‐ So far the candidates have stuck with what they do best: Hillary lying and Trump firing people.
‐ It is clear why Hillary Clinton did not want to give up the e-mails recently released by the Obama administration in response to ongoing litigation from Judicial Watch: They reveal precisely the Clinton Foundation corruption that critics have long alleged. Specifically, the e-mails detail Huma Abedin’s role — while she was on the State Department’s payroll — as a fixer for the Clinton Foundation, making sure that influential friends overseas, especially donors, had access to the U.S. secretary of state. In several e-mail exchanges, Clinton Foundation operative Doug Band pesters a solicitous Abedin to get meetings or do other favors for friends of the foundation, including Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain, who donated millions to the Clinton Global Initiative. There is a case to be made — and it should be made — that Clinton obstructed justice and made false statements to investigators regarding her private server and e-mails. The FBI dropped the ball on that, but that ball can be picked up again. Yes, it is awkward to conduct a criminal investigation during a presidential campaign. It is more awkward to conduct one involving a sitting president. But either option is more desirable than declaring elected officials, or at least one family of elected officials, above the law.
‐ CNN recently revealed that Cheryl Mills, while working as Clinton’s chief of staff at the State Department, also interviewed applicants for an executive position at the Clinton Foundation. That might seem to violate Clinton’s commitment, when she took office, to avoid activities that would “create conflicts or the appearance of conflicts” of interest. But Mills’s attorney explained that she was simply doing unpaid work “for a charitable foundation.” Who says America’s volunteer spirit is dead?
‐ According to the New York Times, Clinton told the FBI that former secretary of state Colin Powell “advised her to use a personal e-mail account.” In a statement, Powell confirmed that he wrote an e-mail “describing his use of his personal AOL e-mail account” but noted that it was strictly “for unclassified messages” and that he used “a secure State computer on his desk to manage classified information.” Hillary seems to have ignored that detail. But more to the point, Powell never set up an unsecured e-mail server in his residence to avoid transparency requirements, and Clinton had been using her private server for a year before she and Powell ever corresponded. Powell pointed this out to People magazine, grousing (accurately) that “her people have been trying to pin it on me.” In fairness to the Clinton camp, shifting blame is a pretty tough habit to break.
‐ Clinton released her most recent tax returns in August in a (so far unsuccessful) attempt to pressure Donald Trump into following suit. They served mostly to confirm what is already well known about the Clintons — that they have enriched themselves by trading on their past and presumed future tenure in the White House: The pair earned more than $10 million from speaking fees, consulting, and book proceeds in 2015. Their charitable giving, amounting to about a tenth of their income, went almost exclusively to the Clinton Family Foundation — a separate entity from the Clinton Foundation, one that serves as a conduit to it. (The Clinton Family Foundation funneled $1.8 million to the Clinton Foundation in 2014.) While the Clinton Foundation does some charitable work, its primary beneficiaries are the Clintons and their associates — not exactly the deserving poor.
‐ Last fall, Clinton’s campaign website proclaimed that “every survivor of sexual assault” has “the right to be believed.” This spring, shortly after Juanita Broaddrick reiterated her 38-year-old rape accusation against Bill Clinton on Twitter — a claim that, in its detail and consistency over the years, remains troublingly credible — the campaign scrubbed “You have the right to be believed” from its site. Not every survivor is equal, it turns out.
‐ The Trump “pivot” has become a running joke. Every time we’ve been told he was about to shift into a more responsible mode, he has reverted back to his usual bluster and lack of discipline. The latest effort involves the elevation of longtime Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager and Breitbart “News” honcho Steve Bannon to campaign CEO. Lately, Trump has indeed stuck to script at his rallies, tried to focus the attention on Clinton, and even expressed vague regret for things he said that might have offended people, in a non-apology apology meant to cover a multitude of sins. If Trump hopes to begin to change perceptions of him, he has to continue in this mode not for one week or two, but for the duration of the race. What his campaign hopes to achieve with the pivot is an approximation of the presidential demeanor that normal candidates cultivate from the outset rather than 80 days from the election.
‐ The Trump campaign shakeup left Paul Manafort out in the cold. Manafort provided a relatively professional, stabilizing influence in the campaign when it otherwise had none, but it’s still shocking that he managed to run the campaign of an American presidential candidate. His sleazy connections to pro-Russian interests began to catch up to him when it emerged that his name showed up nearly two dozen times from 2007 to 2012 in a “black ledger” of the Putinist Ukrainian political party he had worked for. The ledger had Manafort slated for $12.7 million in off-the-books cash payments. Manafort’s defense was that he didn’t get the money. Then it emerged that he had a fixer with connections to Russian intelligence trying to collect. He was ousted in short order — to crawl, we hope, back under some rock.
‐ Trump’s call for the rapid mass deportation of all illegal immigrants never made sense except as way to flank his primary contenders to the right, and now he is in the process of recalibrating. Even if the political will existed for the forcible removal of every illegal alien in the country (it doesn’t and never will), the federal government wouldn’t be capable of such a massive administrative and law-enforcement task. Mindful of general-election politics, Trump is now bowing to this reality, and he has further muddied the waters by reportedly sounding somewhat sympathetic to legalization in a meeting with Hispanic supporters. A serious, politically defensible alternative to this morass is the one outlined by Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies: enforcement at the border and especially at the workplace, such that over time the illegal population declines (people will leave if it is harder to work here). Then, eventually, there can be a discussion about legalizing the segment of the illegal population here the longest, in exchange for lower levels of overall and especially of low-skilled immigration. This is an eminently sensible policy that happens to coincide with the broad contours of public opinion. Trump, and every other Republican, would be well served to adopt it.
‐ The predictable gnashing of teeth followed Trump’s support for “extreme vetting” of aliens who seek to come to the United States from regions notorious for exporting terrorism, including a proposal for an ideological test aimed at “halting the spread of radical Islam.” The vetting is a refinement of the temporary categorical ban on Muslim immigration Trump earlier proposed. It is not a “religious test,” as critics say (and the Constitution allows us to limit immigration however we please). Trump seeks to sift out aliens “who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred.” Allowing only immigrants willing to support the Constitution is an entirely legitimate — and traditional — aim of immigration policy. And the classical, repressive sharia that Islamists seek to impose on society is antithetical to the Constitution. Any ideological test would hardly be foolproof — immigrants could always lie — but it would set down a symbolic marker about the lowest common denominator of membership in our society.
‐ Obama’s payment of a ransom to Iran for the release of four American hostages is an abomination. The president agreed to a prisoner exchange of Iranians detained over real criminal offenses for Americans imprisoned on bogus “spying” charges. He worked to conceal the additional payment. We were sketchily told that $1.7 billion was transferred to Tehran to settle a totally separate, failed arms deal (involving funds the shah had paid before the 1979 Khomeini revolution). In reality, the administration secretly shipped the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism $400 million in untraceable foreign currency the same day the hostages were released. Obama’s indignant denial that he had paid a ransom collapsed when it emerged that the cash had been retained as “leverage” until the plane transporting the hostages took off from Tehran. The administration has refused to discuss the remaining $1.3 billion, although it appears that the Treasury made 13 separate transfers of $99,999,999.99 each to Iran from a dodgy fund for settling agency lawsuits — a bizarrely structured transaction raising new doubts about Obama’s claim that it was legal restrictions that forced him to pay the first $400 million in cash. The administration has been acting like it has something to hide — because it does.
‐ As part of their general shift to the left, liberals have been turning against the welfare reform of 1996: They say it has made deep poverty much worse. But, as Scott Winship shows in a new paper for the Manhattan Institute, their case relies on flawed statistics. The official poverty metric used by the Census Bureau employs a measure of inflation that other authorities, including the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve, reject because it overstates the true figure. For that reason, official poverty numbers understate how much better poor people have been doing over time. Winship finds that when a better measure of inflation is used, non-cash government benefits such as food stamps are acknowledged, and similar adjustments are made, child poverty is now at an all-time low. The percentage of children living in households that make less than half a poverty-line income has also fallen. The principles of welfare reform — that aid should come attached to the requirement that able-bodied adults work, and that states should have flexibility — could stand to be applied to other anti-poverty programs. The chief problem with welfare reform, in other words, is that there has not been enough of it.
‐ The last time Louisiana was underwater and the president was on vacation, it was a national scandal. This time, we don’t have the benefit of Kanye West’s telling us that the president, who has been amusing himself in Martha’s Vineyard, doesn’t care about black folks. The flooding around Baton Rouge is the worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy; it has left thousands homeless and many thousands more without electricity, and access to food and fuel is a challenge in some areas. But Baton Rouge isn’t a media center like New York or a party destination like New Orleans, so media attention to the flood and to the notably laid-back response of the president has been muted. Obama made it clear that he was content to watch the action from his golf cart until Trump went down to Louisiana and embarrassed him into motion. While the politicians were posturing, the people of Louisiana reminded us of the usefulness and importance of civil society: The “Cajun Navy” — a group of boat-piloting volunteers — swung into action, rescuing people and pets and moving supplies through flooded areas where trucks can’t go. “We don’t wait for help,” one volunteer said. “We are the help.”
‐ Here we go again. In Milwaukee, a black police officer shot an armed black suspect, and a riot ensued. Can we at long last dispense with the notion that “Black Lives Matter” is a peaceful movement? Or one committed at all to justice or the rule of law? Milwaukee combined body cameras, a “model” law requiring independent investigations of police shootings, and a police chief so focused on transforming police–community relations that he was profiled on public radio’s popular program This American Life. Yet Milwaukee still faced riots. One is left wondering which reforms — short of the police leaving themselves and others completely vulnerable to criminals — will appease the radicals.
‐ Just days after the prosecution against officers in the Freddie Gray case fell apart, the Department of Justice directed attention back to the Baltimore Police Department with a report charging it with racist policing. Instances of excessive force and unaccountability for misconduct detailed in the report are lamentable, and the Baltimore police should be pushed to do better, but the accusations that discretionary enforcement disproportionately targets African Americans are flawed. The study uses population rather than rates of criminal offending as the benchmark for arrests, a standard methodological error of the Left. And the report largely ignores the burden that crime places on neighborhoods where it’s most prevalent, and instead uses the fact that cops focused on certain high-crime districts as evidence of bias. African Americans will continue to suffer in Baltimore and elsewhere if officials insist on finding ways to blame cops while ignoring lawlessness that’s destroying communities.
‐ The federal government is very interested in the toilet habits of Texas schoolchildren, for reasons that are not entirely obvious. The Obama administration had ordered that schools change their policies to permit transgender students to use whichever facilities comport with their personal sense of self, meaning that they could elect to use those reserved to members of the biologically opposite sex. The administration threatened retaliatory measures, and Texas sued to stop them. (Where would Americans be without Texas suing the federal government every ten minutes?) The federal judge hearing the case ruled in favor of Texas, as he should have: The law in question, Title IX, is, as the judge put it, “not ambiguous.” Imagine that! It “specifically permits educational institutions to provide separate toilets, locker rooms, and showers based on sex, provided that the separate facilities are comparable.” Texas’s proposed compromise is humane, permitting students who are uncomfortable using the facilities that match their sex to have access to private restrooms, changing rooms, and the like. Because this reasonable and sympathetic compromise is a compromise, the transgender lobby feels compelled to overturn it: Its goal is not political accommodation but cultural concession.
‐ Amid last spring’s furor over a North Carolina bill requiring people to use public bathrooms that correspond to their sex, the popular retail chain Target made a big show of announcing that its patrons and employees would be allowed to use whichever “restroom or fitting-room facility” matches their “gender identity.” Now, more quietly, Target will build single-stall bathrooms in hundreds of stores that don’t already have them — at a cost of more than $20 million. “Some of our guests clearly are uncomfortable with our policy, and some are supportive,” said Cathy Smith, Target’s chief financial officer. We wonder whether Target’s quarterly sales — down 7.2 percent — and declining traffic, the first decrease in two years, had something to do with this. The lesson: Keep the political posturing out of the privies.
‐ Sometimes, the good guys win a round. The sponsor of California’s S.B. 1146 — a state bill that would require Christian colleges that admit even a single student who has received state grants to conform to California’s extreme policies on sexual orientation and gender identity — decided to pull the most troubling parts of the bill. California conservatives launched a public-education campaign, organized protests, and assembled a multi-faith coalition for religious freedom. They didn’t just leave the fight to lawyers, and they prevailed, for now. The bill might return, and the fight be renewed, but at least there is a blueprint for success: one that conservatives in other states would do well to emulate.
‐ The Navajo Nation is suing the Environmental Protection Agency in federal district court in New Mexico for damages resulting from the agency’s accidental release of millions of gallons of toxic sludge from the closed Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo., last summer. The water — loaded with arsenic, lead, and other heavy-metal contaminants — flowed downstream into three states, turning the Animas and San Juan Rivers of Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah bright yellow. “Efforts to be made whole over the past year have been met with resistance, delays, and second-guessing,” the Navajo wrote in their court filing. The tribe says the EPA “ignored warning signs for years” and “failed to prepare for known risks of a mine blowout” while working at the site. While the EPA says that it is taking responsibility for the cleanup and that its water-quality experts believe the rivers’ waters are now safe for agriculture and irrigation, the agency is still looking at whether to designate the Gold King Mine a Superfund cleanup site. If anything is “safe,” it’s the assumption that this mess will go on and on, taking years and untold millions to resolve.
‐ Colorado voters will decide in November whether to approve a ballot measure that would legalize physician-assisted suicide for adults diagnosed with terminal illness. Supporters of the measure prefer the euphemism “medical aid in dying” and have pushed media to adopt the term. One local news outlet in the state, 9News, explained that it would continue to use the word “suicide” when reporting on the measure, citing a duty to inform the public using “simple, direct language.” They note that the dictionary definition of the term (“the action of killing oneself intentionally”) accurately describes what the ballot measure would legalize. Advocates of the proposed law clearly believe that such plain language will hurt their cause — which ought to cause them to reexamine their support.
‐ One item on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s agenda is to force Ukraine to do what he wants, which is to accept loss of territory and ultimately become a dependency. He’s been using the trick Adolf Hitler perfected of sending his own men to commit an act of sabotage against others and then claiming the others did it. The Pentagon has identified eight staging areas along Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia where some 40,000 Russian troops are now positioned. Double that number, with accompanying armor and air-force units, are due to take part in forthcoming exercises. The Pentagon considers an outright invasion unlikely but offers no plan of action of its own. Putin hopes that “common sense” will prevail, meaning that everyone decides simply to bend to his intimidation.
‐ Russian aircraft have been taking off from the Iranian base of Hamadan to bomb targets in Syria, in effect to come to the rescue of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad at a moment when his staying power looks shaky. This cuts flight time and greatly increases the payload, as the unfortunate citizens of Aleppo discovered when the Tupolevs and Sukhois were overhead. Iran has never previously granted foreign forces permission to use the country’s military facilities. More than merely propping up the Assad regime, Russia has hugely increased its presence and its influence in the Middle East. A disconsolate Washington spokesman said of this Russian success, “It’s unfortunate but not surprising.” In fact he, like everyone else, seems to have discovered from news bulletins what the Russians were up to. By way of response, Secretary of State John Kerry reassured the audience at his press conference that he was busy telephoning his opposite number in Russia.
‐ The burkini is beachwear designed for the Muslim woman who wants to remain fully covered, or is compelled to do so, or something in between. The garment covers the whole body except the face; that is what the French are objecting to. Cannes is a resort as smart as any on the Mediterranean shore, and its mayor, David Lisnard, has banned the burkini on the grounds that it is “the symbol of Islamic extremism.” Either the ban is a defense of secular values, or it is an intolerable example of men telling women what they may and may not wear. A fight about burkinis broke out on the beach at Sisco, a small town in Corsica, and it took a hundred gendarmes several hours to stop it. Some Moroccans were arrested, and five people ended up in the hospital. A court has found the ban is legal, and a sprinkling of mayors has followed the example of Cannes — all this in the country that gave the can-can and haute couture to the rest of the world.
‐ America has established lasting dominance over Russia in the Olympics the same way it established dominance in the Cold War: through prosperity and freedom, plus technological advances. Most recently, advances in counter-doping chemistry forced the Russians to resort to old-fashioned, low-tech sample-switching, which proved to be far from foolproof (the Russians’ sole track athlete deemed clean enough to compete this year contended in the long jump until she, too, was disqualified for doping). The result: This year’s Russian team finished a miserable fourth, behind the U.S., our British cousins, and China. So for the time being, American athletic dominance is undisputed, and unlike our hard-earned global military leadership, this is something even Obama can’t give away. In apparent response to all this, the EU Parliament pointed out on Facebook that although “Europe” is not an actual country, if it were one, its medal count would have been even higher than America’s. That’s lame enough to justify Brexit all by itself.
‐ Israeli athletes at the Olympics were directed toward a bus and attempted to board it. Lebanese athletes already on it wouldn’t let them. The Israelis were “looking for trouble,” the head of Lebanon’s delegation later explained. Organizers of the Summer Games in Rio promptly summoned Lebanon’s Olympic Committee and said, Enough. Other instances of anti-Israelism marred what was supposed to be an uninterrupted celebration of sportsmanship, but at least the offenses did not go unanswered. After Islam El Shehaby, one of its athletes in the judo competition, refused to shake hands with his Israeli opponent, the Egyptian Olympic Committee sent him home early, as the International Olympic Committee reprimanded him and took the occasion to remind the Egyptian delegation about “Olympic values.” If athletes competed in graciously enduring the incivility of opponents, Israel would run away in the medal count.
‐ The U.S. Department of Agriculture is a favorite target of budget cutters, and while defenders say the department does much useful work, it’s hard not to feel like cranking up the chainsaw when one sees this College Fix headline: “USDA teams up with Iowa law school and Cyndi Lauper to celebrate lesbian farmers.” This event, which the USDA website says was held in “Desmoines, IA” (pro tip: If you want rural cred, learn to spell “Des Moines”), was part of the department’s #RuralPride campaign, which seeks to “elevate the voices of the LGBT community living in rural America.” What all this has to do with the department’s main mission of rigging agricultural markets remains unexplained. Gay or straight, cis or trans, the USDA should stick to its core competency of subsidizing the overproduction of corn.
‐ Of course, there are still plenty of sensible people in the Hawkeye State. This year’s presidential caucuses gave proof of that, and now the University of Iowa deserves applause for deciding against establishment of a “bias assessment and response team” to investigate allegations of shaming, triggering, privilege denial, and other forms of campus heterodoxy. A university administrator explained that other colleges’ experience with such bodies shows that they usually turn into mere “scolding panels” — which in fact often seems to be exactly the point. Congratulations to the school on resisting the trend.
‐Gawker, the Internet gossip publication, published its last post on August 22, a few months shy of its 14th birthday. Terry G. Bollea, a.k.a. the retired professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, had sued the site for posting, four years ago, a tape of him having sex with the estranged wife of the radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge. This spring, a jury found Gawker guilty of invading Bollea’s privacy, and the court awarded him $140 million in damages, to be paid by the website’s parent company, Gawker Media, which filed for bankruptcy in June. Its assets, including Deadspin, Jezebel, and several other websites, were sold to Univision, which promptly closed the Gawker flagship. The entrepreneur Peter Thiel helped pay Bollea’s legal fees, apparently in retaliation for Gawker’s publication of gratuitous chatter about Thiel’s own private life in 2007. Gawker’s demise has sparked some debate about the line between the right to privacy and freedom of speech. Those who say that the line is blurred in this case should check their own standards of decency.
‐ Ruins of a synagogue built about 2,000 years ago were recently uncovered in Tel Rekhesh, near Mount Tabor, not far from Nazareth. Of the eight synagogues that modern archeologists have found from the Second Temple era and that are located in the territory of present-day Israel, this is the first in a rural setting. Mordechai Aviam, who led the dig, estimates that the simple structure, complete with pillars and benches, was in use for about a hundred years. If any of those overlapped with Jesus’s residence in the region, the chances that the synagogue was among those at which he taught “as he went through all the towns and villages” of Galilee (Matthew 9:35) would seem high. The past is a foreign country to which we can travel only in our imagination, but here’s a solid, stone bridge to it.
‐ The LGBT Left has gotten an immense amount of mileage from the notion that sexual orientation and gender identity are much like race — that one’s orientation is fixed and immutable at birth, and that one’s gender identity is “innate” and can differ from biological sex. While it has been enormously successful as a political strategy, there’s just one problem: It goes well beyond the science. Writing in The New Atlantis, Paul McHugh and Lawrence Mayer conducted a “study of studies” — looking at the best available scientific evidence regarding a host of LGBT issues — and found that reality is far messier and more confusing than politicized fictions. People do change their self-identification. There is no proof that exual orientation is fixed by genetics. The majority of “transgender” kids grow out of their gender-identity issues. None of this erases the case for kind, decent, and equitable treatment of all individuals. It does, however, threaten the use of “science” as a political bulldozer. The LGBT Left faces a choice: Deal with reality or call opponents bigots. If the past is any guide, McHugh and Mayer should prepare for the personal attacks.
‐ In a March 2015 memo that has recently come to public attention, Princeton University ordered its staff to remove words that contain gender references from their writing. Thus “garbageman” becomes “garbage collector,” “mankind” becomes “humanity,” “actress” becomes “actor,” and so forth. Directives of this sort have been around since the 1970s, but this time it’s different, because Princeton is rejecting not just the favoring of one gender over another but the very notion of gender. Not only are “-man” suffixes and gendered pronouns forbidden, but even such workarounds as “s/he” or “his or her” are now treated as offensive. Why? Because the “gender binary is the traditional view on human gender, which does not take into consideration individuals who identify as otherwise, including and not limited to transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and/or intersex.” Traditionalists who are opinion-non-conforming will be subjected to the usual academic penalties. Liberalism has often been likened to a religion, and we are now seeing both the Inquisition and the Credo quia absurdum est.
‐ The editor of the “trans-friendly” website Autostraddle recently issued a lengthy apology for publishing a “problematic” review of the Seth Rogen animated movie Sausage Party. While it is difficult to capture the entirety of this exhaustive apology, stated among the offenses of the review were the following: Salma Hayek’s portrayal of an “animated queer taco” was “racist and reinforced harmful stereotypes”; the taco was labeled a “lesbian when it seemed more likely that she was bisexual”; the “sexual encounter between the taco and the hot-dog bun” might not have been consensual. Additionally, a non-Latina writer had been permitted to write about a caricature of a Latina. Finally, the editor expressed shame over having been “blinded by [her] own whiteness existing inside a system of white supremacy,” a fact that led her to publish the review without taking the requisite steps to ensure that no one could possibly be offended by it. Though the apology inspired questions about whether it might be satire, it seems to have been published in all seriousness.
‐ “Father God,” his students at Fairfield Prep, a boys’ school in Connecticut, called the Reverend John Joseph McLaughlin, S.J., a stern, sharp-tongued priest who barked ruthlessly at error and foolishness, like a pedantic drill sergeant. He was over the top and clearly knew it — he knew everything — but never cracked a smile. Jesuit schoolteachers of his generation had perfected a certain style of seriocomic playacting. In politics, the young Father McLaughlin converted from the Democratic to the Republican party, ran for Congress from Rhode Island, and lost. He prevailed on Pat Buchanan, a Jesuit-school alumnus, to get him a job writing speeches for President Nixon, who soon left the White House. McLaughlin soon left the priesthood and went to work writing for National Review. In 1982, he launched The McLaughlin Group, on which he and other pundits chatted in front of cameras, and millions of viewers, for half an hour on Sunday mornings. He encouraged shouting. A pioneer of long-form political commentary for TV, he helped define the genre. He never missed a show until the end. His signature signoff to his broadcasts was a crisp “Bye-bye!” Dead at 89. Requiescat in pace.
When the cynically misnamed Affordable Care Act was passed, Democrats and their media megaphones assured the American public that it was a carefully crafted piece of policy architecture. Time would tell, and now it is telling — with predictable results highlighted by Aetna’s decision to stop offering individual insurance plans through the Obamacare exchanges in most locations. Aetna says that the Obamacare insurance pool is older and sicker than expected, which means much higher costs. Even as insurance premiums soar, Aetna is losing money on most of its individual plans under Obamacare, and so it will join dozens of other insurers in ceasing to sell them.
When he was arguing for his health-care program, President Barack Obama promised that the new law would reduce premiums by as much as $2,500 per family per year. Something close to the opposite has happened, with insurance premiums continuing to rise, some by 8 to 10 percent a year, some much more dramatically. That isn’t expected to slow down; it is expected to increase. And this process feeds on itself: Sicker risk pools mean the insurers will need to raise rates again, which means the risk pool may grow even less healthy, and so on. Aetna found that it couldn’t make money this way, and the company saw no reason to expect that to change. Aetna had proposed merging with Humana in the hopes that the new, larger firm would be better able to adapt to the artificially constrained insurance marketplace created by Obamacare. But the Obama administration blocked that merger. Aetna, out of options, gave up.
Politicians sometimes forget that a right of exit exists for the people and firms that do the actual work and create the actual wealth that makes life in these United States possible. All those regulations, mandates, and price controls on insurance companies sound like brilliant social engineering, right up until the moment the insurance companies stop selling insurance.
The insurers are, let’s not forget, guilty parties here, too. Obamacare might be a headache for them now, but it was sold to them as one of the greatest pieces of corporate welfare in all of history: Most industries would kill for a federal mandate requiring every single American family to buy their product. The insurance companies thought they were getting on a crony-capitalism gravy train. Instead, they ended up under it.
We would welcome the complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but Republicans are poorly positioned to accomplish that, and we fear that they will be no better placed come January. Tinkering at the edges of the system is unlikely to work. House Republicans have recently proposed a set of measures that would make for a workable, economically rational alternative to Obamacare. But since Democrats will not put up with a formal repeal, Republicans should at least look for ways to lift those regulatory restrictions on coverage and make more room for functional consumer markets.
Alas, Republican nominee Donald Trump has floated more government intervention in the health-care system, sometimes with an eye toward Canada. Hillary Rodham Clinton, for her part, currently is pushing a so-called public option. In other words, when faced with the fact that insurers with long experience in pricing health coverage can’t seem to make the economics of the exchanges work, her solution is to create a brand-new insurer with no experience and have federal bureaucrats run it. That proposal does not suggest that she has learned much from Obamacare’s troubles.
Though Barack Obama will defend the ACA until his last breath, this mess will be his main domestic legacy, and his administration will be remembered as a time of missed chances and squandered opportunities. But the work of reform remains, if any have a mind and a stomach for it.