Thursday, October 15, 2009

Harpers Magazine "Understanding Obamacare"

Harpers Magazine, "Understanding Obamacare"

I know that this is a tough audience.  So before I described this article, which is deeply critical of the Health Care Reform pending in Congress, based on the authority of a Magazine, I decided to do a bit of homework.

For as long as I have been reading Harpers, on and of for a half century or so, it has been pretty strongly liberal.  But I have to admit, based on their archives going back to 1850, during the run up to the Civil War, they didn't take a stand against slavery, focusing on short stories and poetry.  Only at the end of the war did they tip their hand, printing a long illustrated article praising Sherman's march through the South. 

I jumped to March 1933, to read an article by Elmer Holmes Davis, "If Roosevelt Fails,"  which is rather uncanny in the similarity between the economic fear that we were facing a year ago as our markets were in collapse.  In reading that article it is less like a monthly magazine than contemporaneous history. It described outgoing President Hoover as a pragmatist, who by forming the Reconstruction Finance Commission, and promoting Unemployment Compensation, was preparing the ground for what was at that time the promises of Roosevelt's New Deal.  I think it's pretty fair to say that Harper's Magazine is the longest established, and most respected, Liberal magazine in the United States.

The news of this essay is not that a writer has criticized what he calls "Obamacare." It is that the institution of Harpers Magazine, the intellectual vehicle of the philosophy of the Democratic party for well over a century, has taken a stand on this pivotal issue of this party.

Unfortunately the article is only available to subscribers, (but anyone can read it, or even buy it, at bookstores) so I will excerpt limited segments based on fair use constraints 

Senior Editor Luke Mitchell sees the pending HCR project as a cynical sellout:

The real battle in Washington is seldom between conservatives and liberals or the right and the left or “red America” and “blue America.” It is nearly always a more local contest, over which politicians will enjoy the privilege of representing the interests of the rich.  

He punctures the illusion that this HCR will impose regulation on Insurers, that government will control the corporate segment, explaining that the actual process is quite the opposite, best explained by the concept of Regulatory Capture. with the byword of the process being "Moderation"

The contemporary form of moderation, however, simply assumes government growth (i.e., intervention), which occurs under both parties, and instead concerns itself with balancing the regulatory interests of various campaign contributors. The interests of the insurance companies are moderated by the interests of the drug manufacturers, which in turn are moderated by the interests of the trial lawyers and perhaps even by the interests of organized labor, and in this way the locus of competition is transported from the marketplace to the legislature. The result is that mediocre trusts secure the blessing of government sanction even as they avoid any obligation to serve the public good. Prices stay high, producers fail to innovate, and social inequities remain in place.

Mitchell describes President Obama's mantra of avoiding drastic change, of building on the present employer based system, of those who like their insurance being able to keep it, with considerable disdain:

With such soothing words, the Democrats have easily surpassed the Republicans in fund-raising from the health-care industry and are even pulling ahead in the overall insurance sector, where Republicans once had a two-to-one fund-raising advantage. The deal Obama presented last year, the deal he was elected on, and the deal that likely will pass in the end is a deal the insurance companies like, because it will save their industry from the scrap heap even as it satisfies the “popular clamor for a government supervision.”

But, Mitchell doesn't have much love for Republicans either, as he closes with this:

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa explained, “Government is not a fair competitor. It’s a predator.”

Such non sequiturs have opened the way to the darker dream logic that of late has come to dominate G.O.P. rhetoric. Nothing remains but primordial emotion—the fear, rage, and jealousy that have always animated a significant minority of American voters—so Republican congressmen are left to take up concerns about “death panels” and “Soviet-style gulag health care” that will “absolutely kill seniors.” Republicans, having lost their status as the party of business, have become the party of incoherent rage. It is difficult to imagine anything good coming from a system that moderates the will of corporations with the fantasies of hysterics.

I am writing this essay, because I have independently come to the conclusion that this bill, no matter how modified in the Senate or the Conference Committee, will not merely be flawed, but misconceived.  If this were to have an accurate title it would be the "Medical Establishment Perpetual Security Bill" with the subtitle in small type "including an attempt to make health care more affordable and efficient"

I'm convinced that those who support this bill are doing so on faith.  It is a belief that President Obama and the Democrats have a long term plan to use this bill as a wedge, a first step, to eventually transform our health care establishment. I call this faith because it persists in the face of historical empirical evidence that shows that exactly the opposite will happen, as described in the Harpers article. 

I've long ago learned that it's impossible to change someone's faith, be it secular or spiritual.  While I'm an atheist, I don't picket outside churches with signs saying, "God is an illusion"  telling congregants that the existence of such a powerful benevolent being is wishful thinking.  I would either be ignored, ridiculed, or attacked....and rightly so.  Life is tough, more so for some than for others. Even if somehow I had the ability, I would never want to disabuse anyone of a belief that provides succor to a difficult existence.

Mitchell doesn't show any special animosity towards Obama, or even the Democrats.  He writes in keeping with the tone of his publication, a document relevant for readers of a century from now, as I am reading about the article about the new F.D.R. administration.  He writes about the nature of our political system, the actual forces that shape our culture and our laws with remorse rather than anger at this manifestation of our debased political culture.  

In some ways, for me it is actually soothing. It gives me absolution that even with what I believe I know, with my own individual and researched insights, I can do no more with my personal blog than he can with his access to the pages of this revered publication to change the course of history.

I hold Harpers Magazine as a shield of protection against apostasy against progressivism. but I am eventually betrayed by the other apostate, Luke Mitchell's own words: "It is difficult to imagine anything good coming from a system that moderates the will of corporations with the fantasies of hysterics"  My arguments against this bill, and ultimately his own, no matter what logic, personal experience or academic endorsements are tainted by the association with "fantasies of hysterics."  

I'll simply close with the words, sonorously remembered by those few who watched the newsreels of momentous events from darkened movie theaters,  "Time Marches On."  



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