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Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Heroes’

Happy Stimulus Anniversary! Hope you’re all enjoying the jobs we saved! And your solid gold toilets, and your free taxpayer-funded golf carts! This one is rather long, but I do drop an F-Bomb if you stick around long enough.

Evan Bayh is stepping down, and blaming the poisonous partisanship on the hill. From Yahoo! News (which features consistently good journalism; the ! means quality!):

Bayh blamed the current atmosphere of intense partisanship on the need for senators to constantly campaign to be reelected to another six-year term. Citing his father, a popular liberal senator in the ’60s and ’70s, he noted that “back in the day they used to have the saying: ‘You campaign for 2 years and you legislate for 4.’ Now you campaign for 6!” He noted that the need for constant fundraising made it nearly impossible to focus on passing legislation.

Frustration over the increasing amount of money being spent on political campaigns isn’t exactly a new thing, as spending by candidates in the 2008 presidential election nearly quadrupled the amount of money spent by candidates in the 2000 election. Additionally, winners of House races in 2000 spent an average of $849,158 to do so, while House winners in 2008 spent an average of $1,372,591. Enhancing the concerns of many on the left and the right has been a recent Supreme Court decision to strike down the country’s existing campaign finance laws. Put simply, the ruling opens the door for an even greater influence of money by allowing corporations spend money directly on campaigns.

There are two ways to address the influence of money in Washington

We could spend millions more on intricate regulations, inevitably leading to a greater concentration of power in a select few, who will then be plied with even greater amounts of money to curry favor.

Alternatively, we could limit the power of all of the branches of government, reducing the incentives to lobby Washington, cutting off the flow of money.

But what’s interesting about Senator Bayh stepping down is his implied belief in the power and majesty of bipartisanship. From his comments, it’s evident that the Hoosier Senator believes in the power of Congress to lead, and that synthesizing conflicting or contradictory viewpoints can and will lead to good governance.

I don’t agree. Some of the worst bills are the most bipartisan. Sarbane-Oxley, McCain-Feingold, the egregious Farm Bills, the stimulus, TARP, the 80’s S&L scandles,  and on ad nauseam and ad infinitum. Of course on some issues bipartisan support is clearly a good thing, like defense, criminal statutes, and tax policy. The benefits here are avoiding arbitrary or biased regulation on issues that should be universal. Broadly I’m in favor there.

Where I disagree is in saying that compromise on fundamentally different beliefs can result in good government. Particular ideological beliefs of both parties shouldn’t be compromised to forward mediocre bills. If liberal’s truly believe that healthcare is an affirmative right, or conservatives sincerely hold that life starts at conception, what purpose do compromising these beliefs for political gain accomplish? The answer is in the question; political gain. Influence, privilege and money are preferred by the political class over ideals. The difference here is that these issues are primarily social and therefore subjective or personal, while the former set where I support bipartisanship are broadly universal.

Universal issues have objectively universal consequences, in ways that other issues don’t. For some getting an abortion might be unquestionably the right thing to do, for others it could be abhorrent. But equally important, there is a significant middle class where it’s an open question. Similarly, health insurance may save some (see Megan McArdle for an ongoing discussion on this issue), but the exact same level of care may not save another person suffering from the same disease; the same level of care also has varying degrees of “saved”, as anyone who knows cancer patients can attest. The issues aren’t universal in the same way as defense or tax.

Those areas of policy where compromise is illogical or politically motivated are fertile grounds for bipartisanship. Politicians want to be seen ‘accomplishing’ things, and often have little sense of what their accomplishments represent. John McCain pushed for campaign finance reform and ran on that platform for two presidential election cycles, before getting obliterated financially by President Obama, who skillfully used the rules McCain advocated to choke him.

All too often bipartisanship precludes social experimentation and enshrines one fickle majority upon the whole. Some liberals like Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes realize this. He felt that the constitution was a threat to majority tyranny, and his progressive leanings elevated that elusive creature of ‘the public will’ above constitutional constraints. He famously wrote;

If my fellow citizens want to go to Hell I will help them. It’s my job.

That may be the worst perversion of the role of the judiciary ever. I’m less offended by outright bribery than by Holmes’ complete abandonment of constitutional duty. What a fucker.

Other progressives/liberals will argue that a centralized technocracy will avoid this majoritarian fickleness, but there’s very little evidence to support that theory. Even as politically insulated a technocrat as Alan Greenspan kept one finger always testing the political winds.

The genius of American federalism is that it leaves plenty of experimentation space for competing ideas of all stripes, and allows people with limited knowledge and limited rationality to demonstrably embrace one system or another, all while bearing the responsibility for their choices. Bipartisanship, and centralization in general, goes a long way towards chipping away at that dynamic. Jeffersonian “laboratories of democracy” don’t require unanimous or cross-party support, but Madisonian faction-on-faction action.

P.S. For more proof that Holmes is indeed a fucker, among his hundreds of terrible rulings,  he held that the mentally handicapped could be sterilized by the state. Perhaps the nadir of Liberal Fascism.

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Peter Suderman does an excellent job of clarifying Ezra Klein’s misconceptions about health care.

This is the house they’ve built: an insurance market where plans are written for the healthy and all legal efforts are made to exclude the sick. That’s meant premiums are somewhat lower than they’d otherwise be, but only because the people who most need health-care insurance aren’t able to afford it, or in some cases, aren’t able to convince anyone to sell it to them. Now that arrangement is ending and they’re scared that they can’t provide an affordable product to the people who need it. They may be right, but it’s evidence of how deeply perverse their business has become, not of what’s wrong with health-care reform.

That’s one way to look at it. But Klein’s conclusion rests on the assumption that the insurance industry exists to provide inexpensive protection and support to those deemed “in need” rather than a service business built to help provide a safety net against genuine catastrophe—you know, insurance—to those who want to pay for it. Essentially, this view entails seeing insurance as a social good rather than as a business, which explains why many reform advocates see a single payer system as their ultimate goal.

Now, that’s par for the course for folks with a preexisting liberal worldview. And none of this is particularly surprising given that a) Americans tend to understand insurance as medical prepayment rather than actual insurance and b) the country has built its medical system around third-party payment.

I’ve never understood the concept of health care as a public good.  It’s not a resource, there’s no fount of endless good-health that we can dip into.  Health care and insurance are services, and in a service economy it’s clear that multiple providers and competitive pricing are the best discovered mechanisms for lowering costs and increasing access.

Consider cell phone service.  When the first bulky cell phones came out they cost an arm and a leg, had terrible reception, were ostentatious and you could only use them if you stood under a tower.

But competition and creative destruction have (and continue) to work their invisible hands in the cell phone industry, and now you can have a slim blackberry set to vibrate, and reasonably expect 3G coverage in the middle of Montana.  Google “cell phone providers” and see how many options you find.  True, most people you meet will have either At&t or Verizon, but that’s because by most standards they’re the best.  But the variety of carriers, and more importantly, the potential for increased variety, is intrinsic to the market.

When it comes to something as important as health care, we should be trying to actively promote that kind of diversity, expansion, and cost-cutting.  Baucus-care and its single-payer ilk won’t do any of these things, but Ezra Klein doesn’t care nearly as much for actually helping people as he does about bashing insurance companies for not operating as he’d like.

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Good Question

This weekend a good friend of mine came to town.  She’s been one of my best friends for years, but she wasn’t coming exclusively to visit me.  While we don’t always (or even rarely) see eye-to-eye on social issues, there’s one we can agree on.  It’s pretty indefensible to keep homosexuals from having legally binding marriages.

And that’s how I ended up hanging out with these women, and marching through D.C. on a remarkably beautiful sunny Sunday. (My friend is on the far left, literally and figuratively.)

After reflecting on it, I’m ambivalent about the event.  I went to support my homosexual friends and family, because I support their fight for freedom.  I resent that anyone believes that they have the authority to tell anyone else how, or with whom, to live their life. (more…)

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1930 OWHolmes

Certainly the one who did the most damage to the federalist character of the Republic.  I came across H.L. Mencken’s criticism of Holmes, and it put me in mind of a Reeses’ cup.  The combo of Mencken’s wit, scorn, and insight is the chocolate paired perfectly against Holmes’ rhetorical peanut butter.  You know, if peanut butter were made of illogical hogwash.

Mencken is exactly right to suggest that Holmes deference to legislative will incorrectly supposes that the legislature is the voice of the people.

The weak spot in his reasoning, if I may presume to suggest such a thing, was his tacit assumption that the voice of the legislature was the voice of the people. There is, in fact, no reason for confusing the people and the legislature: the two, in these later years, are quite distinct. The legislature, like the executive, has ceased, save indirectly, to be even the creature of the people: it is the creature, in the main, of pressure groups, and most of them, it must be manifest, are of dubious wisdom and even more dubious honesty. Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and intimidation, and they are executed in the same manner. The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle- a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology or cannibalism.

And that was written in 1930.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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