January 26, 2006
Opinion columns by two stalwart conservatives in today's Washington Post explain in a nutshell why the Republicans in Congress have strayed so far from their roots, thereby putting their majority status in jeopardy. George Will relates his conversation with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, at home in Texas, in which DeLay stands by his leadership record and defends "pork barrel" politics as the only way to get things done in Washington. Sheesh... Is that what activists having been sacrificing for?? I was a little surprised that Will's contempt for his thick-skulled guest was so thinly veiled. Perhaps that is a good sign of a genuine shakeup on the Right.
Robert Samuelson ridicules the conventional approach to health care policy, with a delicious combination of amusing wit and cold, hard logic. Talk about "fixing" the health care system is complete balderdash, as I have noted often in the past. Americans are oblivious to the fundamental economic reality of scarcity, and therefore believe that it is somehow possible to make health care available to all Americans, with a range of choices for patients, at a reasonable cost. Not! Any two of those goals can be compatible with each other, but not all three. Sooner or later, people will have to make a choice. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is getting folks to face up to the distorting effects of exempting their employer health care benefits from income taxes, which drains $126 billion+ from the U.S. Treasury every year and shifts the cost onto those unlucky enough not to enjoy such benefits. Just try suggesting a reform of that to some vote-conscious legislator. To me, the worst part is that most health care "experts" blithely assume that public policy must follow the dictates of popular preference, even if it flatly contradicts the basic laws of supply and demand. As Samuelson writes, "We're living in a fantasy world." If you ask me, it is all a monstrous crime, and when the system starts to crumble people will scream bloody murder.
Is it not obvious that the Bush administration has been turning a blind eye to this mounting crisis? The Medicare prescription benefit, the crown jewel of the bogus "compassionate conservatism," is becoming a complete boondoggle, and it may backfire badly for the Republicans. Is it too late to get back on track of market-oriented social policy? The conformist attitude that denies anything can be done to change things reminds me of the 1970s and 1980s, when the budget deficit exploded and the entitlements morass deepened. Back then the unimaginative policy stagnation in Washington was called "Demosclerosis," the term coined by Jonathan Rausch. Two men with true leadership qualities -- Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich -- took on the status quo, defied the odds and, for a while at least, accomplished a great deal. Are such conservative leaders waiting in the wings today?