Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
Healthcare Reform and Personal Freedom
Writing in the pages of the Wall Street Journal (8/4/09) Laura Landro raises the question of how to make ever more complex health decisions when faced with multiple options, each with no clear advantage. According to Ms. Landro, this decision-making process involves coaching, consultation with a physician, and the education of the patients.
As I see it, this recommendation makes eminent sense. Weighty healthcare matters should involve research, conversation, and an assessment of risks and benefits. But as I was reading this article, it occurred to me that with Obamacare, or the bill being considered in the Congress, the personal deliberation and consultation would not be possible.
Although the president is quite right in his desire to eliminate waste in healthcare expenditures, he seemingly overlooks the personal decision-making that undergirds the existing system and creates a remarkable level of assurance for the American people.
With Obamacare a council or a bureaucrat relying on a computer program will determine the appropriate level of care. If an eighty-year-old, for example, needs a hip replacement, the bureaucrat is likely to argue that a tin joint as opposed to a titanium joint is appropriate since the person only has a few years left based on actuarial expectations. Or if an eighty-year-old has cancer an advisory council might suggest that aggressive and expensive radiation treatment doesn't make sense since that person doesn't have long to live whatever the treatment.
This is ostensibly a rationing and triage system that determines who is treated and what kind of treatment is appropriate. The word "appropriate" is what is critical. Rather than the best care, the word appropriate is widely employed by members of the administration.
It is instructive that in countries that have a single-payer system in which the government makes healthcare decisions, the death rate for those suffering from cancer and heart disease is higher than the United States. This isn't coincidental. If one is obliged to wait for months to see a physician or is denied care because it is deemed too expensive for someone near the end of life, death through inattention is the likely result.
It is equally instructive that Canadian residents with resources don't wait in the public queue for care, they travel to the United States and visit physicians here. Of course that may not be possible if the Obama bill becomes law. But it is odd that this administration is intent on altering the healthcare system most people in the world regard as foremost. Yes, it is expensive, but it is understandable that an affluent society would spend large sums on healthcare.
The arcane assessment of healthcare finances misses a point that Ms. Landro's article makes. Flushing out unnecessary expenditures comes at the price of restricting personal freedom to choose. That is the argument the Obama team seems to ignore and, frankly, it is the argument Republicans seem incapable of making.
For a nation that has put a value on liberty, the idea that the government will determine the nature of healthcare is unacceptable on any level, if only the public appreciated the fact this is the intent of the legislation. Perhaps in this recess period before Congress is back in session, this bill will be fully parsed. Without major changes, healthcare will change and despite President Obama's assurance that this is the change the public has been waiting for, it will be the change most Americans abhor.
The Crisis Syndrome
It is customary for politicians to describe an issue that is important to them as a problem. After all, problems require solutions and solutions are what get them elected. Rarely, if ever, will a politician describe a "condition" since conditions occur in the natural order and aren't subject to positive intervention.
The Obama administration, however, has a new tactic, one that has raised the level of concern and the need for action. Every issue is described as a crisis. For example, we don't have an unemployment problem, we have an unemployment crisis. We don't have a healthcare problem, it is now elevated to a crisis.
Moreover, if it is regarded as a crisis, the government must act immediately. No time to dally. It is instructive that President Obama has noted that there is a deadline for healthcare reform. If the Congress does not comply, God only knows what will happen.
Chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has said a crisis is too important to be wasted. Surely it is a way to motivate the Congress to act. Presumably that is why bills have been pushed through the Byzantine process of law making. Yet it is obvious that no one including President Obama read or had any idea of what was in the $787 billion, 1200-page stimulus package. Here was a bill designed to deal with the "unemployment crisis." When it was initiated unemployment was at 7.6 percent; after adoption unemployment escalated to 9.5 percent. But that crisis -- even more severe now -- has been pushed aside for the healthcare crisis.
President Obama has said if we do not act now 47 million Americans without health insurance will be left floundering. Unfortunately, the president has neglected to point out that no American can be denied medical treatment in a public hospital. He has also ignored the fact that a large majority in the uninsured category earn more than $75 thousand a year and could afford insurance but choose not to register. And he might have pointed out that a sizable number in this population are uninsured for a year or less. But if he were to say these things it would be hard to sustain the argument that there is a crisis.
While there may be tactical value in claiming a crisis instead of a problem, there is a dangerous side to this claim. At this point President Obama is losing his credibility. This tactic is like crying "wolf" every time an issue emerges. Even if there were a crisis, why would you believe this president?
Moreover, this tactic often confuses relatively manageable events with those that are intractable. As I see it, for example, healthcare insurance can be managed for a fraction of what the president has in mind if one were to realize there are about eight million people without insurance who do not have the means to pay for it and require government assistance. By contrast, an Iran with nuclear weapons intent on using them to wipe Israel off them map may be a crisis-in-waiting if action isn't taken to thwart this eventuality. Yet in the rhetoric used by the president there isn't any distinction. Both are crises of seemingly similar magnitude.
In discussing North Korea's missile tests, the president employed strong language to chastise Kim Jung Il. He noted at the time that words must have meaning. Rather than use words as an empty gesture, the president insisted that his language be taken seriously. Yet it is the president himself who undermines this assertion with grandiose claims that are unrealistic or heightening the importance of issues with fear-laden terminology.
Surely he must realize that not every matter that crosses his desk is a crisis. But with a mindset of pushing legislation through ala FDR in the first one hundred days of the New Deal, every matter is essential, every bill must be dealt with immediately and every issue is a national crisis.
If, God forbid, a national crisis does emerge that requires mobilizing public support, a significant part of the population will say "not again, this is simply another rhetorical exercise." If President Obama needs them, his rhetoric may push them away.
August 4 was not only the birthday of President Obama, it was also the opening date of the Fatah general conference in Bethlehem. Despite concern, the Israeli government surrendered to U.S. pressure and allowed an influx of Palestinian hardliners and notorious terrorists to attend this meeting. According to reports, national security adviser James Jones offered a list of Palestinians the Obama administration wanted present at the Fatah event in order "to save the conference and Abu Mazen." One of those present was Khaled Abu Esba, who blew up an Israeli bus on the Tel Aviv highway in 1978 killing 35 Israelis.
What was saved at this conference is a matter of some conjecture. Although the Obama administration hoped that this Fatah conference would result in the emergence of moderate positions toward Israel, the obverse was the case. Not only was Israel routinely and ritualistically condemned, but there wasn't the slightest gesture in the direction of conciliation.
Fatah leaders argued they would continue their armed struggle against the state of Israel engaging in whatever force is necessary to undermine the Jewish state. They made it clear that there wouldn't be any modification in their charter, thereby avoiding any possibility of recognizing Israel as a legitimate nation. To gild the lily, a number of spokesmen contended that Israel was responsible for the death of Yassir Arafat, a claim made without reference to any evidence.
While President Obama has adhered to what he would describe as an "even-handed policy," it is clear that his effort to employ Fatah as the moderate counter-weight to radical Hamas will not work. The difference between Hamas and Fatah is that the former want to kill Jews now and the latter want to kill Jews after concessions have been vouchsafed.
The conference comments should disabuse Obama administration officials of the dubious notion that settlements in the West Bank stand in the way of some accord between Israelis and Palestinians. There is little doubt the settlements argument is a ruse designed to make the Israeli government pliable. Moreover, the issue creates a separation between the Obama and Netanyahu governments that can be exploited by the Palestinian leadership. An illusion has been created over settlements that the Israelis are intractable and unwilling to come to the negotiating table in good faith.
Yet the conference in Bethlehem reveals an undisguised truth: It is Fatah that is unwilling to modify its hateful stance towards Israel. In an effort to compete with the sanguinic aims of Hamas, Fatah engages in rhetoric that is remarkably similar. Notwithstanding the words that are used, the Obama administration continues to search for a silver lining. This commitment to Abu Mazen, a man without any real influence or standing in the West Bank, would be comical were it not so tragic.
In the incandescent precincts in Washington, Israel is the problem and all evidence to the contrary, including the language and intent of Fatah, is either ignored or rationalized. According to Obama spokesmen, there is a policy in place for a two-state solution and Israel's withdrawal from territory in much of the West Bank is its critical feature. That condition remains unaltered whatever the circumstances on the ground.
Peace, the much-abused word in these discussions, can be achieved overnight if Fatah would stop armed resistance against Israel and recognize Israel as a legitimate nation. If Obama wants Israeli flexibility, this is the way to achieve it. All other negotiating points merely bypass the central issue. Whether Fatah can bring itself to adopt this argument seems unlikely since the coherence in the organization depends on armed aggression.
President Netanyahu has tried to persuade President Obama of this Middle East reality, but obsessions and policy obduracy stand in the way. As a consequence, all of the talk in this multilateral negotiation, including Russia, the EU and the UN, can come to nothing productive. Should President Obama squeeze Israel, which he seems inclined to do, he only increases the likelihood of future bloodshed that withdrawals from Gaza and southern Lebanon presaged.
If there is pressure to be applied, there is one side where the application makes sense. I doubt there will be a policy shift in the administration, but it would make sense for the president and his aides to read a transcript of the conference in Bethlehem. After doing so, I wonder if erstwhile General Jones can describe who he is saving and for what end.
At long last someone had the temerity, or is it courage, to tell the truth about Walter Cronkite. Writing for his blog, the redoubtable Cliff Kincaid, notes that the "voice of God" -- as Mara Liasson referred to him -- embodied every liberal and radical idea on the political waterfront and to some degree, had had a baneful effect on the news and public opinion.
Mr. Cronkite was the quintessential transnational progressive who believed and spoke on behalf of world government, UN authority and all the treaties that would ultimately reduce American national sovereignty. He received the Global Governance award, addressed the leftist People for The American Way, and challenged President Reagan's unilateral military actions. Later he attacked the Bush administration for its arrogance.
But more than any other matter was his egregious role in the Vietnam defeat. Some misguided media types have described this role as the highlight of his career. Yet Cronkite's public verdict that the 1968 Tet offensive was a major defeat for the United States forces is widely regarded as a turning point in the war leading directly to the incremental withdrawal of troops and an ignominious defeat. Cronkite also claimed the Vietcong had held the American embassy for six hours and that its offensive "went on for two months." The facts show this was wrong. Moreover, as historians have continually pointed out, the Tet offensive was a defeat for North Vietnam. But why let facts stand in the way of a good story? Cronkite could not be dissuaded from his firm ideological commitment.
This commitment was on display in other matters as well. In 1979 Cronkite gave an interview to the Soviet magazine, Literary Gazette, and said, "the Soviet threat" was "most likely . . . a myth." He went on to note that "I will never believe in a Soviet threat." This statement was made in the same year Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan.
I believe it is inappropriate to speak ill of those who have passed this mortal coil, but Cronkite, regarded as a national hero, was wrong about the Soviet Union and misguided on most public policy questions. Sure, his voice is the one Americans heard on the moon landing. He recounted historic moments and his daily pronouncements reached millions, but the one thing he was not is a dispassionate, fair-minded journalist. Cronkite had an agenda. Was the country lucky to have him in that anchor seat, as Chris Wallace contended? I doubt it. Most Americans probably didn't recognize the propagandistic dimensions of his editorials confusing a mellifluous voice with biased prescriptions.
At a time when sophistry is in vogue, it is useful to recall that an anchor usually reads the news that someone writes for him. It is useful to recall that the New York Times is the paper of record for those on television stations. If a story leads in the Times, it will undoubtedly lead on the 7 o'clock news. Therefore, it isn't surprising Cronkite has espoused the views he did. The only surprise, as I see it, is that the public never seemed to catch on that he was a pitchman for an ideological position. May he rest in peace and may we revisit the news reports he once gave us. *
"You know you're getting old when you stoop to tie your shoelaces and wonder what else you could do while you're down there." --George Burns