A Vital Healthcare Roadmap for Mitt Romney

Though constitutionally indefensible, Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision to save ObamaCare might prove to be a blessing in disguise. By guaranteeing that the intensely unpopular law stays relevant through November, the ruling could ultimately save the Constitution by securing Barack Obama’s electoral defeat.
That is, if Mitt Romney seizes the opportunity.
Therein lies the problem: so far, Team Romney has played it dangerously safe, campaigning on a one-note economic message that has frustrated many of his supporters into asking him, as the Weekly Standard’sBill Kristol did on July 5, “to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he’s running.”
The problem is amplified on healthcare. Throughout the primary, conservative activists excoriated Romney for the mandate-based plan he enacted in Massachusetts, decrying it as statism and fearing it would make Romney a hypocrite in attacking ObamaCare, leaving the campaign terrified of getting specific enough to invite comparisons of the two laws.
But that caution isn’t just excessive—it’s suicidal. As dissatisfied as voters are with the status quo, they know there’s more to it than the economy. And the case against the dangers of Obama’s second term is fatally incomplete without ObamaCare.
Contrary to the wisdom of overpaid GOP strategists, Mitt Romney can forcefully, comprehensively make that case—and contrary to the hysterics of the Anybody-But-Mitt crowd, he can do it without flip-flopping on RomneyCare.
First, stress that ObamaCare is full of outrages that have no parallel in RomneyCare. For instance, the Congressional Research Service says it’s impossible to count how many new agencies and boards the law creates, making their potential harm unknowable and their accountability impossible. Hammer the scandalous irresponsibility of Democrats inflicting on us something noneofthemevenread, much less understand. Note that the Congressional Budget Office now says the whole shebang is now projected to cost anywhere from $1.76 trillion to $2.6 trillion over the next decade—considerably higher than its original $900 billion price tag. Think that’ll help our $15+ trillion debt, America?
Second, sound the alarm on how ObamaCare will worsen healthcare. Trumpet the results of surveys like the one Jackson Healthcare releasedin June, which found that 70% of doctors don’t think it’ll control costs, 61% doubt it’ll improve the quality of care, and 66% expect it to take decisions out of physicians’ hands; or the one the Doctor Patient Medical Association releasedin July finding that ObamaCare has led 83% of American doctors to consider quitting. Point out that it makes completely dropping insurance the most affordable option for many employers. Explain how it makes insurance costlier to micromanage what services plans must cover.
Third, debunk the lie that Romney and Obama’s healthcare records are equivalent. For example, Romney’s proposal would only have required Massachusetts residents to purchase basic catastrophic insurance, to offset the cost of their federally-guaranteed right to emergency care, and would not have included any employer mandate—vastly different from ObamaCare’s much broader (and therefore far pricier) mandate, which imposes on employer and employee alike broader plans covering things like birth control, maternity care, and drug abuse treatment. It was Massachusetts’ 85% Democrat legislature, overriding Romney’s vetoes, which pushed RomneyCare leftward on these points (Romney also unsuccessfully vetoed the final bill’s coverage for non-citizens and a new bureaucracy it created, the Public Health Council).
Finally, point out the biggest difference of all: while Romney was merely out to insure the uninsured, Obama sees ObamaCare as one step on the longer road to a full-blown single-payer system. Demand the president explain what he meant when he said, “I don’t think we’re going to be able to eliminate employer coverage immediately. There’s going to be potentially some transition process.” Ask how that squares with “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”
Rather than a liability, the true story of RomneyCare contrasts sharply with ObamaCare and illustrates the formidable expertise Mitt Romney would bring to healthcare reform as president. But only Romney can tell it.

McCarthy on the Secret History of Medicare

There’s nobody I agree with 100% of the time, but I honestly can’t remember ever finding Andy McCarthy’s commentary lacking. You should take the time to read his take on what Medicare’s architects were really thinking, and why the system deserves to die:
Medicare was a scam from the start. It had to be a scam because its ostensible purpose — providing health insurance for the elderly — was never the objective of its proponents. Instead, Medicare was a stepping stone to a utopia its champions dared not acknowledge: A compulsory universal-health-care system administered by government experts. FDR’s Committee on Economic Security initially intended to issue a health-care plan in conjunction with its universal, compulsory Social Security proposal in 1934. As Cato’s Charlotte Twight recounts, the former was dropped due to fear that pervasive opposition among the public and the medical profession would jeopardize passage of the latter. But Roosevelt got right back to it the day after he signed the 1935 Social Security Act, empowering the new Social Security Board to study the “related” area of health insurance.
There followed three decades of progressive proposals, each shot down by lawmakers animated by fierce public dissent. The Left realized the dream of socializing the health-care sector was not attainable in one fell swoop, so an incremental strategy was adopted: Get a foot in the door with less ambitious proposals; establish the precedent of government control while avoiding debate over the principle of government control. “Incremental change,” said Medicare scholar Martha Derthick, “has less potential for generating conflict than change that involves innovation in principle.” […]

More shrewdly, proponents misrepresented Medicare as an “insurance” program, with a “trust fund” into which working people paid “contributions” and beneficiaries paid “premiums” that would “entitle” them to claim “benefits.” In reality, there is no “trust fund.” Workers pay taxes — at levels that can no longer satisfy the pay-outs for current beneficiaries. This state of affairs was entirely predictable when Medicare was enacted in 1965 with the Baby Boom well underway. Back in the early days, when the program was flush, the surplus of taxes passed from the “trust fund” into the federal treasury, which redistributed the money to whatever chicanery Washington happened to be heaping money on. In return, the “trust fund” got an IOU, which would ultimately have to be satisfied by future taxes (or by borrowing from creditors who’d have to be repaid by taxpayers with interest). And the “premiums” largely turned out to be nonsense, too: The pols endeared themselves to elderly voters by arranging for Uncle Sam pick up more and more of the tab, or by using the government’s newfound market power to demand that providers accept lower payments.
When Medicare was enacted in 1965, the inevitability of its many adverse consequences was crystal clear. The system was grossly underfunded. The fee-for-service structure (expertly described by Capretta) was certain to increase costs exorbitantly with no commensurate increase in quality of care (indeed, care is mediocre, or worse). But most palpably, the fact that government was at the wheel made Medicare instantly ripe for political gaming and demagoguery. The ensuing 46 years have not only made the obvious explicit; Medicare and its tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities are actually worse than even its most fearful early critics predicted it would be.
McCarthy also throws some cold water on Paul Ryan fanboys like Bill Kristol and Charlie Sykes:
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich steered the break-out of his presidential campaign into a ditch a couple of weeks ago by suggesting that the Ryan Medicare reform was “right-wing social engineering.” He was wrong, but not for the reason cited by his critics. To be more precise, Representative Ryan’s plan is a surrender to left-wing social engineering on terms the right wing naïvely believes it can accept. Ryan is the darling of a Washington breed of conservative wonk convinced that we can make the welfare state work if we just incorporate a few free-market, family-friendly tweaks […]

Reformers such as Representative Ryan always ignore this inevitable trajectory of entitlement politics. They rationalize that they can make a government-sanctioned bribery system run better, or at least preempt Democrats from making it run worse. Hoping to stave off Medicare, congressional moderates in 1960 passed a bill to provide means-tested medical assistance to the elderly. It only greased the wheels for not only Medicare but Medicaid. In Massachusetts, Romneycare was another well-meaning attempt to install a compulsory statewide health-insurance system that would be less autocratic and costly than the one the Left would have imposed. It is, predictably, a disaster that tends toward ever-more-suffocating government control.
Go read the whole thing, as well as McCarthy’s rebuttal to critic Peter Wehner.

Hey, Let’s Subsidize Crack!

Vancouver health officials will distribute new crack pipes to the city’s non-injection drug users this fall as part of a pilot project aimed at engaging crack cocaine smokers and reducing the transmission of disease such as hepatitis C.

The program, part of Vancouver’s harm reduction strategy, is expected to start in October and run for six months to a year, said Dr. Reka Gustafson, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.

The intent is to connect health care workers with crack cocaine smokers to evaluate how many of the drug users are in the city and what equipment they need to lower their risk of catching diseases such as hepatitis C, HIV and even respiratory illnesses.

A kit with a clean, unused pipe, mouthpiece, filter and condoms will be handed out to the participants, Gustafson said. It’s not known at this time how many drug users will take part in the pilot, which is estimated to cost between $50,000 and $60,000.

“There’s been a shift to crack cocaine smoking and we want to make sure the services we provide are the services they need … if we’re providing syringes and what we need are pipes, we’re not serving them,” Gustafson said […] “It’s just understanding and knowing the health consequences of crack cocaine smoking.”
Which is why they’re going help facilitate its continued practice with taxpayer dollars. Because as long as you’re using a clean pipe, cocaine’s pretty much harmless, right?

I guess Canada has abandoned all pretense that self-destructive behavior shouldn’t be encouraged. And too bad they still haven’t figured out that prevention doesn’t decrease healthcare costs. One of Steyn’s commenters, Henry Hawkins, knocks this one out of the park:
The reason they want to get clean needles and crack pipes out on the street is because 95% of addicts don’t keep theirs clean, of course. However, once you’ve passed out a clean pipe or clean needle, **it’s only sterile for that first use**. From then on it’s dirty and stays that way. It will be used again. And again, and again, and again.

But Henry, they’ll teach them all about the importance of sterile works! They have a program and everything! And the addicts will ignore them. Such education programs have been common for over forty years. I’ve been working with addicts since 1986. There is a uniquely evil kind of ignorance that tells would-be do-gooders that the addict who won’t change his behaviors despite the likelihood of death by gunshot, overdose, AIDS, organic damage, mugging, and a thousand others ways an addict manages to die, will for some reason see the light and change out of fear of contracting hepatitis. If you want to kill an addict, give him uncut heroin or a government health department social worker. They are equally deadly.

So now, thanks to Vancouver Coastal Health, there will be many, many thousands more dirty pipes infected with hepatitis and other nasties out there in the addict community than there were before. Same number of addicts, just several thousand extra infected crack pipes, so the individual chance of infection is significantly raised.

But, but, but.. we give them pamphlets!

Arrrgh.
If you think it can’t happen here, think again. The nanny-state mentality is deeply entrenched in the minds of our ruling class, and where drugs are concerned, something tells me libertarians’ steadfast anti-government principles will evaporate right before our eyes.

Yes, Let’s Emulate the UK on Healthcare

Another healthcare horror story from across the pond (hat tip to WISN):
Nurses casually stepped over a patient as he lay dying on a  hospital floor.
Peter Thompson, 41, was left in a corridor for ten hours before someone noticed he had passed away.
In a final act of indignity, hospital auxiliaries pulled his lifeless body across the floor in a manner his family described as like ‘dragging a dead animal’.
The scenes which shame the NHS were all captured on CCTV. Staff thought Mr Thompson was merely drunk and left him to ‘sleep it off’.
Yesterday a coroner condemned the death as ‘wholly preventable’.
An inquest heard that the father-of-one, who had consumed a cocktail of drink and drugs, could have been saved had he received emergency treatment.  
The hospital’s accident and emergency department was just 200 yards away.
As WISN’s Justin Earl rightly notes, “these hospitals, doctors, and caregivers are overwhelmed, underfunded, and understaffed.” But those things can’t fully explain a dead body left unattended in a hallway for ten hours. Indifference to, or willfull avoidance of, human suffering ultimately stems from a crisis of moral decency.

New on NewsReal – No, Bill Sammon Didn’t Lie About Thinking Obama Was a Socialist (Which He Totally Is)

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

There’s only so much mileage the Left can get out of vehemently denying that President Barack Obama is a socialist. For best propagandistic results, it’s ideal to highlight people on the Right who allegedly admit the same thing (and if their remarks can be used to embarrass a hated cable news channel in the process, so much the better).

Case in point: relying upon Media Matters research, Howard Kurtz’s latest on the Daily Beast highlights recent remarks made by Fox News Channel’s Washington Managing Editor Bill Sammon during a 2009 cruise hosted by Hillsdale College (my alma mater):

“Last year, candidate Barack Obama stood on a sidewalk in Toledo, Ohio, and first let it slip to Joe the Plumber that he wanted to ‘spread the wealth around.’ At that time, I have to admit that I went on TV on Fox News and publicly engaged in what I guess was some rather mischievous speculation about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism, a premise that privately I found rather far-fetched.”

That he did—on several occasions.

On Oct. 14, 2008, Sammon said on the air that Obama’s “spread the wealth” remark “is red meat when you’re talking to conservatives and you start talking about spread the wealth around. That is tantamount to socialism.”

On Oct. 21, he told Greta Van Susteren: “I have read Barack Obama’s books pretty carefully, and he in his own words talks about being drawn to Marxists… Now all this stuff’s coming out about whether he’s a socialist. I don’t know why anyone is surprised by it, because if you read his own words and his sort of, you know, orientation coming up as a liberal through college and a young man, it’s not a huge shock.”

Sammon, a former Washington Times reporter, also made sure his troops got out the word. On Oct. 27, he sent an email to staffers highlighting what he described as “Obama’s references to socialism, liberalism, Marxism and Marxists” in his 1995 autobiography, Dreams From My Father.

Sammon’s response:

In an interview, Sammon says his reference to “mischevious speculation” was “my probably inartful way of saying, ‘Can you believe how far this thing has come?’” The socialism question indeed “struck me as a far-fetched idea” in 2008. “I considered it kind of a remarkable notion that we would even be having the conversation.” He doesn’t regret repeatedly raising it on the air because, Sammon says, “it was a main point of discussion on all the channels, in all the media”—and by 2009 he was “astonished by how the needle had moved.”


In defense of Sammon’s ethics, raising a subject on the air and speculating about it, even “mischievously,” aren’t the same as reaching or arguing for a firm conclusion about the subject. Indeed, if you watch the full clip the Oct. 14 quote comes from, Sammon’s not even arguing for the Obama-as-socialist charge—he’s just objectively analyzing 2008 rival John McCain’s strategic interest in pressing the issue.

Read the rest on NewsRealBlog.

Kurtz on Why "Speech Policeman" Frum Should Turn In His Badge (Updated)

At National Review, Stanley Kurtz, author of the acclaimed new Obama expose Radical-in-Chief, has a great article taking David Frum to task for his war against those who use harsh rhetoric Frum wants to place out of bounds. He explains that Frum’s idea of “reckless demonization” actually includes reasonable, substantive arguments:

What exactly do Galston and Frum mean when they say they intend to “call out” those who use labels like “racist” and “socialist” in public debate? I think I can answer that question, since a series of attacks engineered by Frum on my then-unpublished book, Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism, appears to have been a dress rehearsal of sorts for the operation of No Labels.


On July 27, 2010, I announced the forthcoming publication of my book at National Review Online’s blog, the Corner. The announcement made it clear that my book was the result of more than two years of empirical and historical research into Barack Obama’s political past, and would marshal “a wide array of never-before-seen evidence to establish that the president of the United States is indeed a socialist.” Frum, however, didn’t wait to consider my evidence or argument, or even bother to read my book. Instead, he invited a self-described Democratic activist who writes under the pseudonym “Eugene Victor Debs” to attack the very idea of my book — before either had read it.


I would probably not have responded to an anonymous attack on an unpublished book were it not for the fact that I knew and respected Frum, who warned me in advance that Debs’s piece was coming and invited me to respond. I did reply to Debs, after which, to my surprise, the attacks kept coming, both from Debs and from Frum himself . In my responses to Frum and Debs, I finally began to speak more frankly about my dismay and puzzlement at their persistent attacks on a raft of new evidence that I had not yet even had a chance to present to the public. Oddly, since the actual publication of Radical-in-Chief, there has been not a word about the book from either Frum or Debs.


He also explains how Frum’s mission will likely have the opposite of the affect Frum claims to want:

All Galston and Frum have done is to make explicit — and reinforce — the mainstream press’s existing determination to ignore and silence critics of Obama’s radicalism. Once No Labels gets going, public resentment at these silencing techniques is bound to increase. Contrary to Galston and Frum, the way to reduce polarization is not to suppress disagreement but to invite reasoned debate on the issues that actually divide us. Since a substantial portion of the public views the president as a covert radical, let the topic be debated in the widest and most respectable forums. If the president’s accusers offer mere bluster, or his defenders are living in denial, we shall see it all then. A true public debate on this issue in the pages of the mainstream press would rivet the public’s attention and immediately raise the level of discussion. By further suppressing this debate, on the other hand, Galston and Frum promote distrust and enmity between Left and Right.


None of this is particularly mysterious — or at least it ought not to be to those who have learned from the classical liberal approach to democratic debate recommended by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty. Mill discourages the creation of implicit or explicit rules banning any substantive claim in public debate, calling on us instead to judge a given argument according to the quality of its reasoning and the degree to which it fairly represents and successfully parries opposing points of view […]


It is not the job of those who cherish liberty of thought and discussion to ban claims of Obama’s socialism or of Tea Party racism, but to subject all of these assertions to the scrutiny of serious debate. While many or most accusations of Tea Party racism are baseless, legitimate complaints are possible and cannot be ruled out in advance. If Tea Party critics have serious evidence of racism, let them present it. If their evidence is tissue-paper thin (as most of it has been), that weakness can be (and has been) exposed.

It’s a great read. Needless to say, I agree with Kurtz 100%, and have little patience for Frum-style civility crap. It’s worth noting one additional thing, though – Frum doesn’t actually believe in his professed mission. If he did, he wouldn’t have developed a record as one of the most vicious, dishonest character assassins around.

UPDATE: My NewsReal colleague Mark Meed has more sharp analysis of this “No Labels” nonsense, including Frum’s selective reading of surveys to reach his preferred picture of what the American people want.

Calling Barack Obama a Socialist Is More Accurate Than Calling David Frum a Conservative

National Review’s Stanley Kurtz is debating FrumForum contributor “Eugene Debs” on whether or not Barack Obama reasonably fits the definition of “socialist.” Kurtz lays it out nicely here, to which Debs responds with a “point” that can only be described as infantile. In a nutshell: Obama can’t be a socialist because various high-ranking Obama appointees aren’t socialists and/or don’t come from socialist circles.

Of course, there are all sorts of practical reasons his particular examples don’t matter all that much. Robert Gates, for instance, was already Defense Secretary before Obama took over, and he deals with military policy rather than economic anyway. There’s the little matter of looking at the rest of Obama’s czars and appointments. As one of FrumForum’s brighter commenters points out, presidents have a publicized confirmation process to deal with, too. Overall, Debs’ is essentially saying that in order to qualify as a socialist, one’s appointment-making process has to be virtually all ideology and no practical or strategic considerations.

Speaking of socialism, how does a guy who names himself after one of America’s leading self-proclaimed socialists expect to be taken seriously defending leftists from charges of socialism, again?

Oh, that’s right: because David Frum takes him seriously. Somehow, in free-market Frum’s mission to forge a rational, responsible “conservatism that can win again,” a Democratic activist who takes the moniker of a socialist icon managed to get a platform on Frum’s website.

Huh. I wonder how that happened…

Conservatism Must Not Abandon the Cultural Front (Updated)

My NewsReal colleague David Swindle has been debating Pajamas Media’s Mary Grabar on the subject of drug legalization.  I side with the arguments made by Grabar, Ann Coulter, and others against legalizing drugs, but I’ve honestly never cared enough about the issue to explore it in depth.

I know there’s an argument that true conservatives should recognize that arresting people for voluntary drug use goes beyond the proper role of limited government.  But y’know what?  We’ve got plenty of cases of government overreach and violated rights in this country that don’t involve destructive behavior—stolen property due to eminent domain abuses, innocent babies destroyed in the womb, politicians constantly looking for new excuses to paw through their constituents’ wallets—that frankly, the tribulations of potheads fighting for the right to light up register pretty low on my sympathy meter and priority list.

But hey, maybe the Founding Fathers really would side with the libertarians on this one.  I’ll read with open-minded interest David & Mary’s continued exchanges, but I have to strongly disagree with one of David’s assertions:

John McCain lost to Barack Obama because of politics, not culture. Obama was a more exciting candidate who ran a much more effective campaign. It’s that simple.

A conservatism that can win is one which understands itself and defines itself as a political movement, not a cultural one. To do otherwise is to begin to destroy a functioning coalition that has been vital to defending America since Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley Jr., and Ronald Reagan brought it together in the 20th century. Conservatism must take the same approach to culture as the Constitution does — neutrality. Such an attitude worked for the document which has guided and protected our country for centuries and it will work for the Movement who has the same objective.

Far be it from me to read too much into the defeat of John McCain, the poster boy for almost everything a Republican shouldn’t be.  2008 was the culmination of years of GOP incompetence and lack of principle, and for reasons completely unrelated to ideology, Barack Obama was perfectly positioned to seize upon it.

But it’s another thing entirely to assume that culture played no part in Obama’s ascendance.  A culture that worships gratification (particularly sexual) without responsibility or constraints, that believes truth is personal and relativistic rather than grounded in permanent wisdom, that has been conditioned to expect everyone else to provide for their every need and clean up after their every mistake, that sneers at traditional morality and religious belief…these trends and attitudes cannot help but play into the Left’s hands.

Simply put, a narcissistic, relativistic, secular, ignorant culture will always be receptive to a political movement that promises to give them things paid for with other people’s money, affirms their “if it feels good, do it” mentality, and assures them that supporting statism and “environmental consciousness” are the only forms of morality or compassion they’ll ever really need.

A conservatism that disregards our culture will not win; indeed, its political prospects will only diminish further still.  I grew up in a public school system completely dominated by the Left.  I have seen time after time how easily the average apolitical teen, bereft of solid core values and spoon-feed the consensus of popular culture, assumes the Left’s claims on government’s role and conservatives’ evil to be true, to say nothing of every liberal myth from man-made global warming to the military-industrial complex.

More importantly, I have seen the Right’s feeble response.  This is a battle in which the conservative movement is largely—and the Republican Party is completely—AWOL.  How many conservatives are formulating strategies to break the Left’s stranglehold on education, both K-12 and college?  How many are drawing attention to the corruption of Church teachings on compassion?  How many on Capitol Hill are challenging the Left’s poisonous sexual dogma, or publicly illustrating the connection between the Democrat Party and the cultural forces it cultivates and feeds upon?

Republican electoral failures cannot be attributed to a nonexistent emphasis on culture; indeed, it’s far more likely that our woes are intimately tied to our dereliction of duty on this front.  The same old tactics—conservatives talking to the same radio audiences, writing in the same magazines, and posting on the same blogs, all mostly to each other—will win converts to the Right from time to time, but not in numbers that can even begin to compare to how many people are unwittingly fed liberal presuppositions about the world by stealth in their schools, TV shows, music, and churches, all of which form an echo chamber, reaffirming the messages for one another.

Republican strategists tend to think short-term: what will get us back into power in the next couple election cycles? Say what you want about Democrats (Lord knows I’ve said plenty), but they see the big picture, and play for keeps.  Conservatives need to open their eyes to it, as well, and settle in for the long haul. Any real, lasting return to the conservative values of the American Founding will require comprehensive strategies and solid commitments to oppose liberal encroachments on every front.

David invoked President Reagan in his post; let me conclude by doing the same.  In his Farewell Address to the American people, Reagan said:

I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual. And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins.

UPDATE: David has responded here. It seems the differences between our positions are less than they initially appeared, and I certainly agree with his central point, that the force of law is not an instrument of value enforcement.  I’ll have more thoughts later, but thanks to David for his thoughtful reply.

Exposing the Left’s Progressive Roots

“If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.”

Thomas Jefferson, 1802

“I believe in the people: in their honesty and sincerity and sagacity; but I do not believe in them as my governors.”

Woodrow Wilson, 1891

*          *          *

Last weekend I wrote about American conservatism as the intellectual legacy of the finest political thinkers from the Enlightenment onward.  On Thursday I highlighted the wisdom of Alexis de Tocqueville & Abraham Lincoln.  Back in May I editorialized about the role of religion in American heritage.  Now it’s time to look at the other side of the coin: the foundations of American liberalism.

What’s In a Name?

Let’s start with a common area of confusion: the use of the term “liberal” to describe the American Left.  Common usage of “liberal” and “conservative” often identifies the former with a willingness to try new things and the latter with a desire to preserve that which came before.  This isn’t terribly useful when applied to politics (who among us is a down-the-line supporter the old just because it’s old, or the new just because it’s new?), but it does speak to one aspect of each ideology: conservatism seeks to preserve the principles of the American founding, while liberalism discards the founding in favor of newer ideas.  But this is also what makes “liberal” such a misleading moniker for left-wing thought: it suggests a relationship to the classical liberalism espoused by the Founding Fathers where none exists; in fact, modern liberalism is largely a rejection of classical liberalism.

Classical Liberalism’s Lockean Foundations

The Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by 17th-century English philosopher John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government.  (Other thinkers, such as Montesquieu, played significant roles as well, but here we’ll elaborate on Locke, so we can understand progressivism’s repeated self-proclaimed deviations from Lockean thought.)  Locke first asked the reader to envision a theoretical state of nature in which we can observe man as he is essentially, outside of government.  This shows us two things: first, all men are equal in that none can be seen to have any sort of divine claim to rule over any other; and second, all men have perfect freedom over their own lives, liberty & property, and perfect freedom to defend them with whatever force they see fit.  But if everyone were to carry out justice on their own, the resulting chaos would be intolerable.  So to live in peace, men form a social compact with one another, in which they surrender to whole, in the form of government, the right to judge & punish transgressions against their rights.  Accordingly, the Founders crafted a government based on immutable principles of justice instituted among men for the sole purpose of securing the people’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Hegelianism

The early progressives were largely inspired by 19th-century German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel’s The Philosophy of History.  Hegel envisioned history as a transcendent, almost conscious, force, which is moving on a set course toward freedom, its every turn for the better, even if we can’t see the benefit. He defined freedom not as free reign over one’s own life, liberty & property, but as liberation from dependence on any material need outside of one’s self, a dependence which corrupts the individual’s will.  History has a rational, universal will that acts through the passions of people (not their reason), and can be discerned through the State, whose will is pure because it isn’t tainted by dependence on anything external.  The universal will is not to be confused with the majority’s will, which is no more than a collection of impure individual interests.  We become free to the extent that we recognize the universal will and adjust our personal wills accordingly, thereby becoming pure.  Hegel rejected Locke’s state of nature and determined that, because history is constantly moving to truer, better things, no political principles are truly universal; they are temporary, good for their time only until their usefulness to history is exhausted and they are replaced with something new.

Progressivism

Key texts—Woodrow Wilson: The Essential Political Writings and American Progressivism: A Reader, edited by Ronald Pestritto, The Promise of American Life and Progressive Democracy by Herbert Croly, Liberalism and Social Action by John Dewey.

President Woodrow Wilson echoed Hegel’s rejection of Locke—he saw no state of nature in which man enjoyed perfect freedom, concluding instead that, since only government can ensure freedom, government must also be the source of freedom.  Wilson also rejected Lockean social compact theory—he thought government had its roots in, and was essentially an enlarged or evolved version of, the family.  Wilson believed that our moral identity was defined by the relationships we make with one another, and consequently, man had no real moral standing outside of the state.  He fully embraced Hegel’s conceptions of temporary truth and historical progress working through passion—he rejected Aristotle’s observation that governments could revert to older & corrupted forms, instead believing that democracy was here to stay and that history would essentially iron out whatever kinks arose along the way for us.

He stressed that democracy was not government by consent of the governed (political questions were far too complex, and personal interests much too diverse, for this to be a realistic plan), but government by recognition of the universal will, as discerned and enacted by an unelected expert class trained in policymaking (as professionals attuned solely to this purpose, their will is pure).  Incredibly, President Wilson claimed the Declaration of Independence’s political assertions did “not afford a general theory of government to formulate policies upon.”  He believed there is “no doubt we are meant to have liberty, but each generation must form its own conception of what liberty is,” and saw the relationship between the individual and the government as a scale of competing privileges (not rights), which may be readjusted from time to time, as circumstances dictate.  In accordance with the Hegelian conception of freedom, Wilson saw government regulation in private affairs such as property & income not as meddling in the rights of some, but as removing artificial constraints on people.

Herbert Croly, former editor of the New Republic & influential progressive thinker, likened history to a journey in the dark.  Like a torch, the limited knowledge we possess at any given time only lights part of our path, and our temporary itinerary (latest political system) should never be confused for a complete map (final, eternal truth).  He embraced the universal will conception of democracy and the idea that the individual only gains meaning as part of a society, and spoke at length about how democracy’s true task was the equal distribution of society’s benefits.  Croly saw the individual’s dependence on income as an impurity in his will; a burden which forced everyone into the same material-gain mold and stifled individuality; therefore, it was the state’s task to liberate man from the profit motive, so man can pursue his dreams solely for their own sake.  In one of progressivism’s most drastic departures from classical liberalism, Croly believed that, through the state, essential human nature could actually be improved (of course, part of his plan to achieve this involved moving the goalposts—he was sharply critical of any conception of God that emphasized behavioral restraint as contrary to liberty and little more than excuses for the preservation of old social orders).

Progressivism gave rise to the idea that merely having a legally-protected right to do something was not enough; rights also entailed a social obligation on the part of government to facilitate the ability to exercise that right.  It saw government as a positive good with a proactive role, not a necessary evil with a limited role (effective government cannot really be limited, and besides, ever-improving human nature will eventually eliminate the need for such limits anyway).  It sought to close the debate on what government should do and refocus discussion strictly on how to go about achieving it.

The Folly of Progressivism

A simple description of early progressive thought raises plenty of red flags, and exposes just how diametrically contrary to the American founding the modern Left is.  Its take on moral relativism has no substantiation other than “history has decided,” which translates to little more than “might makes right”; its complete confidence in history’s trajectory is an article of unsupported faith that would make the most dogmatic Christian cringe, and to believe human nature is perfectible…well, that would require us to, shall we say, assume facts not in evidence.

As should be obvious, the expert policymaker progressives envision is but a man, subject to the same failings as the rest of us, including self interest (surely, power and job security are interests in the public sector every bit as much as in the private).  Furthermore, as economist F.A. Hayek taught us, no matter how well-versed in a certain field he may be, even a well-meaning expert cannot possibly know all the knowledge necessary—the circumstances, needs, desires, relationships, and other variables at play with all individuals—to make just, sound decisions on the wide scale the progressive dreams of.

The progressive notion of freedom as liberation from all constraints is impossible to effectively put into practice; as their own writings show (and as Tocqueville understood), attempting to do so puts equality and true liberty in direct conflict.

Ultimately, progressivism is utopianism, a rejection of reality’s constraints in pursuit of a fairytale world free of imperfections.  The Founders were neither as naïve or as arrogant as Wilson and his comrades: to them, invoking passion as society’s chief instrument of advance would be the height of irresponsibility, and as James Madison said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”  But they knew angels would assume neither role in society.  They were acutely aware of man’s limitations, power’s ability to corrupt, and the need to check both.

The Picture Comes Into Focus

Bizarre though the stroll through early progressive thought may be, it’s also remarkable—once you understand the foundations, every aspect of the modern Left—their policies, their tactics, their dogmas—suddenly falls into place.  The Constitution as a “living document,” judges and bureaucrats as unaccountable experts with tremendous power, the nanny-state mentality from healthcare to smoking bans, the thinly-veiled contempt for traditional religion, the disregard for personal responsibility, the routine practice of assigning ignorance & ulterior motives to dissent—it all follows from carrying progressive ideological presuppositions to their logical conclusions.

Again, you cannot effectively fight the Left if you do not understand what they are, what they really believe, and what they’re capable of.  Today’s so-called liberals thrive on the historical ignorance of the average American, and they’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it.  But relying on ignorance is a dangerous strategy, because you never know when someone might come along who knows better.  So take heart—the educated conservative is the liberal’s worst nightmare.  Arm yourself with the history of progressivism and the wisdom of our forefathers, and nothing can stop you.

Paul Mulshine: Moron

Prior to seeing his latest column linked at Hot Air’s headlines, I’ve never heard of Paul Mulshine.  Upon reading it, I’ve determined that’s a good thing.

Mulshine has “got a creepy feeling Sarah Palin’s a socialist.”  Okay, he gets points for coming up with an attack we haven’t heard before, but socialist?  How does he figure?  By quoting Palin’s now-infamous “death panel” statement, in which she says:

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Somehow, Mulshine concludes Palin’s “central thesis” to be “that Medicare should indeed provide essentially unlimited coverage for Palin’s child as well as her parents.”  Next comes a lengthy lecture on Ronald Reagan & the free market, which is all well & good—except for the fact that it’s a complete non-sequitur.  Palin’s “central thesis” exists only in Mulshine’s imagination.  As would be obvious to anyone with an IQ above that of a toaster, she was discussing what she thought would happen under a government-run, single payer healthcare system—y’know, when nobody but the government is there to cover anyone?

Not once does Palin indicate she believes paid healthcare for all is a right.  In fact, let’s turn Mulshine’s challenge to Palin supporters to “find the slightest indication on her Facebook pages that Palin realizes she is responsible for paying for her children’s health care” around on him—prove your assertion that she doesn’t, Paul.  Oh, and this time, remember to show your work.

More examples of Mulshine’s crappy reading skills can be found in his observation that Palin “seems to be assuming that [baby Trig’s] care comes under the Medicare law,” despite the fact that Palin never mentions Medicare or Trig’s current healthcare; and this gem: “Unless I miss the plain meaning of her words, Palin is arguing that it is evil for the taxpayers to deny anyone any coverage ‘to reduce the growth in health care spending,’ as she put it in a later post.”  But if you read the post he’s referencing, you’ll see that phrase isn’t Palin’s at all—she’s quoting the “stated purpose” of HR 3200, Section 1233, in the process of analyzing what the legislation says.  Brother, you’ve missed the plain meaning of all her words.

This article did make me ask questions, though.  Questions like, how could a self-described conservative author such a train wreck? And then I saw the bottom of the page, where Mulshine approvingly links to a Ron Paul video.  Ah.  Now I see…

It’s a good thing Paul Mulshine’s “Pre-emptive Moron Perspective Alert” to his commenters doesn’t come until the end of his article.  Any higher and it would have disqualified his own commentary.

PS: Andy McCarthy, Thomas Sowell and Mark Steyn think Sarah Palin was right to warn America about the prospect of “death panels,” and even a couple liberal, pro-Obama advocates of nationalized healthcare have conceded there’s cause for concern with the current legislation.