Monday, September 28, 2009

Red-blue dialogue on health care -- final comments

You can read Colin's latest post here.

I believe that this discussion has gone as far as it can. Colin's idea of "progress" seems to be me conceding to his argument. However, I believe that I have made a far stronger case than he has, so I ought to be attacking him for not agreeing with me rather than vise versa. I'm not sure what Colin's goal was, but finding one complete approach to the issue that we can both agree on was never a possibility. It is clear that we have incompatible views of the proper role of government, so his proposals will always be overreaching in my view, and mine will always be inadequate in his.

We did find many things we agree on: subsidizing insurance for people who genuinely can't afford it, reducing waste and fraud, avoiding unnecessary malpractice and defensive medicine costs, the importance of competition, that insurance companies should be able to deny new coverage for reasonable grounds, regulating insurance companies to assure that they operate in a fair and transparent way, making sure that people can move from one insurance provider to another, and eliminating bad regulations such as the law preventing intra-state insurance purchase.

We disagree on mandating the purchase of insurance, the public option, and mandates on employers to provide insurance. That's a shorter list, but those are central elements in the proposed bills, and they are deal-killers as far as I'm concerned. If someone proposes a bill with the elements most people can agree with, and leave out these other things, I will support it with enthusiasm, regardless of who proposes it, just as I supported Bill Clinton in those cases where he did things right: NAFTA, Welfare reform, etc. But I will continue to oppose bills with a public option or mandates to purchase insurance, an idea Barack Obama opposed throughout the campaign, just as I opposed bad policies when George Bush promoted them, including Medicare Part D, immigration reform, invading Iraq, the economic stimulus package, the appointment of Harriet Meyer, TARP and bailouts of failed businesses, and most importantly his dismal failure to control spending.

You accuse me of exaggerations and quoting talking points, but then mischaracterize what I said. Regarding exaggerations, you keep holding onto the 46 million number even though Obama himself is now saying 30 million. And regarding talking points, for the third or forth time you repeat the line "Every developed nation in the world offers universal health care except the US." That talking point reminds me of preschooler playground logic: teacher, everyone else is doing it!

Here's a news flash: people do go to jail for not paying their taxes. There are currently tens of thousands of people in jail for that reason. My comment was not related to the Ensign note, as that note was released after I posted my comment. Our tax law is not optional, and it is backed up by force of law. If you don't believe me, refuse to pay your taxes and see what happens. Of course not everyone who doesn't pay their taxes goes to jail. If you are a left-wing tax cheat you might end up with a powerful position in the Obama administration, maybe even running the IRS.

I did not say that the reform is equivalent to Marxism. In fact, your tendency to misrepresent what I say has happened so often that I think it must be intentional. In the discussion of auto insurance, I spent five paragraphs demonstrating that states mandating auto insurance is different than a Federal mandate to buy health insurance, but you accused me of saying that the auto mandate was tyrannical, when that conclusion could only be reached if the two were the same. In this case, pointing out that Obamacare is not "modest", I said that if it was modest, it greatly raises the bar to qualify for ostentatious. Modest and ostentatious are antonyms, so relating Obamacare to modest and Marxism to ostentatious do not equate the two. It would be like you claiming that Donald Trump's $125 million Maison de l'Amitie is modest because there are a couple of oil sheiks who live in more expensive houses. If Trump's house is modest, what is left to be considered ostentatious? The Taj Mahal? Pointing out that there are worse ideas doesn't make Obamacare reasonable any more than pointing out someone who advocated nuking the entire middle east justifies invading Iraq.

Then you suggest that I am supporting mandatory purchase of insurance. I did not advocate "forcing people to get insurance when young and keeping it". That's the core difference between your view of government and mine. When I say that someone should do something, I mean that they should choose it freely, but you think it should be imposed by force by a Federal mandate. You support a nanny state imposing its vast wisdom upon the helpless, ignorant proles for their own good. I believe that if we have a minimal level of regulation to ensure fairness and transparency, so that people can choose to buy insurance knowing that they won't be dropped unfairly later on if they get sick and they can move from provider to provider and keep coverage if they move from one state to another, then they have the opportunity to obtain lasting coverage. If they don't do it, that is their decision and they will have to live with it. There is nothing heartless in that, as I didn't impose any decision on them.

Regarding my statement that "This bill is an authoritarian power grab bigger than any in American history" you are right. That was an exaggeration. The severity of the impact on those impacted by the cases you cite was much worse, outweighing the much larger scope of the current proposal, which will impact far more people, do much greater economic damage, and last for a longer time. I'm not much comforted that Obamacare is not the worst, but merely near the top of the shameful list of America's biggest authoritarian power grabs.

I used Fannie Mae and Freddie Mack as examples of other cases where government intervened in the market and caused a lot of damage. There was no bubble when those agencies were started, either. They were controlled by politicians like Chris Dodd, Franklin Raines, Jamie Gorelick, and Barney Frank. While there is plenty of blame to spread around in the case of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, Fannie and Freddie were two of the biggest players in bringing it about. The central factor is not for-profit versus non-profit, but government controlled versus free market, private sector control. Private medical insurance operates at a 3% profit margin, meaning that if they were to break even, the price would drop by 3%. It was government pressure which led to the lowering of lending standards and changing the rules of aggregating risk which drove the bubble and undermined the market.

I was disappointed and angered to see that you returned to your empty rhetoric about my supposed lack of compassion. This is the cliché liberals flee to when they can't make an argument based on fact or reason, generally right before they start calling the conservative a "bigot". While we have engaged vigorously on ideas, I have tried to avoid personal attacks of this sort. I apologize for my comments lashing back in reaction to this. It was hasty and not thoughtfully considered. Although we disagree on several points, I hope we can keep things friendly and civil. My compassion is not measured by my support of more government programs, but by my personal involvement in other people's lives and my generosity to those around me, which is my business and not yours, so I'm not going to brag about it here. Plenty of people have spent a lot of energy running down America, capitalism, and our medical system, exploiting both real and imaginary victims for political gain, and I am not going to join that chorus either. I am not driven by a desire to "score political points" or deal political defeats to anyone. I could just as easily say that you are driven by self interest, seeking another source of power to wield over the masses, demagoging the issue in every election as Democrats already do with Social Security and Medicare to entrench your party in power. All that I do is based on a vision of America shared by those who left their homes to found this nation, by those who fought to establish liberty and protect it, and by those who still seek liberty today. Those time-proven principles espoused by the founding fathers and outlined in the Constitution made our nation great, and they are not to be trifled with, dismissed, compromised, or smeared as being fringe extremist militia ideas in an attempt to marginalize the speaker. I am none of those things, and your attempt to paint me as such shows your inability to compete on substance in the arena of ideas. The free market is the most compassionate system in the world, far superior to collectivist systems which impose equal poverty, as we have seen in China, North Korea, the USSR, and Cuba. America has surpassed countries which try to mix the two systems, as they do in Europe, because the cost of excessive government is a constant drag on economic growth and wealth creation, which is the key to improving the standard of living for everyone. My goal is for the good of America, which benefits me in the process, but not at the expense of anyone but rather by allowing everyone to benefit.

You, on the other hand, propose real and massive expenses and intrusions into people's lives with ephemeral promises of future benefits and savings. You have only the words read from a teleprompter assuring that this time it will be different from every other government failure. This time our promise of statist utopia will actually be realized. Every other big government entitlement has been a boondoggle, dragged down by waste, fraud, and corruption, but this time we'll get it right. This time we will be fiscally responsible, unlike our mad spending binge earlier this year, and we won't add one dime to the deficit. This time "hope" and "change" from our messiah will lead us to the promised land where no one dies because they can't afford medical care and no one goes broke because they get sick.

It seems that public opinion is moving my way, not yours, as 56% of the public oppose Obamacare and only 41% support it, according to a poll released today.

If Obamacare passes and does not add to the deficit, I invite you to say "I told you so." Until then, I've said what I need to say. I welcome your comments on any posts you see here.


Colin said...


I never expected you to "concede to my argument" but I was hopeful we'd be able to understand each other a bit better. Which I think we do. So my goal was achieved.

As to my exaggerations:

"Although America leads the world in spending on health care, it is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have coverage."
- The National Academy of Sciences,

"Universal health care is implemented in all industrialized countries, with the exception of the United States." - Wikipedia

On the 46 million: rated mostly true by non-partisan PolitiFact -- the number of non-citizens in the US Census number is balanced out by the age of the stat (2007) and the number of people who lost insurance during the recession:

These things seem pretty close to facts to me, as close as we can hope to get, so maybe this is a big part of the problem. I suppose if we can't agree on the facts we can never use them to help us reach agreement. Then it's just trading opinions back and forth.

I tried to relate your arguments accurately, I'm sorry if you feel I misrepresented them. There's no point in misrepresenting the opposing perspective to make it look foolish and then to debate the misrepresentation. In fact, I tried to identify the points in your argument that were most persuasive to me, and in many cases I explained that I was convinced or already in agreement. But there are concrete things we disagree about, and those can't be wished away.

Colin said...

I'm sorry if in my response it sounded like I was suggesting you were saying health care reform was synonymous with Marxism. Your statement was more along the lines of "if Obamacare is moderate, then only Marxism is extreme." I felt that was paralleling health reform and Marxism, even though you were making clear that health reform was short of Marxism, which was the extreme example used as a point of contrast. I think I am frustrated in the broader public discussion by the repeated equivalency of any expansion of government authority with Marxism, a violent and discredited ideology, so I may have over-stated the degree to which you connected the two by using them as points of comparison. I still feel the implication of your observation was that implementing health reform is a significant move in the direction of Marxism, which I disagree with. But you did not imply an equivalency, I agree.

One of the principles I've found to be true over the course of my life is that in most protracted disagreements, both sides are right. What I mean by that is no one has a monopoly on the truth. I read your arguments and I can see the truth in them: governments can overreach, power can be abused, liberty requires eternal vigilance, central planning always fails, the market is the optimal way to allocate resources and respond to rapidly changing circumstances. I agree with all of those points. It's all a question of how one weighs the competing priorities. I think at a broad level the focus on personal liberty is weighed against our connection and commitment to one another as fellow citizens. I think you and I weight those sides of the scales differently, and that leads to different conclusions about the best path forward. I think my "cold heart" formulation was an artless way to refer to this difference in weighting, and I'm sorry if it offended.

This discussion has been enlightening for me, and I appreciate the work you've put into it. I hope others have enjoyed reading the discussion as third parties. I will be interested year from now, [sarcasm] once health care reform is passed and has transformed the US into a utopia beyond our wildest dreams [/sarcasm], how our perspective on this exchange will evolve.

Colin said...

One last thing... here is the full quote from Emerson that you use as your header. I think he meant "conservatism" as a philosophy of embracing the past and resisting change, which is different from its modern political meaning, but I think it has an interesting context in light of our discussion:

"There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact. It affirms because it holds. Its fingers clutch the fact, and it will not open its eyes to see a better fact. The castle, which conservatism is set to defend, is the actual state of things, good and bad. The project of innovation is the best possible state of things. Of course, conservatism always has the worst of the argument, is always apologizing, pleading a necessity, pleading that to change would be to deteriorate; it must saddle itself with the mountainous load of the violence and vice of society, must deny the possibility of good, deny ideas, and suspect and stone the prophet; whilst innovation is always in the right, triumphant, attacking, and sure of final success. Conservatism stands on man's confessed limitations; reform on his indisputable infinitude; conservatism on circumstance; liberalism on power; one goes to make an adroit member of the social frame; the other to postpone all things to the man himself; conservatism is debonnair and social; reform is individual and imperious. We are reformers in spring and summer; in autumn and winter, we stand by the old; reformers in the morning, conservers at night. Reform is affirmative, conservatism negative; conservatism goes for comfort, reform for truth. Conservatism is more candid to behold another's worth; reform more disposed to maintain and increase its own. Conservatism makes no poetry, breathes no prayer, has no invention; it is all memory. Reform has no gratitude, no prudence, no husbandry. It makes a great difference to your figure and to your thought, whether your foot is advancing or receding. Conservatism never puts the foot forward; in the hour when it does that, it is not establishment, but reform. Conservatism tends to universal seeming and treachery, believes in a negative fate; believes that men's temper governs them; that for me, it avails not to trust in principles; they will fail me; I must bend a little; it distrusts nature; it thinks there is a general law without a particular application, — law for all that does not include any one. Reform in its antagonism inclines to asinine resistance, to kick with hoofs; it runs to egotism and bloated self-conceit; it runs to a bodiless pretension, to unnatural refining and elevation, which ends in hypocrisy and sensual reaction. "

Don Dodson said...

I didn't question the truth of the statement that "America is the only industrialized nation without universal care." I just pointed out that it is a talking point. I'm aware that it it true, but I'm not interested in following the lemmings over that cliff.

I have also found the discussion to be interesting, and I have gained a better insight into the thinking behind the proposals.

The full Emerson quote was interesting. I had never read that. He certainly is using a different definition of "conservatism". The conservative position is always difficult to support because it does appear mean. It is much easier to say yes, government should do more things for people, provide for people's needs, etc.

Are you going to be in town around the time of the reunion? If so, in the spirit of the times, we should have our own beer summit. I'm not much for beer, so I'll probably have some coffee, and we'll have some non-political conversation about our lives and families and what all has happened in the past twenty years.

Colin said...

dude, I would love to sit down and have a beverage with you -- unfortunately, I'm not going to make it back for the reunion. I might be back for Xmas -- that's still under negotiation with my parents. But if I make it back to the metroplex any time soon, first drink (beer/coffee/whatever) is on me. :)


todd said...

You guys are great! You should have a radio show! A better Hannity and Colmes...

Don Dodson said...

Colin, I poked around on the Factcheck website that you posted a link to, and found this:

It addresses many of the disputed facts that we discussed, indicating that both of us were wrong on certain points.

It interprets the CBO report in the same way I did, saying that 3 million who now have employer-provided coverage would lose it.

It confirms both of our claims about illegal immigrants. Yes, the bill excludes them, but it would not effectively enforce that ban.

It says that the plans being considered are far from deficit-neutral, and it will take a major change to make them deficit-neutral.

It says that there are widespread estimates of the number of people who would be covered by the public option. Estimates range from the 11-12 million that you cited, up to 33.6 million from the independent "Lewin Group".

It gives the number of uninsured as 46.3 million, according to a 2008 Census report.

It also list an error that we didn't discuss: The "hidden tax" of passing emergency room visits on in inflated insurance premiums is $200 per year, not $1000 as Obama said.

This pretty much backs up what I said about Obamacare indirectly funding abortion.

I don't take these as "the final word", but they are one more data point.

Colin said...

wow, we should have gone to that website first -- it would have saved us a lot of time! :)


Colin said...

btw, looks like the public option won't make it out of committee: