every corner. Perhaps the biggest juicy piece of low-hanging fruit is something many NR readers experience every day: traffic congestion. Congestion in the U.S. today is a larger drag on growth than almost anything else, and better traffic and planning policies in many urban areas could go a long way to improving the economy.

As the nearby chart shows, traffic congestion in the U.S. has grown worse and worse over the past three decades, as the population has grown, people have moved to cities, and the number of miles driven by Americans each year has increased. The chart displays the total hours and total gallons of gasoline wasted due to congestion each year. These totals were calculated by measuring the difference between a free-flowing trip and the actual speeds that commuters experience and tallying these differences up over each year. Although the general upward trend dipped marginally in the years following the recent recession (the jobless don’t commute), it is clear that the amount of time and gasoline wasted due to congestion has grown to an astonishingly high level. All of this congestion also means added emissions from cars that sit in traffic.

SOURCE: Texas A&M Transportation Institute Annual Urban Mobility Report, 2012

As congestion has grown worse, so has its estimated cost each year, represented in the chart in millions of dollars. In 2011, the total estimated cost of congestion in the U.S. topped $120 billion. Think of that as an annual tax on Americans that could be eliminated with better road management and the scale of the policy opportunity becomes readily apparent.

Congestion slows business activity as well, which raises costs and reduces sales and output. A 2009 study by Kent Hymel showed that these costs add up: Using data on congestion, existing road infrastructure, and employment, he estimated that a 50 percent decrease in congestion in the United States’ ten most congested cities could boost long-run employment growth in those cities by 10 to 30 percent, and economic growth along with it.

Along with slowing economic growth, congestion takes a toll on health. Janet Currie and Reed Walker describe in a 2011 paper how introducing the E-ZPass at toll booths was tied to a decrease of 10.8 percent in prematurity in infants who lived near toll plazas, owing to fewer cars idling at plazas. Living near highways has been tied to increased rates of asthma and heart disease as well.

There is plenty of policy Sudafed for this problem. We could build more roads, increase tolls during rush hour, add more fast-passes to avoid tollbooth traffic, and improve public transportation. While members of the different political parties might favor different combinations, the key point is that pricing road use could help solve the problem, and provide a double dividend as revenues are used in other ways.

#page#‐ By all measures, abortion in the United States continues to decline. Polls show the constituency for the label “pro-choice” to have shrunk and aged markedly over the past two decades. The number of abortions performed has fallen about 25 percent since 1990, even as the population has risen. In 1991, 2,176 abortion clinics were operating in the U.S.; on January 1 of this year, that number was down to 582. A record number of clinics, 87, closed in 2013, reflecting in part the increasing inability of abortion providers to meet various state-level health and safety regulations, some of them recently established, some longstanding but only recently enforced. The abortion industry and its defenders often sound hysterical, given that abortion remains legal throughout pregnancy. But you can see why they’re concerned.

‐ Two federal courts attacked Utah’s marriage laws. One struck down a law that made it illegal for married people to “cohabit with another person,” part of the state’s policy against polygamy. Another set aside the state law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman and required the state to recognize same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court has stayed that second ruling, as it should have. Nothing in the Constitution prohibits the people of any state from recognizing marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and the Supreme Court has not ruled otherwise. Federal judges may well disagree with these laws, but they ought to stand down.

‐ Meet the illegal lawyer: Sergio Garcia, an illegal immigrant, has been admitted to the California bar by order of the state supreme court. He is therefore subject to California’s Business and Professions Code Section 6068, which holds that an attorney must uphold the “laws of the United States and of this state,” which Mr. Garcia, by definition, does not. He should have stayed an undocumented lawyer.

‐ There are almost 200 countries in the world, and the American Studies Association has voted to boycott one of them. No prizes for guessing which one: Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, the only truly free country in that region. There are two possible reactions to the ASA: You can laugh at them. Or you can recognize that the delegitimization of Israel makes physical attacks on Israel more acceptable.

‐ In one of his last acts in his lamentable career as a public nanny, outgoing New York mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a law banning the use of so-called electronic cigarettes — which are notable for not being cigarettes and contain no tobacco — anywhere smoking is prohibited. E-cigarettes are devices that deliver nicotine to those who desire it without producing smoke — the “smoke” they produce is water vapor, which human beings inhale and exhale with every breath. E-cigarette “smoke” also contains propylene glycol, which Broadway-loving New Yorkers should know as stage smoke. The use of e-cigarettes looks like smoking, and so offends the tender sensibilities of Nurse Bloomberg and those of his oddball puritanical bent. The law is a literal triumph of form over substance.

‐ James Craig may be the most sensible police chief in the United States — and he works in a city badly in need of good sense, Detroit. Recently, he spoke about the deterrent effect of gun ownership. He spent many years working in Los Angeles and then went to Portland, Maine. He had a “stack” of concealed-weapon permits he was denying, he said. “That was my orientation.” But “I changed my orientation real quick. Maine is one of the safest places in America. Clearly, suspects knew that good Americans were armed.” Maybe more police chiefs should do a stint in Maine.

‐ Obama is seldom more annoying than when he and his wife try to uplift the masses. The Agriculture Department’s 2012 school-lunch guidelines were meant to instill proper food habits by establishing maximum calorie counts, restricting meat and fat content, and encouraging greater use of vegetables and “meat alternatives” (bureaucratese for tofu). The results were predictable: The part of a 650-calorie meal that a grade-schooler considers edible was far too small to sustain human life; “smart” snacks (e.g., “light” popcorn, low-fat tortilla chips) proved about as popular in most schools as smart kids; and the program’s rules and regulations (“State agencies may authorize alternatives to the POS lunch counts, such as stationing staff at the end of the salad bar, to ensure each student leaves with a reimbursable meal”) approached Obamacaresque complexity. Instead of hiring arugula police, schools dropped out of the program (forsaking its generous subsidies), and now the USDA has changed the rules to allow considerably more flexibility, in the hope that schools can devise meals that students will actually eat. The climbdown is a welcome acknowledgment that you can’t teach people to “make smart choices” by removing choices. Better still would be for Washington to leave school lunches to the lunchroom ladies.

‐ Al-Qaeda in Iraq is back. The terror group reoccupied, at least temporarily, Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, towns in the Sunni heartland. U.S. troops had wrested these places from militant control during the height of the insurgency and pacified them at a great cost. Their reversion back to the militants is a potent symbol of the country’s slide toward chaos since American forces left. The withdrawal drastically limited our influence over Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite who has ruled in a ham-fistedly sectarian manner perfectly suited to stoking a renewed civil war. For now, the Sunni tribes fear and hate AQI even more than does Maliki, but this may not be true forever. During the Bush years, we experienced the costs of intense engagement in the Middle East; now we are experiencing the costs of precipitous retreat.

#page#‐ The tide of scandal sweeping over Turkey laps around Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and could well sweep him away in the end. He has committed the government to huge multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects. Prosecutors have arrested dozens of people who allegedly paid bribes in connection with these projects. Three of the accused are sons of cabinet ministers, and Bilal, Erdogan’s son, is said to be involved. Prosecutors have also ordered the release from prison of the popular General Cevik Bir, on the grounds that the Erdogan-inspired accusation that he had been plotting a coup was false. Hitting back in his customary no-holds-barred style, Erdogan has fired some 700 policemen, including 16 police chiefs engaged in the corruption probe, and blocked prosecutors in a second round of investigation. As usual when in trouble, Erdogan has also found a conspiracy to blame, supposedly between the United States and rival Islamists. He has a plan to replace the current parliamentary democracy with rule by a president, himself of course, whose powers would make him an updated version of the old Ottoman sultan-caliph.

‐ The Winter Olympics are about to come up in Sochi, in southern Russia. Vladimir Putin has spent an estimated $50 billion on them and wants to get his money’s worth. Nobody has claimed suicide bombings on two successive days in Volgograd, the former Stalingrad, 400 miles or so from Sochi, but presumably they were intended to frighten spectators off. Thirty-four people were killed, 62 injured. One victim was a policeman who allegedly was approaching the first bomber just outside the railway station. The authorities have been quick to blame Doku Umarov, a well-known Chechen terrorist. In the absence of any proof, however, in the tried and tested Russian manner thousands of policemen are conducting checks in Volgograd and have rounded up about 700 people. The shadow rises of the terrorist murders at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

‐ The French government has proposed to triple the tax on riding schools. And, as the Associated Press reported, advocates of riding “fear the higher tax will make lessons too expensive, and force many schools to close.” They also worry that “it will further chip away at rural traditions already struggling in a stagnant economy.” The Left’s hostility to horse-riding is something to ponder. In 1984, the speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, made the following statement about President Reagan: “The evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.” Yes, and did we also mention he likes to ride a horse? The French Left surely imagines it is striking a blow against Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The truth is, they’re just giving country folk the shaft.

‐ As all the world that watches TV knows, the Robertson family of West Monroe, La., were successful makers of duck calls who became the stars of Duck Dynasty, the super-successful reality show. Then, as all the world that follows the culture wars knows, family patriarch Phil gave an interview to GQ in which he called homosexuality a sin, comparing it to bestiality and fornication. The gay pressure group GLAAD complained; A&E, the show’s broadcaster, announced that Phil was suspended from the show; then a wave of protest forced A&E to bring Phil back. A&E took on the Robertsons as mockable rubes, but they turned out to be popular as well as amusing. GLAAD and other such groups seek to turn America into a continental college campus where social pressure and speech codes throttle debate and sounding off alike. It lost this time, but it will be back.

‐ For those who find Unitarians too doctrinaire, there is now an outfit called Sunday Assembly, where nonbelievers gather once a week to refrain from worshiping together. It might be summed up as “the Green party at prayer,” and indeed, some hard-core atheists find Sunday Assembly entirely too churchy. So for adherents of that old-time irreligion, a splinter group has started Godless Revival, which promises to put the “a” back in “atheism.” Still, the problem remains of persuading people to celebrate a negative; atheist services are like getting together every Sunday to root against a football team. So yet another sect has emerged: Atheism+, which, like the early Christians who adapted pagan rites, has co-opted liberals’ religious fervor over politics by emphasizing “social issues like sexism, racism, GLBT issues, politics, poverty, and crime.” How can the absence of dogma spawn so many heresies?

‐ Ninety-year-old George Hicks, a Dayton, Ohio, laundry owner, wins our Second Amendment in Action Award (Senior Division) for valiantly fighting off a would-be robber. When the hoodie-clad miscreant entered the R&J Laundromat and demanded cash, Hicks reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a semi-automatic handgun, and, as he later recalled, “when I went for my gun I said I’ll blow your [expletive] brains out and he was gone. . . . Why get scared? I’ve got the gun and he’s running. It was just funny.” Hicks has our admiration, and our hope that he will be spared any further such amusement.

‐ English without its Latin heritage would be like Beowulf, only less intelligible. For a good millennium, literate Englishmen used Latin, the lingua franca of Europe, alongside their native, vernacular tongue. The two languages mingled and slowly gave rise to modern English, this wildly successful integration of the North Sea with the Mediterranean. In 1913, Robert Whitwell, an English philologist with a love for his language’s ancestry, wanted a more comprehensive dictionary of British Latin than was then available. He pitched the idea to an international learned society, and one hundred years later, Ecce! Oxford University Press and the British Academy published the final fascicule of the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources in December. In the spirit of its ultimate entry, zythum, a kind of beer, gaudeamus igitur.

#page#‐ Our heroes of the Hanoi Hilton — those who survived their captivity and torture — are dying. In our November 25 issue, we eulogized Robinson Risner, an ace in more senses than one. We now do the same for Edwin A. “Ned” Shuman III, who has died at 82. He wanted to organize a church service at Christmas 1970. He knew it would result in his torture, and it did. It resulted in torture for at least four others as well. But the remaining men were able to get through the Lord’s Prayer. Having resisted on that day, our prisoners were able to conduct their makeshift Sunday services until they were released. One ex-POW, Leo Thorsness, wrote, “I know I will never see a better example of pure raw leadership” than Ned Schuman. We always knew our guys were better than Jane Fonda and the rest portrayed; but they were even better than we knew. R.I.P.

‐ Mikhail Kalashnikov, a self-taught engineer, left the world an iconic invention, the Avtomat Kalashnikova Model 1947, known as the AK-47. The son of a peasant family exiled to Siberia in the early days of the Soviet terror, he was conscripted into the Red Army and was wounded at the battle of Bryansk. He spent his convalescence dreaming of a more efficient way to kill Germans, and the AK-47 was the final result of that. In one of history’s great ironies, the fact that Communist states did not recognize patents meant that the AK-47 design became nearly universal throughout the Communist bloc and the Third World, and the weapon that Mr. Kalashnikov designed to protect his motherland from outside invaders became a favorite of, among others, terrorists who seek to do it violence from within. Mr. Kalashnikov was something of a mixed bag, singing the praises of Joseph Stalin one day, wishing that he had instead been famous for inventing a useful farm implement the next. The Soviet Union is long gone, but the AK-47 remains: From Tiananmen Square to Srebrenica to Iraqi Kurdistan, it is an instrument of slaughter in the service of political tendencies intimately related to those that got the Kalashnikovs exiled to Siberia in the first place. Dead at 94. R.I.P.

‐ For over 30 years, Bob Grant (né Robert Gigante) was the incendiary conservative voice of various radio stations in New York City. Genial, even courtly in person, Grant could be like a nutmeg grater on air, telling callers to get lost and scourging public figures he did not like. Many of these were black (he compared New York mayor David Dinkins to a “washroom attendant”) and twice Grant went far enough to be fired from his gigs. Rush Limbaugh, who in some respects emulated Grant, differed in that his hallmark was (and is) confidence. Grant seemed to need to cross the line, and be rebuked for it; his persona was inextricably bound up with bullying and grievance. Limbaugh is the happy warrior, Grant was the angry sharpshooter. Dead at 84. R.I.P.

‐ Al Goldstein was both a smut-peddler and a moral exemplum. Other porn kings — Hefner, Guccione, Flynt — leavened their wares with fiction or journalism. Goldstein’s flagship publication, Screw, trafficked in hard stuff and ads for escort services and massage parlors (i.e., prostitution), and made a fortune. Then it all came apart. Internet competition drove him into bankruptcy; he feuded insanely with his family; he sank to a homeless shelter. Fin-de-millennium America allowed him to do just what he wanted, and he reaped all the rewards. Shame on him; shame on us. Dead at 77. R.I.P.


A Failure in Progress

Because the Obamacare website is performing better than it did during its admittedly disastrous first weeks, and because congressional Democrats have not defected in the numbers that would have put the law’s near-term survival in question, supporters of the law believe that they have turned a corner. They are convinced that those of us who oppose the law can do no more than temporarily obstruct it, and that the benefits it is starting to bring to the American public will ultimately make it popular and then unchallenged.

In reality, Obamacare remains an unpopular law with deep flaws. It is performing much worse than the advocates predicted as recently as September. At the end of that month, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius said to NBC Nightly News, “I think success looks like at least 7 million people having signed up by the end of March 2014.” It was last year that the Congressional Budget Office came up with that estimate for the number of people who would enroll in Obamacare’s exchanges. Nobody now expects the target to be hit. The administration is not touting that measure of success any more, and neither are its supporters — even after the supposed triumph of its “tech surge.”

The administration is not providing the information to allow us to evaluate other aspects of its performance. We suspect that in many states, the population in the exchanges is older and sicker, and thus more expensive to cover, than the administration or the insurers had anticipated. We suspect as well that a large percentage of the people whose enrollment the administration is applauding will never pay their premiums, were previously insured but forced off their plans by Obamacare, or both. The truth will, however, eventually out.

And while Obamacare will be able to publicize positive stories — people who finally have help with their medical bills notwithstanding their preexisting conditions, for example — the negative stories will keep accumulating, too. More people will lose their existing coverage, or see their premiums increase, or their choice of doctors restricted. More exemptions will be granted from the law, too. Note that the biggest one so far, the hardship exemption from the individual mandate for people who lost their coverage owing to Obamacare, was announced after the surge. The overall picture does not seem likely to make the law popular.

The premises on which the law was sold also seem to us likely to keep unraveling. It is now widely acknowledged that the president spoke falsely when he said his law would let people who liked their insurance keep it; it will soon be clearer that what he said about keeping their doctors was also false. In recent months studies have suggested that merely expanding insurance coverage does not do much to improve health outcomes, or reduce ER visits — which were crucial to the argument of advocates of the law that it would restrain health-care costs.

This is no time, then, for opponents to flag in calling for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. Republicans should continue to press at the law’s weakest points. They should challenge Democrats to suspend the individual mandate for everyone, legislatively. The exchanges are likely to put serious financial strain on the insurance companies, who will want a bailout; Republicans should seek to repeal the claim on federal money that the law creates for them. And they should explain that conservative reforms can provide care for the sick, and peace of mind for the healthy, without the many costs of Obamacare.

Republicans will then be advocating a better deal for Americans while Democrats are trying to lower the bar for the law’s success — lower it so far that its mere survival qualifies. We trust voters to draw the right conclusions.


NYC’s Left Turn

The inauguration of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City puts a proudly left-wing politician in the national spotlight.

The most traditional thing about the new mayor may be his family: a progressive dream (black ex-lesbian wife, mixed-race children), laid over a template straight out of Leave It to Beaver: Dad, Mom, two kids. All that’s missing is a dog. De Blasio did well to put them front and center during his campaign.

De Blasio, who managed Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate race, was sworn in by Bill Clinton. De Blasio can help the Clintons fend off challenges from the left as she makes her next presidential run. As his patrons, they will however become hostages to his record as mayor.

How can he succeed? De Blasio won by attacking Michael Bloomberg’s New York as a tale of two cities, riven by inequality. That inspires his base, but New York’s mayor, though relatively powerful compared with other mayors, is still constrained in numerous ways (he must get approval from Albany for his tax policies). Socialism in one city is a hard goal to achieve in the American system.

In practice, a de Blasio administration will most likely represent a return of local Democrats to power — and to the trough. New York’s city councilmen and borough pols are a collection of midgets, many of them crooked. The big players in the party are its labor unions: teachers and other public-service workers, what Bloomberg called the “labor-electoral complex” as he left office. The unions’ idea of the new equality is to win fat contracts for their members, paid for they care not how.

De Blasio’s first move, his equivalent of Rudy Giuliani’s pounce on the squeegee men, was to announce that the horse-drawn carriages that take tourists through Central Park would be phased out. Giuliani attacked a criminal menace; de Blasio will destroy small businesses. There is also a whiff of an old-fashioned payoff in the deal, since one of de Blasio’s backers, Steve Nislick, is a developer who appears to covet the 64,000 square feet that stables now occupy on the West Side.

Start spreading the news . . .

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue


Politics & Policy

Which Gender Gap?

Just over a century ago, a small number of states, led by Massachusetts, established minimum wages, a policy experiment that reverberates to this day. What is striking about these early ...


Politics & Policy

Green Drought

San Joaquin Valley, Calif. — “We have the greatest factory anywhere on earth,” Harris Farms’ executive vice president, William Bourdeau, tells me, as our car bumps rapidly along the dirty, ...
Politics & Policy

A New Health Safety Net

Are conservatives ready to think about health care independently of Obamacare? Because even if the Affordable Care Act achieves its goals, American health care will remain extraordinarily expensive, incomprehensibly complex, ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Generation of a Voice

In Her, the fourth film from the self-consciously idiosyncratic director Spike Jonze, the artificial-intelligence revolution finally arrives — and instead of rapturing humanity into a Singularity or wiping us out ...


The Long View

News from 2014

From the Washington Post, February 14, 2014: “Clintons to Renew Marriage Vows on Valentine’s Day” Citing a renewed and deeply felt commitment and joy in their long — and, some say, turbulent ...
Politics & Policy


A PASSING BREEZE Boats on the lake sang hymns of distant hum; Homage to warm winds, as the radiant fall Raised up its descant, muted, almost dumb, But yet precise. A melancholy call In minor key, ...
Happy Warrior

In to Win

America is a land of acronyms, and, useful as they are, acronyms can quickly curdle into jargon. SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation” — i.e., using legal action ...
Politics & Policy


The Vanishing Appalachians My only beef with Kevin Williamson’s moving Appalachian elegy (“Left Behind,” December 16) is the treatment of the coal industry, which he just briefly describes as a “bulwark ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ The de Blasio administration is just aiming for a zero net impact on the city’s quantity of horse****. ‐ The revelations in the new Robert Gates memoir, Duty, may be ...

Economics for Dummies

Perfectly timed for the first week of legal pot sales in Colorado, Rolling Stone published a manifesto called “Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For.” You could take it ...

Most Popular


COVID’s Comeback

We’re living in Groundhog Day. For the second time this year, COVID-19 is sweeping the country and we don’t have any great options for dealing with it. We didn’t squander the past four months, exactly, but we demonstrably failed to get to a place where we can enjoy an open society without the virus taking ... Read More

COVID’s Comeback

We’re living in Groundhog Day. For the second time this year, COVID-19 is sweeping the country and we don’t have any great options for dealing with it. We didn’t squander the past four months, exactly, but we demonstrably failed to get to a place where we can enjoy an open society without the virus taking ... Read More

Mel Gibson’s Beastmode

Late-period Mel Gibson is probably the best Mel Gibson; in film after film after film he plays ornery old bastards with such conviction that each successive outing feels like a personal trip to the confessional. He doesn’t need the money anymore, and most of these roles are in indie movies that pay very little ... Read More

Mel Gibson’s Beastmode

Late-period Mel Gibson is probably the best Mel Gibson; in film after film after film he plays ornery old bastards with such conviction that each successive outing feels like a personal trip to the confessional. He doesn’t need the money anymore, and most of these roles are in indie movies that pay very little ... Read More

Mark Zuckerberg Is Right

Mark Zuckerberg clearly hasn’t gotten the memo. The founder of Facebook persists in defending free expression, even though free speech has fallen decidedly out of fashion. His reward for adhering to what once would have been a commonsensical, if not banal, view of the value of the free exchange of ideas ... Read More

Mark Zuckerberg Is Right

Mark Zuckerberg clearly hasn’t gotten the memo. The founder of Facebook persists in defending free expression, even though free speech has fallen decidedly out of fashion. His reward for adhering to what once would have been a commonsensical, if not banal, view of the value of the free exchange of ideas ... Read More