Monday, March 22, 2010

That's All, Folks.

The Washington Post is reporting that the health care bill has passed in the House by a vote of 219 in favor and 212 against. So, now that all the votes have been taken, and conservatives and Republicans have egg on their faces, I have a few thoughts:
  • I'm come away with mixed feelings. Like many, I have long thought that the health care system needed an overhaul. I've gone without insurance, not knowing how I could afford the medicines I take for depression and racking up bills while off of insurance. During one of those times I was without insurance, I came down with a severe infection that landed me in the hospital. If it wasn't for a government-sponsored plan (in this case, Medicaid) I would have faced a huge bill that I would still be paying for today, some fourteen years later. So, I know that there needs to be reform and I acknowledge that the government has to have a role. I am glad the current bill would ban insurers from using pre-existing conditions as a way to not insure people.That said, I don't like this current bill and what it will create in America. I'm not worried about a "government takeover," but I am concerned that about how this program will pay or not pay for itself. I tend to believe that this will impose a new entitlement on Americans that we can't afford. If you thought the addition of prescription drug benefits to Medicare was costly, just wait. Peter Suderman and Douglas Holz-Akin do a good job of trying to explain that the supposed savings of this plan are just that, supposed.
  • Does anyone really believe when Republicans say that they are going work to repeal this bill? I mean, who the hell are they kidding? Are you really going to tell older Americans that they will reinstate the so-called "donut hole" in currently in Medicare? That's not gonna happen, and those bloggers and politicians that are pushing for repeal are either lying or smoking something.
  • I've already said this before, but I think the GOP really blew it in their handling of health care. They expected a repeat of 1994. That didn't happen. Then they hoped that socially conservative Democrats would block the bill because of fears that it would fund abortions. They didn't expect the President to make deals with those Democrats. David Frum had a good piece about a year ago about the so-called "Goldwater myth" that allowed the Dems to spend like crazy and invest in programs that were wasteful. 1994 might not be repeating itself, but 1964 surely is.
  • I also don't see Congress going back to "fix" things later. We've spent a year debating this bill, does anyone think we want to go back to debate again? Megan McArdle is correct:
    Those like my colleague Andrew, who want Republicans to turn to the task of improving this monstrous bill--how is that going to happen? The "fixes" are all the unpopular stuff: the taxes, the spending cuts. You think that now that Democrats got to hand out the goodies, Republicans are going to be the nasty folks who volunteer to hand around the bill for a law they didn't even want to pass?

    Every time I hear comments on this sort of thing, I want to say, "And what other things have you been wondering during your visit to our planet?"

For better or for worse, and I think there is a little bit of both, we are stuck with this bill. I'm glad we might be able to give health care to millions of Americans that are without it, but I do have to wonder at what cost, and if we can afford that cost.

Did Gays Get Shafted in the Health Care Deal?

Two conservative gay groups, GOProud and Log Cabin Republicans are reporting that several provisions that would have helped gays and lesbians have been scrapped. They were in the House version of the bill, but dropped in the Senate version, the same one that passed the House last night. As far as I can tell, it won't none of the changes will be included in the so-called "fixes" the Senate will take up after the President signs the bill into law on Tuesday.

Stephen Miller of the Independent Gay Forum shares one of the missing GLBT friendly provisions:

The original House-passed health care bill contained a provision extending to domestic partners the same tax exclusion on the value of employer-provided health benefits that spouses of employees receive. That was a major step forward—the taxes paid by domestic partners but not spouses for "family coverage" are huge.

The Senate dropped the tax-equalizing provision entirely in its version of the health care bill, although at the same time it loosened the language restricting government funding of abortion. Score: One for the pro-choice/abortion lobby, zero for gays.

A news service article shares that the efforts of Tammy Baldwin, the only open lesbian serving in Congress, to include gay-friendly provisions came up short:

Baldwin had sought and secured four pro-gay provisions in the original House version of health care reform, including a prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in health care.

But neither the Senate bill nor President Obama’s proposal late last month included those provisions. Baldwin had held out hope, as late as Thursday morning, that at least two of the provisions might be added back under whatever legislative package the House and Senate would eventually vote on.

But by Thursday afternoon, when the text of that final package was posted on the Internet, that hope was quashed.

The version of health care reform legislation being considered now by Congress - with the final critical votes scheduled to begin this weekend - does include some relief for people with HIV on Medicare who must purchase expensive AIDS-related medications.

But it does not include the anti-discrimination provision or three others. Those others included the “Early Treatment for HIV Act,” which sought to allow states to provide Medicaid coverage to low-income HIV positive individuals; the Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, which sought to end the tax for gay employees whose partners/spouses are covered under their work health insurance coverage; and a provision to collect data toward ending disparities in health care for LGBT people.

However, the DC Agenda notes there are some bright spots for persons living with HIV/AIDS:

Although the LGBT and HIV/AIDS provisions unique to the House legislation weren’t included in the reconciliation package, the final bill has one provision aimed to help to HIV/AIDS community that was included in both the House and Senate versions of the legislation.

The language would enable AIDS Drug Assistance Program expeditures to count toward out-of-pocket expenses under Medicare Part D. In other words, people with HIV/AIDS on Medicare who receive help purchasing HIV drugs would have a lesser burden for other prescription drug costs.

Other provisions in the final bill less explicitly directed at people with HIV/AIDS would assist people living with the condition.

The final health bill eliminates discrimination based on health status or pre-existing conditions, such as HIV/AIDS. Additionally, the bill expands Medicaid eligibility for people with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level, allowing more low-income people with HIV to access Medicaid and its prescription drug coverage.

I'm not under any illusions that Republicans would have done better on these issues, but it does seem like yet again, the Democrats are taking advantage of the gay community and we are letting them do it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pity the Poor Gay Conservative

I really used to believe that if you present someone with the facts, they would be persuaded to see another person's viewpoint as valid.

Case in point: I used to believe that if I showed my liberal friends that one can be a gay Republican and be out and proud and also show that there are a number of conservatives out there that don't have an issue with gays, they would see gay and gay-friendly Republicans as their allies in the fight for gay eqaulity.

How silly of me to believe this.

What I've come to find out over time is that no matter how hard one tries, it makes no difference. Gay Republicans are still viewed as tragic figures or anomalies, no minds are changed.

I've been reminded of that after reading David Link's post today at Independent Gay Forum. Link is talking about the recent revelations of California State Senator Roy Ashburn, an anti-gay senator that turns out to be gay. He uses this post as a way to talk about the sad state of the GOP and how they oppress gays and lesbians. I don't have an argument with that, but then he makes this statement:
That is what his party not only demands of its followers, but seems to prefer – the willing (if not mandated) suspension of disbelief. No GOP candidates can ever be (openly) homosexual.

The confines of that small parenthetical contain the entire culture war over gay rights. Of course some GOP candidates and elected officials are homosexual. Of course GOP voters are, as well. But that observable and unavoidable fact can’t be honestly and straightforwardly talked about in the party. Log Cabin and now GOProud keep trying, while the party leaders and voters put their fingers in their ears and shout “Lalalalala!” as loud as they can.
While there is some truth to all of this, he seems to ignore some changes that have been made. He didn't read a Christian Science Monitor article that talks about the openly gay Republican in Virginia that is running against a Democrat, or the openly gay Republican running for Lt. Governor in Massachusetts. He forgets the growing list of conservatives who are in favor of same sex marriage. He discounts groups like Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud, that work and support gay and gay friendly candidates and have made a difference in changing the minds of many a Republican.

Link then goes on to heap praise on the Democrats, showing how open-minded they are. Yea. The thing is, the reason the Democrats are where they are is because of political action. Gay Democrats got active and worked to change hearts and minds. Gay Republicans are taking a page from that book and are working to change hearts and minds in the GOP as well. It's a long road, but I see more progress than Link does.

In the end, all that a gay or gay-friendly Republican can do is keep to keep plugging away, working for social change and ignoring the David Links of the world who will never see the changes taking place.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Erick in Wonderland

If you want to know why conservatism is viewed as a joke by some people, one only has to look at bloggers like Erick Erikson of Red State. In response to a recent column by David Frum, where Frum talked about how Congress and Washington as a whole are getting little done in the way of legislation, Erikson had this to say:
Maybe, just maybe there is a different reason Congress has done little since the seventies. Maybe, just maybe it could be because conservatives largely took over in the 80’s through Republican controlled White Houses or Congresses and conservatives tend to think we don’t need sweeping legislation to solve all the ills of the American people.

Isn’t this the quintessential vanity piece of liberal drivel? Those elites back in the 50s to the 70s could get great things done because they didn’t have to interact with the people. But once they were forced to interact with those C-SPAN cameras, they couldn’t solve all the problems the American people never knew they had.
To which David Frum responds:
If it were possible for two paragraphs to sum up everything that is wrong with the American conservative movement, these are them.

The total indifference to policy and governance – the glib equation of ideological activists with “the people” – the assumption that conservatives just needed to “take over” and then all problems would spontaneously disappear …. it’s all on display.

The suggestion that conservatives don’t need to legislate – or anyway don’t need to legislate anything much – is ignorant of history, ignorant of policy, ignorant of government.

To their critics, the deregulation of oil and gas in the 1970s was “sweeping.” Ditto the deregulation of air, trucking and rail. Ditto the Reagan tax cuts. Ditto welfare reform.

The problems ahead for conservatives will require even bigger action still.

Do you want to balance the budget? You can’t do it without curbing the growth of Medicare and Medicaid, and that will take major reforms in both programs.

How about a shift from unskilled to more skilled immigration? Not a small project.

Concerned to protect the environment while enhancing U.S. energy security? That too will require legislation that some would call sweeping.
My beef with Erickson and his ilk is that they have no interest in governing, in trying to solve national problems with conservative ideas. No, instead, they are interested in frontin' , in striking a pose and yelling about the evils of big government, all the while doing nothing to actually shrink government. As Jonathan Rauch has said, this is all about George Wallace-style cultural resentment against the "elites" and nothing more. It might win a few elections here and there, but when things go bad, people want their government to do something, not just spout angry rhetoric.

Do I want some kind of Euro-style big government? No. I want a smaller goverment, but I also want it to be efficient. If I want it to take on entitlement reform or really deal with the deficit, then I want it to be competent and just.

Which reminds me: two of those sweeping laws that the "elites" passed in the 1960s were the Voting and Civil Rights Acts. The Voting Rights Act allowed my relatives in the American South to vote without being harrassed or subject to poll taxes and the like. The Civil Rights Act allows me to purchase a home or get a job without being discriminated against. Are these laws that Erickson would rather not have Congress do, because they are "big government?"

Instead of making "limited government" no more than a battle cry, we should be engaged in seeking ways for government to be efficient and limited in its influence.

But such an approach would require thinking, something very few conservatives seem interested in doing these days.

Crossposted at Republicans United

Monday, March 01, 2010

Centrists, Principles and "Men of the Earth"

One thing that I've noticed in the blogsphere is how many people don't like "deal-makers."

Deal-makers are a vanishing breed. Some were centrists, but there could also be people who firmly on one ideological perspective or another. The late Ted Kennedy was a fierce liberal, but he was willing more often than not to work with conservatives to get the job done.

But in reading both in passing and more indepth, you get the sense that those politicians who make deals with the other side are people to be reviled. Ross Douthat, is a young conservative that has come up with some great policies that I believe could benefit the Republican Party in the long run. Nevertheless, he tends to look derisively at centrist Republicans seeing them as persons without principle. This is what he wrote in a piece last year after Arlen Specter's defection:
The larger species to which he belonged — Republicanus Rockefellus, the endangered Northeastern moderate — likewise has little to offer a party in distress. Indeed, if you listen carefully to high-profile Yankee moderates like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Lincoln Chafee, who fanned out across op-ed pages and TV shows last week to bemoan their marginalization, it seems as though they don’t even understand their own political situation, let alone the Republican Party’s.

The Northeastern moderates tend to style themselves as fiscal conservatives, spinning a narrative in which they’re the victims of a doctrinaire social conservatism and its litmus tests. But many of them are just instinctive liberals who happen to have ancestral ties to the Grand Old Party. Chafee fit that bill; so did former Senator James Jeffords of Vermont, who amassed a distinctly left-wing record after he bolted the Republican Party in 2001 to become an “independent.” For that matter, so does the retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter, a New England native and Republican appointee who often gets described as a moderate, but boasts the jurisprudence of a reliable liberal.

Others, like Collins and Snowe and (until last week) Specter, are simply horse-traders and deal-cutters, whose willingness to cross party lines last month to vote for $800 billion dollars in deficit spending tells you most of what you need to know about their supposed fiscal conservatism. They’re politically savvy but intellectually vacuous. Their highest allegiance isn’t to limited government. It’s to meeting the party in power halfway, while making sure that the dollars keep flowing to their constituents back home.

As I wrote back then, I agreed that the stimulus bill was a rather bad piece of legislation. That said the three GOP Senators who backed it, tried to make deals to make it less bad. Douthat assails the three for not being true fiscal conservatives, but seemingly ignores the other more "loyal partisans" who basically did the same thing for years when the GOP was in power.

Douthat along with writers like Daniel Larison, see these deal-making centrists as lacking any principle instead of self interest. Now, in the case of Arlen Specter, there is some truth to that. Specter is nothing more than a rank opportunist that tries to save his own skin when the going gets rough. But I think it is a little too harsh to say that all centrists or those who want to make deals are some how defective and lack any sense of principle.

Politicians aren't defective, but the public is.

The problem here is that we the people, liberals and conservatives, tend to think we are the only ones around. We live around people who are like us politically and ideologically and tend to look at the other side as either delusional or evil. So when we elect our representatives to the statehouse or to Washington, we expect them to be partisans and not politicians.

While I respect bloggers like Douthat and conservative bloggers, they are part of the problem. They forget that in a democracy, politicians have to deal with competing interests. What politicians are called to do is to mediate between those cacaphony of interests and desires and produce legislation that benefits the most people. It means that politicos have to learn to tolerate and compromise. This something a blogger sitting in their apartment don't ever have to face.

Would I love some conservative political ideas to become policy? Sure. But I also know that I live with liberals who are as much Americans as I am. Their voices have to be heard and I leave it up to my elected officials to work something out that I can live with and so can my liberal husband.

It's interesting elections are starting to be seen as mandates handed down from God. Both Democrats and Republicans see political victories as some kind of divine sign that they can do anything they want-after all, didn't that election justify their viewpoint? It's symptom of a public that is walled off from other ideas and ideologies.

In 2008, Bill Bishop wrote the book, The Big Sort. In it, he explained that over the last 30 years, American society has sorted itself along ideological lines. We now live in like minded communities and that has had an impact on Washington. One those impacts is how it has taken out the dealmakers who made legislation possible. He uses the example of the Nuer Tribe in Africa to talk about the role American politicians used to play:

Nuer tribes were constantly crossing paths, and so they could easily fall into conflict over lost animals and scarce forage. Professor Evans-Prichard wrote in the 1940s about the intricate ways the Nuer encouraged cooperation and resolved conflicts.

The Nuer put special faith in a group of arbiters known as "men of the earth." Men of the earth had no formal powers. They couldn't arrest people or make arbitrary decisions. But the Nuer granted these people a kind of local authority to settle disputes. If a fight broke out, a man of the earth could stop the conflict by running between the combatants and hoeing a line in the dirt. If a tribal member was killed in a fight, a man of the earth arbitrated compensation to be paid by the winner to the dead man's family.

The "man of the earth" was a deal-maker, a negotiator, a compromiser. He was the person given the job of representing all the conflicting interests of the tribes.

A man of the earth was a politician.

He then goes on to explain what has happened in America since the 1970s:

Over the last 30 years, most communities have grown either more Democratic or more Republican. Through an incremental process of migration and self-selection, people have clustered in like-minded neighborhoods, clubs, and churches.

Migration had consequences. Legislative districts grew more lopsided, and they elected more-partisan representatives. Politicians no longer mediated competing interests in their districts. They represented increasingly one-sided constituencies that grew more extreme in their ideological isolation.

The meaning of politics changed. Voters didn't want men of the earth. They wanted partisans.

And he's right. We the people don't want deal makers, "men of the earth." We want partisans. This is probably the main reasons that moderates of both parties have been squeezed out of politics. As the deal makers leave the scene and are replaced by partisans, the political process grinds to a halt.

Bishop notes that the Nuer tended to see that they had the ground between them in common:

The earth was what the Nuer had in common. If locusts swarmed or a drought persisted, every tribe suffered. When the grass was thick, they all prospered. They were called "men of the earth," anthropologist Max Gluckman wrote, because "the earth, undivided as the basis of society, (symbolized) not individual prosperity, fertility, and good fortune, but the general prosperity, fertility, and good fortune on which individual life depends."

What do Americans have in common today? Not much. Oh, we share a lot with our neighbors, with the people at our church. Too much, in fact. But we don't know fellow citizens just a few counties over. It takes a "social experiment" in some parts to imagine how it would be to live as a member of a different political party.

A politicians do have an ideological background that should be around to inform their decision-making. But at the end of the day, Democrats and Republicans have to do what is good for all of the nation, not just those who agree with them.

At some point, we have to start seeing the deal makers not as traitors, but as trying to be do what they do best: trying to take our various voices and make them one.