Morning Report, Weekend Edition, August 15

Morning Report, Weekend Edition, August 15 August 15, 2009

1.  Two new items worth mentioning at the Patheos Evangelical Portal: my own piece on the birth of my daughter and how it’s changed my thinking on abortion and adoption, and a piece from a good friend of mine, and one of the country’s leading Christian ethicist, in response to Sam Harris’ condemnation of Francis Collins’ selection as head of the NIH.

2.  Lots of buzz over Newt Gingrich’s interview at Politico, where he suggests that Sarah Palin has a bright future if she plays her cards right.  Some of his advice is common sense (write a book, for instance).  Although I wouldn’t say it’s surprising, the most interesting suggestion is that she should head a national project or center.  A National Energy Project would, he says, be a natural for her.  This is probably right.  Thoughts?

Paul Begala demurs in the ugliest of language.  My interest in Palin is primarily in the reaction she elicits from the Left, or at least from those among the Left who cannot stand middle-American Christians.  I don’t buy for a minute that Palin is an intellectual lightweight.  She’s accomplished too much for that.  Yet I do think Republicans–and, actually, Americans–would be best served to have an opponent to Obama in 2012 who possesses an unquestioned intellectual firepower.  Gingrich might have been the one, if he had not committed such indiscretions.  Obama is not uniquely intelligent; there are scores in and around Washington and state capitals who are just as bright.  Governor Jindal comes to mind.  The problem is finding someone who combines intelligence with charisma and, quite importantly, a willingness to run and endure the onslaught that any opponent to Obama will inevitably face.

3.  Discussion continues on how government money (that is, our money) should or should not be used to fund abortions.  Amy Sullivan of Time reports.  The Lois Capps amendment established that funds to pay for abortions, for those on the government plan, would come from premiums and not from tax dollars.  Whether this is just a shell game or not is up to you.  Still, since federal subsidies given to low-income families could be used for abortions, pro-life advocates are able to say, correctly, that tax dollars would still go to abortions.  Two alternatives are proposed by Steve Waldman of Beliefnet and Meredith Simons of Slate.  Waldman’s proposal, it seems to me, does not take the pro-life objection seriously.  Even if the government cuts a check to an individual, who then forwards the money along to the doctor, it’s still our money paying for abortions.  Simons’ suggestion–and actually I’ve been suggesting the same thing–is that private funds from pro-choice organizations could pay for the abortions.

What is so hilarious to me is that Amy Sullivan finds this “out-of-the-box and controversial.”  It’s only thinking outside the box if the “box” is government, and one cannot imagine solving a social problem through non-governmental means.  It shows, to me, a mindset that looks to the government to solve all problems.

4.  The attempt to turn opposition to Obama into racism continues.  One wonders whether one could produce any strong form of political satire or caricature aimed at Obama that would not be deemed racism.  The supposition on the Left seems to be that all conservatives are racists anyway, so anything they do must reflect racism.  Yet wasn’t it Obama himself who said that we need to learn to give our political others the benefit of the doubt with regard to motives?

5.  As Politico also reports, the Dem party Brahmins are trying to prepare the most liberal in their ranks for a major compromise on health care — perhaps even dropping the government option.  (Also Democrats are pushing back on the rush to get a bill passed asap.)  One also has to wonder what Obama and his best and brightest were thinking.  Of course they anticipated there would be resistance.  Yet their erratic responses have shown just as surely that they did not expect resistance of this level.  They hoped to deflect some of the opposition by cutting deals with insurance companies and big Pharma.  Did they overestimate the power of Obama’s charisma?  Did they misread their ‘mandate’?  (They should remember that the Obama America elected was the pragmatic centrist of the general election, not the liberal activist of the primary.)  Was it idealism that led them to press forward regardless of any resistance they might meet?

One of the big mistakes the Obama administration made–although it’s understandable that one would try to “exploit” the crisis in this way–was in the way they sought to portray health care reform as necessary because of the financial crisis.  The perception was that Americans were frightened enough that they were willing to do anything the President told them was necessary.  Yet the argument was spurious from the beginning, because the health care reform that Obama and the Democrats sought was always going to increase the costs to the government, especially in the near term.  It was possible (though not particularly plausible) for Obama to suggest that this was in America’s long-term economic interest–but it was clearly not in our short-term interest, and certainly not something that should be attempted in the midst of the Great Recession.  Then came the Congressional Budget Office reports that the health care reforms on the table would not reduce the deficit and would almost certainly increase it.  There were several CBO reports that were highly damaging to the administration’s case, because the administration premissed the reform on the economic need laid bare in the recession.

In retrospect, it would have been better (1) for the White House to draw up the legislation itself, and, in any case, (2) to pursue more targeted changes separately.   A divide and conquer strategy would have been much more pragmatic, and particular elements of the reform package could be plausibly sold as pro-economy.  Instead, by rolling everything up into one massive health care reform bill, they’ve produced a bill that everyone can oppose on some level, and by letting the various Congressional committees write up their own bills they created a perfect atmosphere for confusion and dissension.

It’s not the first time I’ve wondered whether Obama cut some sort of deal–back when he was trying to win the support of party bigwigs away from the Hillary Clinton camp–that he would, in exchange for their support, give them free rein to draw up their own bills on the big issues like the stimulus, cap-and-trade and health-care reform.  Thus Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were able to reward a thousand different interest groups, but, unfortunately for us, we’ve ended up with massive, unfocused, less-effective legislative behemoths that the Senators cannot even read.

I know quite a few people who supported Obama, at least in large part, because of his perceived competence.  When I pressed them for evidence of his great accomplishments, most pointed to the campaign he ran.  David Axelrod is fantastic; he’s Obama’s Rove, a brilliant political strategist and media manipulator who is willing to do the dirty work for his guy.  Obama’s political and media operation is usually first-rate.  So far, when it comes to legislation, I’m not seeing the magnificent competence yet.

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