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Obama’s great week

Obama-Charleston-Shoo_Semp-1024x742

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

The world—or least Europe and MENA—looks like it’s going to hell in a hand basket these past few days, with the terrorist massacres in Sousse, Kuwait, Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, Kobane, and other places we’ve heard less about. And then there’s the Greek-Eurozone crisis, which looks to be headed toward a debacle of proportions I can’t begin to imagine—and for which both parties bear their share of responsibility (though today at least, I think the Greek government and its not-ready-for-prime-time prime minister are more at fault). But the news from the US has been good, if not excellent, with the SCOTUS rulings on King v. Burwell—which has all but confirmed the permanence of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare haters out there: it’s game over)—and Obergefell v. Hodges, on gay marriage, and the post-Charleston change in GOP attitudes toward the Confederate flag. And then there was President Obama’s eulogy in Charleston yesterday in honor of Clementa Pinckney. Obama has delivered some great speeches over the years but this one may well be his greatest (if one has not seen it—and it should be seen and heard in full—watch here). WaPo’s Chris Cillizza is saying that “this was the best week of Obama’s presidency.” And Slate’s John Dickerson calls it “the remarkable week that roused the president from dejection and inspired a stirring call to action.” I’m feeling better about Obama than I have in a long time, and, judging from what I’ve been seeing by friends and others on social media, many other lefties feel likewise.

As for the reactions from the right, bof. Certains font la gueule, d’autres pètent les plombs. C’est normal. I like this commentary by TYT Network host Cenk Uygur, on GOP candidates and their hypocritical rants against the Supreme Court. Drôle.

UPDATE: Robert Reich has this commentary on his Facebook page

Overall, it’s been a good week for America — and for President Obama. Confederate flags were taken down; the Supreme Court saved the Affordable Care Act and equal marriage rights; Obama’s eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney was one of the most moving and powerful addresses he’s given (including his singing of “Amazing Grace” at the end, which I’ve posted below).

I haven’t agreed with Barack Obama on everything he’s done. I don’t like his record on civil liberties. He’s been far too close to Wall Street, and demanded too little from the banks in return for bailing them out and did too little for homeowners. I profoundly disagree with the Trans Pacific Partnership.

But Barack Obama has had some extraordinary successes – not just the Affordable Care Act (which is working even better than I expected it would) but also in using every available means to achieve racial justice, immigration reform, to protect voting rights, fight climate change, and beat back Republican threats. Rather than stooping to the nasty belligerence of the right, he has elevated our national deliberations. When I think back on the avid determination of Republicans to wreck his presidency from the very beginning – as well as the economic free-fall he inherited from George W. Bush and the chaos Bush’s foreign policy had generated in the Middle East – I’m even more impressed by his steadiness and steadfastness.

He still has a year and a half to go, but my sense is he’ll go down in history books as one of America’s greatest presidents. What do you think?

I think Monsieur Reich is entirely correct, needless to say.

2nd UPDATE: On the Republicans and their reaction to events of the past week, Politico has a piece by reporters Glenn Thrush and Kyle Cheney on “The Grand Old Party’s future shock.” The lede: “Friday’s Supreme Court ruling shows Republicans fumbling for answers in an America changing faster than they are.”

3rd UPDATE: James Fallows has a commentary in The Atlantic on “Obama’s grace,” in which he says that “The president deliver[ed] his single most accomplished rhetorical performance, and it’s one you should watch rather than read.” And Politico senior White House reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere has a piece on how “After [a] momentous week, Obama’s presidency is reborn.” The lede: “He sang. He wept. He cheered. And many say they finally saw the man who inspired them in ‘08.”

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Dylann Roof (Photo via lastrhodesian.com)

Dylann Roof (Photo via lastrhodesian.com)

[update below]

Did you, dear reader, see Jon Stewart’s monologue—sans jokes—last Thursday on the Charleston massacre? If you didn’t, watch and/or read it here now. It’s brilliant, possibly Stewart’s best ever.

Along with many others, Stewart emphasizes that it was a terrorist attack. Obviously. Now I happen to agree with the sensible proposal of this conservative pundit—a well-known commentator, and with specialized knowledge, on matters having to do with Islam and Muslims—who argues that the “terrorism” label has become so imprecise that it best be dropped altogether. In other words, let’s eliminate the term from our vocabulary. Right, but still. If Dylann Roof had been named Mohammed Sath and shot up a synagogue—or a Burger King, or anything—the entire media and every last politician of both the major parties would be calling him a terrorist. There would be no disagreement on this whatever. So all those who are loudly insisting that the Charleston massacre was an act of terrorism are correct to do so.

On the subject, the NYT’s Charles Blow had a column yesterday on Dylann Roof as “a millennial race terrorist.” And in the current NYT Magazine is a reflection by writer Brit Bennett, who, looking back in history, observes that “White terrorism is as old as America.” Her conclusion

In America’s contemporary imagination, terrorism is foreign and brown. Those terrorists do not have complex motivations. We do not urge one another to reserve judgment until we search through their Facebook histories or interview their friends. We do not trot out psychologists to analyze their mental states. We know immediately why they kill. But a white terrorist is an enigma. A white terrorist has no history, no context, no origin. He is forever unknowable. His very existence is unspeakable. We see him, but we pretend we cannot. He is a ghost floating in the night.

Very good commentary, though Bennett is not totally correct on the “not trot[ting] out [of] psychologists to analyze [the] mental states [of foreign or brown terrorists],” at least not in France. In reading about Dylann Roof I am reminded of Mohamed Merah, the 23-year-old Franco-Algerian terrorist who murdered seven people—Jewish children and off-duty soldiers—in Toulouse and Montauban in March 2012. In committing his acts Merah was driven by a jihadist ideology but was clearly a psychopath in addition. As the Paris-based Tunisian psychoanalyst Fethi Benslama thus wrote at the time

La courte trajectoire de sa vie montre qu’il s‘agit de ce qu’on appelait auparavant «un psychopathe», c’est-à-dire une personne qui a de puissantes pulsions anti-sociales, dont il va recycler le penchant criminel dans des idéologies salvatrices folles, idéologies qui servent de niche à ce genre de personnes, afin de les capter et de les utiliser.

For my posts on Mohamed Merah, go here, here, and here.

Dylann Roof is, as was Mohamed Merah, clearly a psychopath but is also, rather clearly, driven by an ideology and to the same degree as was Merah. On Roof’s ideology of white supremacy, the “Reflections on the murders in Charleston, South Carolina” by U Mass-Amherst emeritus professor Julius Lester, posted on his Facebook page, are worth the read.

Among other things, Lester asks Republican politicians and others seeking to change the subject to stop talking about this being a “time for healing.” No, this is no time for “healing” but rather for a national reckoning—and particularly on the American right—of America’s history and present reality of racism, and of the consequences of this. And one of the consequences of America’s persistent racial question is the strength of the increasingly far right-wing Republican party, which, as Paul Krugman reminded us in his column yesterday, is largely due to the defection of white Southerners from the Democrats, with the civil rights movement and enfranchisement of the South’s black population.

À propos, we have learned over the past few days (e.g. here and here) that Dylann Roof drew particular inspiration from the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC; founded in the 1950s as the White Citizens’ Council). Now the CofCC may be considered a fringe hate group in Washington and by the national media but it is not seen as such by the Republican party in the South, as I learned in my brief encounter with the CofCC delegation at the French Front National’s annual festival some seventeen years ago (see here; scroll down after the photo of Jean-Marie Le Pen shaking hands with Ronald Reagan). It is a secret de Polichinelle that the GOP in the deep South maintains an informal relationship with the white supremacist, Jim Crow-nostalgic group with which Dylann Roof identified.

The CofCC’s presence at the FN’s festival was noteworthy, reminding one that far right groups—ultra-nationalist by definition—do have relationships with kindred groups in other countries. On this, Morris Dees and J. Richard Cohen, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, have an op-ed in the NYT on “White supremacists without borders.”

On white supremacists, a film opened here in France two weeks ago, Un Français (English title: French Blood), whose subject is neo-Nazi skinheads. It’s the first-ever cinematic treatment of this species of humanity in France, indeed of the extreme right (see Raphaëlle Bacqué’s full-page article on the film in the June 10th Le Monde). I hesitated on seeing it—the trailer put me off—but, with the Charleston massacre, decided that it was sufficiently topical, so checked it out this past weekend at a local theater. The opening scene was akin to that of the 2011 German film ‘Combat Girls’, which was about neo-Nazi skinheads in that country (go here and scroll down): graphically depicting gratuitous violence inflicted by these dregs of society on dark-skinned or leftist-looking people minding their own business. The violence of the opening scenes in the two films was such that I couldn’t even watch, wondering why I had even come to see the film in the first place—like, who needs this?—but then both settled into a more serious story. I’ll let Screen Daily’s fine critic Lisa Nesselson, whose review was just posted (and is the only one I’ve seen in English), describe the pic

It’s hard staying true to your youthful convictions when they would have fit well in Nazi Germany but it’s the mid-1980s-and-after in France where Marco Lopez (the excellent Alban Lenoir) is a ferocious young skinhead from the lower class Paris suburbs who carries a meat cleaver and is happy to wield it if anybody objects to him and his buddies stomping on the ‘faggots’, ‘Arab scum’ and ‘filthy Negroes’ they see as polluting the pure and proud meant-to-be-white landscape of their beloved France.

As a rare attempt to address an enduring strain of xenophobic thought in French society (and that, as hate-crime headlines sadly show, is by no means limited to France) this compact, unsettling tale deserves to be seen beyond local borders. Drawing respectable admissions on 11 screens in Paris proper and 50 additional screens throughout France since its June 10th release, French Blood managed to land the second spot in terms of ticket buyers per print for new releases on opening day — with Jurassic World in first place.

In his second feature, writer-director Diastème (who, as a film critic, director, screenwriter and playwright uses only one name) follows Marco — a fictional character drawn from the director’s own birthplace and youthful environment — from 1985-2013. It’s a convincing portrait of blind ignorance and lethal anger as Marco gradually evolves toward a more reasonable approach to living among others in a multi-cultural society. The melancholy truth that gives the film its power is that initially reprehensible Marco manages to become an infinitely better person but, in real life, the Extreme Right thinking he embraced in his twenties hasn’t dimmed and may have grown stronger for many of its French followers.

The trio of male friends at the heart of Mathieu Kassovitz’s Hate (La Haine) circa 1995 were an Arab, a Jew and a black guy. They wouldn’t have wanted to cross paths with Marco and his three brawling buddies as portrayed in the opening reels here. Fights are convincing and miles removed from Fast and Furious-style silliness in that punches hurt, knives slice and bullets cripple. Diastème captures a restless, angry, violent vibe.

The film’s most shocking episode — a black street sweeper being forced to drink drain cleaner — was inspired by an authentic crime against a man from the formerly French island of Mauritius. Although the film is a work of fiction, it follows a timeline inspired by real events particularly within Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extreme right wing party the Front National. Diastème knows his subject — he hails from the same suburb where the first skinheads in France were born and he sang in a choir whose benefactors included fundamentalist Catholics. He first reported on the Front National as a young journalist in 1990.

Although he has certainly been hit on the head more than once, as Marco ages, he starts to question his own actions. In a series of ellipses marked by changing facial hair and authentic TV news snippets, Marco grows into leading an increasingly honest life of meagre satisfactions. Marco doesn’t have one shining moment of realisation that his behaviour is horrific but, rather, gradually comes to feel that it is neither right nor good to beat up — let alone kill — people because they’re “different.” When a panic attack leads him to a pharmacy where the pharmacist (Patrick Pineau) goes beyond the call of duty, Marco starts to think for himself in tiny but lasting increments.

Come 1998, Marco is living in Guadeloupe. He used to beat up dark-skinned people for sport but now has no problem serving them alcohol in the beachfront bar where he works. But his wife, who can pass for sleekly refined when she’s sober, scoffs at the about-to-triumph soccer World Cup team whose talented players are mostly of African and North African heritage and therefore unworthy to represent France whatever their athletic excellence.

Following another ellipse it seems unlikely Marco will be able to pass on what he has learned about acceptance and tolerance to his daughter since he isn’t permitted to see her. Ironically, that’s because he no longer shares his ex-wife’s hard core racist views. Adding to his loneliness, Marco’s former skinhead buddies don’t fare very well with passing time.

The film garnered attention before its release with media reports that certain exhibitors, spooked that hooligans might trash their theatres, cancelled sneak previews. If there’s any truth to this, now that the film is out it’s hard to fathom what today’s neo-Nazis might object to. If they’re misguided enough to think the Le Pen family has the right idea, those ideas are presented in an accurate context.

Nesselson’s review is comprehensive and gets it right, though she appears to rate the film higher than I do. Not that I didn’t like it—it’s pretty good overall—but I had a couple of issues. E.g. protag Marco’s transition from violent, hate-filled thug to nice, better person—and who abandons extreme right-wingism altogether as he grows older and wiser—which is depicted via body language but is not convincingly explained (cf. the neo-Nazi skinhead protag in ‘Combat Girls’, whose transition is more fully developed). Also the scène de ménage on the beach in Guadeloupe with Marco and his bleached-blond bourgeois chick, named Corinne (actress Lucie Debay), the latter’s words and general rhetoric ringing false IMO.

Mais peu importe. The film’s treatment of politics is on the mark, of the relationship of the skinheads to the Front National (not specifically named in the film—except in the televised footage—but more than obvious). The FN engaged the skins—notably in recruiting them into its security service (DPS), Marco in the film being part of it in the early phase of his better person transition—but sought to keep them at a distance at its public events (e.g. they were not in evidence at the FN festivals and rallies I attended in the late ’90s, likely having been asked to stay away). The FN’s relationship to the neo-Nazi skins is indeed akin to the southern GOP’s with the CofCC: the latter being a little extreme and not publicly fréquentable but still part of the family, to be engaged with discreetly.

Also notable in the film are the scenes toward the end, where Marco watches from a distance as Corinne—now his ex, whose personal convictions were as extremist and racist as his in his youth, but, in her case, did not change—, leaves Sunday mass in bourgeois banlieue, with bourgeois husband and Marco’s now teen daughter—whom he has not been allowed visitation rights in view of his police record—and then sees them on television marching in one of the big 2013 hard-right demos against the government’s bill legalizing gay marriage. Subtext: there are plenty of upstanding, respectable members of society not from the lower classes who share the world-view of the neo-Nazi skinheads—or, in America, of white supremacists—but, as they are upstanding and bourgeois, are not considered infréquentable on that side of the political spectrum.

As for Dylann Roof, he looks too physically wimpish to be a marauding skinhead. He wouldn’t have been allowed. Skinheads need to be physically strong. But who needs physical strength when you can go out and legally purchase a .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol? Thank God—and the Republic—one cannot do that in France.

In case one missed it, Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer, of UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University, respectively, had an op-ed in the NYT the day before the Charleston massacre on “The growing right-wing terror threat” in America, which, they say, is of greater preoccupation to law enforcement than that from Muslim extremists.

And TNR’s Brian Beutler has a commentary on South Carolina GOP governor Nikki Haley’s announcement yesterday that she will seek to have the Confederate flag at the SC State Capitol removed, which, Beutler says, does not make her a hero; she’s just doing damage control for Republican presidential candidates too terrified to take a position on the issue themselves.

UPDATE: Watch here Jon Stewart go after Fox News for its coverage of Charleston. Excellent.

un français

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Mario Cuomo R.I.P.

Mario Cuomo at Democratic Convention

[update below]

I’m in the US right now so have been hearing and watching the remembrances of Mario Cuomo, mainly on NPR and PBS. I respected Cuomo during his years on the national scene (1982-94) but wasn’t a huge fan of his. I wasn’t bowled over by his speech at the 1984 DNC (I thought Jesse Jackson’s was superior) and didn’t see him as the Dems’ messiah for the ’88 and ’92 elections (I supported Dukakis and Clinton, respectively, from the outset in those). But in seeing excerpts from that ’84 speech, plus clips from other speeches and interviews Cuomo gave over the years, I have to say that I’m impressed. What a good man he was. And on all the issues. A good, decent liberal. The best that the Democrats had to offer, then and since. That’s as much as I have to say. R.I.P.

UPDATE: Progressive journalist Al Giordano has a nice personal remembrance of Mario Cuomo, posted on social media (h/t Stephen Zunes)

I first shook Mario Cuomo’s (1932-2015) hand at the age of 14, after he had given a speech at the candidates’ debate of the New Democratic Coalition (NDC), a group trying to bring the New York State Democratic Party to the left. He was 42, the son of immigrants from southern Italy and a native of New York. His mother had been born on the Amalfi Coast, Immaculata Giordano. Cuomo was a candidate for Secretary of State in New York, and curiously devoted most of his speech to making a powerful argument against the death penalty, an unpopular position at the time (he lost the primary election). He had been a community organizer in Queens, first stopping the seizure of people’s homes to build a high school, then halting a gigantic housing project. Although still a young man, he carried himself with the gravitas of the “old school” Italian-Americans of New York. Most of his generation were what we called “juniors,” first- and second-generation immigrants who had assimilated so thoroughly into American culture that their inner compasses didn’t quite know in what direction to point (see Giuliani, Rudy, or even Cuomo, Andrew, for examples of what I mean by “juniors”). But not Mario: he was a “don,” emanating the stigmata of rock-solid leadership of the old ways while applying that archetype to a very liberal, almost dreamy, and very poetic idealism. It’s a combination of substance and style that one rarely sees today.

In 1988 and 1992, millions of Americans hoped he would run for president. I believe to this day that he would have defeated Michael Dukakis or Bill Clinton for the nomination. And US history might have been very different – read: better – as a result. I also believe that, in each of those cycles, Cuomo declined to run because the same ethnicity that was his strength, in a national election, would have led to accusations of “mafia connections” based on the sort of thin gruel that almost every Italian-American New Yorker of his generation had grown up with, or was related to, somebody in the so-called “five families.” Still, his impact on me and countless other Italian-Americans was permanent. He taught by example that one did not have to, that indeed it was undesirable to, follow the dominant paradigm of the era and become a “junior,” which essentially defines a man who goes for the money, or for the easy path, instead of going for broke toward destiny; one who ignores the minutia of detail and principle whenever it does not serve ambition. Juniors do not make good history. They do not leave legacies. Cuomo did both. Ciao, Don Mario…

As for why Cuomo didn’t run for president, it was apparent to me at the time that he wasn’t really interested in the job. He just wasn’t interested in leaving New York to live in Washington.

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obama immigration address november 20 2014

I’ve been reading about the speech today and just watched it on YouTube. This is President Obama’s best action of his second term. It was such an obvious thing to do, particularly as he has the authority to issue an executive order on the question. One only regrets that he waited until after the midterms to do it. On the politics of the decision—to regularize the status of undocumented immigrants with children who have been living and working in the US for at least five years—, I couldn’t care less about it, of whether it will help the Democrats or hurt them, cause problems for the Republicans, or whatever. The partisan political calculations do not interest me. And public opinion polls interest me even less. If large numbers of individuals oppose legalizing undocumented immigrants, that’s their personal opinion. What interests me is that it was the right thing to do. It is quite simply unconscionable—indeed immoral—for a state to seek to deport persons who have been living and working within its borders for many years—invariably in precarious, poorly paid jobs and with no health insurance or other benefits—, and in a state of permanent insecurity and fear for the future. And particularly if they have children, who have grown up in the country and are often citizens and native speakers of the language, but who likewise lack legal status and what this means for their lives—and who could see their parents suddenly deported, leaving them stranded. If a state is unable and/or lacks the will to deport undocumented foreigners—who have been working, paying taxes, and not been involved in criminal activity—within a relatively short period of time—up to, say, five years—, then that state has a moral obligation to allow them to stay. Period. The only thing I regret with Obama’s new policy is that it does not also include longtime undocumented immigrants without children.

As for those who are critical of Obama’s announced measure, they have no good arguments. The notion that the immigrants in question have unfairly jumped to the head of a metaphorical line—which is how it’s put—is silly and just plain ignorant, as if an actual line exists in which all potential immigrants out there take a number and patiently wait their turn. International migration does not work this way, nor does US immigration policy (or the immigration policy of any country). As for the immigrants lowering wages and taking jobs from nationals, I came across this reaction to Obama’s speech by the anti-immigration, pro-trade protectionist publicist Alan Tonelson—who’s a sort of American Nicolas Dupont-Aignan-style souverainiste—on a social media comments thread

Hooray! Working and middle class Americans will face much more low-wage competition! The Party of the Common Man serves the plutocrats’ agenda once again!

This is ignorant demagoguery, as cross-border migrants in their great majority do not compete with nationals for the same jobs. They do not operate in the same labor markets. Immigrants invariably invest sectors, or niches, of the economy that are low paying, necessitate a high degree of flexibility, and are perceived as low status in the immigrant-receiving country, having thus been deserted by nationals. And once this situation pertains, it cannot be reversed by administrative fiat. It is beyond the capacity of governments or state functionaries to administer labor markets in a complex capitalist economy. Anyone with the slightest familiarity with the literature on international migration knows this. As for immigrants lowering overall wage levels of nationals, this has not been conclusively demonstrated by economists (e.g. see this NBER paper that Paul Krugman linked to today). In any case, if undocumented immigrants are being exploited by employers, paid below the minimum or normally going wage, and are bringing about localized downward pressure on the wages of nationals, then the solution is obvious: legalize them! Which is precisely what President Obama has announced he will do. Should President Hollande be so inspired…

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Why the Republicans won

www.usnews.com photo Mark Wilson Getty Images

That’s the title of a good analysis by Elizabeth Drew posted yesterday on the NYR blog. Apart from following the polls I paid minimal attention to the midterm campaign but have read numerous analyses and commentaries since last Wednesday morning. I have some things to say about the outcome—of the Democrats’ debacle, the GOP victory, and what it all means (nothing good)—but haven’t had the time of late—nor, admittedly, a burning desire—to write it all out. I’ll get around to it at some point. In the meantime, one may take a look at my Twitter feed, notably the pieces—sober and not too optimistic for the future—by Jonathan Chait and Michael Tomasky, whose analyses I check out first when it comes to American politics.

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Obama is a Republican…

070613_CI_Obamacare_640

That’s what Bruce Bartlett says, in an essay on The American Conservative website, specifying that Barack Obama is “the heir to Richard Nixon, not Saul Alinsky.” Bartlett, pour mémoire, is a former GOP leading light who has become disillusioned with the party (which, on Twitter, he refers to as “the wanker party”). He explains

In my opinion, Obama has governed as a moderate conservative—essentially as what used to be called a liberal Republican before all such people disappeared from the GOP. He has been conservative to exactly the same degree that Richard Nixon basically governed as a moderate liberal, something no conservative would deny today. (Ultra-leftist Noam Chomsky recently called Nixon “the last liberal president.”)

Bartlett then sets out to prove his argument. Here’s what he has to say on the subject of health care reform

Contrary to rants that Obama’s 2010 health reform, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), is the most socialistic legislation in American history, the reality is that it is virtually textbook Republican health policy, with a pedigree from the Heritage Foundation and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, among others.

It’s important to remember that historically the left-Democratic approach to healthcare reform was always based on a fully government-run system such as Medicare or Medicaid. During debate on health reform in 2009, this approach was called “single payer,” with the government being the single payer. One benefit of this approach is cost control: the government could use its monopsony buying power to force down prices just as Walmart does with its suppliers.

Conservatives wanted to avoid too much government control and were adamantly opposed to single-payer. But they recognized that certain problems required more than a pure free-market solution. One problem in particular is covering people with pre-existing conditions, one of the most popular provisions in ACA. The difficulty is that people may wait until they get sick before buying insurance and then expect full coverage for their conditions. Obviously, this free-rider problem would bankrupt the health-insurance system unless there was a fix.

The conservative solution was the individual mandate—forcing people to buy private health insurance, with subsidies for the poor. This approach was first put forward by Heritage Foundation economist Stuart Butler in a 1989 paper, “A Framework for Reform,” published in a Heritage Foundation book, A National Health System for America. In it, Butler said the number one element of a conservative health system was this: “Every resident of the U.S. must, by law, be enrolled in an adequate health care plan to cover major health costs.” He went on to say:

Under this arrangement, all households would be required to protect themselves from major medical costs by purchasing health insurance or enrolling in a prepaid health plan. The degree of financial protection can be debated, but the principle of mandatory family protection is central to a universal health care system in America.

In 1991, prominent conservative health economist Mark V. Pauley also endorsed the individual mandate as central to healthcare reform. In an article in the journal Health Affairs, Pauley said:

All citizens should be required to obtain a basic level of health insurance. Not having health insurance imposes a risk of delaying medical care; it also may impose costs on others, because we as a society provide care to the uninsured. … Permitting individuals to remain uninsured results in inefficient use of medical care, inequity in the incidence of costs of uncompensated care, and tax-related distortions.

In 2004, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) endorsed an individual mandate in a speech to the National Press Club. “I believe higher-income Americans today do have a societal and personal responsibility to cover in some way themselves and their children,” he said. Even libertarian Ron Bailey, writing in Reason, conceded the necessity of a mandate in a November 2004 article titled, “Mandatory Health Insurance Now!” Said Bailey: “Why shouldn’t we require people who now get health care at the expense of the rest of us pay for their coverage themselves? … Mandatory health insurance would not be unlike the laws that require drivers to purchase auto insurance or pay into state-run risk pools.”

Among those enamored with the emerging conservative health reform based on an individual mandate was Mitt Romney, who was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002. In 2004, he put forward a state health reform plan to which he later added an individual mandate. As Romney explained in June 2005, “No more ‘free riding,’ if you will, where an individual says: ‘I’m not going to pay, even though I can afford it. I’m not going to get insurance, even though I can afford it. I’m instead going to just show up and make the taxpayers pay for me’.”

The following month, Romney emphasized his point: “We can’t have as a nation 40 million people—or, in my state, half a million—saying, ‘I don’t have insurance, and if I get sick, I want someone else to pay’.”

In 2006, Governor Romney signed the Massachusetts health reform into law, including the individual mandate. Defending his legislation in a Wall Street Journal article, he said:

I proposed that everyone must either purchase a product of their choice or demonstrate that they can pay for their own health care. It’s a personal responsibility principle.

Some of my libertarian friends balk at what looks like an individual mandate. But remember, someone has to pay for the health care that must, by law, be provided: Either the individual pays or the taxpayers pay. A free ride on government is not libertarian.

As late as 2008, Robert Moffitt of the Heritage Foundation was still defending the individual mandate as reasonable, non-ideological and nonpartisan in an article for the Harvard Health Policy Review.

So what changed just a year later, when Obama put forward a health-reform plan that was almost a carbon copy of those previously endorsed by the Heritage Foundation, Mitt Romney, and other Republicans? The only thing is that it was now supported by a Democratic president that Republicans vowed to fight on every single issue, according to Robert Draper’s book Do Not Ask What Good We Do.

Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod later admitted that Romney’s Massachusetts plan was the “template” for Obama’s plan. “That work inspired our own health plan,” he said in 2011. But no one in the White House said so back in 2009. I once asked a senior Obama aide why. His answer was that once Republicans refused to negotiate on health reform and Obama had to win only with Democratic votes, it would have been counterproductive, politically, to point out the Obama plan’s Republican roots.

The left wing of the House Democratic caucus was dubious enough about Obama’s plan as it was, preferring a single-payer plan. Thus it was necessary for Obama to portray his plan as more liberal than it really was to get the Democratic votes needed for passage, which of course played right into the Republicans’ hands. But the reality is that ACA remains a very modest reform based on Republican and conservative ideas.

If any Republicans are reading this and disagree with Bartlett on the health care issue, I’d like to hear their objections.

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In Defense of Obama

US President Barack Obama gives a thumbs

Paul Krugman thus makes the case in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, in which he explains how “Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.” No less. And Krugman, pour mémoire, has spent a good part of the past seven years critiquing Obama, when not beating up on him. But being a smart and fair person, he gives credit where credit is due. And, as usual, Krugman convinces.

One little thing. Krugman speaks about “polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.” Obama’s current job approval rating, according to RCP’s aggregate, is 42.9%. At no point in his presidency has it dropped below 40%. I’m sorry but that’s not bad at all. By contrast, Bush 43 spent almost all of the last three years of his presidency below 40% and by the end of it was in the mid 20s. Bush lost part of his base. Obama has not lost his. If François Hollande had Obama’s current poll numbers—which he can only dream of—, his presidency would likely be deemed a smashing success…

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