Obama Rejects Mandates in Health Care Plan

The United States has an excellent health care system but there are problems with access. The most serious problems are seen by those who must purchase insurance themselves, especially if they have  medical problems. The cost also creates problems for American businesses which must compete with foreign companies. To attempt to remedy this problem, John Kerry promoted a plan which a survey by The National Journal chose as the best plan of all the candidates running in 2003. An important component of the plan, and one reason I supported it, was that the plan was voluntary with Kerry deciding to reject mandates.

Skip ahead four years and the same problems with regards to health care persist but the solutions offered by the Democrats have changed. Most Democratic candidates now include mandates for coverage in their plans. The standard has changed from assisting those who cannot afford coverage to being universal, including for those who do not desire the coverage. John Edwards even calls for making preventative care itself mandatory.

The lone exception among the Democrats is Barack Obama who, as did John Kerry in 2003, has decided against including mandates in his plan. Obama has received criticism from many Democrats, many of whom have been quick to attack Obama when he has strayed from the party line, such as when he also spoke about ensuring the long term viability of Social Security. Obama has repeated his opposition to mandates while campaigning in Iowa:

Obama said such mandates for health care coverage is a wrong step. He told a crowd of about 350 people at Thomas Jefferson High School that his plan would lower costs on average by about $2,500 per family, making health care affordable for all without placing demands.

He compared Clinton and Edwards’ proposed mandates to car insurance, noting that some sates with required auto insurance still have a pocket of 15 or more percent that still go without coverage even though it’s illegal.

“Their essential argument is the only way to get everybody covered is if the government forces you to buy health insurance. If you don’t buy it, then you’ll be penalized in some way,” Obama said. “What I have said repeatedly is that the reason people don’t have health insurance isn’t because they don’t want it, it’s because they can’t afford it.”

Obama’s views may make him less popular among some Democrats but will be more acceptable to independents. This might not be enough to win the Democratic nomination, but as many independents vote in both Iowa and New Hampshire his support among independents just might turn into a strength.

Hillary Clinton has been attacking Obama for lack of experience but perhaps one of Obama’s strength is from learning from the experiences of others, as Michael Kinsley has suggested:

My candidate, at least at the moment, is Obama. When I hear him discussing issues, I hear intelligence and reflection and almost a joy in thinking it through…That willingness, even eagerness, to figure things out seems to me more valuable than any amount of experience in allowing issues to wash over you as they do our incumbent president.

Warren Buffett likes to say, when people tell him that they’ve learned from experience, that the trick is to learn from other people’s experience. George W. Bush will leave behind a rich compost heap of experience for his successor to sort through and learn from.

In the case of heath care, perhaps Obama has learned from the failure not of George Bush but of Hillary Clinton, whose health plan as First Lady was too complex and placed far more restrictions on Americans than most Americans will tolerate.

Wall Street Journal Joins Coverage of Paul Supporters

At the beginning of the week I had a post on how coverage of the behavior of Paul’s supporters was increasing, quoting from an article from Congressional Quarterly. The Wall Street Journal is reporting on this problem today:

Some blogs have booted Paul supporters for leaving incendiary comments. They have also been frozen out of Internet surveys and accused of electronic ballot stuffing; Dr. Paul rarely loses online straw polls even though he barely registers in national telephone polls. His supporters argue that they win online polls because there are more Paul supporters and they’re better organized.

Many of Dr. Paul’s supporters say they’re simply fighting a media and political establishment that won’t give him a fair shake. The big Nov. 5 “moneybomb” fund raiser was timed to coincide with Guy Fawkes Day and inspired by the 1980s comic-book series “V for Vendetta,” in which a vigilante in a Guy Fawkes mask wages war against a totalitarian British state.

The Paul campaign has also drawn support from antigovernment fringe groups and 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Since mid-September, a large “Ron Paul for President” banner has flashed at the bottom of white-supremacist Internet forum Stormfront.org. “Really, we haven’t seen a candidate like Ron Paul in some time. The closest would have been Pat Buchanan” in 2000, says Don Black of West Palm Beach, Fla., the group’s founder and a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, who donated $500 to Mr. Paul’s campaign.

What harms Paul is not necessarily the actions and views of his supporters but that he does not appear to understand how poorly they reflect upon him. By ignoring these problems, they guarantee that Paul will remain a fringe candidate.

The Paul campaign has a hands-off approach when it comes to supporters’ activities and political backgrounds. While grateful for the money, aides insist they aren’t responsible for what supporters do online. “We don’t know who a lot of these people are,” says Jesse Benton, a campaign spokesman.

Mr. Benton declined to make Dr. Paul available to comment. “Sometimes, Ron Paul supporters get a little overpassionate and maybe a little more shrill than what some might like,” Mr. Benton says. “For the most part, our supporters are polite and mannerly.” He has his own conspiracy theory: Some other candidates’ supporters may be masquerading as Ron Paul supporters to hurt his campaign.

This only highlights that the Paul campaign is simply not ready for prime time. Any serious candidate would return a contribution from Don Black once it was reported by the media. The conspiratorial mind set seen by Paul and his supporters makes even people who might agree with Paul on many issues question whether he is rational enough to have the powers of the presidency.

Denial of the problem further harms their credibility. Some Paul supporters are no doubt “polite and mannerly” but most journalists and bloggers run into an incredible number who are not. The closest thing we have seen to this phenomenon was with some of the Dean supporters in 2003. In contrast to the Paul campaign Joe Trippi, as well as many of the responsible Dean supporters, made an effort to convince these people that their actions were harmful to their candidate.

I have heard the claim that these may be supporters of other candidates many times but this is hardly convincing. Supporters of other candidates would be far more likely to devote any efforts against the serious candidates as opposed to against a candidate such as Paul who has no chance of winning the nomination. To believe that they all got together to imitate Paul supporters makes no more sense than the conspiracy theories they spread about the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, Jews, and the Trilateral Commission.

The article does capture some of the reasons Paul supporters are looked down upon by many bloggers:

“Basically, it got to the point where someone could put up a post saying they were going to the bathroom, and a dozen Paultards would comment, ‘Vote for Ron Paul while you’re there,’ along with another dozen warnings of the Zionist conspiracy in the toilet,” says Erick Erickson, founder of popular conservative blog Redstate. A month ago, the site banned posts from some Paul supporters, branding them “MoRons.”

Afterward, the site was “deluged” with comments and “swarms and swarms” of hate mail, Mr. Erickson says. He changed the site’s phone number, and says other blog owners have contacted him seeking advice on discouraging Paul supporters from posting.

Cris Vanricma of Ludington, Mich., removed Dr. Paul from his bipartisan presidential poll, StrawPoll08.com, after receiving nasty emails from some Paul supporters, contending some polls that Dr. Paul wasn’t winning were rigged. The 31-year-old Web designer made a blanket offer: If the messages stop, the congressman goes back on. So far, Dr. Paul remains off the poll.

The problems include more than nasty email and manipulation of on line polls. Paul supporters commonly spam the comments of blogs which do not agree with their positions one hundred percent, failing to see the benefit of coverage from blogs which cover positive as well as negative aspects of Paul’s campaign. The comments, in addition to being insulting, frequently involve racism or reference to conspiracy theories. Many others simply lack any ability to present a coherent argument. A tremendous number of the comments held in moderation here are ones where Paul supporters first misrepresent what I’ve said about Paul and then argue against the straw men they create as opposed to what was actually written. Others simply claim that anything negative is a lie, even if involves reference to Paul’s voting record or writings which are freely available for review.

Paul supporters also show a considerable lack of toleration for other viewpoints, falsely thinking they have a monopoly on pro-freedom and anti-war stands. A tremendous number of comments from Paul supporters also allege evil motives as opposed to honest disagreement from those who don’t agree with them one hundred percent, with many even making reference to the dark forces they believe are paying bloggers to write negative posts about Paul.

Even many libertarians are beginning to realize how much Paul supporters are hurting their cause:

Some Paul supporters preach restraint. “I cannot stand to read another reporter/blogger complain about how they have received profane/threatening/intimidating responses from Ron Paul supporters,” wrote “Hestia,” a frequent poster on the Daily Paul, a popular pro-Paul site. “Sending hostile and abusive emails will not win supporters or encourage bloggers or reporters to write positive articles,” Hestia adds.

In the last few days I’ve also noted how some libertarians are reacting negatively to Paul here and here.

Ronald Reagan and the Cold War

A favorite conservative myth is that Ronald Reagan won the cold war when largely he was just the American president who happened to be in office at the right time. The real hero was Gorbachev who realized the futility of continuing the cold war. Ronald Reagan does deserve credit too, but not for standing up to the Soviet Union but for being willing to understand that situations had changed and his old policies no longer applied. Reagan also differed from many other hard line conservatives in also dreaming of a world without nuclear weapons. Martin Walker discusses these points in a review of books on nuclear weapons for The New York Times Sunday Book Review:

According to both Schell and Rhodes, the cold war ended not because Reagan stood firm at Reykjavik but because Gorbachev and his supporters had already decided to stop waging it, or as Gorbachev’s adviser Giorgy Arbatov once put it to this reviewer in Moscow, “to take your enemy away.” Gorbachev understood that the arms race was ruining his country. And then he learned that the radiation fallout from Chernobyl was the equivalent of a single 12-megaton bomb.

It was a wondrous accident of history that saw Gorbachev, the determined reformer of a sclerotic Soviet system, coincide with Reagan, the anti-Communist conservative who nonetheless dreamed of a world without nuclear weapons. After Reagan came the first president Bush, whose initial caution about Gorbachev gave way to such enthusiasm that he unilaterally scrapped America’s vast arsenal of land- and sea-based tactical nuclear weapons. Between them, the three men put an end to the first nuclear age.

Joseph Ellis On The Creation of A Secular State

Many conservatives (along with Ron Paul) promote a revisionist history of the United States in which they deny the intention of the founding fathers to create a secular society with separation of church and state. The Constitution was a radical document for its time in many ways, including breaking from tradition in not basing its authority on religion. The First Amendment elaborates on this point, with both the writings of the founding fathers and multiple court decisions interpreting this as a guarantee of separation of church and state.

Pulitzer Prize winning historian Joseph J. Ellis looks at the accomplishments of the founding fathers from the time of the Declaration of Independence through the early years of the nation in his new book, American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies At The Founding Of The Republic. In looking at the crucial period from 1775 to 1803 Ellis identifies five core achievements of the founding fathers (pages 8-9):

  1. The revolutionary generation won the first successful war for colonial independence in the modern era.
  2. They established the first nation-sized republic.
  3. They created the first wholly secular state.
  4. They rejected the conventional wisdom that political sovereignty must reside in one agreed-upon location and that sovereignty was by definition singular and indivisible. They created over-lapping sources of authority in which blurring of jurisdiction between federal and state power become an asset rather than a liability.
  5. They created political parties as institutionalized channels for ongoing debate, which eventually permitted dissent to be regarded not as a treasonable act, but as a legitimate voice in an endless argument.

The third and fourth points conflict with the views of many conservatives, including Ron Paul, who are actually promoting their own personal views as opposed to the views of the founding fathers as they often claim.The religious right has been attempting to impose their views by denying that separation of church and state is an important part of the heritage of this country. Just as there is no controversy over evolution among biologists, legitimate historians such as Ellis write not of a controversy but describe separation of church and state as an undisputed fact. The full description of this core achievement reads:

…they created the first wholly secular state. Before the American Revolution it was broadly assumed that shared religious convictions were the primary basis for the common values that linked together the people of any political community, indeed the ideological glue that made any sense of community possible. By insisting on the complete separation of church and state, the founders successfully overturned this long-standing presumption.