Monday, March 29, 2010


In spite of the veritable minefield of tedious bromides which pepper your latest post, for some reason I found it both interesting and thought provoking. Possibly the reason for this is that I have decided to pay respectful attention to the substance of what you have to say - and this, since I know you to be in real life a most thoughtful and compassionate man (but of course only if we selectively ignore the discomforting puns you post on Facebook...).

However I think perhaps you missed my point. I think what David Frum is trying to say is that even though the HCR bill just passed is not actually the calamitous descent to socialism which the right wing echo chamber is urging us to believe, still, it has an obvious and noticeable flaw, which is this:

Before the whole issue of health care reform reached the floor of congress in the form of proposed legislation, liberals like myself were complaining that the United States spends as much as three times more per capita than all other developed nations spend on health care - and adding to boot that these nations all provide universal health care, whereas we do not.

Yet what has emerged is a bill which undeniably raises taxes. You can paint the whole thing with day-glo, dress it up in bib overalls or a tailored suit, but in the end, you can't escape the fact that it raises taxes to fund it. And this to me is almost inexcusable. If you buy into the argument that this country is already spending too much on health care (I have), how exactly do you conclude that spending more money on it will make things better?

I've said before that I am happy this legislation passed and I meant it. But what I find most dismaying is that it doesn't do nearly enough to attack the bedrock problem of health care costs. To my mind, this is where Republicans could have made a substantial and necessary contribution. They could and should have worked along with Democrats to devise market based incentives to fund this bill entirely out of savings as opposed to new taxes.

Now if they had done this - I mean, if they had offered a plausible approach to reducing overall costs, if they had done this, and then had their ideas shut out of the final draft, I think now I would have been in favor of scrapping the whole bill and starting over.

Steve, you yourself offered some extremely sensible ideas. You said:

"- As stated many times before: I have no objection to government agencies providing optional (*not* mandatory) services ON A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD. But when government programs don't have to make a profit and can dip into the public trough as needed without limit, the field ain't level."

...and you know how much I hate to agree with you, but you definitely have a point.

My take on this whole mess is that Republicans refused to live up to their responsibilities and made a stand, not on principle, but on politics. This left us liberals with no other choice but to craft a plan the only way we know how - which is to ignore the power of the market and simply throw more money at the problem.

In other words you, the (shudder) penultimate libertarian, and I, who have and have read nearly all of Lenin's works, could have jointly come up with a much better bill. Why? Because we are willing to talk to each other.

I'm going to close this with a somewhat tangential anecdote.

A couple of months ago I wrote you separately regarding an article I had read about a town (I think now it was Phoenix) which was going to start closing some city parks because they didn't have the money to maintain them.

Upon reading this article it abruptly occurred to me that these parks really didn't have to be closed - so long as the citizens who lived around them could somehow join together and maintain them on their own. After all, this made all kinds of sense. The existence of the parks themselves not only increased the value of the properties surrounding them, but gave the local population a great place to rest and relax.

So I wondered in that letter why, despite all the advantages, the local citizenry would not just band together and take on the responsibility of mowing the grass, cleaning up and dumping the trash... maybe even conducting regular security patrols to keep the inevitable drug pushers, pimps, gang members and other ne'er-do-wells out.

But then, just as suddenly, it occurred to me that maybe this kind of cooperation and shared responsibility is a social skill which this country no longer has.

Steve, why and how did we ever lose that skill? Conservatives will claim, with ample justification, that we have become a nation which instinctively relies on government to provide us with all sorts of benefits which we should be providing for ourselves. And you are welcome to bask in the satisfying glow of that admission for a moment.

But on the other hand liberals will claim, again with ample justification, there exist those among us those who will stop at nothing to increase their own personal wealth and power. They will point to the Kenneth Lay's and Bernie Madoff's of this world and assert that only government has the necessary authority to hold them in check.

To my mind the answer to all of this lies somewhere in between. Maybe one way of looking at this is that the largest part of our faith in government should be based on government's faith in us. I believe the proper role of government in this regard should be to protect us from the predators both inside and outside of this country.

But maybe government goes too far when it tries to protect us from our own failures and mistakes. Only bold men will embrace risk when the consequences of failure are almost too dire to contemplate - and that is all the motivation they need to succeed. Why then should we ask of government to guarantee that failure is without consequence?


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