Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tiny Violins

Some of the responses to yesterday’s post as well as some extra reading has me back at the keyboard again to share something thoughts about this rapidly changing situation in Indiana.  I want to focus on one issue in particular: the demand by social conservatives to push for tolerance . So here goes.

Let me be clear: I am arguing for civility and love of enemy here, but I am not blind to the fact that social conservatives have never been accomodating to gay and lesbians.  If you read blog posts, like the this one from Rod Dreher, you would think that they had never done anything wrong.  They were just sitting around minding their own business when WHAM! those bad pro-ssm folks came and started taking away their rights. As Jacob Levy notes, the general public is having a hard time hearing the social conservative’s tiny violins right now:

…as I’ve said before, the newfound desire for opponents of same-sex marriage to defend pluralism and compromise rings very hollow.

The anti-same-sex-marriage movement during its ascendancy in the 1990s and 2000s was viciously and hatefully maximalist. Imagine the different history of America if conservatives in the late 1990s had energetically supported civil unions provided that they not use the word “marriage,” instead of pursuing the most aggressive and restrictionist DOMAs they could get away with in each context, such that where conservative majorities were strongest even ordinary contractual rights that might seem too much like marriage were prohibited, instead of mobilizing boycotts of firms that offered same-sex couples employment benefits! As it is, their defense of private sector liberty and the pluralism it makes possible is many days late and many dollars short. It kicked in only when, starting in the mid-2000s, the political tide turned.

That shouldn’t change our view of the right outcome; some particular cake baker shouldn’t lose his religious liberty because the movement that’s defending him now makes hypocritical arguments. But it does mean that the violin I hear playing when conservatives complain about the supposedly totalizing and compromise-rejecting agenda of same-sex-marriage supporters is very very small indeed.

So, I’m not ignoring that fact and it needs to be said outloud to our social conservative sisters and brothers. In my case, my desire for civility is not because they deserve it, but because I don’t want to act like they have to people like myself.

Beyond the social right claiming victimhood, there are some issues that really do need to be addressed. Ross Douthat shared in a post yesterday where there might be some need for some clarification of what is okay and is an extention of someone’s faith and what is out of bounds.  Douthat’s lists includes the following:

  • “Should religious colleges whose rules or honor codes or covenants explicitly ask students and/or teachers to refrain from sex outside of heterosexual wedlock eventually lose their accreditation unless they change the policy to accommodate gay relationships? At the very least, should they lose their tax-exempt status, as Bob Jones University did over its ban on interracial dating?”

 

  • “In the longer term, is there a place for anyone associated with the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of sexuality in our society’s elite level institutions? Was Mozilla correct in its handling of the Brendan Eich case? Is California correct to forbid its judges from participating in the Boy Scouts? What are the implications for other institutions? To return to the academic example: Should Princeton find a way to strip Robert George of his tenure over his public stances and activities? Would a public university be justified in denying tenure to a Orthodox Jewish religious studies professor who had stated support for Orthodox Judaism’s views on marriage?”

This goes beyond the “baker-florist-photographer” issue.  At this point, we don’t know where that line is.  This means a lot of discussion to hammer out a new agreement.

This leads to a final thought: Why did the Legislature and Governor decide to craft legislation without gay and lesbian voices?  Did they really think such a law would stand when we all know it was passed because of the changes in opinion?  The federal RFRA was passed with bipartisan votes, but the reason it did is because it wasn’t aimed at a certain population.

There are legit issues concerning religious liberty.  They need to be discussed.  But such discussions need to have everyone at the table.  If gays and lesbians are excluded from this, well we will know that social conservatives still see us more as part of the problem and less of the solution.

Fear Factor

Like a lot of folk I’ve been interested in the goings on in Indiana. As you know, the state legislature passed and the Governor signed a law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Depending on who you talk to, the law is no different from the federal version of the law passed in 1993 or will allow religious owners of businesses to refuse service to gays. I’m frankly a bit confused as to what the bill will actually do. Proponents see it as a bulwark against a radically changing culture. Opponents see it as the second coming of Jim Crow.

As I was discussing this with a Methodist minister, he used a word that seemed to describe the whole situation: fear. It’s not a surprise that I tend to think the proponents of the law are fearful of a changing culture, one where homosexuality is becoming accepted and where their views, which once ruled the culture are no longer in vogue. But I also think my side of the debate is also operating on fear and distrust. Like a lot of oppressed groups, it is hard to have any concern for your former oppressors. As I’ve read responses, the attitude seems to be “let the bigots hang.”

What is interesting about all of this is how much this seems to have become a zero-sum game. Religious conservatives seem intent on gumming up the works of progress on same-sex marriage. Gays and liberals seem to not want to give religious conservatives any inch on religious practice. Both sides seem to think that to win, one side must lose.

David Brooks wrote a couple of weeks ago that we live in a more uncertain age and that has changed the tone of politics. Gone are win-win situations where compromise was possible, and coming in its place is the quest for power. Here’s what Brooks says:

National elections take place within a specific global moment. In the 1990s, there was a presumption that we were living in an age of rapid progress. Democracy was spreading. Tyranny was receding. Asia was booming. The European Union was building. Conflict in the Middle East was lessening. The world was cumulatively heading toward greater pluralism, individualism, prosperity and freedom.

Today it’s harder to have faith in rapid progress. Democracy is receding. Autocrats like Vladimir Putin of Russia are marching. The European project is decaying. Economies are struggling. Reactionary forces like the Islamic State and Iran are winning. The Middle East is deteriorating.

In this climate, the tone and focus of politics change. Politics is less about win-win situations and more about zero-sum situations. It is less about reforms that will improve all lives and more about unadorned struggles for power. Who will control the ground in places like Ukraine and Syria? Will Iran get the bomb? Will the White House or Congress grab power over treaties and immigration policy?

It’s hard not to see the fight that is taking place in Indiana and many other places as tribal battles. Religious conservatives feel under fire as liberals go after bakers and wedding photographers.

This clash of rights, between the right to marry and the right to religious freedom has always been difficult for me. I have fought for the right to be able to marry my husband Daniel and to have that recognized by the state, which is what happened when we had our legal marriage in 2013. But as a Christian, I also think people should be able to follow the dictates of their faith without interference from the state. So on some level, I’ve never been as bothered by bakers not wanting to bake my wedding cake. I just thought I’d go to another baker. The baker had the right to refuse service, and I had the right to not go to that baker and tell others not to go either.

I know that it bothers some of my compatriots that I might sympathize with folks who don’t think I should get married to my partner. But two things have guided me on this issue: my belief in Jesus dictum to love our enemies and my libertarian belief in liberty; that I can do what I want and you can do what you want so long as my rights aren’t curtailed.

Loving my enemy means that I have to look at that person as human being. I have to at least try to understand their viewpoint and give them the space to do what they see as right, so long as I am not profoundly impacted.

Of course, my enemy should be able to look at me as a human being, a child of God and give me the space to do what I think is right. (Translation: If religious conservatives want to be treated with respect, treat those you disagree with the same respect.)

As the various RFRA laws come up in various states, both religious conservatives and LGBT communities have to find a way to make room for each other. Not because they like each other. Not because they agree. But because for a democratic society to flourish, we have to find ways to accomodate the Other. Because we must heed the call to love and respect our enemies.

Before all of the focus was on Indiana, some media attention was given to what was happening in Utah. Dubbed the “Utah Compromise,” gay rights groups and the Mormon Church came together to support legislation the protected LGBT persons and also offered exemptions on religious grounds. It is far from a perfect law (but what compromise is perfect). But this seemed to be a place where the culture wars made a truce. A Wall Street Journal column explains how the Mormon Church, who not that long ago was bankrolling the effort to ban same-sex marriage in California, reached out the LGBT community:

The Mormon leadership reached out to the LGBT community, which was willing to reciprocate despite initial doubts. Although there were roadblocks early on, trust gradually developed. Neither side allowed the best to become the enemy of the good. Both came to see that protections for LGBT individuals and for religious conscience needed to be enacted simultaneously, as a package.

There is a lesson here for both sides. For religious conservatives, it is to at least acknowledge LGBT persons. You don’t have to approve of what we do. But you do have to at least see us as persons created by God and deserving of respect.

For the LGBT community and our allies, it means respecting the faith of religious conservatives. Within reason, no one should have to compromise their faith to live in the wider society. We need to honor their consciences even if we think that their beliefs are wrong.

In late 2010, libertarian writer Jonathan Rauch wrote about how the tide was turning in the favor of those of us who support gay rights. Because we were no longer on the defensive, our tactics must change. He wrote:

…we—gay Americans and our straight allies—have won the central argument for gay rights. As a result, we must change. Much of what the gay rights movement has taken for granted until now, and much that has worked for us in the past, is now wrong and will hurt us. The turn we now need to execute will be the hardest maneuver the movement has ever had to make, because it will require us to deliberately leave room for homophobia in American society. We need to allow some discrimination and relinquish the “zero tolerance” mind-set. Paradoxical but true: We need to give our opponents the time and space they need to let us win.

Not giving them that room to deal with the changed landscape has its consequences:

…gay rights opponents have been quick, in fact quicker than our side, to understand that the dynamic is changing. They can see the moral foundations of their aversion to homosexuality crumbling beneath them. Their only hope is to turn the tables by claiming they, not gays, are the real victims of oppression. Seeing that we have moved the “moral deviant” shoe onto their foot, they are going to move the “civil rights violator” shoe onto ours.

So they have developed a narrative that goes like this:

Gay rights advocates don’t just want legal equality. They want to brand anyone who disagrees with them, on marriage or anything else, as the equivalent of a modern-day segregationist. If you think homosexuality is immoral or changeable, they want to send you to be reeducated, take away your license to practice counseling, or kick your evangelical student group off campus. If you object to facilitating same-sex weddings or placing adoptees with same-sex couples, they’ll slap you with a fine for discrimination, take away your nonprofit status, or force you to choose between your job and your conscience. If you so much as disagree with them, they call you a bigot and a hater.

They won’t stop until they stigmatize your core religious teachings as bigoted, ban your religious practices as discriminatory, and drive millions of religious Americans right out of the public square. But their target is broader than just religion. Their policy is one of zero tolerance for those who disagree with them, and they will use the law to enforce it.

At bottom, they are not interested in sharing the country. They want to wipe us out.

Of course, this is exactly what religious conservatives are doing now. So maybe the best way to defeat this kind of thinking is by not trying to shut them up, but by acting differently. Maybe if we show that we will give them the respect they never gave us, maybe things could change for the better.

I don’t know what will happen in Indiana. I do know I can do something to hopefully lessen the fear and increase the peace.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

More: Journalist Issac Bailey has some questions about the Indiana law. Libertarian writer Jonathan Rauch explains the grand compromise on gay and religious rights in Utah. Finally, Stephen Miller of the Independent Gay Forum has this to say about the change in consensus in the LGBT communnity concerning religious liberties: “In the decades before 2013, exempting religious organizations from LGBT anti-discrimination statutes was a consensus position. Now, on the federal level, it’s anathema for many national LGBT rights advocates. ”

Is it?

Scenes from a Walmart

 

walmartAbout two years ago, the majority of the old Brookdale Mall were demolished. Brookdale was opened in 1962 and by the time it closed in 2010, it’s best days were behind it. In its place came a WalMart Supercenter.

I will admit WalMart isn’t my favorite place to go. But since there’s one close to me, I do go there every so often to find something that might be at a lower price than say at Target.

WalMart seems to be the villian du jour for people. Especially in the churches that I am a part of, it seems to be the norm for people to denounce the Arkansas-based retailer for a multitude of social sins. There was a time when I would agree with those pastors and other folks. But reality has a way of confusing things.

Whenever I walk through a WalMart, at least here in Minnesota, I am astounded at how diverse it is. I can see the Hispanic family looking for clothes for their kids, the Somali mother shopping for the week, the Hmong man getting paint and the African American man ringing up his purchases at one of the self-checkouts. I see people from different economic classes all coming to this one place to do shopping.

Maybe WalMart is more than it’s alleged sins.

WalMart has started a new ad campaign that is aimed at showing what they call “the Real WalMart.” The commercial, which is below has actual customers talking about the chain.

I am reminded of a blog post I wrote back in 2006 about WalMart:

I’m a centrist Republican, they are dyed-in-the-wool New Deal Democrats. I drive a late model Volkswagen made in Mexico, they are retired autoworkers who are proud United Auto Workers members. Where these contrasts get a bit strange is where we shop for discount goods: I tend tend to shop at Target; they shop at Walmart.

Walmart. This behemouth of a retailer is considered basically evil by many people. I’ve decided not to shop there because of some of their labor practices. My parents are quite aware of this, and yet shop there anyway. In fact, when the visited me here in Minnesota recently from my native Michigan, they got gas at the local Sam’s Club because they are members and it’s cheaper than regular gas.

I don’t understand why my parents shop at a place that seems antithetical to their beliefs, but they do and maybe I don’t have to understand.

What’s interesting to me is that many of the people who object to Walmart tend to be more middle-class. People like myself like to go to Target which tends to market itself as an upscale discounter. Walmart appeals to the working class folk like my parents who don’t care about design, they just want something at a good price.

All of this has led to me to wonder if a lot of the protest against Walmart has more to do with class than it has to do with things like health care or wages. I mean, Target probably pays the same wages that Walmart does in markets where they both compete. Walmart is even getting into the organics business,joining the trend among retailers to offer healthier and sustainable foodstuffs…

The fact is, a lot of my friends who dis Walmart are people like myself: we shop at more upscale places like Ikea and Trader Joe’s. These places are precieved as being more upper middle class; Walmart is more working class; and despite all the talk of caring for the less off, I would bet that a lot of those who profess Walmart as Satan and shop at these more upscale places wouldn’t want to be caught dead with those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Seven years later and I still have the same viewpoint.

Listen,  I don’t think WalMart is a saint that should be uncritically praised.  But I wonder what would happen if WalMart never existed.  How would some of the immigrants and low-income folks who shop at WalMart be able to find foodstuffs at a low price?

I still think those who hate on WalMart might want to go just once and observe the folk who shop there.  These folk at the hoi palloi they profess to care for.  Like I said, WalMart isn’t innocent, but I tend to think that the case against the retailer is far more complicated than some would like to believe.

The Curious Logic on Civil Unions

civil-unions-old-700

Here in Minnesota, a bill legalizing same-sex marriage was introduced earlier this year.  This comes on the heels of the defeat of an amendment to ban same sex marriage in November.  The bill has cleared both committees and will head to the House and Senate floors.

This week a Republican House member introduced a bill allowing civil unions instead of marriage.  The main sponsor is state Representative Tim Kelly, who happened to be one of four Republicans that opposed allowing the marriage amendment from going to the voters when it came to the House in the spring of 2011.

Kelly’s proposal was denounced by several of the states gay groups as well as the sponsors of the same-sex marriage bill.  The common complaint is that civil unions are nothing more than “separate but equal,” creating a second-class system for gay couples.

The reference of separate but equal is on purpose, to liken civil unions to the way African Americans were treated during the Jim Crow era in the south.

I’ve become more wary of trying to tie the movement for same sex marriage on equal terms with the Civil Rights movement.  It’s not that the drive for same-sex marriage isn’t a civil rights issue, it is, but it isn’t on the same footing of how African Americans were treated.

In listening to the stories my Dad and other relatives on his side of the family, I’ve learned how bad segregation was.  Most of my relatives come from central Louisiana and life in the early to mid 2oth century was not good for African Americans.  Separate but equal meant not having a place to eat or lay your head after a long drive.  It meant poor schools and crappy hospitals.  Segregation wasn’t just an inconvenience, it was something that altered lives.

Civil Unions might be a poor alternative to marriage, but it is not the same as living under Jim Crow.  Not by a longshot.

The other thing that bothers me about the “separate by equal” charge is how inconsistent it is.  A few weeks ago, we heard about civil unions become law in Colorado.  There was a lot of positive talk about how far the state had come from the days of the early 90s when the state passed a law that allowed for discrimination of gays and lesbians.  No one was condemning the state for opting for an alternative to marriage; instead we had pictures of same sex couples kissing each other.

This is all good, but if separate but equal is bad in Minnesota, why is it good in Colorado?  Segregation wasn’t bad in Mississippi, but okay in Georgia.  It was bad all over.  If you are going to use the rhetoric of a system that not only separated African Americans from whites, but also kept them down economically, then use it consistently.  If it’s wrong it’s wrong; it isn’t wrong in this situation but right or feasible in this one.

We can argue if full-out marriage or civil unions are the right tactic.  Maybe now is the time for equal marriage, maybe not.  But these are discussions about tactics and politics, not morality.  If it was about morality, there would be no talk of civil unions as an option anywhere at anytime.

Let’s talk about Kelly’s bill.  Let’s talk about whether this is right bill for the times.  But please don’t employ rhetoric to hide your political concerns.  It insults the horrors that African Americans endured and it doesn’t help the cause of gay marriage either.

The Party of Homer Simpson?

Walter Russell Mead on the future of Republican foreign policy:

It would be a serious mistake to underestimate the severity of the GOP’s foreign policy problem. If the struggle over the future of the GOP is seen by independents to be a battle between neocons and isolationists, the party will lose national support no matter which faction wins. Those are hard truths, but they are real: the country doesn’t want more of either George W. Bush or Ron Paul on foreign policy and until Republicans can develop a new and different vision of the way forward, they are unlikely to regain the high ground they once enjoyed on this issue.

The Downgrade of Detroit

Walter Russell Mead has a great essay on why Detroit is in such bad shape and it has very little to do with the auto industry. As many know Michigan Governor Rick Snyder finally called for an emergency financial manager to come in to stabilize the city’s finances. While many are seeing this state takeover as a power grab by a white, Republican governor who will steal democracy from a majority African American city, Mead places the blame where I think it duly belongs:

It’s true that the emergency manager law is taking power away from Detroiters and other Michigan urbanites, and we certainly hope that the state can return control to the people as soon as possible. But despite the fears of a hostile outside takeover, most of Detroit’s problems come from the corrupt political machine that has been looting the city for decades — and from the indifferent state and national prosecutors and politicians who failed to address the lawless state of city government and left the city’s poor to the mercies of heartless thugs.

Following in the footsteps of cheap foreign demagogues like Robert Mugabe, Kwame Kilpatrick and others of his ilk have played relentlessly on identity politics to earn support from poor, minority communities while using the power of their office to funnel money out of these same communities and into their own pockets. And while Kilpatrick—who was just convicted of 24 charges of corruption—may be the worst of the lot, he was far from alone.

What they have left behind is a city where taxes are among the highest in the nation, yet which can’t afford to pay its pensions, provide adequate police service, or keep the lights on.

 

There are a lot of factors that fed into the rapid decline of Detroit.  Yes, the auto industry had an effect, as did white flight.  But even more than these factors, it was the decades of corrupt leadership that did the city in.  What’s a shame is that most of the leaders that are to blame are African American.  We should have received better from these leaders and now the city and the state of Michigan are left having to clean up the wreckage.

The Battle of Lansing And Everything After

It’s been interesting to see what’s going on in my home state of Michigan.  As a kid, you learned how important the unions were in the state.  Most kids learned of the 1936-7 Sitdown Strike in Flint, Michgan which happens to be my hometown.  It was that event where the United Autoworkers made a name for themselves and where the Detroit automakers had to get used to labor as a partner.  For the next 70 years, the American auto industry and the UAW were partners in building the modern Michigan.

My parents came to Michigan and became autoworkers.  My mother worked at AC and Dad worked at Buick.  Of course they were union members as was every hourly worker in every plant in the United States.  As a kid, I never did understand why every hourly worker were union members whether they liked it or not.  My Mom would say in effect that they benefit from all the hard work the union did, so of course they had to be members and they had to have money taken out of their paychecks for union dues.

The passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan this week is not going to make a big difference in my home state.  Unions aren’t going away.  Michigan will still have to deal with job losses and all the problems that come with that loss.  Maybe new businesses will choose to plant themselves in the Wolverine State, but they might come for reasons other than right to work.

What did happen this week was more symbolic than anything else.  But symbols are important and they do carry weight.  To have right to work in what is considered the cradle of the American labor movement is big.  Conservatives feel like David taking down Goliath.  Liberals are crying foul over how the idea became law.  But as Walter Russel Mead noted yesterday, this is one more sign of the passing of the “blue social model.”

But the hopes and fear of right to work really don’t make a difference to the economic climate in Michigan.  Why?  Because most of those auto jobs as well others that were covered by unions are going away.  These jobs were low-skilled jobs which because of union prodding, paid pretty well.  But even jobs in manufacturing are become more skilled.  The days when a guy could graduate high school and then end up working at Chevrolet plant are fast dissappearing.

Michigan is not going to rebound unless they have a trained workforce, which means providing more opportunities for people to get college -level education or training in vocation schools.

Cities like Detroit, Flint and Pontiac are not going to saved because of right to work.  They are not going to be destroyed because of right to work, either (these towns were destroyed long before this week).

The Battle of Lansing is a sign that the old order doesn’t work anymore.  But we don’t know what needs to come next.  What we do know is that right to work doesn’t change much.

“What Are We Going To Do About This?”

My apologies for going so long without a post.  Part of it has to do with me being a bit more cynical about politics these days.  But something has made me want to write a post, so I’m back at least for a little bit.

As the Romney campaign seems to be behind in the polls, there has been a raft of articles about the state of conservatism and the Republican party.  Here’s David Brooks talking about the loss of traditional conservatism. There’s Rod Dreher talking about his losing faith in the GOP after Katrina. Here’s Conor Friedersdorf talking about how conservative media is not helping the GOP. Doug Mataconis talks about how to fix the Republican Party.  Economist Scott Sumner calls the GOP “the stupid party.” I could go on.

There was a time that I was invested in articles like this and would write blog posts talking about how the GOP needed to change and so on.  I still believe the GOP is in trouble and needs to change, and I don’t disagree with what these writers and others have to say about the party.  But I can’t say that I’m excited enough to run to my computer nodding in agreement.  Acutally, reading some of the articles leave me more annoyed than anything.  I’m annoyed because I know these as much as these cris de coeur make sense, I know that they won’t really lead to any real change.  There were a number of these articles four years ago after McCain lost the election and nothing much came from them.

In an email I wrote to Rod Dreher, I explained what I think is missing in these denunciations:

Rod,

I’ve been reading your posts on how the GOP should change with some interest.  I’ve been involved at some level of Republican activism for about a decade now, mostly through Log Cabin Republicans and Republicans for Environmental Protection.  Politically, I am probably a mix of the old Rockefeller Republican with a healthy dose of libertarianism mixed in.  While I found your articles engaging, I also came away frustrated.  I believe its important to read some of the great conservative philosophers but I am left feeling that reading Kirk and ignoring Fox is not enough. 

What has frustrated me the most about heterodox conservatives is how much they complain about what is wrong with conservatism and how much these folks disdain the give and take of everyday politics.  It’s as if people want something different, but they don’t want to get their hands dirty in trying.  Over the years, I’ve seen people who seem to have some passion in changing the GOP get fired up for a bit and then leave.  There’s no will to stay and change things for the better. 

The thing is, if people want a Republican Party that has a less hawkish foreign policy, is fiscally conservative and is interested in the common good and not just the self, then people have to get involved.  Yes. we need an intellectual foundation, but we also need other organizations that can support and put forth candidates that can carry these ideas and bring these ideas to fruition.

But all of this means getting involved and having to actually persuade people towards this vision of conservatism.  And that’s something we don’t want to do.

So keep up the writing on this topic.  But unless folks move from thinking to action, don’t expect the GOP or conservatism to change.

I’ve written about this before.  I’m not saying things are great in the GOP.  There are a lot of problems.  But I am reminded of something I said a few years ago to a colleague as she complained about the lack of a children’s ministry at the church I am serving at.  I basically told her in my usual subtle way, “What Are You Going to Do About It?”

“What Are You Going to Do About It?” Yes, I know you have aren’t crazy about the GOP. Good for you for sharing it.  But, so what?  Do you really think the Eric Ericksons of the conservative blogosphere give a rip what you think?  Do you really think just bitching about how wrong the party and the conservative movement is will make things change?

The thing that bothers me is not that these folks are complaining: it’s that they aren’t really offering ideas on what should happen next, let alone how to refashion American conservatism.

In 2010, I wrote about “Why Moderate Republicans Suck.”  What I wrote back then applies to those heterodox conservatives as well:

…the hard right is a movement. There are groups of like-minded individuals that come together and are able to force change in the party. A single person realizes they are part of a larger movement and that gives them the stregnth to march forward.

On the other side, moderates are at best a collection of individuals.  We tend to feel lost and alone and don’t feel a connection to anything greater than us. Because we are isolated, we don’t feel as empowered and tend to give up easily.

If the GOP is to moderate, then there needs to be an effective moderate movement within the GOP forcing change. Nothing will ever happen unless these collection of frustrated individuals come together and organize.

Hence, why we moderates suck.

If we want to see the GOP reform, there has to be Something more: think tanks, political PACs to help hetrodox candidates run for office, committed activists.

I don’t expect Brooks or Friedersdorf or any other the other writers to take up the busy work of a countermovement.  But I would like to hear them urge folks to be “mad as hell and not take it anymore.”  I want them to urge people to run for office or organize a bunch of people to go to the next state caucus.  I just want something that will move this beyond the complaining stage.

“What Are We Going To Do About This?”  It’s a question I fear we are afraid of answering.

The Morality of Health Care Reform

Do Republicans care about heath care reform?

That has been the questions a lot of bloggers have been asking in the weeks following the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.  The answer from many of those bloggers, including some that lean libertarian, has been a resounding no.

Is it true?

Yes and no.

As Ross Douthat notes today, there have been several proposals over the last few years from lawmakers and even the Bush Administration to try to reform health care.  Many of those proposals went nowhere for various reasons, but there has been some effort from the Right to deal with the problem of health care coverage in America.

But as Douthat also notes, there isn’t really a constituency in the GOP coalition calmoring for health care reform.  So, while lawmakers and policy wonks come up with market-based solutions to the providing health care coverage, there is not that much interest among the organizations and voters who tend to lean Republican.  There has been a lot of ruckus against the health care law, which is why there has been so much noise to repeal Obamacare and not so much to replace it.

The GOP is playing politics, while coming up short on policy.  Douthat’s final paragraph spells out how repealing the ACA would be a moral scandal to the party:

If the Republicans win the White House and the Senate and then somehow manage to repeal Obamacare without putting any significant reforms in its place, it will represent not only policy malpractice, but a moral scandal as well.

I think Douthat is correct here.  The problem of the lack of health care coverage is a real problem in America, one that I have myself encountered one-too-many times.  I have a lot of philosophical and ideological problems with Obamacare, but I also think that a woefully imperfect plan is better than no plan at all. Part of my support for some kind of health care reform comes from my Christian faith and Rod Dreher pretty much sums up my reasoning:

…as a practicing Christian, I find it hard to justify a society as well-off as ours tolerating a situation in which so many people lack affordable, decent health care. Back when Congress was debating Obamacare, I was prepared to believe that Obama’s proposal was unacceptable, but it bothered me a lot that the Republicans had nothing to offer in its place. It seemed to me that they were implicitly denying that affordable health care was a problem.

That said, I don’t think that the GOP will heed Douthat’s warning.  The reason being, there has been no price to pay for coming out against the law.  Yes, there has been tons of ink spilled on how conservatives want people to die, but I doubt that most movement conservatives care.  They see polls that say that folks are against the law, and the base is fired up against the act.  Why would you care about morality when it seems like there is a wave of people supporting you?

I think one of two things have to happen before we see GOP leadership embrace health care reform: a dramatic loss at the polls that de-legitimizes the tactics of pure politics, or a growing voice for reform from constituencies from within the party.

Repeal and Replace?

Tyler Cowen offered this observation about the Republicans in regards to health care:

The Republican Party, by the way, still doesn’t have a coherent alternative for health care reform, nor do they seem willing to embrace many of the better parts of ACA, such as (partially) deregulating dentistry or the Medicare Advisory Board.  Romney seems to want to replace the mandate with more expensive tax credits.  Furthermore, I believe that many Republican legislators would rather run against an unpopular Obamacare than to have to craft an actual, legislate-able alternative.

I think he’s is correct- to a point.  The GOP hasn’t really put forward an alternative to Obamacare which has led a lot of folks to make the same charge that Cowen makes.  But I think what is forgotten in all of this is that there really isn’t an incentive for Republicans to offer an alternative.

Back in 2009-10 former Utah Senator Robert Bennett worked with Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden on a healthcare alternative to the Obama plan.  Bennett’s reward for coming up with a plan?  He lost a shot at another term in Congress.

Most of the bloggers that I follow tend to think that policy is something that should be above politics.  I wish it were so, but it isn’t.  Policy is in many cases driven by politics and that’s what is going on here with the GOP and health reform.  It’s not that there aren’t credible ideas coming from conservatives; it’s that in this 50/50 political climate that we live in there is no incentive to really push for credible reform.  The GOP has won in the recent pass with no real plans to change health care.  There is no cost to them for NOT providing an alternative plan.  There IS a lot of reward for running against the plan and talking about repealing the Affordable Care Act.  It comes down to a cost-benefit analysis: it makes more sense to be against the President’s plan than it does to come up with another idea.

There is another reason that the GOP won’t come up with a replacement: the media and the Democrats.  When Republicans do come forward with ideas to reform some aspect of health care, it is usually viewed unfavorably by both groups (ie: Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan is viewed as wanting to kill little old ladies).

I believe the GOP won’t put forth a serious idea until one of two things happen: the GOP coalition falls apart and they are cast in a permanent minority as they were from the 30s until the 90s; or a crisis of some kind is so severe that the normal rules of politics are suspended and their hand is forced.

None of this means that the Republicans should be excused for not coming up with a real plan.  But unless the political cost-benefit analysis changes, you are not going to see any GOP legislator champion comprehensive reform.

PS:  The Spring edition of National Affairs does have one idea for replacing Obamacare that people might want to take a look at.