Obama to Gays: Let Them Eat Rhetoric

President Obama is scheduled to speak to Human Rights Campaign’s dinner this Saturday in order to quell concerns within the gay community about his failure to act on gay marriage and the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. I think that this is a telling metaphor for his presidency. Faced with a difficult dilemma  — whether to keep his promises to an important political constituency at the risk of causing a huge controversy that will threaten other domestic priorities — his solution is to just give a speech. In this case, the matter happens to be gay rights, but it could just as easily be any other issue. The problem for Obama is that while speeches are enough during a campaign, they have diminishing returns when you’re president, because at some point you have to actually make decisions that are sure to anger one side or another.

UPDATE: Obama booster Andrew Sullivan is harsher:

If Obama wants to support gay equality, he knows what to do. If Pelosi and Reid want to support gay equality, they know what to do. If HRC believes in gay equality, they also know what to do.

So spare us the schmoozing and the sweet-talking and do it. Until then, Mr president, why don’t you have a nice steaming cup of shut-the-f***-up?

Obama Capitulates to China, Again

Bowing to China, President Obama won’t meet with the Dalai Lama while the Tibetan leader visits Washington. The Post provides some historical background:

For the first time since 1991, the Tibetan spiritual leader will visit Washington this week and not meet with the president. Since 1991, he has been here 10 times. Most times the meetings have been “drop-in” visits at the White House. The last time he was here, in 2007, however, George W. Bush became the first sitting president to meet with him publicly, at a ceremony at the Capitol in which he awarded the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’s highest civilian award.

While liberals pride themselves on being less bellicose and more open-minded than conservatives, their moral relativism inevitably leads to appeasement of totalitarian regimes and fear of taking a stand for human rights.

Are Conservatives Helping Obama With the Left?

The Wall Street Journal has an article exploring whether conservative attacks on President Obama have allowed him to shore up support among liberals even as he disappoints them on a number of issues. This is something that first struck me during the Joe Wilson “You Lie!” episode. Even though President Obama gave a health care speech to a joint session of Congress in which he opened the door to ditching the government health insurance plan, liberals were too busy snarling about Wilson to get angry about it.

This phenomenon is nothing new to politics. President Bush, for instance, still enjoyed strong support among conservatives for much of his presidency, even as he passed the largest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society and expanded the federal role in education. While there was always criticism along the margins, and a temporary uproar, it would be quickly forgotten once a liberal made some outrageous charge. It wasn’t really until Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers in 2005 that we saw a widespread and sustained conservative revolt from which he never really recovered.

So as Obama enters the stage of the health care debate in which he’ll have to find a way to talk liberals into accepting less, his best ally may be his critics on the right. One can see a White House pitch to liberals that more or less amounts to, a loss on health care means victory for Joe Wilson, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

Olympic-Sized Ego

I haven’t had much to say about the Olympics, because I was rather ambivalent about the whole thing. When I was living in New York City during the 2012 bidding process, I was adamantly opposed to it getting the Olympics because I didn’t want my tax money to finance corrupt government-financed construction projects, not to mention the endless congestion it would cause in a city that was already a nightmare to move around in. Therefore, if I lived in Chicago, my guess is I would have also been strongly opposed to it getting the 2016 Olympic games, but not living there, I couldn’t really care one way or another. Yet in all of the controversy surrounding Obama’s trip to Copenhagen, the thing that stood out for me most was this part of President Obama’s pitch to the Olympic Committee:

“Nearly one year ago, on a clear November night, people from every corner of the world gathered in the city of Chicago or in front of their televisions to watch the results of the U.S. Presidential election. Their interest wasn’t about me as an individual. Rather, it was rooted in the belief that America’s experiment in democracy still speaks to a set of universal aspirations and ideals.”

“Their interest sprung from the hope that in this ever-shrinking world, our diversity could be a source of strength, a cause for celebration, and that with sustained work and determination, we could learn to live and prosper together during the fleeting moment we share on this earth.”

It struck me that Obama actually seems to think that the whole world is intimately familiar with this moment in Chicago a year ago, and that they were all moved by it, and that somehow it inspired everybody in “every corner of the world.” In other words, it’s pretty obvious that he’s bought his own fawning press coverage.

But it took this post from Marty Peretz to really hammer home the risk of having a man like this in the White House:

So this question arises: If Obama could not get Chicago over the finish line in Copenhagen, which was a test only of his charms, how will he persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons capacity or the Arabs, to whom he has tilted (we are told) only tactically, to sit down without their 60 year-old map as guide to what they demand from Israel.

What I suspect is that the president is probably a clinical narcissist. This is not necessarily a bad condition if one maintains for oneself what the psychiatrists call an “optimal margin of illusion,” that is, the margin of hope that allows you to work. But what if his narcissism blinds him to the issues and problems in the world and the inveterate foes of the nation that are not susceptible to his charms?

Chicago will survive its disappointments and Obama will, as well. It is the other stage sets on which the president struts–like he strutted in Cairo and at the United Nations–that concern me.

One of the central criticisms of Bush’s foreign policy was that he believed that the projection of U.S. military force abroad would convince other nations to accede to his demands. Obama’s belief in international institutions is quite typical of liberalism, but what gives his approach a twist is the additional belief that the power of his sheer awesomeness alone will convince other nations to remake the world in accordance with his administration’s goals.

Sept. Job Losses Worse Than Expected; Unemployment 9.8%

One thing that the Obama administration seemed to have going for it was the ability to claim that even though the economy was still shedding jobs, it was doing so at a slower pace. They can’t make that claim today.

The Labor Department reported this morning that the economy lost 263,000 jobs in September, up from a revised 201,000 in August. Economists were expecting the September number to be around 175,000, according to a Bloomberg survey.The unemployment rate now stands at 9.8 percent.

Some other numbers worth noting:

–The economy has now lost 2.7 million jobs since the economic stimulus bill was signed.

— There were 706,000 discouraged workers in September, who are not looking for work because they think no jobs are available, and thus are not included in the unemployment rate.

GOP’s Health Care Strategy Is Short-Sighted

Republicans may be scoring tactical victories in the current health care debate, but they are no closer to winning the long-term battle over the future of the nation’s medical system.

In 1994, Republicans defeated President Clinton’s health care proposal and took back Congress. But once that happened, the attitude was that they dodged a bullet, and for 15 years Republicans made no major effort to overhaul our over-regulated mess of a health insurance market. To the extent that they did act on health care, it was to pass the largest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society in the form of the Medicare prescription drug plan.

For the past several months, the Republican critiques of President Obama’s health care plans have centered on issues such as “death panels,” coverage of illegal immigrants, subsidies for abortion, and proposed Medicare cuts. Taken together, these criticisms have helped to weaken support for and build opposition to Democratic initiatives, but they have done nothing to advance an alternative vision for the health care system.

There’s a clear political rationale for the minority party wanting to avoid uniting around an alternative proposal that could be a huge target while having no real chance of passage. During the 2005 Social Security debate, Democrats merely hammered away at President Bush’s proposals rather than offer their own plan to address the crisis.

In lieu of uniting around a single alternative bill, it’s true that some Republicans have presented alternative proposals for reforming the nation’s health care system. But the problem is, when Republicans throw out catch phrases such as “consumer-based health care,” or propose changing the tax code and allowing individuals to purchase insurance across state lines, it doesn’t really mean anything to most people who don’t pay attention to the intricacies of health care policy. Thus, before Republicans will even be in a position to present alternate solutions, they have to familiarize Americans with an alternate narrative about the problems with the current health care system.

Democratic proposals are focused on getting more Americans health insurance, but about 90 percent of the country’s citizens are already covered. What really is at the center of the nation’s health care crisis is the sense of powerlessness that individuals feel when interacting with the convoluted U.S. medical system. And that’s a problem that affects nearly everybody, even if they have insurance and do not have a preexisting condition.

In 2008, 176 million people, or 58 percent of Americans, obtained health insurance through their employers, according to Census data. While these people are viewed as being among the lucky ones, the reality is that they don’t have much health care freedom. In general, workers have to enroll in whatever health care plan their employer offers them — or maybe if they’re really lucky, they’ll get to choose among several plans. Once enrolled in the plan, they have to pick a doctor from a list of physicians who participate in that given plan, and often they have to make that choice blindly. The reason is that even though Americans have numerous resources at their disposal to decide which DVD player to buy, which hotel to stay at, or which restaurant to eat dinner at, they don’t have as many ways to find out which doctor is best for them.

In addition to the lack of choice, those with employer-based health insurance face the prospect of losing health coverage and doctors they are happy with if they switch jobs, and losing coverage altogether if they are let go.

Those who do not have health insurance through their employers or do not qualify for government health coverage are forced to navigate the individual insurance market. Not only do they start off at a disadvantage because they do not get the same tax benefits as they would if they obtained coverage through their employers, but they have only a limited amount of choices.

Most states place onerous regulations on insurance policies that require them to cover certain benefits government deems essential. There are over 2,000 of these benefits nationwide, which drive up the cost of health coverage by 20 percent to 50 percent, according to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance. That means that young and healthy people who may want basic health insurance plans with lower monthly premiums are forced by government to either buy a plan with a price tag that far exceeds their health care expenditures, or go without insurance, as many do.

Thus, the way the health care system functions in this country is completely different from the way any other part of the economy functions. Everywhere else, American consumers face a dizzying array of choices and they have the freedom to buy what they want, and the ability to shop around for the best price. But when it comes to health insurance, people can’t buy the coverage that they want, but the coverage that the government says they need.

Americans should have a health care system that allows them to exercise the same freedoms that they do in other parts of the economy. A system in which they could choose insurance policies that best fit their needs, take their policies with them from job to job, and hang on to them when they are between jobs. 

Such a system would not only have benefits for the individual, but would remedy many of the problems facing the nation as a whole. If individuals had more control over their health care dollars, then they’d have more of an incentive to shop around for the best price for medical services and less reason to abuse the system by seeking unnecessary care. And while under the current system insurers expect to lose their customers every few years as they change jobs, in a free system insurers could potentially maintain somebody’s business for life. If that were the case, then suddenly insurers would have more of an interest in providing incentives to individuals to make healthier lifestyle choices such as losing weight and quitting smoking — the type of preventive measures that would help ease the strain on our health care system.

Only if Americans understand how much government meddling there is in the health care system and how an alternative system could function can Republicans begin to make the case for ideas such as allowing Americans to purchase insurance across state lines and ending the discrimination in the tax code against individuals who buy health insurance on their own.

While it’s unrealistic to believe that any such ideas could make it into any of the current Democratic bills, Republicans should take advantage of this time when the whole nation is focused on the health care debate to lay out a different vision. If they don’t seize this opportunity, they will continually be playing defense on the most important domestic issue of our time.

Democrats Kill Amendment to Exempt Middle-Class Families from Mandate Tax

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday killed an amendment proposed by Sen. John Ensign that would have exempted middle-class families from paying a tax for failing to obtain health insurance. The amendment was shot down 12-11, with Sen. Blanche Lincoln the lone Democrat voting in favor.

Committee Chairman Max Baucus argued that adopting the amendment would effectively mean that people earning under $200,000 would not have to purchase health coverage, thus undermining a key provision of his health care proposal.

Under the current Baucus proposal, individuals would face a tax of at least $750 if they do not purchase health coverage. And while the proposal would provide subsidies to lower-income Americans, those subsidies would stop at 300 percent of the federal poverty level. What that means is that a family of four with a household income above $66,150 would face a tax of $1,900 if it does not obtain health insurance, while an individual with income above $32,490 would face a tax of $950.