One Person's Opinion

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Recently, movement conservativism mounted a pushback against a meme that had gained some currency, with David Brooks and National Review Online, among others, contending that Ronald Reagan's infamous endorsement of "states rights" at his 1980 campaign kickoff event in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been slain in the 1960's, was not intended to endorse racism.

The reason for the pushback is obvious. Historically, American conservativism has been associated with racism, especially in the Deep South, and conservatives now rely on the votes of white Southerners for electoral success. Furthermore, blacks nowadays cast their lot with liberals, and the conservative movement tends to oppose various measures supported by blacks to improve their lot. Conservatives, however, have to be careful not to out and out endorse racism; "color-blindness", where minorities don't get preferential treatment, and "benign neglect", where the needs of minorities are ignored but the government does not actively target minorities for unfavorable treatment, can be broadly popular with the American people. However, out and out advocacy of racism is a pretty sure ticket in many parts of the country to getting thrown out of office.

So conservatives who are not racists understandably protest when they are accused of racism, or of encouraging or condoning it. And they protest when their movement's heroes, such as Reagan, are accused of it. Most honest conservatives will acknowledge that the conservative movement, at one time, was deeply wrong on racial issues, but they will insist that this era is over.

But if you listen to the views of ordinary conservatives-- callers on talk radio, posters on comments threads, etc.-- you will quickly see how this is not the whole story. In fact, you can find plenty of out and out racism among the conservative faithful.

A perfect example of this is an opinion I have heard a lot of lately-- that the Democrats are "racists" because they let Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson into debates in presidential campaigns. In this narrative, Sharpton and Jackson are "racists" because they advocate color-conscious remedies for racism, and because of some past comments about Jews. Some conservatives will paint an even broader brush-- that all liberals are "racists" because of support for affirmative action. (Of course, many liberals oppose race-conscious affirmative action, but nuance and subtlety is often lost on conservatives.)

Let's be clear here-- anti-Semitic comments by black civil rights leaders should be condemned. Make enough of them and I am perfectly willing to call the person a bigot. The argument-- made by some black academics-- that blacks cannot be racist is silly.

But even more silly is the narrative of racism that seems to be adopted by many conservatives, i.e., that advocating for a race-conscious remedy for discrimination is the same thing as hating people because of their skin color, believing that they are inferior, refusing to hire or associate with them, and supporting governmental discrimination against them. Yes, I know, there is a long tradition of advocacy for "color-blindness" in the civil rights movement. And there are very valid arguments in its favor. But someone who thinks that because historically, a lot of smart blacks never got a chance to go to the best colleges, it is valuable to take steps to make sure they can is not Governor Faubus or Strom Thurmond.

In fact, there is still a ton of real racism out there. Look at the number of people who openly want to profile all Muslims and subject them to special scrutiny and searches and seizures. Look at the number of people who condone racial disparities in policework and criminal sentencing. Look at the people who want our immigration policy to let in white people and keep out Spanish-speaking brown people.

The thing is, if conservatives really want to show us that they are not tainted by racism, they should condemn these things, and in specific terms. Not offer justifications for them, not encourage them, and not stay silent as their constituents continue to be poisoned by virulent hate of racial minorities. Conservative movement leaders should be forced to admit that no, affirmative action may be wrong but it isn't racist. That Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton aren't the greatest sources of racism in society. That government programs that single out minorities for worse treatment are wrong.

They don't want to say it. And that's why I don't have much patience for their defenses of their sainted Ronald Reagan on race.


Sunday, December 16, 2007
The health care crisis is amazingly an issue that is both incredibly complex and devilishly simple. It is incredibly complex because it involves such things as: (1) the fact that 40 million or so Americans lack insurance; (2) the overuse of emergency room care and the effect of unpaid hospital billings on the credit system; (3) the control of health care costs; (4) the amount we should spend on elective care, and experimental drugs and treatments; (5) the desirability of a link between employment and health care; and (6) the choice of young, healthy people not to participate in the risk pool.

It is devilishly simple because the Medicare system solves all the problems with respect to seniors, and extending it to all Americans, creating a single payer like they have in Canada, would be the preferred public policy outcome.

However, Americans are easily scared by the insurance industry and therefore the public support for single payer isn't there. So the Democrats have settled on lousy ideas for health reform. In 1992 it was "managed competition", where employers were forced to buy insurance through private insurance companies, who didn't play any constructive role except to drive up costs and make the system more complicated. Now, it's the "individual mandate", supported by Hillary this time around and by John Edwards as well, where rather than actually providing insurance to all Americans, the government solves the problem by legal fiat, by forcing us to buy coverage, with alleged subsidies for lower income Americans.

Here's the dirty little secret, however. The individual mandate, in addition to being immoral (you do not solve poverty problems by simply passing laws requiring poor people to purchase things they can't afford), won't work.

Here's what I envision happening. First, the Republicans in the Senate will filibuster any universal health bill, like they are stopping the expansion of the S-CHIP Children's health program. So, to buy off the Republicans, Edwards/Clinton will have to either eliminate the individual mandate and/or reduce the subsidies. So you won't get a workable plan to begin with, because the Democratic candidate was unwilling to open the bidding with single payer and bargain down.

Second, let's suppose the thing gets passed. Now you have a program with two components: an individual mandate, which powerful insurers may like, because it means more customers, and big subsidies for poor and some middle-class people, which Republicans hate. Now, what gets cut every year? If you don't believe me, look at how Medicare, a single payer, universal program, is sheltered from budget cuts while Medicaid, Women Infants And Children, and other such programs are placed under huge cost constraints. Because we don't have a single payer plan, we will have a big subsidy for poor people that the Republicans will target and cut. Or, even more likely, they just won't let it rise at the rate of inflation of health care costs (which is greater than the rate of inflation for most consumer goods). The result is, we'll lose the subsidies and be left with a mandate for the poor and middle class to spend money they don't have. A nice regressive tax, put in by Democrats.

Now, there's also, you may have heard, a prong of these plans that features a public health care plan that will be in competition with the private plans. Don't bet on it surviving. That will be the first things that Republicans kill in negotiations, because it will be seen as a back door to single payer. Even if it gets passed, it will be gutted. Don't believe me? Bill Clinton created a public student loan program that competes with the private bank loans. The Republicans have decimated that program to ensure that it never becomes the preferred method of getting a student loan. All that campaign money from private industry will do that to you.

In contrast, all we have to do is slowly expand the single payer plans we already have, show the public that the sky doesn't fall, and we will be well on our way to a single payer plan that will actually solve the problem.

This is a good reason, one of many (the Iraq War being the biggest) why people shouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton or John Edwards. But if they do win, I hope their health care plan goes down in flames. We don't need something that is structured to turn into a regressive tax on the poor and which is designed to prevent us from getting to the single payer system we need.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Matt Yglesias points out a trend by former Iraq hawks like Peter Beinart and David Brooks to say that Iraq is losing salience as an issue, voters therefore are not looking for someone "tough" on foreign policy (i.e., hawkish), and this explains Obama's rise in the polls.

This is a classic example of wishful thinking by hawks. In fact, there is a more obvious alternate explanation. The Democratic base is just as ticked off about Iraq as it was 3 or 6 months ago. (Nobody in the Democratic base believes the alleged military success of the "surge" justifies us continuing to stay in Iraq indefinitely.) Obama happens to be the one candidate, among the three leading Democrats, who opposed the war. As voters find that out (because he tells them), he's surging in the polls.

Really, you would be surprised how many Hillary Clinton supporters assume she is anti-war. They just have no idea. (This is part of a more general phenomenon that people do not know how conservative she is.)

One of the overlooked issues in the campaign coverage is the potential for an Obama nomination and election to cause a seismic shift in Democratic Party orthodoxy on foreign policy, which has not changed much in 30 years ever since the party leadership decided that it must never under any circumstances look dovish because that will lead to McGovern-like losses. (Of course, in truth, the reason the Democratic Party had no credibility on Vietnam is because John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were so deeply responsible for that war.) If Obama wins the primary and wins the general (a very distinct possibility), suddenly there will be a lot of Democrats who are going to become very fearful that the base won't let them have mindlessly hawkish positions anymore.