Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

01 July 2009

Early Dog Days

The dog days of summer are supposed to come in August, when heat and humidity get oppressive, most summer vacations are over, and there’s nothing to do but sweat and stink and look forward to fall.

But in politics and public policy the dog days are here right now. We had a little summer titillation with Mark Sanford’s true confessions. We had a little jolt of hope with Iran’s incipient peaceful revolution. But now we’ve got to live with the truth that Iran’s future depends on Iranians, and South Carolina has to live with Mark Sanford at least until he resigns.

Besides those two short-lived novelties, we are left with the same dumb disputes that we had two years ago, before the presidential campaign. Some ostriches still deny climate change, or maybe their coffers are so full of coal-industry money that they can only say “no.” Some seem to want the President to fail just for the spite of it, and if the Earth cooks it won’t happen on their watch anyway. That’s carrying anti-Bill Clinton vindictiveness a step beyond.

The very same folks (mostly Republicans) are trying to kill health-care reform again by spouting the same old three big lies—government incompetence, bureaucratic control, and consumer choice. They confuse the public by citing a price tag of over a trillion dollars.

But that price tag is for ten years. Since when have we ever priced government programs on a ten-year basis? Not since I was a kid, about half a century ago. But the nay sayers managed to make it stick. God, these guys are good!

If you price health care on an annual basis, it will cost about $100 billion. That’s pocket change today. We allocated seven times that much to TARP, put almost eight times that much into stimulus and will have spent almost as much on GM and Chrysler. Isn’t the health of our economy (which depends on health-care reform) and the health of 47 million people worth as much? Ya think an eleven trillion dollar economy can afford one percent to get health-care right?

Polls says the numbers on these issues have changed a few percentage points, but no one really seems to have wised up. The demagogues sure know their trade.

Thank God for the President’s patience! Besides making tough calls on North Korea and Afghanistan and temporizing on Iran, most of his job today consists of explaining to idiots things that anyone with half a brain would have taken away from last year’s campaign. Our Earth is cooking because we burn too much coal, and America must lead because no one else will. If we don’t catch up with the rest of the world on health care, our heavy industry and our economic leadership will disappear, just like most of our auto industry. Our standard of living will follow.

How the President—a man of extraordinary intelligence—can explain the same things over and over, day after day, and not lose his heart or his sanity is beyond me. I’d love to hear him address teachers of retarded students; I’ll bet he would have instant rapport.

Some say Obama had his “Dukakis moment” the other day. He admitted he would dip into his big stash of well-earned royalties to pay for Michelle’s or the kids’ health care if necessary. His detractors, who never seem to quit, say that admission undermined his support for a government insurance option.

But unlike Mike Dukakis, Obama got it right both ways, emotionally and politically. Of course anyone with money would pay for the best health care he could afford when his loved ones need it. But the larger truth is that private health care will never go away. Every country with a single-payer system—even Russia—has a robust system of private doctors and hospitals for those who can afford them. The rich will never lack good health care anywhere. What’s at stake is whether ordinary people can get to see a doctor when they need one.

Why ordinary people let the demagogues and propagandists keep them from seeing that simple fact, year after year, is a mystery beyond my comprehension. Either the propagandists are really good at what they do, or the American people are extraordinarily thick. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

While on the subject of being extraordinarily thick, have you heard about the Latino activists who want to boycott the 2010 census? After decades of trying to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, they want to put them there permanently and officially. They want them not to be counted for purposes of federal aid to states and localities, or for representation of their numbers in congressional, state, county and city elections. So even if they become citizens, their votes won’t count as much. Don’t they realize that Republicans got their erstwhile lock on Congress and several state legislatures by just such means? Are they eager to become co-conspirators in Republican gerrymandering? Do they even know what the word means?

You can’t fire activists because they appoint themselves. But these guys are so dumb they might as well be working for Rush Limbaugh. They win my “do what I say or I’ll shoot myself in the head” award hands down.

So that’s what we’ve been reduced to here in July, just before Independence Day: more theater of the absurd. Sanford smolders with suppressed love. Iran temporizes while the climate heats up and Rome burns. Health care and climate change hang in the balance, waiting for the stupid to get smart or the dishonest to repent.

You wonder whether people think anymore and whether politicians talk so much because they just like to make noise. Maybe swine flu affects the brain, even a light dose.

The only sweet note is Al Franken, and you have to wonder whether the comedian knows how to be serious. His vote will help, but it won’t be decisive.

The dog days are here already, and it’s only going to get hotter.


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