27 August 2009

A farewell to Teddy

About 48 hours since Sen. Kennedy's death, I'm in a contemplative mood.

I disagreed with Sen. Kennedy often. At some of the most fundamental levels, his view of government could not have diverged more sharply from mine. I believe that what has been called the purpose of his life -- universal health care (read: socialized medicine) -- is a bleeding-heart liberal cause, driven by a flat-out wrong conception of what constitutes a "right."

Putting that aside, however, his passing reminds me of what I grew up understanding about the United States Senate, and public service in general. What was most striking to me was not the as-expected liberal outpouring of grief, but rather the words of those colleagues of Sen. Kennedy who worked across the aisle from and so ferociously opposed him. These remarks tell me all I need to know.

Said Missouri's own Kit Bond: 

"Sen. Kennedy was not only known as a tremendous public servant, but also as a gentleman within the halls of Congress. He was a great ally when we worked together, and friendly and courteous -- yet formidable -- when we disagreed."

Said Orrin Hatch:

"When I first came to the United States Senate, I was filled with conservative fire in my belly and an itch to take on any and everyone who stood in my way, including Ted Kennedy. ...

"In the current climate of today's United States Senate, it is rare to find opportunities where both sides can come together and work in the middle to craft a solution for our country's problems. Ted Kennedy, with all of his ideological verbosity and idealism, was a rare person who could at times put aside differences and look for common solutions. Not many ever got to see that side of him, but as peers and colleagues, we were able to share some of those moments."

And finally, said the Senior Senator from Arizona himself:

"Many of his fellow senators, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, will note today that Ted was sincerely intent on finding enough common ground among us to make progress on the issues of our day, and toward that end, he would work as hard and as modestly as any staffer. Many will recall his convivial nature, his humor, his thoughtfulness. We will praise as his greatest strength the integrity of his word. When he made a promise to you, he kept it, no matter what.

"What is harder for us to express is the emptiness we will feel in the Senate in his absence. Even when we are all crowded in the chamber for a vote, engaged in dozens of separate conversations, it will seem a quiet and less interesting place, in the knowledge that his booming voice, fueled by his passion for his convictions, will never encourage or assail or impress us again.

"I will miss him very much."

Ted Kennedy was an arch-liberal, the perpetual nemesis of the conservative movement. From a political perspective, I believe he was wrong about many things. He had his share of personal failings to be sure, including and not limited to that tragic night at Chappaquiddick Creek. But everyone is entitled to forgiveness. And despite all my quibbles with his ideological convictions, there is no doubt that Sen. Kennedy was a graceful public servant. By all accounts, even in the most heated of disagreements, he never failed to treat his colleagues with respect and dignity. 

In short, for Ted Kennedy, it seemed that politics was never personal. In this world of Hannitys and Palins and Pelosis and Reids, it's an ideal that is too long gone. 

25 August 2009

Required reading: August

It's good to be finished with the Missouri Bar Exam and back to the real world of practicing law. 

I have no doubt that, regardless of your place on the ideological spectrum, one or more of these links will aggravate you:

First things first: The Wall Street Journal criticizes the administration's capitulation to the far left in hiring special counsel to re-open investigations into allegations of CIA abuse.  I intended on addressing this in my next post, but the Opinion Journal's editorial board does this topic more justice than I'm able to. Frankly, this decision is more of the same from President Obama -- it's either a self-serving attempt to distract Americans from the current administration's failures, or it's just another incredibly stupid political maneuver. Post-partisanship indeed, Mr. President.

Without a doubt, Barney Frank is wrong at least 90% of the time. However, this exchange with one of the "Obama = Hitler" moonbats is brilliant. (Hat tip: The Pajama Pundit)

Additionally, should anyone else desire to equate any past, present or future administration with the Third Reich, I'd direct you to this thoughtful column by Newsweek's Jon Meacham.

Joe Scarborough unloads on Sarah Palin. (Hat tip: The Pajama Pundit) Flip to the 0:53 mark for the exchange between Scarborough and Pat Buchanan. And if we haven't shamelessly linked ourselves enough, my uproarious thoughts on the former governor can be found here.

Political analyst Charlie Cook has some interesting thoughts on the 2010 midterms, forecasting a potential Democrat loss of 20 seats in the House.

Speaking of 2010, early polling indicates that liberal stalwarts Harry Reid and Chris Dodd could be in big trouble ...

... and the Dems could be in danger of losing the president's former seat in Illinois.

RealClearPolitics' Jay Cost says the president blew his mandate.

George Will hits what he calls the administration's "statism."

In case you missed it, the most recent Gallup numbers put the president's approval rating at 51 percent. Check out the tracking graph.

And finally: How many other bands can pull off a 9 1/2-minute instrumental live?

21 August 2009

The Commish on health care, part 2

In our prior post on the hubris surrounding the health care debate, we noted that a recent Zogby poll found that 84% of Americans were satisfied with their health care. 

FactCheck.org (my new favorite resource) estimates that there are about 46 million people who do not have health insurance. That sounds like a lot. But let's break down that 46 million number further.

According to the National Institute for Health Care Management, 26 percent of the uninsured actually qualify for public coverage (specifically, Medicaid), but do not make use of it. That's 12 million people. I would submit to you: Whose responsibility is that? If you remove the people who actually qualify for government-provided health insurance but have chosen not to make use of it, the number of "uninsured" drops to 34 million.

Furthermore, according to the Census Bureau, 20 percent of the uninsured have household incomes of at least $75,000. If you are uninsured yet pull in more than $75,000 per year, your priorities are skewed beyond belief. That swath of the uninsured, by the way, is about 9.5 million people. That means nearly 10 million people make at least $75,000 per year and don't have health insurance. I'd submit to you: Whose responsibility is that? 

If you remove the people who (1) qualify for public coverage and (2) make $75,000 or more per year, the number of insured "in need" drops to about 24 million.

According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, 21 percent of the uninsured are immigrants. Now of course, that includes individuals who are here lawfully. However, there are an estimated 10-11 million immigrants in the United States illegally. If anyone would care to set forth an argument for why exactly American tax dollars should be used to fund the treatment of individuals who have entered the country illegally and flouted our immigration laws, I'd love to read it in the comments section. 

According to the Census Bureau, roughly 40 percent of the uninsured are between the ages of 18 and 34. As a member of this age bracket myself, I can only speak of the attitude among my peers, and do not intend for this to be extrapolated to all 18-t0-34-year-olds generally. However, the prevailing attitude among the individuals of this age that I have encountered is that health insurance is simply an expense that they don't need. And remember -- the federal government insures the truly indigent through Medicaid.

Finally, the harsh reality for the liberal cause is that, according to Families USA, uninsured Americans consumed an astounding $42 billion in health care services in 2008 -- and that doesn't even include money that came out of public funds or private citizens' pockets. In other words, that's free care that health care providers simply were forced to write off. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation made similar findings.

By the way, you can check my numbers here.

This post does not purport to describe the entire picture of the American health care system, but it certainly discredits the apocalyptic portrait painted by the White House. In reality, after subtracting illegal immigrants, individuals who qualify for public insurance, people who earn more than $75,000 (which is nearly 4 times the poverty level), and those between the ages of 18 and 34 for whom it is cheaper to pay per diem than it is to buy insurance, we are simply talking about a very small group of Americans that is in need. To be sure, the cost of health insurance has risen dramatically, and affording it sometimes requires families to make sacrifices. 

However, if you buy into the president's proposals because you think that the current system is barbaric and inadequate, let me simply quote John Adams, and remind you that facts are stubborn things.

14 August 2009

The food fight over health care

I'm less than 72 hours from a federal jury trial, so this will be short and to the point. 

The national discussion over health care hasn't been a debate. It's been a food fight.

I am sick and tired of the idiotic rhetoric about health care reform. Several individuals, like Kent Conrad and Max Baucus, have come up with thoughtful proposals and have resisted the extremist urges of their party. Others, like the president's liberal allies in the House and the "death panel" zealots who make a mockery of these town hall meetings, continue to drink the extremist kool-aid and make the nation collectively dumber.

On one hand, I am highly offended by President Obama's pontificating about the necessity of broad, overarching health care reform on the collective back of the American taxpayer. The president, per usual, has taken it upon himself to lecture the country on what is best for it. He's fighting an uphill battle, and for good reason. According to this Zogby poll, 84 percent of Americans are satisfied with their current health care. Eighty-four. The president and his liberal House allies not only want to crank up taxes on those in the top tax bracket (when hasn't this been a solution for a Democratic Congress?), but wants to impose tax penalties on businesses that don't offer their employees health insurance. There's nothing quite like the smell of haughty, elitist liberal paternalism in the morning. If ever Barack Obama had the chance to demonstrate that he was a different kind of politician, now would have been the time. Instead, the Changenhope luster continues to wear off. He is doing his best to hammer a solution that the majority of the country doesn't want down our throats.

On the other hand, the rhetoric from the far right is so far beyond uninformed it's shocking -- unless, of course, you've paid attention to the rhetoric from the far right since the November election, in which case the "death panel" crap is actually in line with prior behavior. Sarah Palin and Chuck Grassley -- and Grassley, at least, should know better -- have seized on an argument made by former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey that the bill actually sets up "death panels," which will force your grandparents to go learn about how they can be euthanized. 

Now, I don't agree with federal funding of end-of-life planning, no more than I agree with federal funding of wasteful defense programs that haven't been used since the Cold War ended. However, to claim that H.R. 3200 will set up "death panels" is just plain stupid. Do you really believe that? Then click here and actually read about it from someone other than Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. THE BILL SIMPLY ALLOWS MEDICARE TO REIMBURSE YOU FOR THE COSTS OF SETTING UP ADVANCE HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVES! That last sentence was in all caps, so read it again. Conservatives have a glorious opportunity to seize on an ultraliberal president pushing failed, tired, recycled, unpopular policies and present a real solution to America. Instead, they have gone into a collective hysteria about these supposed "death panels" and the Obama administration's desire to kill off old folks. 

Everyone needs to grow up. I'm getting sick of this crap.

10 August 2009

The 50 percent president

I am still preparing a post on health care reform, but with a federal trial coming up next week, I'm not sure when I'll be able to actually piece it all together. Needless to say, Sen. Kent Conrad is making a strong case to be included on the Bipartisan Rules' Mount Rushmore.

At any rate, I've been simultaneously fascinated and disappointed by President Obama's first 200 days in office. On November 5, 2008, I offered these kind words for the president-elect. To me, Bill Clinton's model of moderate Democratic governance and Obama's centrist campaign rhetoric gave me hope (I am so, so sorry for the "hope" reference) that perhaps I could get behind this administration. Given the Changemaker's thin, ultraliberal voting record in the Senate, I was expecting the worst, but crossing my fingers for the best. 

There is no doubt that, in my lifetime, no president of any party has entered the White House with a mandate like that enjoyed by Barack Obama. The election was a clear referendum on the last eight years of Republican rule, and of a lame-duck president whose approval rating hovered around 30 percent during his last two years in office. Without a viable third-party candidate, Obama became the first Democratic president to take more than 50% of the popular vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976. His president's party picked up 9 -- nine! -- seats in the U.S. Senate, giving them a commanding 60-40 lead. His party also gained 18 seats in the House, giving them an overwhelming 256-178 edge in that chamber. 

I applaud the president for ignoring the clamoring of the far left to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine, his decision to double-down in Afghanistan, and the dispatching of former President Clinton to obtain the release of the American journalists detained in North Korea. 

But, as usual, my instincts were correct -- President Obama has governed as anything but a postpartisan healer.

On the campaign trail, he promised to ban lobbyists from his administration. He repeatedly denounced the McCain campaign for the presence of former lobbyists on the campaign staff. That, my friends, would have been change we can believe in. Then, he attempted to stack his administration with, you guessed it, lobbyists. Our thoughts on this monumental hypocrisy can be found here.

The president appointed myriad officials who seemed to have trouble paying their taxes -- including Timothy Geithner, who is now his chief economic policymaker.

He was pulled into the Blagojevich saga, and refused to disclose any information whatsoever about his contacts with the former governor's office, despite his campaign promises of transparency.

Upon taking office, the president immediately attempted to slam through an enormous liberal grab bag that was termed an "economic stimulus." Given that about 12 percent of the money has been spent thus far, we're not entirely sure that the word "stimulus" is quite appropriate. Our thoughts can be found here

Instead of working with a bipartisan coalition of moderate senators -- McCain, Lieberman, Nelson, et al. -- to create a package about half the size of the actual bill (which some experts believe could have garnered the support of 3/4 of the Senate), the president completely ignored the concerns of moderates (and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office) that the stimulus would do more harm than good long-term. The president had political capital, and with the bloated stimulus package, was clearly intent on spending it. Despite the administration's posturing, the president clearly had no interest meeting Republicans in the middle.

The same thing is happening with respect to the health care debate. The president has enlisted virtually no Republican input, and has displayed no interest in forging a bipartisan consensus. The only reason the administration will discuss particulars of the bill is because myriad Democratic senators have balked at the proposals of the administration and their cohorts in the House. 

The bottom line is that Barack Obama's presidency is shaping up much like his short career in the Senate. On a few minor issues -- such as rounding up loose nukes in the former Soviet Union -- he can attract considerable Republican support and operate in a bipartisan fashion. But on big-ticket items -- the stimulus, the cap-and-trade bill, card check and health care reform -- he simply won't budge. 

It's difficult to overstate this next point.

From a political perspective, the president was given an opportunity to cement the Democratic Party as the dominant governing force in American politics for perhaps the next 20 years. From the perspective of public policy, he was given an enormous mandate to reshape the American way of life to reflect the realities of the 21st century. The stimulus could have been smaller -- much, much smaller -- and directed most of the money to be spent up front. Instead of taking a swing at a single-payer system, the president could have aimed to educate the indigent about the benefits of Medicaid, and backing the creation of privately owned co-ops, thereby providing insurance to tens of millions of uninsured Americans. 

However, instead of making good on his promises to reshape Washington into a postpartisan utopia, the president, as we've noted many times before, clearly has no interest in governing from the center. 

Any dissent whatsoever -- no matter what the topic -- has been met with shrieks of "extremism" and "obstructionism" from the White House. To me, this is a direct reflection of the president's adamant refusal to work across the aisle on any matter of substance during his short time in the Senate. 

He simply doesn't know how to deal with dissent.

And the latest revelation -- that the White House is actually soliciting the e-mail addresses of individuals who are spreading "misinformation" -- is beyond ridiculous. While I don't doubt that the president is legitimately attempting to combat what he believes to be misinformation, it's a piece of hideous political strategy, to say nothing of the underlying 1st Amendment concerns.

The harsh reality is that Obama is turning into just another 50 percent president. If this much of the luster has worn off after just 200 days, what kind of shape will his leftist governing strategy be in when the midterm elections arrive in November 2010?

For all of the Republican Party's failures over the past decade, this remains a staunchly center-right country. Obama won the presidency largely because he campaigned as a centrist, promising middle-class tax cuts, deficit reductions, governmental reform and extremely vague promises about providing greater access to health care. The backlash over the so-called public option floated by the White House and its liberal allies in Congress is yet another example of how many Democrats simply don't understand that some of the most central tenets of the liberal faith are well outside the American mainstream.

From inauguration day until about mid-April, the president's approval rating sat firmly in the mid-60s. A series of polls released last week tells a different story. The Quinnipac and Rasmussen polls put his approval rating at an even 50 percent. Zogby came up with a number of 53. Gallup and CNN/Opinion Research say it's 55. 

Over the last four months, the harsh realities of governing away from the center have set in. The luster is off; savvy voters are realizing that empty campaign promises of "change" and "hope" don't have much meaning if one governs disparagingly from the extreme left. If the president's approval ratings have dropped to the mid- to low-50s in just 200 days, where will they be by the time his congressional allies are running for re-election? What is even more ominous for the White House is that the president himself actually remains more popular than his policies. These numbers indicate that less than 40 percent of voters think the country is headed in the right direction.

It's been bitterly disappointing to watch Candidate Barack Obama, the centrist, postpartisan healer, morph into President Barack Obama, the conventional leftist politician selling the same old liberal policies that have failed so many times before.

But you can't say we didn't warn you.