Morning Report, September 9th: Christian Girls and their Crazy Parents, World Emperor Obama, Sarah Palin: Policy Wonk, Good God-Dog!, and What Happens when the Anti-Establishment Become the Establishment
1. Happy birthday to my little girl, and happy anniversary to my beloved wife.
2. Bill McGurn has an excellent article on two “Christian Girls, Interrupted.” The first girl, Amanda Kurowski, was ordered by a judge to attend public school because, essentially, the judge determined that the girl should be exposed to ways of thinking other than those of her religious parents. Amanda’s parents are divorced; her mother has primary custody, but her father has been concerned about the effect of home-schooling on her “socialization.” The judge determined “that Amanda is generally likeable and well liked, social and interactive with her peers, academically promising, and intellectually at or superior to grade level.” Yet due to her “rigidity on faith,” the court concludes that Amanda “would be best served by exposure to different points of view at a time in her life when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief and behavior and cooperation in order to select, as a young adult, which of those systems will best suit her own needs.” In other words, the judge determines, essentially, that she must be sent to public school in order to get away from her mother’s narrow religiosity and be exposed to other worldviews. Pretty extraordinary stuff. As McGurn writes, “Just how extraordinary [this line of reasoning is] might best be appreciated by contemplating the opposite scenario: the reaction that would ensue were a court to order a young girl out of a public school and into an evangelical one so she might gain “exposure” to other “systems of belief.”
The second case is that of Rifqa Bary, who claims that her Muslim father threatened to kill her when he learned that she had converted to Christianity. Her parents say that they never threatened to kill her, but her fear of an “honor killing” was put in her head by the devious evangelicals to whose home she fled (in Florida) when she ran away. McGurn’s point is that these two cases raise some tough issues, and seem to pull in opposite directions. Those (probably conservatives) who come down on the side of parental rights in Amanda’s case must explain why they would reject parental rights in the case of Rifqa Bary. And those (probably liberals) who favor parental rights in the case of Bary should also favor parental rights in the Kurowski case. Yet the differentiating factor is surely the threat to Bary’s life. If there were such a threat, if the fear of an honor killing is reasonable in her case, then she should not be returned to her parents. My take: give Bary, who is 17, the legal status of an adult.
3. The Security Council, the most consequential part of the United Nations, has 15 member nations, and the chair of the council rotates on a monthly basis. This means that the United States has very often–4 times out of very 5 years–held the chair of the Security Council. President Obama will become the first President to take the chair. Ego trip? Important symbol of renewed US devotion to the UN? Clever way to perpetuate his worldwide celebrity? You be the judge. But does anyone else get the sense that Obama would be more at home, in some ways, as the Secretary General of the UN than the American President?
4. Sarah Palin continues to stir political debate, and makes another entry in the health care debate, this time with an article in the Wall Street Journal. Palin positions herself as the guardian of common sense (and other Republicans are helping her position herself as such), the person who dares to speak the plain good sense of pragmatic Americans. Yet she also tries to address specifics:
Let’s talk about specifics. In his Times op-ed, the president argues that the Democrats’ proposals “will finally bring skyrocketing health-care costs under control” by “cutting . . . waste and inefficiency in federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid and in unwarranted subsidies to insurance companies . . . .”
First, ask yourself whether the government that brought us such “waste and inefficiency” and “unwarranted subsidies” in the first place can be believed when it says that this time it will get things right. The nonpartistan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) doesn’t think so: Its director, Douglas Elmendorf, told the Senate Budget Committee in July that “in the legislation that has been reported we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount.”
Palin doesn’t back away from her much-derided phrase, “death panels”:
Now look at one way Mr. Obama wants to eliminate inefficiency and waste: He’s asked Congress to create an Independent Medicare Advisory Council—an unelected, largely unaccountable group of experts charged with containing Medicare costs. In an interview with the New York Times in April, the president suggested that such a group, working outside of “normal political channels,” should guide decisions regarding that “huge driver of cost . . . the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives . . . .”
Given such statements, is it any wonder that many of the sick and elderly are concerned that the Democrats’ proposals will ultimately lead to rationing of their health care by—dare I say it—death panels? Establishment voices dismissed that phrase, but it rang true for many Americans. Working through “normal political channels,” they made themselves heard, and as a result Congress will likely reject a wrong-headed proposal to authorize end-of-life counseling in this cost-cutting context. But the fact remains that the Democrats’ proposals would still empower unelected bureaucrats to make decisions affecting life or death health-care matters. Such government overreaching is what we’ve come to expect from this administration.
And she gives the broad outlines of a solution designed to increase competition between insurers and reduce the costs of providing health care:
Instead of poll-driven “solutions,” let’s talk about real health-care reform: market-oriented, patient-centered, and result-driven. As the Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon and others have argued, such policies include giving all individuals the same tax benefits received by those who get coverage through their employers; providing Medicare recipients with vouchers that allow them to purchase their own coverage; reforming tort laws to potentially save billions each year in wasteful spending; and changing costly state regulations to allow people to buy insurance across state lines. Rather than another top-down government plan, let’s give Americans control over their own health care.
This is not the most powerful piece that a politician has written on the health care reform debate, and it’s certainly not wonkish, but it’s a strong entry, and will appeal to many conservatives and pragmatic centrists. If she continues to offer essays like this, and improves her ability to interview on issues of national concern, she will be a formidable figure in the 2012 Republican primary.
And, as usual, it’s entertaining to read responses to Sarah Palin at places like this.
5. A very interesting article by Paul Peterson at the Wall Street Journal, highlighting the differences between public perceptions of public schooling and the actual reality. The public, when polled, is roughly correct in its understanding that American public schooling is mediocre in terms of graduation rates and comparison to education in other countries. Where there is a sharp divergence between perception and reality is in the issue of money. When Americans are asked to estimate how much is spent per pupil, and how much teachers are paid, the average numbers they guess are $4k per pupil and $33k per teacher. The reality is $10k per pupil and $47k per teacher. This tells me that teacher’s unions and politicians beholden to them have been very effective at convincing Americans that we spend too little on education.
Even so, even on the basis of their false supposition that teachers are paid very little and schools spend relatively little per student, the public has grown increasingly unwilling to spend more. In 1990, 70% of taxpayers favored spending more on education. Last year that number was 61%, and this year it has dropped (in the midst of a financial crisis, of course) to 46%.
6. Tonight, of course, Barack Obama is addressing a joint session of Congress on the subject of health care. News reports suggest that Obama has little new to say. He is not, apparently, going to announce that he is willing to dispense with the public option. That was never the point; actually, as those who have been following these things know, the Obama administration elected to stage this speech before they even knew whether they would abandon the public option or not. And Obama really cannot drop the public option, because it’s the only means of cost-control he proposes. The administration has still not responded to the substance of conservative objections that government price-controls simply lead to shortages–rationing–because the government-enforced prices do not cover the costs of delivering the service.
What to look for tonight? First off, tone. True-blue liberals want Obama to be more combative, to go on the offense, less cerebral and more punchy (“Less Spocky, More Rocky,” says Maureen Dowd). Second, will Obama address the substance of the many objections that have been raised to Democratic proposals? Will he dismiss concern with illegal immigrants, or will he address the fact that there seem to be no enforcement mechanisms to prevent illegal immigrants from taking public insurance? Will he dismiss concern with abortion, or will he address the fact that federal money will go, via subsidies, to plans that cover abortions? Will he dismiss concern with ‘death panels,’ or will he deal with the justified concern that setting end-of-life planning in the context of government pressure to reduce costs will lead to government pressure to end life earlier? So, in short, will Obama continue the same, tired denunciation of “lies and distortions,” or will he address the basic issues that give rise to so many objections? Blue Dog Democrats are taking the town hall protesters seriously. Will Obama?
If he addresses the substance of the objections, he can make real headway tonight. If not, he’s only going to deepen the credibility gap. Too many people know that these are justified concerns, so that if they are simply dismissed out of hand they will know they are not getting an honest response. And too many are getting tired of being branded idiots and racists for opposing the health care reform currently on the table.
Third, look for specifics. Apart from new proposals or specifics, this is just another media event. If that is so, then it will tell us that the Obama administration has decided that their problem has nothing to do with the specifics of the plan and everything to do with the PR of how it’s been sold. They do not have a PR problem; the problem is not that conservatives have somehow hijacked control of the conversation. The problem is that they have not offered convincing responses to justified concerns.
7. GOOD GOD~DOG! My father forwarded this delightful video. Enjoy:
I’ve always been somewhat uncomfortable with the image of God just waiting, sad and lonely, whenever I turn away. There is some truth to it, however, and it’s not beyond the pale to imagine the father in the prodigal son story dancing with joy (he does hold a celebration) when the younger son returns.
In any case, thank God for dogs, who do, indeed, reflect something of God’s goodness toward us.
8. Paleontologists have spun fantastic tales from the slightest bits of evidence: bone chips, teeth, etc. Well, as any honest academic can tell you, academics in general (paleontologists included) would benefit from having the humility to admit what they do not know. Turns out that much of what we learned about the early evolution of humans may have been wrong. See the story here.
9. TODAY’S TWO-SIDES. Let’s speak of health care reform and how it affects electoral prospects. Thomas Sowell says that Obama’s actions are more important than his words, and his actions betray the truth that Obama does not want to be held electorally accountable for health care reform:
One plain fact should outweigh all the words of Barack Obama and all the impressive trappings of the setting in which he says them: He tried to rush Congress into passing a massive government takeover of the nation’s medical care before the August recess– for a program that would not take effect until 2013!
Whatever President Obama is, he is not stupid. If the urgency to pass the medical care legislation was to deal with a problem immediately, then why postpone the date when the legislation goes into effect for years– more specifically, until the year after the next Presidential election?
If this is such an urgently needed program, why wait for years to put it into effect? And if the public is going to benefit from this, why not let them experience those benefits before the next Presidential election?
If it is not urgent that the legislation goes into effect immediately, then why don’t we have time to go through the normal process of holding Congressional hearings on the pros and cons, accompanied by public discussions of its innumerable provisions? What sense does it make to “hurry up and wait” on something that is literally a matter of life and death?
If we do not believe that the President is stupid, then what do we believe? The only reasonable alternative seems to be that he wanted to get this massive government takeover of medical care passed into law before the public understood what was in it.
Moreover, he wanted to get re-elected in 2012 before the public experienced what its actual consequences would be.
On the other hand, writing from the Left (and using the poll data most favorable to his case–other approval polls show Obama beneath 50%, and show a generic Republican congressional vote beating a generic Democratic congressional vote), James Carville makes the case that Obama and the Dems may come out better in the 2010 midterm elections than is commonly supposed. I agree, if only because I think people are getting carried away when they talk about Republicans regaining a majority in either chamber.
You can read Carville here.
10. WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE…Pakistan. Sigh.
11. COLUMN OF THE DAY: Camille Paglia has, as usual, the most honest and rigorous liberal critique of the Obama presidency. What I like about Paglia is that, rather than mocking those who were concerned about Obama’s address to schoolchildren, she castigates the amateurs who put out a directive encouraging students to devise ways to help Obama:
By foolishly trying to reduce all objections to healthcare reform to the malevolence of obstructionist Republicans, Democrats have managed to destroy the national coalition that elected Obama and that is unlikely to be repaired. If Obama fails to win reelection, let the blame be first laid at the door of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who at a pivotal point threw gasoline on the flames by comparing angry American citizens to Nazis. It is theoretically possible that Obama could turn the situation around with a strong speech on healthcare to Congress this week, but after a summer of grisly hemorrhaging, too much damage has been done. At this point, Democrats’ main hope for the 2012 presidential election is that Republicans nominate another hopelessly feeble candidate. Given the GOP’s facility for shooting itself in the foot, that may well happen.
This column has been calling for heads to roll at the White House from the get-go. Thankfully, they do seem to be falling faster — as witness the middle-of-the-night bum’s rush given to “green jobs” czar Van Jones last week — but there’s a long way to go. An example of the provincial amateurism of current White House operations was the way the president’s innocuous back-to-school pep talk got sandbagged by imbecilic support materials soliciting students to write fantasy letters to “help” the president (a coercive directive quickly withdrawn under pressure). Even worse, the entire project was stupidly scheduled to conflict with the busy opening days of class this week, when harried teachers already have their hands full. Comically, some major school districts, including New York City, were not even open yet. And this is the gang who wants to revamp national healthcare?
And one of Paglia’s more interesting points comes by comparing contemporary Leftism with the leftism of the 1960’s:
Why has the Democratic Party become so arrogantly detached from ordinary Americans? Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers (one reason for the hypocritical absence of tort reform in the healthcare bills). Weirdly, given their worship of highly individualistic, secularized self-actualization, such professionals are as a whole amazingly credulous these days about big-government solutions to every social problem. They see no danger in expanding government authority and intrusive, wasteful bureaucracy. This is, I submit, a stunning turn away from the anti-authority and anti-establishment principles of authentic 1960s leftism.
The anti-establishment activists have become the establishment. And now, they believe, it’s perfectly fine for them simply to ask everyone to trust them. Why? Because they’re benevolent. That they could fall into the same mistakes, abuses and corruptions as the previous generations is apparently not worth considering seriously.