Barack Obama Criticism Health care Politics The Opinionsphere

Draw Your Own Conclusions

Matthew Continetti:

Scott Brown’s victory exposes NY-23 as a fluke. The trend is clear. Independents have moved sharply right over the course of President Obama’s first year in office, even in Massachusetts.

Matt Bai:

The most prevalent ideology of the era seems to be not liberalism nor conservatism so much as anti-incumbency, a reflexive distrust of whoever has power and a constant rallying cry for systemic reform.

Mike Allen:

By these lights, impatience with the status quo — rather than any rightward turn in the mood of the electorate — is what would fuel a Brown victory.

Jonathan Chait:

But political analysts are more like drama critics. They follow the ins and outs of the tactical maneuverings of the players, and when the results come in, their job is to explain how the one led to the other. If you suggested to them that they should instead explain the public mood as a predictable consequence of economic conditions, rather than the outcome of one party’s strategic choices, they would look at you like you were crazy. They spend their time following every utterance and gesture of powerful politicians. Naturally, it must be those things that have the decisive effect…

Barack Obama:

Here’s my assessment of not just the vote in Massachusetts, but the mood around the country: the same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry and they are frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.

David Leonhardt:

The current versions of health reform are the product of decades of debate between Republicans and Democrats. The bills are more conservative than Bill Clinton’s 1993 proposal. For that matter, they’re more conservative than Richard Nixon’s 1971 plan, which would have had the federal government provide insurance to people who didn’t get it through their job.

Today’s Congressional Republicans have made the strategically reasonable decision to describe President Obama’s health care plan, like almost every other part of his agenda, as radical and left wing. And the message seems to be at least partly working, based on polls and the Massachusetts surprise. But a smart political strategy isn’t the same thing as accurate policy analysis.

Barack Obama Criticism Health care Politics The Opinionsphere

Maintaining the Fragile Right Wing Coalition

Or, Matthew Continetti on the Health Care Debate Part II

[digg-reddit-me]I spent the first part of my response to his recent article pointing out some inaccuracies as well as pointing to a lack of clarity of purpose in the piece. But the reason I chose to write about it is this part at the end:

The upshot has been liberals who cavalierly demean and degrade the sentiments of the people. Liberals contemptuous of democracy and ready to embrace from-the-top, one-size-fits-all, technocratic solutions. For such liberals, the failure to obtain their policy preferences calls into question the very legitimacy of the American polity. In August, the Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein–who normally tries “not to question the motives of people with whom I don’t agree”–found himself, like Howard Beale, mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore: “Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers,” he wrote, have “become political terrorists.” Last week in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote that America’s “one party democracy is worse” than China’s “one party autocracy,” because in China “one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.” In this week’s Time magazine, Joe Klein worries that “the Limbaugh- and Glenn Beck-inspired poison will spread from right-wing nutters to moderates and independents who are a necessary component of Obama’s governing coalition”; after all, if the moderates and independents knew what’s good for them, they’d support Obamacare.

Isn’t it possible, though, that the moderates, independents, and “right-wing nutters” who traveled to congressional town halls and voiced their opposition to the president’s big-government initiatives doknow what’s good for them–or, at least, know that Obamacare may turn out to be bad for them? That it might be too costly and too onerous for an American economy with high unemployment and staggering fiscal imbalances? That today’s reform, like others in the “history of our progress,” may lead to unforeseen distortions and crises down the road? Fixated on its attempt to manipulate the economy in ways that produce its desired social outcomes, the White House has neglected the only real “public option”: listening to the public. Determined to pass health care reform even over the objections of popular opinion, the Democrats are practicing a hubristic and antidemocratic politics.

And they will come to regret it.

The reason I highlight this section is that Continetti almost asks several questions which would likely be seen as prescient if he had posed them honestly. For example, inherent in this conclusion is the question:

  • “Might the vocal minority that opposes health care reform know that it will turn out to be bad for them?” or as Continetti puts it, “Isn’t it possible though, that the moderates, independents, and ‘right-wing nutters’ who traveled to congressional town halls and voiced their opposition to the president’s big-government initiatives do know what’s good for them–or, at least, know that Obamacare may turn out to be bad for them?”

Continetti is unable to acknowledge the majority support for reform – or the plurality support for even Obama/Pelosi/Reid-branded plans for reform when they were little understood at all but for a few weeks at the nadir of the debate. He thus reverses the poll results, coming up with this sentiment: “Determined to pass health care reform even over the objections of popular opinion, the Democrats are practicing a hubristic and antidemocratic politics.” This inability to pose questions that are consistent with reality undermines any intellectual seriousness he may pretend to. These types of questions – this type of piece – might be appropriate, or at least understandable – in an op-ed in some small-town paper or in a forum where Continetti was trying to influence others. But instead, in a magazine that is supposed to be for the intellectually serious and right wing, ideology trumps seriousness.

Here are some other questions almost raised by Continetti that seem worth exploring:

  • “Might health care reform be even more costly and onerous for an American economy with high unemployment and staggering fiscal imbalances than the status quo which already is too costly and too onerous for most Americans and is getting worse?” (Continetti fixes this question by deleting the reference to the status quo.)
  • “Might health care reform lead to unforeseen distortions and crises down the road?” (This general doubt survives intact. A conservatism of doubt based on this sentiment would be an extremely valuable part of America’s political landscape. Unfortunately, we have a right wing of certainty that seeks to remake the world otherwise.)
  • “Is it really fair for liberals to claim their failure to obtain their policy preferences calls into question the very legitimacy of the American polity?”
  • “How do technocratic solutions undermine our democratic institutions?” becomes “Liberals [because they are] contemptuous of democracy [are] ready to embrace from-the-top, one-size-fits-all, technocratic solutions.” (Never mind that liberals seem rather quick these days to accept federalist solutions to vexing issues – including most recently on the public option. I’ve tried to explore this question already in a few pieces: Is Obama Leading Us To A Technocratic Dystopia? and An Encroaching Technocracy.)

Continetti – though clearly intelligent enough to understand where these various liberals and progressives are coming from – manages to elide the truths behind their critiques. He conveniently never mentions in his piece that public opinion (even among Republicans) is strongly in favor of a public option and various other aspects of “Obamacare.” This was one of the core reasons for the critiques of Pearlstein, of Friedman, of Klein. But Continetti, in what is a familiar technique for those reading his piece with some independent perspective on what he writes of, once again inserts a malicious motive in place of an honest assessment of what his opponents believe.

Continetti seems aware of legitimate questions about Obama’s policies and politics – but he chooses instead to invent strawmen positions to oppose which conveniently unite the fractious right-wing. Reading the piece, you can feel his mind at work trying to create a synthesis of the traditional view of conservatism as William F. Buckley standing athwart history yelling, “Stop!” with the populism and identity politics of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. He is able to balance the rhetoric of each adequately, to appeal to each without undermining his argument, but at the cost of ignoring reality. This consensus is less about any particular policy, as it is about anti-liberalism. Instead of proposing conservative policies or even dealing with the pragmatic liberal agenda Obama has pushed, Continetti chooses the only argument left to him: he demonizes the opposition.

Continetti, like much of the right wing (except for libertarians and paleo-conservatives), seems aware of legitimate questions about Obama’s policies – but chooses to invent strawmen positions to oppose as a reality-based approach would fracture the anti-Obama coalition.

Barack Obama Criticism Health care Politics The Opinionsphere

Matthew Continetti on the Health Care Debate: A Nihilist’s Defense of the Right Wing Hardline

[digg-reddit-me]I had written a few pieces some weeks ago criticizing the Obama administration for relying too much on technocratic instead of democratic institutions, though I attributed a good deal of the problem to the flaws which are so glaring in our democratic institutions. (Is Obama Leading Us To A Technocratic Dystopia? and An Encroaching Technocracy.) So I was a bit excited to see The Weekly Standard pick up on this subject in a piece by Matthew Continetti called “Technocracy in America.” I had a vague recollection of The Weekly Standard as a serious intellectual journal that – while right wing – took issues seriously.

What I found instead was something profoundly unserious at almost every point. The main thesis of the piece was that liberals hated democracy and that conservatives attacks on health care were justified. Despite it’s title, it barely touched on the idea of technocracy, except as a glancing reference to insinuate that Democrats hate the people. Most opinion pieces can be characterized as

  • propaganda meant to stiffen the spine of the already committed or cleverly persuade without honest discussion the unconvinced;
  • a polemic which is meant to advance the case for a controversial position as far as possible; or
  • civil discourse which is designed to educate and engage  and requires a good faith effort to understand and explain one’s opponents’ views.

This piece fell almost entirely into the first category. Which was disappointing. For the first portion of the piece, Continetti attempted to explain Barack Obama’s approach to health care – and it reads like an inoculation, an attempt to shape the audience’s perception of Obama’s words so that they prove ineffective, rather than an attempt to accurately describe them. Continetti starts out with the presumption that one of the core principles of liberalism is a “contempt for debate and smug sense of moral and intellectual superiority” which he describes as the reason Obama believes his health care plan is a good one. He distorts Obama’s message combating lies about health care reform by saying that Obama – by pointing to the various lies and calling them such – is saying that “There is no legitimate basis for opposition. There are only lies.”

Continetti then moves to several questionable assertions of fact meant to undermine the President’s claims – that:

  • it is a “widely held view that the best improvement to the Democrats’ grandiose plans is to scuttle them and start over with a set of targeted insurance reforms” (Continetti doesn’t cite any polls here – and perhaps that is because polling has consistently shown that a majority of the public supports Obama’s reform plans when the policies are described, but that support has weakened for what is perceived to be Obama’s plans);
  • that in “a world where money is fungible,” of course any spending on health care will go to abortions (But couldn’t the same argument be used to say tax cuts funding abortions?); and
  • that illegal immigrants would get health care under Obama’s health care system because “who would ever tell José and Maria No mas when they show up at the emergency room in need of care?” (Of course, Continetti conveniently omits that this is also the status quo.

Continetti – as he works for The Weekly Standard – also realized he must defend Sarah Palin against charges that she was hyping charges about “death panels.” She wasn’t, Continetti argues – she was merely creating “an extrapolation based on an analysis of the facts” when she wrote on Facebook:

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.

My “extrapolation based upon an analysis of facts” is that Sarah Palin can’t read as at least one of the facts that Palin based her “extrapolation” on was an idiot’s reading of one of the hundreds of articles Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel wrote back in the 1990s.

But then, at the very end, I almost had hope. Amidst the constant smears of “the angry and arrogant left-wing” and paeans to the “instinctual conservatism of an American populace that is skeptical of complicated and expensive government interventions” and the constant attempts to mislead his audience about what Obama was saying, a small hint of anything other than political posturing enter into the piece. But that’ll be Part II.