Tag: e j dionne

Contraceptives Mandate Brings ObamaCare’s Coercive Power into Sharper Focus

President Obama is catching some well-earned blowback for his decision to force religious institutions “to pay for health insurance that covers sterilization, contraceptives and abortifacients.” You see, ObamaCare penalizes individuals (employers) who don’t purchase (offer) a certain minimum package of health insurance coverage. The Obama administration is demanding that coverage must include the aforementioned reproductive care services. The exception for religious institutions that object to such coverage is so narrow that, as one wag put it, not even Jesus would qualify. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius reassures us, “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.” Ummm, Madam Secretary…the Constitution only mentions one of those things. The Catholic church is hopping mad. Even the reliably left-wing E.J. Dionne is angry, writing that the President “utterly botched” the issue “not once but twice” and “threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus.”

As I wrote over and over as Congress debated ObamaCare, anger and division are inevitable consequences of this law. I recently debated the merits of ObamaCare’s individual mandate on the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a paragraph that got cut from my essay:

We can be certain…that the mandate will divide the nation. An individual mandate guarantees that the government—not you—will decide what medical services you will purchase, including contraceptives, fertility services that result in the destruction of human embryos, or elective abortions. The same apparatus that can force Americans to subsidize elective abortions can also be used to ban private abortion coverage once the other team wins. The rancor will only grow.

Or as I put it in 2009,

Either the government will force taxpayers to fund abortions, or the restrictions necessary to prevent taxpayer funding will reduce access to abortion coverage. There is no middle ground. Somebody has to lose. Welcome to government-run health care.

The same is true for contraception. The rancor will grow until we repeal this law.

ObamaCare highlights a choice that religious organizations – such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, where my grandfather served as counsel – have to make. Either they stop casting their lots with Caesar and join the fight to repeal government health care mandates and subsidies, or they forfeit any right to complain when Caesar turns on them. Matthew 26:52.

On the Politics of Deficits and Debt

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

How will yesterday’s largely symbolic Senate vote rejecting the Ryan FY 2012 budget plan affect the 2012 political fortunes of Republicans, especially those facing possible Tea Party-fueled primary challenges?

My response:

Yesterday’s Senate vote was simply an effort by Democrats to capitalize on the outcome of Tuesday’s NY-26 election. It changed nothing on the ground. Responding to that election, most congressional Republicans, far from deserting the Ryan plan, have only rallied more strongly behind it.

And well they should, because there’s nothing worse in politics than disarray, as wayward moderate Republicans will likely discover in 2012. What 2010 showed was that deficits and debt are dominating our politics like never before. Democrats haven’t come to grips with that. Like Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) yesterday, they castigate the Ryan plan for ending Medicare “as we know it.” Yet they have no plan of their own.

One can criticize the Ryan plan from a number of perspectives, but at least it’s moving in the right direction. If Republicans stay on course, they should do well in 2012. Columnists like the Post’s E.J. Dionne may continue to delude themselves into thinking that NY-26 marked the end of the Tea Party. I doubt it. But if he’s right, we’re really in trouble.

Behind the Political Rhetoric Are Profound Differences

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Post-Tucson will campaign trail rhetoric change in any discernible way? Should it change? What phrases or words should be considered out of bounds? Or is that approach a way of silencing legitimate criticism of political candidates?

My response:

Post-Tucson campaign trail rhetoric won’t change because, as Charles Krauthammer put it brilliantly in yesterday’s Washington Post, fighting and warfare are routine political metaphors for obvious reasons: “Historically speaking, all democratic politics is a sublimation of the ancient route to power – military conquest. That’s why the language persists,” why we speak of “battleground states” or “targeting” opponents.

That doesn’t mean that no charge is “out of bounds.” It’s perfectly all right for Sarah Palin to “target” 20 potential swing districts – Democrats do the same. And her use yesterday of “blood libel,” as Alan Dershowitz explains, is entirely acceptable too. What is out of bounds is the kind of scurrilous charges we’ve seen from The New York Times, the Paul Krugmans, E.J. Dionnes, Jonathan Alters, and their ilk, that the Tea Party and the political discourse around it contributed to the Arizona shooting – when there isn’t a shred of evidence to support that, and every indication that a lone mentally disturbed individual was responsible.

But far deeper issues are at play here, and they’re brought out in a penetrating piece by Daniel Henninger in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, “Why the Left Lost It.” He points first to the devastating, potentially sea-changing midterm elections – “Republicans now control more state legislative seats than any time since 1928” – which “came atop the birth of a genuine reform movement, the tea parties.” And the debt crises, state and federal, that animate the Tea Party pose a mortal threat to a liberal agenda that stretches back at least to Goldwater.

As Henninger writes, the divide between today’s left and its conservative opponents “is deep, and it will never be bridged. It is cultural, and it explains more than anything the ‘intensity’ that exists now between these two competing camps.” Read it.

War and the Intellectuals

Apologies in advance for the epic-length post.

There’s been a fair bit of wailing and garment-rending about war on the op-ed pages.  In addition to the cloying and tiresome Mark Helprin piece to which David links below, E.J. Dionne, Glenn Greenwald, and Fred Hiatt have all touched on the subject in recent days.  One common theme is the idea that Americans are insulated from the costs and benefits of war, and that this is a problem.

To their credit, some of the writers offer proposals for redressing matters: Helprin suggests American citizens should force congressional declarations of war characterized by “extraordinary, penetrating debate” in order to ensure that decisions to go to war have been “ratified unambiguously by the American people through their constitutional and republican institutions.”  (Do we also owe the troops good decisions?)  Further, citizens must recognize that it is “unacceptable” to “starve the means to fight” in order to defray the costs of war.  “If the general population  must do with less, so be it, for the problem is only imagined.”

What planet does Helprin live on?  The ways in which citizens and legislators behave when it comes to war are shaped by the incentives each group faces.  Helprin – and the other writers – should try to think about those incentives if they actually care about solving these problems.

Why, for example, has the U.S. Congress, since its last declaration of war (against Romania during World War II), insisted on “delegating” the prerogative to go to war to the Executive in spite of its clear obligation under the U.S. Constitution?  Because it’s in their interests to do so.  In this way, Congresspeople can position themselves to take credit when wars go well but blame the Executive when they go badly.  The requirement that Congress declare war was designed in part to force the hand of the legislator, to put him on the record, in an effort to localize the costs and benefits of wars on those launching them.  But then Congress ingeniously figured out that it could shirk this responsibility by delegating authority up to the Executive, at which point it could claim credit for victories and point fingers after defeats.  (Recall the Democratic legislators who absurdly claimed of the Iraq war resolution that they didn’t think President Bush actually intended to use the congressional resolution to take the country to war…)

And what about the voters?  Greenwald writes that

One significant cause of America’s indifference to the wars we are waging is that those wars have virtually no effect on the overwhelming majority of Americans (at least no recognized effect), while they impose a huge cost on a tiny sliver of the population:  those who fight the wars and their families.

Rational choice theory has taken a beating in the wake of the financial meltdown, but it would be dumb to throw its central insights.  Helprin, Hiatt, Dionne, et al, should think about the views of a notional Rational Voter.  Why should he or she care enough about America’s wars to do something about them?

I care about U.S. foreign policy a lot, and I think it’s deeply mistaken and destructive.  But even I would have a hard time telling most utility-maximizing Americans why they should care enough about our military spending and our wars – rather than other political issues – to mobilize their elected officials to do something about them.  As the Beloved Founder of one of America’s most vital institutions has been known to remark, the U.S. tax code “treats us like so many gerbils. Do this and you’ll get some sugar water. Do that and you’ll get an electric shock.”

And it turns out people really like sugar water and hate electric shocks!  If you want a voter to respond, either zap him or give him a coke.  (Politicians seem to prefer the latter, as do voters.)  For most voters, the implications of the wars are neither refreshing and delicious nor directly painful.  Given this, how could war and peace possibly become as salient as other policies that directly impact people’s lives on a daily basis?  Unemployed?  Have a mortgage?  Taxes too high?  Poised to collect Social Security or Medicare?  Employed in or consuming health care or financial services?  Can the intellectuals above get their rhetoric cranked up high enough that they can make people put aside these sorts of direct material concerns in order to carry on a sustained and probing debate about foreign wars?

As this discussion demonstrates, the problem for non-interventionists is how to get voters to care enough about America’s crazy foreign policy to stop it.  Keep in mind that it’s unlikely that material constraints will force us to rein in our ambitions any time soon.  America is blessed by geography and an economy that seems impossible to defeat, despite our rulers’ best efforts.  Given the unlikelihood of severe costs like conquest or bankruptcy, in all likelihood the American Goliath will keep lumbering along.  And the pundits will keep carping.

The Unrelenting Battle over Campaign Finance

Following on the heels of November’s gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, the loss of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts two weeks ago was a devastating blow to Democratic Party hopes.  But it must have been especially devastating to President Obama, who promised an adoring University of Missouri crowd, just before he was elected, that “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”  Yet it would appear, judging from the unrelenting commentary and from the president’s own behavior last week, that those losses pale in comparison to the government’s loss before the Supreme Court two days after the polls closed in Massachusetts.  For 11 days now the wailing over the Court’s Citizens United decision has not ceased.  Indeed, campaign finance regulation, intimately connected to incumbency protection, is a bedrock principle of modern liberalism.

Exhibit A is E.J. Dionne’s column today in the Washington Post – his second in a week on the subject.  Last week, railing against the “reckless decision by Chief Justice John Roberts’s Supreme Court and the greed of the nation’s financial barons,” he charged the Court with “an astonishing display of judicial arrogance, overreach and unjustified activism” and urged “a new populist-progressive alliance” to demand “legislation to turn back the Supreme Court’s effort to undermine American democracy” – including a bill prohibiting political spending by corporations who hire lobbyists, no less.

Today, however, Dionne has last Wednesday’s unseemly episode of Obama rebuking a silent Supreme Court to work with.  And, like the immortal Daniel Schorr on yesterday’s NPR Sunday Morning, he puts all the blame on Justice Samuel Alito for seeming to mouth, silently, “Not true” when Obama, before all assembled and a watching nation, tendentiously misstated the holding in Citizens United.  But Dionne doesn’t stop there, of course.  No, he thanks Alito.  You see, “Alito’s inability to restrain himself” brought a long-ignored truth to the nation:  “The Supreme Court is now dominated by a highly politicized conservative majority intent on working its will, even if that means ignoring precedents and the wishes of the elected branches of government.”  Likening Obama’s behavior to President Reagan’s writing a 1983 article criticizing Roe v. Wade – I didn’t make that up – Dionne chastises conservatives for their double standard:  “Reagan had every right to say what he did. But why do conservatives deny the same right to Obama?”  Where does one begin?

Turning finally to “the specifics of Obama’s indictment,” Dionne tries to defend the president’s misstatements, but unfortunately the precision ordinarily expected of such a wordsmith seems to have deserted him.  Citing Obama’s claim that the Court had reversed “a century of law” and also opened “the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations,” Dionne writes that ”Obama was not simply referring to court precedents but also to the 1907 Tillman Act, which banned corporate money in electoral campaigns.”  That’s not what the Tillman Act did:  It banned direct corporate contributions to campaigns.  Only in 1947 were independent campaign expenditures by corporations (and unions) banned – and more clearly so only in 1990, which is the ban the Court overturned.  Moreover, pace Obama, foreign corporations are still specifically banned from contributing anything of value “in connection with a Federal, State or local election.”  Thus, in claiming, without more, ”that the ruling opens a loophole for domestic corporations under foreign control to make unlimited campaign expenditures,” Dionne seems simply to be passing along what he’s read or heard from others.  Nothing in the Court’s opinion warrants that conclusion.

But it’s Dionne’s larger claim that most demands an answer – that an “activist” Roberts Court, exercising “raw judicial power,” is ”ignoring precedents and the wishes of the elected branches of government.”  That’s hardly the definition of “activism.”  That’s what the Court should be doing, where it’s warranted by the Constitution, whether the Court is defending the rights of blacks to attend unsegregated schools or of gays to sexual freedom or of corporate owners, the shareholders, to engage in political speech through their corporation consistent with their articles of incorporation and by-laws.  The claim that corporations aren’t people is a red herring.  Corporate owners are people, and their right to speak can take many forms.  Fortunately, we have a First Amendment, which protects not only corporate owners but E.J. himself from all but the error of his ways.

[Cross-posted at Politico Arena]