Published on 19 Apr 2017
This week, Antony and James are equal-opportunity offenders, discussing the way power not only changes hands from one party to another, but support for political ideas flips back and forth as well. Neither the right nor the left is immune to this kind of hypocrisy.
April 20, 2017
March 14, 2017
Megan McArdle says that the best plan the Republicans could come up with to deal with Obamacare is to do nothing, at least in the short-term:
For a policy columnist, “Don’t do that” is the easiest column to write. Most policy ideas are bad. If you simply blindly oppose everything that anyone ever puts forward, you’ll end up being right most of the time.
However, that’s not very useful for politicians. If they just sit around Congress playing tiddlywinks all day, voters will get cranky. Congress is supposed to do things. So, having spent a few days saying unkind things about the Republican health-care plan, it probably behooves me to state what I think they should do.
Well, boy, that’s a hard question. Here’s the thing: For all the unkind words I’ve said, I get the forces that have brought Republicans to this point. As I wrote Thursday, Democrats built a shoddy and unworkable structure out of the political equivalent of concrete: nearly impossible to repair or renovate, and darned expensive to demolish. The task is made even harder by the fact that Democrats currently control just enough votes in the Senate to keep Republicans from passing any sort of clean, comprehensive bill.
What would I do in this situation? Well, the first thing I’d do is accept, deep in my heart, that there are no great outcomes possible at this point. The second thing I’d do is remember that nothing is always a policy option: If you can’t do something better than the status quo, don’t do anything. It’s what I said to Democrats in 2009, and it’s what I’m saying to Republicans now.
So what would I do to minimize the damage, within the constraints of political reality? Well, I foresee two potential futures for the current status quo. One, the exchanges where individuals buy policies could fail, leaving people unable to buy insurance. Or two, the exchanges don’t fail, and we’re left with an unsatisfactory but still operational system.
In either case, the Republicans’ best option is to wait. Why? Because what they can do now — hastily, without touching the underlying regulations that have destabilized the individual market — is worse than either of those outcomes. The partial-reform structure they think they’ll be able to get through the Senate is likely to make the problems in the individual market worse, not better. And the fact that they’ve tinkered with the program means that Republicans will take 100 percent of the blame.
She also re-iterates her own ideal solution (which she admits wouldn’t fly with the American public):
Longtime readers of my column know that my pet proposal is a radical overhaul of the whole system in which we zero out all the existing subsidies and just have the government pick up 100 percent of the tab for medical expenses that exceed 15 or 20 percent of a family’s adjusted gross income: basically, a single-payer catastrophic-care system for expenses that no one can realistically save for. Let people buy insurance for expenses below that, or, if it’s not too expensive taxwise, let people set aside more money tax-free in Health Savings Accounts. And make some more generous provisions for people closer to the poverty line, such as prefunding Health Savings Accounts for them. That’s the whole program. It fits on a postcard, though the finer details — like which cancer treatments we’re actually willing to pay for — obviously aren’t.
However, this is completely politically infeasible, because voters don’t want genuine insurance, by which I mean a pool that provides financial assistance for genuinely unforeseeable and unmanageable expenses. Voters want comprehensive coverage that kicks in at close to the first dollar of spending, no restrictions on treatments or their ability to see a doctor, nice American-style facilities, and so forth. They are also fond of their health-care professionals and do not wish to see provider incomes slashed and hospitals closed, nor do they want their taxes to go up, or to pay 10 percent of their annual income in premiums. This conflicting set of deeply held views is one major reason that Obamacare — and American health-care policy more generally — has the problems it does.
March 13, 2017
Robert Tracinski explains why the Republicans are having such a hard time with their oft-promised “repeal” of Obamacare:
House Republicans have released their proposed measure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, and the whole enterprise is already losing steam right out of the gate. The measure is too small and incremental, less a repeal of Obamacare and more of a repair of it, keeping numerous basic features intact.
If you want to know why Republicans have bogged down, notice one peculiar thing about the Obamacare debate so far. It’s not really a debate over Obamacare, it’s a debate over Medicaid. That’s because Obamacare mostly turned out to be a big expansion of Medicaid. The health insurance exchanges that were supposed to provide affordable private health insurance (under a government aegis) never really delivered. They were launched in a state of chaos and incompetence, and ended up mostly offering plans that are expensive yet still have high deductibles. Rather than massively expanding the number of people with private insurance, a lot of the effect of Obamacare was to wreck people’s existing health care plans and push them into new exchange plans.
Ah, but what about all those people the Democrats are claiming were newly covered under Obamacare? A lot of them — up to two-thirds, by some estimates — are people who were made newly eligible for a government health-care entitlement, Medicaid. But shoving people onto Medicaid is not exactly a great achievement, since it is widely acknowledged to be a lousy program.
Conservative health care wonk Avik Roy explains why: “[T]he program’s dysfunctional 1965 design makes it impossible for states to manage their Medicaid budgets without ratcheting down what they pay doctors to care for Medicaid enrollees. That, in turn, has led many doctors to stop accepting Medicaid patients, such that Medicaid enrollees don’t get the care they need.” Partly as a result, a test in Oregon found no difference in health outcomes between those with access to Medicaid and those without.
February 20, 2017
On Sunday, Rand Paul got some media coverage for his criticism of Senator John McCain:
Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) ripped fellow Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) on Sunday after McCain criticized President Trump’s escalating war of words with the media.
He argued that the nation is “very lucky” that Trump is president and not McCain, who won the 2008 GOP nomination but lost to Barack Obama in the general election.
Paul said that McCain’s recent criticisms of Trump are driven by his “personal dispute” with the president over foreign policy.
He added that McCain and Trump are at odds because McCain supports the wide deployment of U.S. troops to protect and promote American interests abroad while he characterized Trump’s views as closer to a realpolitik approach to foreign policy.
“Everything that he says about the president is colored by his own personal dispute he’s got running with President Trump and it should be taken with a grain of salt because John McCain’s the guy who’s advocated for war everywhere,” Paul said on ABC’s This Week.
“He would bankrupt the nation. We’re very lucky John McCain’s not in charge because I think we’d be in perpetual war,” Paul added.
January 3, 2017
Yes, I’m just getting caught up on articles that got published between Christmas and New Year’s, which is why I’m linking to another Megan McArdle article. This one is on the Democratic party’s “festival of wrongness” delusions about hacking the nomination to replace Antonin Scalia on the US Supreme Court:
You may be a bit confused. Republicans hold the majority in this Senate. They will also control the next Senate. How are Democrats supposed to bring the thing to the floor for a vote, much less get enough votes to actually confirm him?
That’s a very good question! The answer some progressives have come up with is that there will be a nanosecond gap between when the outgoing senators leave office, and the new ones are sworn in. During that gap, there will be more Democrats left than Republicans. So the idea is to call that smaller body into session, vote on the nomination, and voila! — a new Supreme Court justice. Alternatively, President Obama could use that gap to make a recess appointment.
The first idea started on Daily Kos, where I initially saw it. I didn’t pay it overmuch attention, as my second law of politics is that “At any given time, someone is suggesting something completely insane.” Usually these ideas go nowhere. This one, however, has gotten a bit of traction; the idea of a nanosecond nomination vote has shown up at the Princeton Election Consortium blog, and endorsements of a recess appointment have appeared in the New Republic and New York magazine.
It’s hard to know where to start with this festival of wrongness. The idea behind the nanosecond nomination seems to be that there are two discrete Senates, the old and the new, with a definite gap between them; yet that somehow, though neither the old nor the new Senate exists, there are senators, who can hold a vote on something — a sort of quantum Senate that pops into and out of existence depending on the needs of the Democratic Party.
The legal grounds for a recess appointment are even weaker, because in 2014 the Supreme Court ruled that recess appointments require at least a three-day gap — not three femtoseconds — between sessions to be valid. Even if that were not the case, Jonathan Adler argues that the new Republican Senate could adjourn sine die, ending the recess appointment a few weeks after it was made. Since Garland would have to vacate his appellate court seat, all Democrats would succeed in doing is opening up another judicial appointment for Trump.
But this is almost quibbling compared with the deeper problem: Even if these moves could work, they wouldn’t work. The people proposing these ideas seem to imagine that they are making a movie about politics, rather than actually doing politics. The hero’s quest is to get a liberal supreme court, but they are stymied until — third act miracle! A daring procedural caper! The gavel slams down on Merrick Garland’s “Aye” vote … cut to him taking his Supreme Court seat … fade to black as the audience cheers. In the real world, of course, there’s a sequel, called “Tomorrow.” And what do the Republicans do then? The answer, alas, is not “stand around shaking their fists at fate, while the moderates among them offer a handshake across the aisle and a rueful ‘You got us this time, guys.’”
Megan McArdle reflects on what makes a marriage successful … politically:
While traveling a few months back, I ended up chatting with a divorce attorney, who observed that what we’re seeing in America right now bears a startling resemblance to what he sees happen with many of his clients. They’ve lost sight of what they ever liked about each other; in fact, they’ve even lost sight of their own self-interest. All they can see is their grievances, from annoying habits to serious wrongs. The other party, of course, generally has their own set of grievances. There is a sort of geometric progression of outrage, where whatever you do to the other side is justified by whatever they did last. They, of course, offer similar justifications for their own behavior.
By the time the parties get to this state, the object is not even necessarily to come out of the divorce with the most money and stuff; it’s to ensure that your former spouse comes out with as little as possible. People will fight viciously to get a knickknack neither of them particularly likes, force asset sales at a bad loss, and otherwise behave as if the victor is not the person who goes on to live a productive and happy life, but the one who makes it impossible for the ex to do so.
However damaging these battles are, at least they eventually end. Unfortunately, there is no divorce court for nations, and our last trial separation ended in the deaths of about 2 percent of the population. However much you have come to despise the other party, they’re still going to be there: tracking dirt into the halls of Congress, demanding an equal say in the direction of the ship of state. It doesn’t matter if you hate their ideas, their habits, and everything else about them; they’re not going anywhere. So you two had better figure out how to live together.
And you can easily imagine partisans of both sides angrily decrying “But they started it!”
December 31, 2016
The polling firm Ipsos did a year-end survey for Global News to find out how Canadians feel about the monarchy. Colby Cosh looks at the weak attraction of the republican option:
If you’re a serious monarchist you are of two minds about this sort of thing. You recognize the necessity of occasionally taking the pulse of the institution, just as a human of great age will have their vital signs measured from time to time. You also know that to present the Canadian monarchy to the public as a free choice, a fashion we can discard when it suits us, has the effect of encouraging republican fantasies.
Republicanism is a pathology, a reflection of insecurity and ignorance. In the past it was fostered by newspapermen who had served for a spell in Washington (or Moscow or Tokyo), and who were used to being asked why the hell we have a “foreign” Queen on our money and whatnot. The educations of these men had often involved nothing more than early saturation in great quantities of ink and booze, and many were incapable of a half-decent answer grounded in global history.
So our press elite consisted of men who had suffered chronic humiliation by their big brothers, the Americans. The psychic dissolution of the Empire in the postwar period left us unable to regard Americans the way we once had as a matter of course — as errant, troubled children. Our journalistic teachers thus embraced, as a defence mechanism, the idea that Canada’s thousand-year-old inner constitution was “immature” or less than “adult.”
The pathological nature of Canadian republicanism is apparent from the Ipsos poll itself. Respondents were asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree with the statement “When Queen Elizabeth’s reign ends, Canada should end its formal ties to the British monarchy.” Fifty-three percent of the sample agreed; the figure was 73 per cent within Quebec, 46 per cent elsewhere.
But why would the death of the Queen be considered an appropriate moment for constitutional revision? Ipsos’s republican push-pollsters do not even have the guts to say out loud what they are talking about. Even as they contemplate a Canadian republic as something to be perpetrated like a theft, when the right distraction happens along, they instinctively avoid lèse-majesté. They know people like the Queen: their own poll finds that 81 per cent of Canadians think she has done a good job (leaving us to wonder what hallucinated grievances the other 19 per cent might have).
December 26, 2016
The Left tries to create a false dilemma that opposes progressivism to Rand-ism — or what they imagine to be Rand-ism, a blend of authentically Randian moralizing about moochers and takers with a kind of Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism, an atomistic society that denies community and despises the philanthropic impulse. Actual conservatives are more likely to be found in church, where, among other things, they exercise the philanthropic impulse in community.
People just don’t take books that seriously anymore. I think The Bell Curve might have been our last genuinely controversial book. If you were not around in the 1990s, it is hard to imagine how all-encompassing that controversy was: Everybody was reading The Bell Curve, or at least opening it up and turning immediately to the naughty bits. (Or at least pretending to have read it.) You could not not have an opinion on The Bell Curve if you were the sort of person who read books. My impression from the career of Michel Houellebecq is that the French-speaking world is still up for a literary controversy. I envy that a little. I’ve always liked the story about the riot following the first performance of Rite of Spring, not because I like riots but because I want to live in a world in which people take Igor Stravinsky seriously enough to fight over him. The idea of a novelist — a mediocre one at that — occupying as much cultural real estate as Ayn Rand seems like a relic from another time. Which I suppose it is.
I happen to be in New York City while writing this, surrounded by a who’s-who of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. I don’t expect to meet any Randians. But I’ll let you know if I do.
Kevin D. Williamson, “The Parochial Progressive Obsession with Ayn Rand”, National Review, 2016-12-14.
November 28, 2016
The New York Times analyzed the voting patterns from the 2016 presidential election and outlined the distinctive areas where Democratic and Republican voters dominated. The Republican map looks mostly like the continental US with a few urban voids, but the Democratic map looks like an elaborate archipelago of islands in a wide open seascape:
October 16, 2016
An interesting article in, of all places, the Guardian discusses where Trump support comes from and why the media has difficulty identifying or covering them in a realistic fashion:
Hard numbers complicate, if not roundly dismiss, the oft-regurgitated theory that income or education levels predict Trump support, or that working-class whites support him disproportionately. Last month, results of 87,000 interviews conducted by Gallup showed that those who liked Trump were under no more economic distress or immigration-related anxiety than those who opposed him.
According to the study, his supporters didn’t have lower incomes or higher unemployment levels than other Americans. Income data misses a lot; those with healthy earnings might also have negative wealth or downward mobility. But respondents overall weren’t clinging to jobs perceived to be endangered. “Surprisingly”, a Gallup researcher wrote, “there appears to be no link whatsoever between exposure to trade competition and support for nationalist policies in America, as embodied by the Trump campaign.”
Earlier this year, primary exit polls revealed that Trump voters were, in fact, more affluent than most Americans, with a median household income of $72,000 – higher than that of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders supporters. Forty-four percent of them had college degrees, well above the national average of 33% among whites or 29% overall. In January, political scientist Matthew MacWilliams reported findings that a penchant for authoritarianism – not income, education, gender, age or race –predicted Trump support.
These facts haven’t stopped pundits and journalists from pushing story after story about the white working class’s giddy embrace of a bloviating demagogue.
In seeking to explain Trump’s appeal, proportionate media coverage would require more stories about the racism and misogyny among white Trump supporters in tony suburbs. Or, if we’re examining economically driven bitterness among the working class, stories about the Democratic lawmakers who in recent decades ended welfare as we knew it, hopped in the sack with Wall Street and forgot American labor in their global trade agreements.
But, for national media outlets comprised largely of middle- and upper-class liberals, that would mean looking their own class in the face.
The faces journalists do train the cameras on – hateful ones screaming sexist vitriol next to Confederate flags – must receive coverage but do not speak for the communities I know well. That the media industry ignored my home for so long left a vacuum of understanding in which the first glimpse of an economically downtrodden white is presumed to represent the whole.
H/T to John Donovan who comments “I’m pretty sure I don’t share this Kansan’s policy preferences, but I find her view here refreshing.”
September 12, 2016
Tamara Keel wraps it up nicely:
Democrats seem baffled that their candidate isn’t galloping away with this thing.
So, my Democrat friends, you know how you’re all “Jesus, how could the Republicans pick someone so incredibly loathsome? Are they stupid?” Pretty much that right back at you.
Just like the Republican primaries managed to select the only candidate who could possibly get beaten by the Lizard Queen from Zeta Reticuli, your unDemocratic Superdelegate Logrolling Festival managed to turn up the one candidate in your party who might lose to Cheeto Jesus.
Both major parties are, ironically, in a place where the best thing that could happen to their electoral chances is for the headliner on their ticket to suffer a sudden heart attack.
July 30, 2016
In the New York Review of Books, Jonathan Freedland looks at some of the significant factions of the Republican party who have not embraced Il Donalduce:
Yet this is not solely a revolt of “values conservatives” against the brash, thrice-married vulgarian from Queens — a battle of Iowa against New York, as Cruz likes to frame it. There are other fault-lines. Neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol (or Robert Kagan, who says he will vote for Hillary Clinton) oppose Trump too, as do foreign policy realists such as Brent Scowcroft. Some of this is personal: Scowcroft and others feel a strong loyalty to the Bush family, whose animus toward Trump is incandescent thanks to the billionaire’s trashing of Jeb. But policy substance has also played its part in Trump’s improbable achievement: he has managed to turn many disparate Republican strands — Log Cabin types and evangelicals, neocons and Bush 41 stalwarts, Wall Streeters and military brass — against him. (That these different elements have not been able to cohere around an alternative candidate or program helps, in part, to explain Trump’s success, but it does not make their opposition any less real.)
Trade is a crucial example. The GOP has long been the party of free trade; in 1993, Bill Clinton could only pass NAFTA with Republican votes. But now its nominee denounces such trade as a destroyer of American jobs, apparently seeing commerce as something the US should do to, rather than with, other countries. The result was the astonishing sight of a Republican presidential nominee, in his acceptance speech, bidding for the voters of an avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders, “because,” as Trump put it, “we will fix his biggest issue, trade deals.” The issue was hardly debated in Cleveland, but the shift is remarkable all the same. Trump has refashioned the GOP as the party of protectionism, advocating an approach Republicans previously denounced as a threat to American prosperity.
Similarly, Republicans have for decades enjoyed an advantage on national security, obliging the Democrats to match them on strength and military commitment. Trump has broken from that too. He implies a rupture not only from the neocon, democracy-spreading policies associated with Bush the son, but also with the engaged internationalism of Bush the father. Trump is seemingly uninterested in America’s traditional status as sheet-anchor of the international system, central in a series of interlocking alliances that have maintained relative order and stability since 1945. Instead, he took time out from Cleveland to tell The New York Times he did not believe in the cardinal principle underpinning NATO — that an attack on one member is an attack on all — and that, as president, he would only defend one of the Baltic states from hypothetical Russian invasion if he deemed that state to have been paying its proper dues. Put aside the huge implications of such a shift for global security. Trump is turning his back on decades of Republican Party doctrine.
That’s true on the scale of government, too, with Trump implicitly advocating gargantuan powers for an imperial presidency: “I alone can fix this problem,” he says of crime, ISIS, immigration and much else. That’s quite a change for a party that has long regarded it as an article of faith that government is the problem and never the solution.
Republicans alarmed at these developments are not quite sure what will be worse: for Trump to lose or for Trump to win. Some have persuaded themselves that a Trump victory is best for America, simply because Hillary Clinton must not be president. (One Utah delegate, anguished about Trump’s “rough edges,” told me he believed Clinton was “evil.”)
But others are terrified by the possibility of a Trump victory. If that happens, they fear, the upheaval of 2016 will become permanent: the Republican Party will be reshaped in Trump’s image. It will be protectionist, nativist, authoritarian, and the vehicle for an exclusively white rage. Richard Tafel recoils so sharply from that prospect, he is talking seriously of forming a new party of the center-right. He’s already had conversations with “some of the wealthiest” CEOs and others, worried that Trumpism does not respect the prudent, cautious, free-market conservatism they value. For millennials especially, Tafel says, Trump is making the Republican Party a “toxic brand.”
The biggest challenge to forming a new political party is that the current system is completely rigged in favour of the two big parties to the extent that even long-established third parties like the Libertarians and the Greens still have to spend vastly disproportional efforts (and funds) just trying to get their candidates onto the ballot. A new “centre-right” party would face the same problem — and neither of the two big beneficiaries of the current system will be eager to see their institutional advantages eroded.
July 24, 2016
Every 4 years the GOP nominee is literally Hitler. A few years later — sometimes, as in Mitt Romney’s case, as few as 4 years after he was accused of giving a woman cancer — that formerly-Hitler nominee becomes the standard of once-great GOP nominees to which the current nominee fall short.
Glenn Reynolds, “LIZ CROKIN: Trump Does The Unthinkable”, Instapundit, 2016-07-11.
June 22, 2016
Scott Alexander on the horribly anti-semitic dog whistle that cost Ted Cruz the Republican presidential nomination (or something):
Back during the primary, Ted Cruz said he was against “New York values”.
A chump might figure that, being a Texan whose base is in the South and Midwest, he was making the usual condemnation of coastal elites and arugula-eating liberals that every other Republican has made before him, maybe with a special nod to the fact that his two most relevant opponents, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, were both from New York.
But sophisticated people immediately detected this as an “anti-Semitic dog whistle”, eg Cruz’s secret way of saying he hated Jews. Because, you see, there are many Jews in New York. By the clever strategem of using words that had nothing to do with Jews or hatred, he was able to effectively communicate his Jew-hatred to other anti-Semites without anyone else picking up on it.
Except of course the entire media, which seized upon it as a single mass. New York values is coded anti-Semitism. New York values is a classic anti-Semitic slur. New York values is an anti-Semitic comment. New York values is an anti-Semitic code word. New York values gets called out as anti-Semitism. My favorite is this article whose headline claims that Ted Cruz “confirmed” that he meant his New York values comment to refer to Jews; the “confirmation” turned out to be that he referred to Donald Trump as having “chutzpah”. It takes a lot of word-I-am-apparently-not-allowed-to-say to frame that as a “confirmation”.
Meanwhile, back in Realityville (population: 6), Ted Cruz was attending synagogue services at his campaign tour, talking about his deep love and respect for Judaism, and getting described as “a hero” in many parts of the Orthodox Jewish community” for his stance that “if you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”
But he once said “New York values”, so clearly all of this was just really really deep cover for his anti-Semitism.
June 19, 2016
Only a few Canadians are consciously passionate about monarchism. We know that our royals are Canadian mostly as a matter of constitutional metaphysics. The serious monarchists are equalled or outnumbered by those who would like us to move further toward an American form of government with a directly elected presidency, having already adopted a written constitution and an American-style judiciary.
When we embraced free trade with the United States, accusations of treason were thrown around haphazardly. The patriotism of any Canadian who merely wanted to sell and buy American things was given the stink-eye by liberal “nationalists” who had just supported a Jeffersonian bill of rights and a Marshallite Supreme Court. Now there are those who want to make a Congress out of Parliament and an official “first lady” of the prime minister’s wife: no one calls them bad Canadians.
Well, they are a little bit bad, in the sense of being negligent, because they are acting on a contradiction they do not see. What it would be hard to explain to a Roman or an Elizabethan is that our attachment to the monarchy is mostly unconscious. Its expression among most of us takes the form of mild contempt for the United States; we feel American government is ridiculous, a half-competent burlesque of Westminster-style democracy. Presidents amass more and more of the powers of an absolute monarch, more of the mythological features of a Sun King; they make increasingly ambitious religious promises to heal the sick, obtain fair weather, cultivate prosperity in the face of chance and accident.
Colby Cosh, “Why Canadians are better republicans”, National Post, 2016-05-30.