• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Change—it’s good for you

    If you decided the best way to retain a seemly spirit of thankfulness over the past several days was to avoid political news and commentary, you may find it helpful to get back into the galling swing of things by reading this much-linked piece by Charles Krauthammer:

    The United States has the best health care in the world — but because of its inefficiencies, also the most expensive. The fundamental problem with the 2,074-page Senate health-care bill (as with its 2,014-page House counterpart) is that it wildly compounds the complexity by adding hundreds of new provisions, regulations, mandates, committees, and other arbitrary bureaucratic inventions.
    Worse, they are packed into a monstrous package without any regard to each other. The only thing linking these changes — such as the 118 new boards, commissions, and programs — is political expediency. Each must be able to garner just enough votes to pass. There is not even a pretense of a unifying vision or conceptual harmony.

    Well, there’s no unifying vision or conceptual harmony if you’re actually thinking about the thing from the point of view of someone whose goal is to improve health care. If your goal is to centralize more control and further enable federal power-broking and nannyism, I have little doubt that the bills are characterized by a great deal of coherence indeed.

    Krauthammer suggests starting over.

    Insuring the uninsured is a moral imperative. The problem is that the Democrats have chosen the worst possible method — a $1 trillion new entitlement of stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency.

    The better choice is targeted measures that attack the inefficiencies of the current system one by one — tort reform, interstate purchasing. and taxing employee benefits. It would take 20 pages to write such a bill, not 2,000 — and provide the funds to cover the uninsured without wrecking both U.S. health care and the U.S. Treasury.

    The problem with targeted measures is that they have an inhibiting effect on open-ended power grabs. Stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency, by contrast, provide rich opportunities for lots of fixers, legal experts, and task forces to guide people through the thicket of new requirements. And really, what’s more important—better health care for Americans, or an expanded Yale Law grad employment program?* I mean, let’s not be selfish here.


    Is that enough cynicism for one post-Thanksgiving post? I don’t think so!

    Peggy Noonan writes that some people are, amazingly, beginning to think that President Obama is kind of amateurish. Just to be clear, what I’m amazed by is not that they’re thinking it but rather that they’ve only just started thinking it. Noonan gets at something about The Bow, also, that I was trying to verbalize in this post and my last comment to it:

    The Obama bowing pictures are becoming iconic, and they would not be if they weren’t playing off a growing perception. If the pictures had been accompanied by headlines from Asia saying “Tough Talks Yield Big Progress” or “Obama Shows Muscle in China,” the bowing pictures might be understood this way: “He Stoops to Conquer: Canny Obama shows elaborate deference while he subtly, toughly, quietly advances his nation’s interests.”

    But that’s not how the pictures were received or will be remembered.

    It is true that Mr. Obama often seems not to have a firm grasp of—or respect for—protocol, of what has been done before and why, and of what divergence from the traditional might imply. And it is true that his political timing was unfortunate. When a great nation is feeling confident and strong, a surprising presidential bow might seem gracious. When it is feeling anxious, a bow will seem obsequious.

    The Obama bowing pictures are becoming iconic not for those reasons, however, but because they express a growing political perception, and that is that there is something amateurish about this presidency, something too ad hoc and highly personalized about it, something . . . incompetent, at least in its first year.

    The post by Elizabeth Drew that Noonan cites is a good read, too.

    The people who are most aghast by the handling of the Craig departure can’t be dismissed by the White House as Republican partisans, or still-embittered Hillary Clinton supporters. They are not naïve activists who don’t understand that the exercise of power can be a rough business and that trade-offs and personal disappointments are inevitable. Instead, they are people, either in politics or close observers, who once held an unromantically high opinion of Obama. They were important to his rise, and are likely more important to the success or failure of his presidency than Obama or his distressingly insular and small-minded West Wing team appreciate.

    I’ve never understood either the perfervid love or the perfervid hatred for Obama. Still less do I understand how people could not have seen this coming—at least as a possibility. Obama has always struck me as a type recognizable from my own days as an Ivy League humanities/social-science major: the Senior Seminar Blowhard. This is the guy (or gal) who, to his credit, prepped for every class by really pulling apart the readings and relating them to his own research but couldn’t roll with the discussion if it went anywhere else and was, therefore, constantly trying to yank it back within his comfort zone of pet topics. He addressed everyone by name way too often, sounding less like a partner in matey, rough-and-tumble debate than like one of those “customized” telemarketing calls. He insisted on calling the professor “Dr. Johnson,” even if she explained a billion times that she preferred the more traditional forms of address. If the job he got after graduation didn’t make enough money to suit him, he applied to law school, figuring it was the best way to leverage his gift for calculated gab.

    There are job descriptions to which that narrow kind of intelligence is very well suited, but I don’t think the presidency of the United States is really one of them. It requires someone with at once a firm core of conviction and a solid understanding of when compromise and adaptability are necessary. With his thin management and legislative record, I’m not sure Obama has had a chance to develop those. Perhaps he doesn’t have the temperament to develop them, either; I’m not sure anyone can judge that conclusively at this point. I do find it funny how similar the feeling in the air right now is to the feeling in the air early in Bill Clinton’s first administration: the heavy emphasis on showing that Something was Being Done about the issue of the moment over figuring out what was best to do, the personnel-related misadventures, the confusion over evidence that, gee, maybe this guy wasn’t a paragon after all. We’ll be finding out, to either our benefit or our detriment, whether Obama can do more than issue a perfunctory “I screwed up” and actually surround himself with people who can compensate for his gaps in competence, then listen to what they say.

    * I have this nagging feeling Instapundit used that line a few months ago, but for the life of me, I can’t find it by searching.

    Leave a Reply