My boss Sam Karnick, from his perch at The American Culture, examines the cultural implications of health care reform. They aren't pretty:
(A) public without a strong understanding of what individual freedom really means and the reasons why it is precious has little defense against the ever-increasing encroachments of government—until something as obviously grotesque, wrongheaded, and overweening as this health care bill comes along.
That’s what makes this fundamentally an issue of culture, and it’s why those stubborn souls who persist in believing in individual rights must engage the culture, especially by wresting control of the public schools from the hands of the progressive myrmidons who have debauched it.
...(I)t’s clear that the real concern was that the option of personal choice was being taken away from individual citizens in this vital area of life. The power to control people’s health care, in addition to the hegemony over the one-sixth of the economy which it represents, conveys to the government an enormous amount of control over individual lives, a level of control surely unprecedented in this nation.
This is not regulation; it is rule. And the public finally realized that the current government does not intend to be gentle in its rule.
I don't really have much to add, except to say that the health care reform debate casts in stark relief, perhaps more than most people would like to admit, how there really are two Americas -- one that believes in the relative benevolence of the state and one that believes in its relative malevolence. One needn't be an anarchist to hold the view that the size of the state is inversely proportional to the size of the citizen. Bigger state, smaller citizens. Bigger machine, smaller cogs.
The legal challenges to ObamaCare are sure to come, on many grounds. It is not wise for opponents of this monstrous usurpation of liberty to get their hopes up — though I find it interesting that the list of state Attorneys General lining up to challenge the mandate to purchase health insurance continues to rise.
However, Ed Morrissey over at HotAir has unearthed an interesting memo that the sacrosanct Congressional Budget Office issued in 1994, the last time government-run health care was a hot political topic:
A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. An individual mandate would have two features that, in combination, would make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.
Federal mandates typically apply to people as parties to economic transactions, rather than as members of society. For example, the section of the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires restaurants to make their facilities accessible to persons with disabilities applies to people who own restaurants. The Federal Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from paying less than the federal minimum wage. This prohibition pertains to individuals who employ others. Federal environmental statutes and regulations that require firms to meet pollution control standards and use specific technologies apply to companies that engage in specific lines of business or use particular production processes. Federal mandates that apply to individuals as members of society are extremely rare. One example is the requirement that draft-age men register with the Selective Service System. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is not aware of any others imposed by current federal law.
Note the CBO said a mandate on conditions of citizenship, such as what ObamaCare would impose, are "extremely rare," not unprecedented. Yet other than Selective Service registration, the CBO cites no other examples. If they are so rare, one would also think them memorable, and perhaps another example or two would have come up in the evaluation. Interesting. And, of course, one difference between the Selective Service registration and the forced purchase of health insurance is that the former is cost-free.
Yes, I've anticipated the argument that American citizens are forced to pay income taxes — with the targets of the tax and the amount dictated by ever-changing statute. And I'm sure that will be a counter-argument we'll hear in court from ObamaCare defenders. But one may note that the income tax itself was not instituted by mere statute, but by a constitutional amendment. So the people, in a manner enormously more difficult than the way ObamaCare was rammed through, approvingly validated the income tax by making submission to the tax a constitutional requirement of citizenship.
Alas, that was a different time, when even the progressives understood that epochal proposals remaking America and the relationship between the citizen and the state required overwhelming public validation. Today's progressives are of a different breed.
(HT: Daniel Foster)
Ken Thomas at No Left Turns offers some words of admonishment -- followed by encouragement -- to conservatives angry about Sunday's health care vote:
Impeach Obama for signing an executive order he knows is unconstitutional? What about Bush signing McCain-Feingold into law, while saying he believed it unconstitutional? Republicans need to convince themselves about the Constitution before they can preach it to others.
Republicans will find it easy to demagogue health care when it becomes clear that conservatives' warnings about the costs to Americans' freedom and the nation's fisc were not overblown after all. But the easy way isn't always the right way.
I promised many months ago to follow up on why President Obama's stimulus effort, built on a foundation of Keynesian sand, was not working. Well, I haven't exactly forgotten, but I haven't exactly followed up, either. For the moment, though, I would recommend ReasonTV's latest offering, in which the great Richard McKenzie explains why the stimulus is a flop.
"I don't think people realize that the United States can become the next Greece," McKenzie says. "The United States can become the next California..."
Breitbart TV has posted a helpful video outlining a promise Obama made about his health care plan no fewer than 20 times. And it's quite the specific promise: "We're going to work with your employer to lower your premiums by $2,500 per family, per year."
I don't know what's more ridiculous/frustrating: (1) the idea that Obama believes it's the role of government to "work with your employer" on bringing down the cost of the health insurance plan your boss chose from countless plans; (2) the idea Obama can figure out a way to bring costs down by such a specific amount; or (3) the people who voted for him believe the government should do this and/or it is possible.
Mark Steyn laughs to keep from crying:
Longer wait times, fewer doctors, more bureaucracy, massive IRS expansion, explosive debt, the end of the Pax Americana, and global Armageddon. Must try to look on the bright side . . .
Well, I mean, I assume he was laughing when he wrote that.
Update: Really? Really?
Crooks and Liars explains the "10 Immediate Benefits of (Health Care Reform)." Here's the first: "Adult children may remain as dependents on their parents’ policy until their 27th birthday."
Kill yourselves. Seriously. Just kill yourselves, you miserable parasites.
And, by the way, that C&L post lists only nine benefits... well, 10 if you're especially naive. I assume that's federal math.
Robinson Jeffers (1941)
At the risk of sounding too pessimistic, here are a few predictions of what will happen now that the House has passed HR 3590 by a vote of 219-212, and once President Obama signs the bill into law:
• Several states and thousands of individuals will sue to enjoin the federal government from enforcing the law. Most of those cases will fail. The Supreme Court will wound, but not kill, the law. The 10th Amendment will be effectively read out of the Bill of Rights. And even if the individual mandate is voided, it won't much matter when the vast majority of private insurers are regulated out of business.
• The Republicans will take back Congress in November, but the margins will be insufficient to mount a successful repeal effort. This will be a great disappointment to many voters, who will stay home in 2012. Unfortunately, those disappointed voters would have voted for Obama's opponent.
• The regulations will be worse than anyone can imagine. The result will be to force out of business all but two or three of the largest health insurance companies in the United States. Those companies will eventually be protected by future legislation aimed at "fixing" the flaws of HR 3590. But in practice, the companies will be government proxies.
• American quality of life and lifespan will fall slightly over the next 30 years. The reason lifespan won't decline significantly is that federal regulators will successfully tax or ban substances or foods it deems harmful to Americans' health -- which, we will soon learn, is an expensive commodity indeed.
• The United States will never have a single-payer system quite like that of Canada or the United Kingdom. Rather, it will be a two-tiered system that still gives the very wealthy and well-connected access to care and treatment that the vast majority of Americans simply cannot receive.
• The new system will not reduce the deficit. It will not cut waste, fraud or abuse. Congress will need to pass new laws against new crimes that innovative con men and swindlers will invent to exploit or circumvent this law.
• There will be other unintended consequences nobody today can imagine. How do I know? Because it was ever thus.
• Most Americans will shrug and try to go along to get along. We'll be a poorer people, if not in wealth, then in spirit. I likely won't live to see the worst of it -- ironically, I'll have the feds to thank for it, I'm sure -- but my kids will.
Some glib fool on Twitter wrote after the vote: "It sounds so calm outside! And America is still here!" Of course it is, you preposterous ass. Freedom ends not with a bang, but a whimper.
Update: David Frum offers a few bullet points of his own in a post titled, perhaps appropriately, "Waterloo." The gist:
It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they’ll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. But:
(1) It’s a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs.
(2) So what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now.
So far, I think a lot of conservatives will agree with me. Now comes the hard lesson:
A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.
At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.
Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.
This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.
Frum wonders if compromise was possible. Compromise may have been possible, but hardly desirable. The result would have arrogated to the benefit of the state. "So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry," Frum writes. "For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours." Frum should perhaps have a drink and find some nerve. What happens going forward, even if defeat is inevitable, requires men of character and possessing strong stomachs. I strongly doubt that David Frum is such a man.
George Will has been on a tear this week, exposing the faulty assumptions and foolish conclusions motivating the Obama administration's education policies. In Thursday's column, Will lambasted the White House's proposals to overhaul No Child Left Behind, describing the administration's blueprint for reform as "another airy puff of legislative cotton candy."
Conspicuously absent from the administration's education reform plans is any reference to school choice. That this would be so should come as no surprise. The Obama administration has been quite hostile to choice, and recently consigned 2,000 low-income, mostly black students in Washington D.C. to mediocre or failing public schools by terminating the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. That's the subject of Will's Sunday column, in which he notes the hypocrisy of Education Secretary Arne Duncan's efforts to step up civil rights enforcement:
Duncan seems to fancy himself an Earl Warren, expanding civil rights. Actually, he resembles Mrs. Jellyby.
While his lawyers seek evidence of displeasing enrollments in AP courses, he is complicit in strangling the scholarship program that enables 1,300 District of Columbia low-income minority students to escape from the District's execrable schools. Like Mrs. Jellyby in Dickens' "Bleak House," who was indifferent to her chaotic family while fretting about conditions in distant Borrioboola-Gha, Duncan practices what Dickens called "telescopic philanthropy." Sensitive about supposed injustices in distant AP classes, Duncan is worse than merely indifferent to children within sight of his office at the foot of Capitol Hill.
No segregationist politician is blocking schoolhouse doors against D.C. children; congressional Democrats are. Until Duncan and the talkative president he serves speak against the congressional Democrats who are strangling the District's Opportunity Scholarship Program, he should spare us the exhibitionism of explaining problems of social class in the '60s vocabulary of civil rights violations.
The best reforms focus on boosting literacy, basic skills and core knowledge in the elementary grades. Get the rudiments right, and good things follow. Duncan, therefore, is putting his attention on inequities in the wrong place. He's worried about minorities being shortchanged in Advanced Placement courses. Insofar as he should be worried at all, Duncan should be interested more in how schools shortchange their students in first, second, third and fourth grades. D.C.'s popular and innovative scholarship program offered a remedy. Ill-conceived federal lawsuits do not.
I know, I know: Who cares about the Constitution when millions of people don't have health insurance? After all, as George W. Bush said, "When someone is hurting, government must move." And we all know what Bush thought about the Constitution.
Yes, well, be that as it may, a few of us still hold some regard for the Constitution as written. Perhaps a few judges do, too. Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett writes in Sunday's Washington Post about some of the constitutional problems with health care reform, and notes possible remedies.
On the "Individual Mandate" and the Commerce Clause:
The individual mandate extends the commerce clause's power beyond economic activity, to economic inactivity. That is unprecedented. While Congress has used its taxing power to fund Social Security and Medicare, never before has it used its commerce power to mandate that an individual person engage in an economic transaction with a private company. Regulating the auto industry or paying "cash for clunkers" is one thing; making everyone buy a Chevy is quite another. Even during World War II, the federal government did not mandate that individual citizens purchase war bonds.
On the the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, Gator Aid and other legislative horse-trades:
Congress can always argue that, say, an Air Force base in Nebraska benefits the United States as a whole. But the deals in the Senate bill are different. It is really hard to identify a benefit to all the states from exempting one state from an increase in Medicare costs or allowing only the citizens of Florida to get Medicare Advantage.
On the defunct 'Slaughter House rule':
The whole purpose of the "deem and pass" procedure -- which was advocated by Rules Committee Chairman Louise Slaughter -- was to avoid a separate vote on the Senate bill, which many House members find objectionable, and instead vote on the reconciliation bill and simultaneously "deem" the Senate measure passed. Although Democrats cited prior examples of deem and pass, "the Republicans did it" is not a recognized constitutional argument -- especially if the public and the justices have never heard of such a thing. This constitutional objection seems to have succeeded, as House leaders decided on Saturday to take a separate vote on the Senate version, rather than "deeming" it passed.
On 10th Amendment objections:
Under the 10th Amendment, if Congress enacts a law pursuant to one of the "powers . . . delegated to the United States by the Constitution," then that law is supreme, and nothing a state can do changes this. Any state power to "nullify" unconstitutional federal laws has long been rejected.
On constitutional amendments:
Ultimately, there are three ways to think about whether a law is constitutional: Does it conflict with what the Constitution says? Does it conflict with what the Supreme Court has said? Will five justices accept a particular argument? Although the first three of the potential constitutional challenges to health-care reform have a sound basis in the text of the Constitution, and no Supreme Court precedents clearly bar their success, the smart money says there won't be five votes to thwart the popular will to enact comprehensive health insurance reform.
But what if five justices think the legislation was carried bleeding across the finish line on a party-line vote over widespread bipartisan opposition? What if control of one or both houses of Congress flips parties while lawsuits are pending? Then there might just be five votes against regulating inactivity by compelling citizens to enter into a contract with a private company. This legislation won't go into effect tomorrow. In the interim, it is far more vulnerable than if some citizens had already started to rely upon its benefits.
Barnett suggests there is a clear, if unexpected, Supreme Court precedent here. Read the piece to find out what it is.
Update (Monday, March 22): Barnett participated in an online Q&A at the Washington Post today. Here's the transcript. He elaborates on several points in Sunday's piece, and makes several important observations. Of particular note is this exchange, given news today that at least 11 states are preparing legal challenges to the law:
Princeton, N.J.: A Professor Jost of Washington and Lee Law School was on C-SPAN this morning. He claims the states have no standing in this issue. He also says that since the individual mandate does not go into effect for 4 years, nobody has any standing until then.
He also said that the interpretation of the commerce clause has been so broad that any case likely to be thrown out. He gave many examples; the one I thought was striking was the partial birth abortion ban relying on the commerce clause.
Randy Barnett: Professor Jost has a very broad reading of federal power! I am not a big expert on "standing," but agree that states may not have standing to contest the individual mandate. They could contest the Cornhusker Kickback, etc. I also think that once the bill is signed any person who will be subject to its mandate could bring an immediate "facial challenge," but I could be wrong about this. As for why previous cases do not justify this extension, I may be able to explain this more as discussion proceeds.
Also: For more on why Barnett argues the individual insurance mandate is unconstitutional, see this Heritage Foundation legal memorandum.
President Obama and his lefty Democrat allies expect their new socialized medicine entitlement, once passed, to be permanent, untouchable, and beloved by the public, just like Social Security and Medicare. That is why they are so crazed to get it passed by any means and at any cost. But not living in the real world, they fail to understand that Social Security and Medicare are bankrupt under the government's own numbers, and are about to be fundamentally reformed themselves. It is beyond the power of even the authoritarian government to which the current ruling Democrats aspire to repeal the laws of arithmetic, even though that is the root of their ideology. The Tea Party movement, by contrast, understands all this perfectly well.
As I indicate in the comments to Joel's post, I'm not quite as optimistic. The shape and scope of the reaction against Obamacare and its attendant horrors is not yet clear. And although it may be heartening for those of us who follow politics closely to see this surge in activism from the Tea Party movement, we shouldn't forget that tens of millions of Americans either embrace the "reforms" under discussion -- having little or no idea what they would actually accomplish -- or have simply checked out of the debate altogether. The question, then, is not whether a majority of Americans will resist this change but rather whether just enough of those Americans who can resist this change will do so? The Tea Parties may not be enough.
Monkey Robb and I discuss this with John O'Hara, author of The New American Tea Party: The Counterrevolution Against Bailouts, Handouts, Reckless Spending and More Taxes, in the new podcast. I'll be posting the audio a little later Sunday.
Rick Moran has a pretty shrewd take on the Tea Party movement over at Rightwing Nuthouse (though I wish he had an editor to correct his minor factual errors as well as some of his grammatical infelicities). I don't agree with the analysis all the way, but I think he's on to something here:
Misinformed? Yes. Shallow? An understanding of the Constitution that runs a mile wide and a centimeter deep. Fearful? Beyond being manipulated by the cotton candy conservatives on talk radio, the fear of change is so ripe you can smell it in many sections of the country.
I’m not talking about Obama-type change. I’m talking about the undercurrent of change that constantly runs through history and that occasionally, breaks ground in a flood that, when it ebbs, reveals a much altered landscape. Most people who inhabit such a place are not prepared for, nor can they manage the seminal changes that have made the familiar, unfamiliar.
America has been undergoing a radical change for more than 20 years. Our entire economy has flipped from being industrial-based to service-based, with the consequent changes in wages, lifestyle, and mores occurring faster than many can absorb. The old moorings by which most of us clung have been torn away and some have been let adrift — strangers in their own land.
The catalyst that revealed this was the financial crisis and the growing realization that recovery will be a slow, painful process no matter whether we stupidly try to spend our way to prosperity or cut taxes and risk even higher deficits, thus stifling growth. Millions of jobs are gone and it will take years to recreate the kind of economy where anyone who wants a job can get one.
With all of this happening, can you blame the tea partiers for grasping at the one talisman that has served as a steadying influence on America for 222 years? The Constitution as legal document and patriotic connection to our past is as a life buoy tossed to a drowning man. Given that there are far worse symbols upon which citizens could tie themselves — including the Communist Manifesto as some of the anti-war protestors appeared to have embraced — you would think that critics would grant tea partiers a little slack in their choice of iconic American notions to idolize.
That last is a bit naive, I think. The Constitution of the Tea Party movement is a decidedly unprogressive document. What right-minded 21st-century American could possibly take such a thing seriously? I guess we'll find out soon enough.
That's the headline the Boston Herald put on my op-ed, which casts a cold eye on the recent mass-firings at a Rhode Island high school:
It’s true that some schools are so hopeless and the teachers so inept that mass firings and shutdowns are the only solution. But isn’t that for local authorities to decide?
Firing every teacher from a struggling Rhode Island high school is a spectacular display of what passes for accountability in education these days. But the controversial decision by a New England school superintendent has more to do with buckling under unforgiving federal mandates than bucking the status quo and boldly asserting local control.
Kindly read the whole thing.
But former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich said Obama and the Democrats will regret their decision to push for comprehensive reform. Calling the bill "the most radical social experiment . . . in modern times," Gingrich said: "They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years" with the enactment of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.
As writer Dan Balz notes in the next paragraph, "no one doubts that Johnson was right to push for those civil rights measures." No one does now of course -- at least not openly, if they wish to participate in mainstream politics -- but the reason the civil rights legislation was so devastating for the Democratic Party over time was that there were plenty of people who did think it was wrong for Johnson to push for those measures.
What does this have to do with the health reform debate?
There's a lot about Republican governance the last 40 years that I've thought annoying at best and damaging to the country at worst. And yet the worst of it has never been so bad that it would justify hopping in a time machine and convincing LBJ not to pass civil rights legislation in order to keep the South in the Democratic column. The tradeoff -- 40 years in the political wilderness in exchange for a legal regime that protected and enforced the rights of African Americans for the first time in our history -- was worth it, frankly.
And if Gingrich's prediction comes true -- I'm not at all sure it will -- I suspect it will again be worth it. Millions of Americans who can't afford health insurance will finally be covered; millions of others who have paid for coverage will actually get to use that coverage instead of seeing it revoked when they get sick. A legal regime that enables all Americans to access and use health care is, frankly, the least that can happen in the richest civilization this planet has ever seen.
Republicans might be able to tap into anger among some voters to ride back into power. But it's unlikely they'll have the stones to repeal health reform -- last seen in power, of course, they were expanding the Medicare entitlement that conservatives had vociferously opposed a generation earlier. So they can have the presidency for the next 40 years, if they want. Power is important, but so is the end to which it is used. Democrats might be sacrificing their power now, but for a worthy cause. I'm OK with that.
It's almost getting tiresome to me, this picking on Peggy Noonan for her naivete concerning Barack Obama. Almost. She's coming around to the truth of Obama's hard leftism and the phoniness of his HopeyChange campaign rhetoric slower than my quest to lose that extra 20 pounds I've been carrying around for five years. At some point, I expect Noonan's BS meter to finally redline, and read a column in which her great talents are righteously unleashed on Obama. But no matter The One's transgression, so far, Noonan never takes on the persona of a woman scorned. And scorned she has been.
Alas, much of the right side of the blogosphere that still cares about Noonan's work has been aflutter about this week's column, titled "Now for the Slaughter." One would think such a headline means Hell fire follows. Alas, all we get the flicking of a Bic. Noonan begins by accusing the Obama administration of being "bush league" (small "b") for blowing off a trip to Australia and Indonesia so the president can stay in town to
shepherd through bribe and threaten for passage his health care debacle. After Gibbs made the announcement this week ...
The reporters didn't even provoke or needle in their questions. They seemed hushed. They looked like people who were absorbing the information that we all seem to be absorbing, which is that the wheels seem to be coming off this thing, the administration is wobbling — so early, so painfully and dangerously soon.
Nice of you to notice, Peggy. You noticed that this week? It's not like Obama's approval ratings went south from its great heights just yesterday. And this is your first observation that the press has been merely "absorbing" information from the administration, rather than reporting and questioning? Oh, well. Many of us "absorbed" the wheels coming off this administration for some time. At least Peggy was cogent enough to recognize that Bret Baier's interview with Obama the other night was the exception to the rule of reverential press treatment of our president.
It revealed [Obama's] primary weakness in speaking of health care, which is a tendency to dodge, obfuscate and mislead. He grows testy when challenged. It revealed what the president doesn't want revealed, which is that he doesn't want to reveal much about his plan. This furtiveness is not helpful in a time of high public anxiety.
No kidding. Welcome to the reality based community, which has noticed Obama's tendency to dodge since the campaign days. Noonan was amazed that the excellent Baier, who would not be bullied or filibustered, pressed Obama to concede "that no, he doesn't know what's in the bill right now."
It is still amazing that one year into the debate this could be true.
Really. Really? Has Noonan even read her own newspaper's editorial pages in the last two months? Or even in the last week? Obama has never cared what's actually in the health care bill. That's why for all his talk in the Baier interview of the Congress voting on "his" bill, it's never been his bill. It's been Harry Reid's bill. It's been Nancy Pelosi's bill. It's been the bill of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. All that matters is that the government becomes Master and Commander over 1/6th of the U.S. economy. The rest is merely details down the line — the kind of details that exact how, not why, politicians and bureaucrats exercise the power that comes with this take-over.
Noonan notes that "throughout, Mr. Baier pressed the president."
Steve Chapman diagnoses what's wrong with the Obama administration's education policy in this Monday's Chicago Tribune:
I can't pinpoint the moment when the Obama administration went wrong on the subject of education. But I can pinpoint the moment when it demonstrated that it can't be taken seriously.
It happened on Monday, March 15, when Education Secretary Arne Duncan was expounding to reporters about revising the No Child Left Behind law. The new policy, he asserted, "is going to revolutionize education in our country."
No, it's not. We have been at the task of education for a long time, and one thing we know is that you cannot revolutionize it. The American system of schooling is vast, complicated, self-protective, slow to change and even slower to improve.
And, I would add, fairly straightforward. Yes, certain subjects are complicated. But the task of educating citizens is as old as Aristotle.
Things are obviously still fluid, but the reporting on this is coming from several different places:
Rep. Mel Watt just told our Brian Beutler that the whole "self-executing" rule (aka what the GOP was calling the "Slaughter Rule") thing is off. They'll vote on the rule, then the reconciliation bill and then the original Senate bill.
If this is true, it's good news. Our debates going forward -- probably in the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns -- can concentrate on the substance of health reform instead of the process of its passage. And you know what? I'm more than happy to let the American people judge that debate.
Author Susan Jacoby, a lively agnostic whose books The Age of American Unreason and Freethinkers are worth engaging even if you're inclined to disagree, offers some rather ill-considered ideas for reforming America's schools in the New York Times.
Jacoby begins with the oft-heard lament that American kids are mediocre in math and science compared to their peers in other countries. She takes a poke at President Obama's proposed overhaul of No Child Left Behind and serves up a heaping ladle of scorn for the Texas State Board of Education. "Each of these seemingly unrelated developments," Jacoby writes, "is part of a crazy quilt created by one of America’s most cherished and unexamined traditions: local and state control of public education."
The idea that the American tradition local and state control of public education is "unexamined" should be the first of several clues that Jacoby is writing from terra incognita. But she sallies forth boldly, arguing her view:
Our lack of a national curriculum, national teacher training standards and federal financial support to attract smart young people to the teaching profession all contribute mightily to the mediocre-to-poor performance of American students, year in and year out, on international education assessments. So does a financing system that relies heavily on local property taxes and fails to guarantee students in, say, Kansas City the same level of schooling as students in more affluent communities.
It's funny she should mention Kansas City, which is an object lesson in how billions of federal court-ordered dollars simply could not buy an excellent education.
The new proposals being offered by the Obama administration will not significantly change a setup that combines the worst of both worlds: broad federally mandated goals and state manipulation of testing and curriculum. Nationwide testing is useless unless it is based on a curriculum consensus reached by genuine experts in the subjects being taught — yes, the dreaded “elites.” That is how public education is administered in nearly all industrialized nations throughout Europe and Asia, whose students regularly outperform Americans in reading comprehension, science and math.
Jacoby is at best half right. It's true that federally mandated curriculum standards are almost certain to fall prey to political pressures to dumb them down. But she omits a major reason why students in Asia and Europe perform so much better on international tests. It isn't merely that elites are administering the schools; the elites -- or, rather, their children -- are also taking the tests. Those other industrialized nations are fairly unapologetic about separating the intellectually gifted wheat from the more trade-oriented chaff. American schools are much more egalitarian and, therefore, much more mediocre.
Jacoby goes on to offer three tentative steps toward meaningful reform. Rather than answer them myself, I would encourage you to read Kevin Kosar, who thoroughly demolished Jacoby in a post earlier today. Writes Kosar:
The notion that our democratic republic is dependent upon government-operated schools is unproven. Walter Lippmann called out this claim 85 years ago; and reams of political science studies indicates that people seldom vote based on reason or deep knowledge of the issues. Before this country had public schools, it had private schools. When Adams and Jefferson lived, there were few public schools. Yet, the Republic endured. And, it is a fact that a disproportionate percentage of private school graduates end up taking leading roles in public affairs.
Here, an old saw seems appro—one is entitled to one’s own opinion, not one’s own facts. And it should go without saying that newspapers, especially influential ones, should not entrust important subjects to dilettantes.
A new Field Poll finds Barbara "Call Me Senator" Boxer's prospects for a fourth term less than certain. The Fresno Bee reports:
Former Rep. Tom Campbell has a six-point lead over his closest challenger in the three-way Republican primary to face Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, whose popularity has significantly eroded in the past two months, according to a Field Poll released today.
The survey found Campbell leading former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina 28 percent to 22 percent among likely Republican voters in the June 8 primary, while Assemblyman Chuck DeVore had support from 9 percent. But most prospective GOP voters, roughly 40 percent, were undecided.
While Boxer's races have historically been sleepy affairs, the poll indicates that Californians could be in for a barnburner this year. Boxer is in a statistical tie in trial matchups with both Campbell and Fiorina. In January, she had substantial double-digit percentage-point leads over all three GOP challengers.
"Formerly, I would have said this is in the Democratic column, but I would say now it's got to be moved into the tossup column," said Mark DiCamillo, the director of the poll. "There just seems to be a turning of voter opinions. I think a lot of it has to do with the Congress."
As with the Field Poll noting Meg Whitman's slight lead over Jerry Brown, the standard caveats apply. Boxer can be as vicious as anyone. (Just ask Bruce Herschensohn.) And the outcome of the Republican primary is far from assured, especially if Fiorina and Campbell continue clashing.
Somewhere, a demon sheep is bleating.
My friend Daniel Watts is running for Davis City Council. Watts ran for governor in the 2003 recall circus, and although he didn't do quite as well as Cruz Bustamante or Mary Carey, he made a respectable showing. He had planned to run for governor again this year as a Democrat, but the Jerry Brown Juggernaut was simply too much to overcome.
Instead, Watts is taking on local government. Wise choice. The Davis Enterprise reported Tuesday about his plans (subscriber-only link, alas):
Watts vows to make student issues a priority. In fact, his campaign platform focuses almost exclusively on student rights and improving the city-student relationship.
Watts said he noticed other candidates addressing the city budget, public safety and the school district.
'Their concerns were the same concerns that any other city has,' he said.
Meanwhile, he said, Davis' massive college student population is being neglected.
'There is a voice for those other issues on the City Council already,' he said. 'But nobody is addressing those student issues.'
Contrary to popular belief, starving students don't qualify as "indigent," so Watts is on the hook for a $732 filing fee. He's accepting donations via Paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help a fella out.
I have a new op-ed in the Sacramento Bee arguing against the Common Core Standards Initiative, which sounds like a great idea until you realize that President Obama wants to use it as leverage to further centralize education policy.
Here's the gist:
The standards are billed as “voluntary,” but that’s a joke. The Obama administration has already announced plans to make $14 billion in federal Title I funds and another $15 billion in future Race to the Top grants contingent on states adopting the national standards. In short, the standards would be as “voluntary” reporting personal income to the IRS, regulating the drinking age, or maintaining the speed limit. Just try to opt out and see what happens.
The standards are also supposed to be “flexible,” but it’s difficult to see how. The draft reading and math requirements include detailed, year-by-year prescriptions for every child, regardless of ability. A student who struggles with reading, writing, or arithmetic would have an even tougher time keeping up, as teachers would face mounting pressure to cover all the material in federally sanctioned lesson plans.
Of course, that assumes the final standards won’t be homogenized and dumbed down to the point they would be considered “high standards” in name only. Judging by history, that’s probably a bad assumption.
One thing’s for sure: transforming common core standards into a common curriculum would turn an already contentious policy issue into a brawl as bruising and divisive as the fight over health care reform. Where health care is about our bodies, education is about our children’s minds.
Obviously, you should read the whole thing. (Try not to be scared off by the mugshot.)
And while you're at it, check out the new School Reform News Web site at the Heartland Institute. In the coming weeks, we'll be introducing daily content, and weekly interactive and multimedia features, including polls, videos and podcasts.
Update: Cato's Neal McCluskey writes at NRO:
All kids are different. They mature at different rates, have different interests, and face different obstacles. In light of this, it simply makes no sense to try to force them all to learn the same thing at the same pace. It’s something that most conservatives — who recognize the primacy of the individual — fully understand, yet Finn asserts that it’s liberals who oppose a single standard for all.
If that’s so, then why aren’t more liberals supporting widespread school choice — the key to ending special-interest control of education and enabling unique kids to find schools specializing in their needs — the way conservatives are? Oh, right: Because it’s typically liberals who love big, one-size-fits-all government solutions to problems fundamentally rooted in a lack of freedom.
The CCSSI standards might look great on paper. But federally extorted standardization? That’s something conservatives should never embrace.
Meantime, Julie Ponzi at No Left Turns picks up a thread that I think deserves elaboration in a separate piece:
A perceived problem for those advocating on behalf of keeping standards at the state level has been the rancorous and, in many ways, ridiculous fight over history standards in Texas that has produced, in the words of Boychuk, "a politically correct mishmash." Any objective observer of the outcome in Texas would have to concede that their "solution" has been less than wonderful. As Ben says in the comment section under his piece, "including the Declaration of Independence in the social studies standards while excluding Thomas Jefferson is... confusing." It is also stupid and deserving of all the mockery and derision it is getting--however wrong-headed and mean-spirited some of it may be. (One way to avoid being called a fool is to avoid doing foolish things!) But this result is in no way--as left-wing critics eager to score points against the "rubes" in red states might hope--an argument in favor of national standards. It is an argument AGAINST them. Why would we want to nationalize that fiasco of a fight in Texas? For that is exactly what would happen.
More on the Texas textbook controversy soon.
Former eBay CEO and California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is riding high in the polls after her appearance at the GOP state convention. The latest Field Poll has Whitman leading Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner by a whopping 49 points. Poizner immolated himself six weeks ago with his bizarre press conference claiming that Whitman's campaign tried to intimidate him into abandoning the contest.
Apparently, she's leading Brown, too.
Don't worry, it won't last.
It's early yet. Whitman is spending a fortune acquainting herself with voters and tearing down Poizner. But her message is lame, hackneyed and clichéd. As Rep. Tom McClintock said over the weekend, Whitman might as well be Schwarzenegger in a skirt.
The Los Angeles Times wonders if Poizner "can pull a Gray Davis." What's that? Get himself recalled?
The Poizner campaign maintains that polls at this phase of the campaign are meaningless.
Not convinced? Take a look at the headline from the Field Poll almost 12 years ago to the day. The headline of Field's March 18, 1998, survey read, "Harman moves ahead of Checchi and Davis in Democratic field for governor."
That would be Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), the candidate who eventually finished with 12% of the vote, and Al Checchi, the former Northwest Airlines executive who finished with 13% in the June 1998 primary election.
Primary rules for that election were slightly different than they are now. In that election, voters from either party were allowed to vote for whichever candidate they wanted. Gray Davis was the top Democratic vote-getter that year with 35% of the overall vote. Republican Dan Lungren, who did not have a competitive primary, was the top Republican vote-getter.
But three months before the election, Davis' victory was anything but guaranteed. The March 1998 survey found Davis with just 11% of the vote. Harman had 17%, while Checchi was favored by 15% of those surveyed.
Well, that's interesting. Interesting but totally irrelevant, that is.
Poizner could have been a contender, if he hadn't come off as a desperate loser. More likely, though, Brown is holding back, waiting for the Republican candidates to savage each other, and fully expecting to unleash his well-heeled surrogates. Oh, and though they might deny it, the press looooooves Jerry.
So don't put too much stock in the polls at this point. And never, ever count out Jerry Brown.
Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard is convinced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to resort to the "Slaughter Solution," which we've had quite the discussion about over on this thread. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, the smart and funny Republican from Michigan, dubbed this end-run around the Constitution the "Slaughter House Rules." I like that moniker.
Anyway, Kristol outlines several quotes from House Democratic leaders reflecting their current talking points about how the American people don't care about "process," and how all of this drama is about "inside baseball" that — in the words of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) — is only interesting to Inside-the-Beltway reporters. Kristol didn't take the time to mention what I think is one of the best dismissive and contemptuous quotes from the mouth of Pelosi. About the shenanigans going on, the Speaker said today of the Slaughter House Rules:
It's more insider-and process-oriented than most people want to know. But I like it because people don't have to vote on the Senate bill.
Yes. That's nice. The people's representatives not actually voting on a bill that will fundamentally transform Americans' relationship to their doctors, and their relationship with the government, is peachy in Pelosi's eyes. I think the Hosue Democrats, or at least their leadership, are delusional. And I think this stuff does matter to "ordinary" Americans, whom the Democrats apparently think are too stupid to understand that a fundamental trust in a consensual government is being violated here. Kristol agrees.
Here the Democrats betray their contempt for the supposed simple-mindedness and short-sightedness of the American public. They also convey their vision of the American people living under the big government liberalism: We are to be passive consumers of government action, who accept what is done for us and to us in light of our perceived narrow short-term self-interest. We are not to think of ourselves as self-governing citizens with a stake in the process of constitutional self-government and a concern for the good of the whole.
This may be the outcome — turning citizens into consumers, self-government into the nanny state — that the Democrats would like to achieve. I don't think it's one the American people wish to accept.
I don't think so, either. I think Americans' political sophistication will manifest itself in November with an historic political reckoning. Hell, the public's political sophistication is manifesting itself now. But, if this scurrilous procedure occurs, it will be probably be too late for the public to make substantive corrections.
Yet, if the future Republican majority has to resort to such tactics to repeal the totality of this disaster, I'll support it — just this once. Because it would be sweet justice.
(Please, dear readers, don't nit-pick me on this post about the history of "deeming" and other such Congressional procedures throughout history. We've gone over that in the previous post. There are enormous differences, not the least of which is the fact that stuff like raising the debt ceiling are "resolutions," not bills that our constitution stipulates are quite different.)
"Starbucks is 39 years old now, and like a lot of 39-year-olds, especially those who’ve experienced great success in their salad years but are beginning to wonder if they’ve lost their touch, it’s having a bit of an identity crisis," writes Greg Beato in the March issue of Reason.
See, I'm a few months younger than Starbucks and I can't relate to that at all. I feel like my best years are yet to come.
But I think I understand the problem. Starbucks overextended. We had two Starbucks within a couple of miles of our house. Both closed last year -- one of them after just one year in operation.
I like Starbucks. I spend a lot of time at the store across the street from where my wife works. They know me there. I can work there more or less in peace. (Thank you, Bose Quiet Comfort 2's!) The coffee is too hot and too bitter and the food is overpriced, but it does the job. Although it may not be "a venue for conversation and civic discourse," I see plenty of realtors, pastors, paralegals, students and band moms gathering there regularly to converse about... well, whatever it is they discuss.
(I)f Starbucks really hopes to re-establish its authority as an innovative, forward-thinking trailblazer, it should perhaps use its next experimental venue to honor its heritage as the first chain to take gourmet coffee culture beyond the narrow boundaries of traditional coffeehouse values and aesthetics. Imagine a place with matching chairs, clean tables, beverages that look like ice cream sundaes, Norah Jones on the sound system, and absolutely no horrid paintings from local artists decorating the walls. A place, that is, exactly like Starbucks!
Because despite its ubiquity, despite its advancing years, Starbucks is still the most radical thing to hit the coffeehouse universe in the last 50 years.
Beats gas station coffee, anyway, I can tell you that.
...you'll likely enjoy this Academy Award winning movie trailer. It's the feel-good hit of the season!
(Hat tip: Steve Hayward)
(Hat tip: Cato's @ Liberty blog)
One would expect from that headline that former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines would have used an opportunity to speak from the pages of The Washington Post to provide a mea culpa on his dereliction of duty for allowing the alarmingly shoddy journalist Jayson Blair to commit serial plagiarism and fiction on his front pages in the early 2000s. And one would be wrong.
One might also expect from that headline that the former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines would have used an opportunity to speak from the pages of The Washington Post to lament his former standard of American journalism's dereliction of duty on misreporting the Tea Party phenomenon. Or how The Times continues to get its clock cleaned by British newspapers on the ClimateGate scandals? Again, you'd be wrong. Two times.
Nope. Raines says the "one question" that has "tugged" at his "professional conscience" lately is this:
Why haven't America's old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration — a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?
That Raines — who trumpeted the MSM's dogged criticism of the Nixon administration as a highlight that he did not characterize as "a propaganda campaign" but something "well covered" — feels the burning urge to slam the only major television news outlet in this country to cover the Obama administration with a critical eye says all you need to know about the self-induced destruction of the MSM.
Does he call out Fox News citing examples of the kind of fiction that he presided over at the helm of America's "Newspaper of Record"? No. He does not. Instead he laments that Ailes allows on his network a "cadre of raucous commentators" that have "overturned standards of fairness and objectivity that have guided American print and broadcast journalists since World War II."
Hey, Howell. Those are commentators. MSNBC, CNN and even The New York Times has them, too. A former media big shot like you should know the difference between news reporting and commentary, of which Fox News has successfully achieved both if ratings are any gauge.
OK. I'm not being 100 percent fair. Raines attempts to provide a glaring example of malfesence on the part of Fox News. Pointing to Fox's coverage of the health care debate, Raines writes:
It is a matter of Fox turning reality on its head with, among other tactics, its endless repetition of its uber-lie: "The American people do not want health-care reform."
Fox repeats this as gospel.
Gee. Why would Fox do that? It's not like there are scads of polls showing that the American people wholly reject the vision of "health care reform" that Obama and the Democratic Congress are trying to shove down our throats. The "news" of "health care reform" is not consumed with the vague and historic notions of "reform" that Raines then cites for support. "News," as Raines should know, is what's happening now. And what's happening now on that front is extremely unpopular. Why, pray tell, is reporting — and in commentary shows, reflecting — the "gospel" of public opinion somehow a sin against journalism?
Seriously, the idiocy of Raines' piece is a wonder to behold, and explains why The New York Times is losing readership faster than Monkey Ben is losing hair. Stupid didn't leave the building with Raines, but is institutionalized at the paper.
Mark Steyn and Greg Gutfeld have torn Raines a couple of new ones over his diatribe. And they are worth reading for the giggles. But I'm gonna pull out some more asininity for the dozens of readers of Infinite Monkeys (which includes family). Raines writes:
How to explain? It's like Harold & Maude, only if both characters appeared to be 12 years old and Maude was actually a vampire. And if it had the icy surroundings and slowly building sense of dread as in The Shining. With Scott Farkus from A Christmas Story making an appearance as Harold's tormenter. Oh yeah, and it's all in Swedish -- with all the awkward touches of pubescent sexuality that might imply.
Does that describe it? It's the best I can do.
Cross-posted at Cup O' Joel.
That, at least, is the conclusion of Abe Greenwald a Friday post at Commentary's Contentions blog titled "Democracy only works if you use it." Greenwald, like me, used Charles Krauthammer's latest column, but to make a different point.
Dr. K notes the contentiousness of today's political debate and writes: "Hail the untidiness. Hail democracy. Hail the rotation of power. Yes, even when Democrats gain office." Even though, as Krauthammer writes, "it’s hard to recall a more informed, more detailed, more serious, more prolonged national debate than on health care reform," what does that matter when the Congress and the president are not listening to the people? As Greenwald writes:
All of the fighting, even the polarization, would be easier to hail if the Democrats were not sidestepping it. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are seeking to change the fundamental nature of the country, not by triumphing in rigorous debate, but rather by exploiting a procedural loophole that would allow them to act against the will of the people.
The citizens of this country have historically enjoyed a unique level of influence on their government. But we are now spectators before whom a cadre of floundering ideologues seeks to sever the trusts that make consensual governance consensual. The Democrats lost the public debate. Ask them if they care.
What I put in bold above is what is so troubling to me. Greenwald points to a recent statement by Nancy Pelosi that reflects her utter disregard — contempt, really — for the opinion of the American people as reflected in the polls and the election of several candidates who ran against the agenda of her caucus and Obama.
We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get health care reform passed for the American people for their own personal health and economic security and for the important role that it will play in reducing the deficit.
Is that really how our constitutional republic is supposed to work? That if the barriers to an agenda stand in the way — also known as checks and balances — those with a temporary hold on power are to ignore them, subvert them and (if necessary) "pole vault" over them? Previously in the entire history of this country, if you ain't got the votes for a major piece of legislation or "reform," you move on. That's what Bush and the Republican Congress did in 2005 regarding Social Security reform. Rigging the rules, coming up with endless schemes to get your way — including the "Slaughter Solution" to consider the Senate version of the bill passed without ever voting on it as the constitution demands — makes a mockery of our form of government. It's tyranny with a sheen of democracy.
No president, no speaker of the House, should be able to subvert our checks and balances on government power because that president and that speaker say they think its for our own good. We are not children, and they are not our absolute rulers.
Beyond the question of whether ObamaCare is good for the people — and I believe it is not — is proceeding with such contempt for our constitution and the will of the American people good for the country? Does it foster respect for our form of government, or cynicism (which Obama famously said in his campaign was his "real" opponent)?
Obama, Pelosi, and Reid now believe they must pass ObamaCare by any means necessary, because somewhere along the way, the quest to get this done turned into a political suicide mission. Might as well get what you came for, then, and have your political death not be all for naught. It is now left to a handful of House Democrats to decide if they want to take down 200-plus years of what Americans have considered consensual government down with them. Because a "yea" vote not only ratifies ObamaCare, but sets a precedent that "by any means necessary" is now how this republic governs the people.
Every nation has its own creation myth, something that illuminates our understanding of how a country sees itself, and the emergence of China as an economic superpower in the last couple of decades has prompted some cinematic consideration of how it came into being. Notable among these movies in recent years was Jet Li's Hero, which featured some wonderfully staged action scenes -- it was a Jet Li movie, after all -- but was also troubling to Western and democratic sensibilities with its seemingly pro-totalitarian bent.
Hero, though, was preceded a few years by 1998's The Emperor and the Assassin, and one hopes that this version of China's creation myth doesn't really show us how that country's citizens and artists think of themselves -- because it is super twisted.
Long story short: Li Xuejian plays Zheng Ying, the King of Qin who in 221 BC united all of China's disparate kingdoms under one empire. He's the Chinese George Washington, only if George Washington had a frothing bit of Macbeth in him, sprinkled with a twist of Hitler: Even at the outset he's clearly insane -- and as the movie progresses, it becomes clear he'll do anything to consolidate power: Murder his own family members, wipe out all the children of a city, and destroy entire families at a whim. But he manages a moment of clarity early on, describing China as he will one day rule it with kindness and wisdom.
His lover, Lady Zhao, is played by Gong Li, who is one of the most beautiful actresses ever to appear on screen anywhere in the world at any point in cinematic history. (I wanted, during the movie, to call her Lady Rowwwwr.) She is so moved by Ying's promise to benevolently rule a unified China that she has her face branded, part of a plot to create a pretext for Qin's invasion of a neighboring kingdom, Yan. But she changes her mind when she sees Ying's dark side, and plots with a reformed assassin to kill the king.
We know from history that Ying did become the first emperor of China, and thus we know what becomes of the plot. But still, something buzzes throughout the movie: This is China's creation myth! And it's full of double-crosses, palace intrigue and deaths to fill two or three Shakespeare plays! We're apparently supposed to take it as a given that the unification of China was a worthy thing -- and if you're a Chinese moviegoer watching this, that may well be a given. The rest of us, though, are left aghast at the horror of it all. Put it this way: I've never seen a movie with so many dead children on screen.
China's movie industry is not known, for obvious reasons, for its subversiveness. But there might be a hidden message in all of this. Lady Zhao is so moved by the king's promises of benevolence, food, safety and even good roads for all that she deforms her own visage to enable Ying's military adventurism ... only to find his bright vision similarly deformed by the awful task of acquiring power. A lesson learned: Never, ever trust the king.
Cross-posted at Cup O' Joel.