Archives: 10/2009

Our Inescapable President

I’m late to the pile-on because I’m a bad American, and I don’t watch enough football, but not quite two weeks ago, President Obama managed to politicize what for many is a hallowed Monday night ritual.

In the New York Post, the paper of record for those of us who grew up in one of the only red counties on the Jersey Shore, Kyle Smith notes that Obama’s ostensible purpose for inserting himself into Monday Night Football was to proclaim Hispanic Heritage Month, but the president put this in as well:

Our nation faces extraordinary challenges right now, and our ability to tackle them will depend on our willingness to recognize that we’re all in this together, that we each have an obligation to give back to our communities, and we all have a stake in the future of this country.

Generic enough, perhaps, unless you’re oblivious to the political backdrop of the president and his party pushing desperately to pass national health care.

Smith is rightfully exasperated by the perpetual campaign mode and Obama’s omnipresence in every broadcast medium. But–not that it’s a competition–I’d had more than my fill of this sort of thing eight months ago, a month into Obama’s presidency:

When there’s no escape from our national talk-show host-when he appears constantly above every gym treadmill-is it any wonder that we typically want his show cancelled just a few seasons in? Is it any wonder we get sick of him?

You can make too much of the notion of presidential “dignity.” It’s good when the federal chief executive officer fights against the royal aura that inevitably surrounds the office by, for example, walking his inaugural parade route (Jefferson) or buttering his own english muffins (Jerry Ford).

But it seems to me that doing a commercial for George Lopez’s lousy sit-com takes it a bit too far:

(When I saw this on TV recently, I was sure it was some kind of Forrest Gump cinemagic. Not so.)

More to the point, can the president give us an occasional break from his relentless omnipresence? Apparently not.

Six months into his presidency, the Politico reported, Obama had already “uttered more than half a million words in public.” In one whirlwind week last month, the president made his third appearance on “60 Minutes,” gave a major speech on the financial crisis the next day, and made a record five talk-show appearances the following Sunday. And on the eighth day, He did Letterman.

My suspicion is that as his popularity continues to drop, Obama is going to discover that there are diminishing returns to presidential media appearances, and that he might do better by letting the country forget about him for a while. But will he be able to restrain himself?

‘Reefer Sanity’

Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post:

Arguments for and against decriminalization of some or all drugs are familiar by now. Distilled to the basics, the drug war has empowered criminals while criminalizing otherwise law-abiding citizens and wasted billions that could have been better spent on education and rehabilitation.

By ever-greater numbers, Americans support decriminalizing at least marijuana, which millions admit to having used, including a couple of presidents and a Supreme Court justice. A recent Gallup poll found that 44 percent of Americans favor legalization for any purpose, not just medical, up from 31 percent in 2000.

Read the whole thing.  For more Cato work, go here.

Gun Control Masquerading as Counterterrorism

I was unimpressed with the security arguments made by the chairman and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee in a letter to appropriators the other week. Citing the “commando-style” terrorist raid on a train station in Mumbai last year, the letter objected to language in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act that would require Amtrak to allow firearms in checked luggage.

But the risk of a commando-style raid does not support—in fact it undermines—the authors’ argument that weapons should be banned on passenger trains. With law-abiding citizens fully disarmed, any terrorist raiders would know that they are more free to cut a deadly swath through an innocent population.

It was counterattack by civilians that prevented a fourth plane from being used as a guided bomb on September 11, 2001. Disarming the law-abiding citizen is contrary to the lesson of that day.

Universal Coverage Means ‘Willing to Let You Die Sooner’

I cannot disagree with Uwe Reinhardt’s response to my previous post at National Journal’s Health Care Experts blog. But his response bears clarification and emphasis.

Improving “population health” generally means “helping people live longer.”

To paraphrase, Reinhardt then writes:

If helping people live longer were our objective in health reform, we could do better than universal coverage. But health reform is not (solely or primarily) about helping people live longer. It is (also or primarily) about other things, like relieving the anxiety of the uninsured.

I applaud Reinhardt for acknowledging a reality that most advocates of universal coverage avoid: that universal coverage is not solely or primarily about improving health.

Will Reinhardt go further and acknowledge that, since universal coverage is largely about some other X-factor(s), that necessarily means that advocates of universal coverage are willing to let some people die sooner in order to serve that X-factor?

(Cross-posted at National Journal’s Health Care Experts blog.)

Parsing Pelosi: House Health Takeover Would Cost around $2.25 Trillion

Just like the Senate Finance Committee’s government takeover, the House of Representatives’ government takeover hides more than half of its cost by pushing those costs off the government’s budget and onto the private sector.

So when Speaker Pelosi says the House bill would cost under $900 billion, what she actually means is that it would cost around $2.25 trillion.

Nice Insurance Company. Shame If Anything Were to Happen to It.

Just days after the health-insurance lobby released a report criticizing the Senate Finance Committee’s health care overhaul (for not expanding government enough!), Democrats and President Barack Obama lashed out at health insurers, threatening to revoke what the Government Accountability Office calls the insurers’ “very limited exemption from the federal antitrust laws.”

Democrats say they’re motivated by the need to increase competition in health insurance markets.  Right.

According to Business Week:

David Hyman, a professor of law and medicine at the University of Illinois College of Law and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute…considers it unlikely that repeal would fundamentally change the nature of the market. While it might increase competition in some markets, he says, it could actually decrease it in others, such as those where small insurers survive because they have access to larger providers’ data. Changes to the act could therefore hurt smaller companies more than larger ones, he says.

Because the act doesn’t outlaw the existence of a dominant provider but simply prohibits collusion, says Hyman, a repeal would fall short of breaking up existing market monopolies that are blamed for artificially inflating prices. The current move against [the] McCarran-Ferguson [Act], he says, “has more to do with the politics of pushing back against the insurance industry’s opposition to health reform than it does with increasing competition in health-insurance markets.”

Combined with what The New York Times described as the Obama administration’s “ham-handed” attempt to censor insurers who communicated with seniors about the effects of the president’s health plan – the Times editorialized: “the government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had to stretch facts to the breaking point to make a weak case that the insurers were doing anything improper” – it’s hard to argue that this is anything but Democrats threatening to use the power of the state to punish dissidents.

When Republicans were in power, dissent was the highest form of patriotism.  Now that Democrats are in power, obedience is the highest form of patriotism.

What Caused the Crisis?

Last night National Government Radio promoted a documentary on National Government TV about the financial crisis of 2008, which concludes that the problem was … not enough government.

If the “Frontline” episode mentioned any of the ways that government created the crisis – cheap money from the central bank, tax laws that encourage debt over equity, government regulation that pressured lenders to issue mortgages to borrowers who wouldn’t be able to pay them back – NPR didn’t mention it.

For information on those causes, take a look at this paper by Lawrence H. White or get the new book Financial Fiasco by Johan Norberg, which Amity Shlaes called “a masterwork in miniature.” Available in hardcover or immediately as an e-book. Or on Kindle!

And for a warning about the dangers lurking in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, see this 2004 paper by Lawrence J. White.