We can’t keep insurance policies we like, and we have to keep a president we don’t. Can’t win.
New Jersey is the country’s bluest state with a Republican governor, and it just reelected him in a landslide. Chris Christie’s 22-point margin means that he could have compromised less and still won: He could have rejected the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare, kept a tighter lid on spending, and maybe above all reformed the state’s hyperactivist judiciary. He has, however, been a better (and more conservative) governor than any the state has had for a long time. He has cut taxes, taken on the public-sector unions, and vetoed bills to fund Planned Parenthood. His record is much more impressive than that of the last Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, in that Christie both governed more conservatively and won reelection. And did we mention he won big? His supporters in the next nomination contest will, and it will be a strong recommendation for him — so long as he, and they, understand that it will not clinch the case.
Everything went wrong for Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the race to be governor of Virginia, and he still came close to winning. He did not fundraise well, Republican donors wrote him off because of polls, he had no response to attacks on him as a social-issues extremist, the government shutdown made it harder to get his message across in the last month of the campaign, and the incumbent Republican governor had a scandal. The main thing Cuccinelli had going for him was the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, who cannot shake a perpetual aura of sleaze and does not try very hard. The good news is that Republicans have a supermajority in the lower house of the legislature and may, depending on the results of a pending special election, get a majority in the state senate. The bad news is that they lost a winnable race and kept a cog in the Clinton machine from being sent to the scrapyard.
Under 20 years of two Republican(ish) mayors, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, New York City enjoyed a spectacular renaissance. Crime decreased, then plummeted. Manhattan became a magnet for new construction and tourism, and the outer boroughs flourished. All now is at risk after Democrat Bill de Blasio cruised to victory over Republican Joe Lhota by a 49-point margin. The new mayor-elect began his adulthood as a creepy leftist, honeymooning in Cuba, and matured into a Democratic-party hack, working on Bill and Hillary Clinton’s several campaigns. He proposes to raise taxes on those making more than $500,000, for pre-kindergarten programs: a government babysitting service, to benefit the teachers’ union. His message to cops will be to take no risks, since he will not back them in any controversy. His base will be race hustlers, mouths on the public teat, and Park Slope cause-mongers. “There is no such thing as a Lost Cause,” wrote T. S. Eliot, “because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause.” Time moves on, memories fade. The hard learning that gave New York its Antonine age will have to be done again.
At the Heritage Foundation, Senator Mike Lee gave a compelling speech (adapted in a piece on page 33) about the conservative future. The Utah Republican argued that conservatives can’t let nostalgia for Reagan lock them into a bygone era. Instead, they need to do what Reagan did — translate our enduring principles into policies relevant to the challenges of the day. For Lee, that means an agenda that encourages uplift for the poor, that fights crony capitalism, and that addresses middle-class economic insecurity on a range of issues from the cost of living to traffic congestion. Lee has already done much to establish his intellectual leadership on the right in his short time in the Senate, and this speech shows why. We hope others will follow.
The White House has said that it will release Obamacare-enrollment numbers on a monthly basis, as only those can be “reliable.” While there could well be some truth to this, the administration has not shied away from pushing the numbers it thinks look good — essentially meaningless metrics such as the number of unique visitors to the website. Meanwhile, federal officials have apparently been pressuring insurance companies, which of course possess data on the number of new patients covered, to withhold their numbers. And understandably so: Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota revealed that the company had sold plans to just 14 people on the federal exchange. Interestingly, there is one number that liberal pundits have proudly cited but the administration has not: In states such as Maryland and Oregon, tens of thousands of people have enrolled in Medicaid — while few have purchased private insurance. Obamacare has so far been more an expansion of the broken old welfare state than of the broken new one.
Two brothers, Francis and Philip Gilardi, own Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics in Sidney, Ohio. Obamacare backed them into a corner: Pay for contraception, which runs against their religious beliefs, or pay $14 million in penalties. They sued the Department of Health and Human Services, and the D.C. appeals court ruled in their favor. The judges said, “We must determine whether the contraceptive mandate imposed by the Act [i.e., Obamacare] trammels the right of free exercise — a right that lies at the core of our constitutional liberties.” And “we conclude it does.” By the count of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, 31 courts have seen it that way, and six have not. As of now, all parties can only say, “See you in Court” — meaning the Supreme Court. We hope that Chief Justice John Roberts is feeling stalwart that day.
For years, the mere mention of “death panels” has been enough to prompt accusations of boorishness and mendacity. This, one suspects, is not only because defenders of the president’s health-care law considered the accusation to be frivolous, but also because they bristle at the reasonable suggestion that they would favor such a cold solution to the inevitable problem of rationing. And yet the passage of time is a remarkable thing. In Slate in late October, Adam Goldenberg wrote a much-vaunted column unsubtly titled “Canada has death panels — and that’s a good thing.” “Canadians,” Goldenberg complained, “tend to have more faith in our government and our bureaucratic processes than Americans” and thus, like Goldenberg, are satisfied that, “when humanity demands haste, and justice demands expert knowledge, Ontario’s death panels offer a solution.” “Experts and wise community members,” Goldenberg argues, play a positive role in Canada, and “other jurisdictions should consider following” suit. Where on earth could Sarah Palin have got the idea that more government involvement in health care leads to such thought and practice?
The passage of new abortion restrictions in Texas is a miniature epic, as such things tend to be. First, Senator Wendy Davis and her tampon-tossing riot squad managed to momentarily block the passage of the widely supported bill, which forbids abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, requires that the procedure happen in a hospital or certified surgical center, and requires abortionists to be physicians with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The bill was passed in a special session, was stayed by the federal district court, and has been reinstated by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. It is probably headed for the Supreme Court — Planned Parenthood already has filed its appeal. As it stands, the bill will close down some abortion facilities and prevent some late-term abortions from being performed in Texas. If these regulations were being applied to anything other than the destruction of young humans, Democrats would cheer them — the people of Austin have to file a detailed report with the federal government every time they want to repair their spring-fed municipal pool because of nearby endangered species. The unborn children of Texas still won’t have the same protections as the Texas blind salamander, but the new rules are a start.
Abortion rights have no basis in the Constitution, Alan Dershowitz said on CNBC’s Kudlow Report last month, returning to an argument he has made before. In 2001, he wrote that Roe v. Wade lacked “clear governing constitutional principles.” The jurisprudential weakness of Roe and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, is an old but neglected story, which Ramesh Ponnuru surveys on page 48 of this issue in his review of Clarke D. Forsythe’s book Abuse of Discretion. What makes Dershowitz’s agreement on this point notable is that he’s pro-choice. He considers the actual lives of unborn children to be merely “potential” but holds that the proper places for deciding whether they should be protected by law are the public square and the legislature, not the courts. Further, he insists that the debate be fair. He has criticized the ACLU, for example, for abandoning its commitment to First Amendment rights when the speech under attack happens to support the pro-life position. His intellectual honesty is admirable. We encourage him to follow where it leads.
The congressional committee investigating the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of right-leaning groups has discovered how the National Organization for Marriage’s confidential donor list, which was contained in a document it filed with the IRS, suddenly wound up in the hands of its chief political opponent. (It was then used by several national media outlets to hammer Mitt Romney, in the midst of the 2012 presidential race, for having made a donation to the group, which opposes gay marriage.) The committee found that an IRS agent working in the division once run by the disgraced Lois Lerner leaked the list. But the committee, perversely, is prohibited from naming the leaker publicly. The IRS and Congress interpret the very provision of the Internal Revenue Code that makes it a felony to disclose taxpayer information, Section 6103, in a way that categorizes the findings of any investigation into violations of taxpayer privacy as confidential. In NOM’s case and in others, the felon is protected by the law he violated. Congress should rewrite the law, and the IRS should redouble its commitment to follow it.
The Senate looks set to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, making it illegal for employers to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or “transgender” status. Most employers already refrain from such discrimination, and many states already prohibit it. The legislation would not address a major problem in American life and would modestly increase a real one (the amount of litigation in our country). The main import of the law is not practical. It is intended to put the federal government on record that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality or sex changes, while there is a lot wrong with freedom of association. In its current form, the law also embodies the view that religious freedom is a concern subordinate to the enforcement of the new morality. To state the purpose of the law plainly is to make the case against it.
Who’s the RINO?
Now that the sourness of the conservative family squabble has been tempered by the delicious sorbet that is the Obamacare disaster, I’d like to address a gripe about the R-word. I’m referring, of course, to the term “RINO,” or “Republican in Name Only.” I don’t always trust Wikipedia, but its definition of the term will do for our purposes: “Republican in Name Only (RINO) is a pejorative term used by conservative members of the Republican Party . . . to describe Republicans whose political views or actions they consider insufficiently conservative.”
The problem should be readily apparent. But if it’s not clear, indulge my analogical digression. As anyone who has read this magazine for the last half-century should know, there’s an inherent tension between the conservative movement and the Republican party. Call it the divide between the ideological camp and the partisan camp. I am a proud resident of the former, but my work often requires that I toil in the latter. Indeed, the health of both the conservative movement and the Republican party depends heavily on a policy of free trade between the two camps, while protecting the sovereignty of each.
The Republican party is a guild. Its job is to win elections for members of its guild. For the last half-century or so, it has usually done this by importing ideas from the ideologues. It rarely buys as many of our wares as we would like and we often feel it doesn’t use them correctly when it does buy them.
But like any good arms dealer, we want — or should want — to sell our ideas to any buyer. Indeed, in a perfect world, we’d have a monopoly on the sale of public-policy ideas (though such a world is, like all utopias, unattainable). The point of the conservative movement isn’t simply to move the GOP rightward, it is to move the country rightward. And that requires selling our ideas, not just to Republicans but to Democrats (and universities, movie studios, public schools, and any other market we can find here or abroad).
There was a time, not too long ago, when the Democrats bought a few of our products too, particularly in the area of foreign policy. Many Democrats claim, with some justification, that they got Obamacare’s individual mandate from our catalogue. Many conservatives respond that they didn’t read the instructions and installed it wrong. That’s an argument for another day.
My problem with the term “RINO” is that it represents a profound category error, confusing the customer with the manufacturer. The people most apt to use the term “Republican in Name Only” are actually the real Republicans in Name Only. I am a Republican by default, because the GOP is the more conservative of the two parties. This is true of all the purists denouncing Republicans for being insufficiently conservative. What the purists actually mean is that the subjects of their ire are too Republican, too concerned with protecting the guild and winning elections for its members. If we had our terminology right, it would be the conservatives — some openly flirting with a third party — who were being denounced as the true Republicans in name only.
Obviously, Republicans who are willing to embrace every liberal idea just to get elected are useless to conservatives. If they don’t buy our wares, what good are they to us? At the same time, Republicans are just retail middlemen. If the end consumer doesn’t like our products, you can’t expect retailers to stock their shelves with them. And that’s why we, the wholesalers, need the retailers to care about getting reelected. That’s the healthy tension. We need to listen to the salesmen and the salesmen need to listen to us. Neither will ever be right all the time. But we need each other.
Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr., the literary critic and black-studies professor whose arrest by Cambridge police in 2009 occasioned the famous “beer summit,” recently expressed an opinion that could get an academic of lesser standing into career trouble: Affirmative action in college admissions needs to be “redirected” to benefit the economically disadvantaged, regardless of race. “We should think about affirmative action for the poor,” he said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I grew up in West Virginia with poor white people. They need affirmative action as much as my people do.” Noting that his own daughters lead a “privileged life,” he asked, “Do they really need to benefit from affirmative action?” With the overwhelming majority of African Americans who attend elite colleges coming from families in the top half of income earners, it’s not an idle question. The defenders of the current unjust system just don’t want to hear the answer.
Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor, former Obama-administration official, and proponent of the idea that restricting people’s choices doesn’t reduce their freedom so long as you call it a “nudge,” recently wrote a column purporting to explain the origins of the American conservative movement. Sunstein traces the alleged radicalism of today’s Republican party back to the Alger Hiss trial. His explanation of the case is fairer than many liberals might give, and that’s the problem: He writes that the conviction of Hiss, a liberal-establishment darling, and the vindication of Whittaker Chambers, a conservative (and National Review editor) who held that liberalism was in some ways just a cousin of socialism and Communism, explains why many conservatives harbor serious suspicions of liberals, their patriotism, and the loyalty of America’s elite, its academic institutions, and more. But Chambers was right. Some of America’s liberal establishment was sympathetic to Communism, and Hiss’s trial did more than any other thing to prove it. As for why conservatives suspect that liberals generally have hidden agendas, whole books could be written, and have been.
Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor of Florida, has announced that he will run next year as a Democrat against Governor Rick Scott. There is so much to love in this comeback story: The same Democrats who once derided Crist as an empty suit are ready to anoint him — a man who used to campaign against same-sex marriage and abortion — as their leader, meaning that the self-described “good conservative” who denounced Marco Rubio as “the Republican Obama” will be running under the mantle of the actual Obama. Governor Scott, who is light on charisma but heavy on sensible conservatism, is suffering from a self-inflicted political gunshot wound after having joined the Obama campaign for Medicaid maximization, but he still looks like a Gibraltar next to Crist. We hope that Florida’s voters take Crist’s comeback in the same spirit we do: one of amusement.
As any good prosecutor knows, it is bad courtroom practice to ask a question to which you don’t already know the answer. Up slightly on the scale of incompetence, perhaps, is filing a lawsuit based on documents that you don’t have and with an objective that you have yet to establish. Yet, in Louisiana, this is exactly what the U.S. Department of Justice has done. At first, the DOJ, which is disgracefully suing the state over its school-voucher program, announced that it was seeking an injunction. Then, under pressure, it backpedaled and claimed only to be looking for “information.” As it happens, this second approach was rather sensible because the administration can’t find the documents that it claims show that vouchers lead to racial segregation, and on which its whole case rests. In a press release, Governor Bobby Jindal derisively suggested that Louisianans might “go to Washington, D.C., to have a search party for these documents.” Even better, perhaps Washington could drop the case?
After pouring more than $1 million into the coffers of New York governor Andrew Cuomo, the gambling industry secured for itself a ridiculously worded ballot referendum to allow the expansion of casino operations in the state. It passed on strong support from voters in New York City, where none of these depressing monuments to innumeracy and wishful thinking will be built. Governor Cuomo promises that expanded casino gambling will help to revitalize the zombified economy of upstate New York; he might have accomplished as much by ending the state’s ban on modern natural-gas-extraction techniques and created real value in the process. New York is as a state engaged in the same sort of wishful thinking that gamblers indulge individually: Nearby New Jersey is already seeing gambling revenues declining, and the Garden State and Delaware both have had to engage in expensive, embarrassing bailouts of their gambling operators. Sustainable economic growth requires real productivity and real investment, not the simple shuffling of cards and money.
Stop-and-frisk, the technique whereby cops search suspicious characters for concealed weapons, got a respite in New York City. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Judge Shira Scheindlin’s August decision that the policy was “indirect racial profiling.” The court also removed Scheindlin from the case for violating judicial ethics (she offered her anti-cop views to journalists even as she heard the case). Ideally the law-abiding would be allowed to protect themselves, but in anti-gun blue cities, stop-and-frisk is the next best recourse. New York’s respite will be brief because Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is expected to stop or curtail stop-and-frisk. And if more blacks and Hispanics die from the fire of un-frisked guns? Chalk it up to drive-by liberalism.
Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, went to his reward courtesy of a drone from Uncle Sam. The Afghan Taliban called the strike “cowardly” and “barbaric” (cue laugh track). Mehsud’s death caused consternation in Pakistan, where the government is engaged in preliminary talks with its enemy. The Pakistani Taliban will now suspect that Mehsud was ratted out by the government, which claims to oppose the U.S. drone program — not a comfortable feeling. Kudos to the administration for continuing to strike down the bloody-handed.
Iraq is going the way of Syria, and for much the same reasons. Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, is a Shiite, every bit as prejudiced against Iraqi Sunnis as Bashar Assad is against Syrian Sunnis. When American troops were in Iraq, they were able to cooperate with Sunnis and establish a balance that more or less kept the peace. Two years ago, there was to be a Status of Forces Agreement that would have allowed American troops to stay in Iraq and act as ultimate guarantors of peace. But Maliki refused, and President Obama didn’t particularly mind. American withdrawal has created a vacuum that Sunni militants have filled for defensive and offensive purposes. An offshoot of al-Qaeda is fighting in the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS for short. The suicide bomber and the car bomb are weapons of choice. Naturally Shiite bombers retaliate in kind. The toll is frightful. On some days there are four or five murderous explosions anywhere in the country. According to Iraq Body Count, an organization that tries to keep track, this year 7,000 people have already been killed. Maliki has been to Washington to plead for American arms, including helicopters, in the hopeless task of controlling with one hand the sectarian violence that he encourages with the other hand. He got little or nothing. The Department of I Told You So has work to do.
New Express is a paper in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, or Canton, as we used to call it. It has been exceptionally bold. One of its reporters, Chen Yongzhou, wrote a series of investigative articles on a manufacturer partly owned by the state. The authorities arrested him. Later, the paper ran a startling front-page appeal: “Please Let Him Go.” The editors said, “If Brother Policeman can find any evidence of shabby reporting on our part, please make notice of it and we will gladly doff our hat.” They further said, “We are a small newspaper, but we have some backbone in spite of being poor.” Soon after, Chen appeared on television: head shaven, handcuffed, wearing a prison uniform, surrounded by police. He said, “I’m willing to admit my guilt and to show repentance.” He said he had written the articles “because I hankered after money and fame.” He said he had learned his “lesson.” New Express did, too: abandoning its defiance and becoming suddenly contrite. This episode is but the latest indication that China is enduring tyranny.
Venezuela’s government, which takes its inspiration from the Castros, is easy to laugh at — but Venezuelans have to live under it. Hugo Chávez once postponed Valentine’s Day, because it interfered with his political plans. Such is the caprice of “presidential dictatorship.” His successor, Nicolás Maduro, has now created a Vice Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness. This is supposed to take care of the poor, who, said Maduro, are those “most loved by anyone who calls themselves a revolutionary, a Christian, and a chavista.” A housewife told the Associated Press that, rather than a ministry of Supreme Social Happiness, she would like to be able to buy basic groceries. “It’s a Calvary getting the ingredients for any meal,” she said. A fruit vendor said he would prefer a Vice Ministry of Beer. “That would make me, and all the drunks, happy.” Yes, this is comic stuff — but the misrule of the chavistas is cruel.
India has launched a mission to Mars, a technological feat successfully achieved only by NASA, the Russians, and a joint European space program. (British, Chinese, and Japanese attempts all failed.) India’s effort was met at home with some of the same complaints that NASA faces from its critics: The mission is a symbolic showpiece without practical value, some critics said, while others complained about the expense. “We can go to Mars but cannot provide clean water to our people on Earth,” columnist Tavleen Singh harrumphed. But there is some hard-eyed calculation going on in New Delhi: If India is successful in its Mars mission, it will have accomplished at a cost of $73 million what the United States had to spend $671 million to pull off, establishing itself as a credible leader in low-cost but highly sophisticated space operations. As late as the 1970s, famine prevention was the commanding issue of the day in India’s public life, and today it is debating interplanetary flight. In the 1950s, the idea that we’d be exploring Mars in the 21st century seemed like an inevitability — but if you’d said that India would be exploring Mars, it would have sounded wildly implausible. Funny how things go.
In Married to the Mob, Dean Stockwell, after surviving an assassination attempt by a thug dressed as an employee at a Jack in the Box–type restaurant, delivered the immortal line, “Some clown just tried to kill me!” It’s unlikely that similar words escaped the lips of Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, head of Mexico’s Tijuana drug cartel, when he was successfully murdered last month by a hit man dressed in a clown outfit (who afterwards presumably blended in with the crowd and then made his getaway in a tiny car). The style of the attack was a surprise, because Mexico’s murderous drug cartels are known to be terrifying and have no sense of humor — though, come to think of it, the same goes for most clowns. Delegates at a convention of Latin American clowns — no, we don’t mean the OAS meeting — condemned the murderer’s appropriation of their professional dress.
British vessels sailing around the Horn of Africa have a new line of defense against Somali pirates: Britney Spears hits. Crews have found that pumping the pop icon’s music into the treacherous waters is an effective method for warding off pirates fond of kidnapping crews and holding them hostage for multimillion-dollar ransoms. Merchant naval officer Rachel Owens told the British newspaper Metro that the songs “were chosen by the security team because they thought the pirates would hate them most. These guys can’t stand Western culture or music, making Britney’s hits perfect.” They have at least found their perfect use. There’s a line in Britney’s debut single “Baby One More Time” — “When I’m not with you, I lose my mind.” The Brits’ new secret weapon might just make the Somali swashbucklers lose theirs.
New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly was invited to give a talk and Q&A at Brown University about his department and its policies. Student protesters and local ruff-scuff decided otherwise. A band of hecklers whooped and hollered for 30 minutes, whereupon Brown canceled the event. Kelly, who is a Marine in addition to being a cop, can take it. The real damage was to Brown. President Christina Paxson issued a hand-wringing statement afterward, calling the demo an “affront” to Brown’s “core values of dialogue.” If she means what she says, she should take steps to identify the students who took part and suspend or expel them. Otherwise Brown will stand self-proclaimed as a playground for well-off radical infants, and their nannies.
We know what must have happened: President Obama said to consult military experts, and the guy from the Marines thought he said “millinery,” so he went straight to Bergdorf Goodman, and the next thing you know, Marine grunts were set to be issued a darling little unisex uniform cap that would not look out of place on a French actress — or, worse, a French soldier. U.S. Marines have little tolerance for nonsense (though many words for it), so it’s no surprise that the unisex cap lasted about as long as Karl Lagerfeld would at Parris Island. Marine Corps officials said it was all a misunderstanding — they were just considering options after a vendor went out of business, and there are no plans to change the male uniform cap. The fact that the story was so widely circulated, however, shows how strong opposition is to the current push to create a gender-neutral military culture. All we can say is that if the government wants our servicemen to get in touch with their feminine side, the Marines are the wrong place to start.
At a certain point, it becomes difficult for famously absurd institutions not to descend into self-parody. For the University of Colorado–Boulder this Halloween, the challenge proved too much. Administrations on campus sent out a directive ordering students to avoid any costumes that might “inappropriately perpetuate racial, cultural, and gender stereotypes.” Among the usual “crude stereotypes” that one would expect to vex the terminally joyless were cowboy costumes, “overly sexualized” dress (when portraying a particular cultural identity), and “anything involving a sombrero.” That the Western sartorial tradition is now deemed offensive will presumably have come as a shock to fans and members of the university’s sports teams. The U of C’s football mascot is a buffalo, Ralphie, who is led out by a group of men and women dressed as cowboys. Surprising, too, is the instruction that liberal-arts students should stay away from looking “over-sexualized.” Although one suspects that if the purpose of Halloween is to dress up in a manner foreign to normal life, then this idea actually deserves marks for creativity.
As leader of the late-1960s rock group the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed was to prove one of the greatest influences on music in the subsequent decades. The extent of this influence was best expressed by musician Brian Eno in his oft-quoted statement that, while the Velvet Underground’s first album initially sold only 30,000 copies, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” He claimed that rock ’n’ roll was his “god,” but he showed a greater willingness than many rock musicians to flout some of the clichés of the rock genre: He had a streak of independence of the sort that is at the heart of rock’s self-proclaimed ethos but is all too often missing from the music world. He was, for example, a supporter of the State of Israel; on his 1989 album New York, he had a song titled “Good Evening Mr. Waldheim,” in which he criticized Jesse Jackson, for his embrace of Louis Farrakhan, and Pope John Paul II, for his meeting with Austrian president Kurt Waldheim, a former Nazi. (By 2000, in the latter case at least, all was forgiven: Reed performed for Pope John Paul at the jubilee celebrations in Rome.) Rolling Stone’s review of the New York album called it Reed’s “rock & roll version of The Bonfire of the Vanities”; and, like Tom Wolfe, Reed was a quintessential New York figure — simultaneously the outsider as social critic and the coolest imaginable hipster-insider. Dead at 71. R.I.P.
Robinson Risner was one of the best fighter pilots we’ve ever had, an ace in Korea and Vietnam. He was also one of the bravest men we’ve ever had. In September 1965, he was shot down in Vietnam, and spent seven and a half years in the “Hanoi Hilton.” He endured terrible torture, which he resisted almost superhumanly. For more than three years, he was kept in solitary confinement, living in complete darkness. He held on to his sanity. Before his capture, he had been on the cover of Time magazine, as an example of the American warrior. The Vietnamese Communists waved the magazine under his nose: They thought they had caught a very big fish. Once, in 1971, Risner organized a church service for fellow POWs, knowing this would result in serious punishment. As he was led away, the other POWs sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This ace, warrior, and patriot, the son of an Arkansas sharecropper, has died at 88. The New York Times recounted an anecdote: At a reunion of airmen, Risner met a Russian ace who had been in Korea. The Russian wondered whether he and Risner had ever faced each other in combat. “No way,” said Risner. “You wouldn’t be here.” R.I.P.
The Quagmire Deepens
President Obama urged Americans to “just go shop around” for health insurance on the new exchanges, seemingly heedless of the fact that their dysfunction means that Americans cannot do what he told them — what he still plans to fine millions of them for not doing. As many as 16 million people who buy insurance for themselves — around two-thirds of those who do so — are having their plans canceled as a result of Obamacare. They will have to pay a fine if they do not get a replacement plan. So there is a chance that the result of Obamacare will be that they lose their insurance and pay a fine for the favor. Not to worry, says Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius: The federal Obamacare website has never crashed, she testified before Congress, the site plainly offline even as she spoke.
None of this, we are to understand, is the administration’s fault. Insurers are all behaving badly, seeking profit by, er, selling their products to a lot fewer people, a strategy that had not occurred to them before Obamacare. Republican governors should have stepped in to help the administration implement the law, even though the law required no such thing, even though they opposed it, and even though states that have helped are mostly seeing disappointing results too. The cancellations are not cancellations at all: They are “upgrades” or “transitions” to better insurance — whether or not the people involved think that it is better to pay more for more comprehensive plans, and whether or not the insurance is accessible. A transition is supposed to take you somewhere, but right now Obamacare is a bridge to nowhere.
Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, has introduced simple legislation to at least spare many millions of people in the individual market from the Obamacare trap. Plans that received regulatory approval pre-Obamacare would keep that approval, and insurers would be able to keep selling them. President Obama’s pledge during the campaign to enact the law was that people who liked their insurance would be able to keep it. (Recent reports have indicated that, at the time, high-level White House aides held meetings to determine whether they should go with the truth instead; cooler heads prevailed.)
Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who is up for reelection next year, has introduced her own version of the Johnson bill. Other Democrats are flaying the administration for its lack of preparation. Congressional Democrats are getting nervous. Republicans ought to do what they can to make them more so.