Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Battle Ready

Here’s some background for tonight; it’s the official beginning of the big national healthcare debate.

The House is scheduled to vote on Cap and Trade on Friday.

First, my liveblogging comment from the excruciating 2nd McCain-Obama town hall debate (I get into these things a little bit):

Obama just said, “Healthcare is a RIGHT”
And the CNN focus group monitor went through the roof with approval from the undecided voters.
This country is FINISHED. We cannot afford to put 50 million people on a healthcare plan now with the intention to put all 350 million on one inside of 20 years.

We are going bankrupt. It’s OVER!!

This country has an insatiable appetite for healthcare. This corresponds to our appetite for overeating, smoking, and nonstop channel & internet surfing that’s all part of this complete sedentary American lifestyle.

Cap and Trade probably won’t pass the House… this time, but why isn’t there a debate about it?

Here is the Office of Management and Budget charts for fiscal year 2008:

Now take a look at some of these recent happenings:

– Bloomberg didn’t report until June 17th about how June 6th was the first healthcare meeting of Organizing for America, a Washington-based group that aims to deploy volunteers to push Obama’s plan. It was one of thousands held across the country that day by the group, which is overseen by Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe.

– Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is being sold out of the boxes they’re shipped in 50 years after being published. An 1,100-page book that averaged pretty impressive annual sales of 185,000-200,000 copies in the internet age has sold over 200,000 copies already through April of this year.

– Obama’s net approval rating is showing the honeymoon period with the general public is ending.

– ABC is airing an hour-long primetime special from the White House featuring Obama answering questions about his healthcare plan tonight at 10pm EST.

That last item – the President in primetime explaining details of his most ambitious agenda to radically alter the course of American society – will be the Fort Sumter of the most heated domestic debate in 2 years. I will do a review/retro-liveblog of the hour.

Yes, we all know Obama has commented on healthcare before and there’s been debate in both houses of Congress already, but this debate is going to be waged between all of us as much as it will be between them. This isn’t some arcane legislation; this is $2.5 trillion that represents nearly 20% of our fragile economy. And there’s that pesky part that it affects the most intimate part of our lives regarding how we take care of ourselves on even a daily basis and how we get care for ourselves and families at the end of our lives. Let’s not forget maybe the most important aspect of the debate: what health care we may need to get immediately to save our own life. The hypothetical scenario that’s worked for our side that should continue to be used as an effective argument is when it’s an individual’s opinion (and his doctor’s) that heart surgery should be done tomorrow as opposed to the government’s opinion of a week… after next… after a month from now.

This is one of the big battles and we are on defense again. I’m predicting a similar grassroots campaign of relentless phone calls and emails from conservatives not seen since the immigration debate in 2007. The difference is instead of scattered street protests of mostly Latinos in large cities, the opposing side will be Obama’s grassroots volunteers on the ground and the internet in their own communities trying to sway opinion the other way in their own circles of influence. Let’s not underestimate the most organized and technologically advanced political force in modern American history.

If Cap and Trade becomes law it will increase the price of energy for consumers and businesses that will pass down the costs to consumers.

We are at the fork in the road, it’s not coming up, we are at it. And we can’t be Yogi Berra and “take it” like we’ve been doing for the last 30 years. Something has to give on that chart between Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Military spending.

That brown chart shows existing spending on healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid) and other means-tested programs (unemployment, welfare, etc.) of $919 billion. The other means-tested programs totaled $324 billion which leaves $595 billion for Medicare and Medicaid. There are estimates from the Congressional Budget Office of a $1 trillion to $1.6 trillion sticker shock for any healthcare program that would cover a significant number of people. Taking a lower estimate combines for nearly $1.6 trillion in healthcare spending by the government for a plan that won’t even cover everyone! Add in the $607 billion for Social Security and you have over $2.2 trillion in mandatory spending for 2010. By the way, that blue chart (the one that should dictate the brown chart, but doesn’t in this insane world) is going to be quite a bit smaller the next two years in this economy.

There is a vote on Friday for Cap and Trade legislation that will increase the price of everything for everybody.

Obama and Pelosi are determined to get some large measure of healthcare reform passed. This is a great opportunity for conservatives to rack up some much-needed victories on the ideological battles surrounding healthcare reform and maybe even win the war over this legislation. It will help us get our voice back with principle-based arguments that we can have in a high-profile forum to get people’s attention since we’ll be in a showdown with the President. And since my namesake is all about being touchy-feely, getting some public support for Republicans is sure to increase their lagging confidence and lackluster enthusiasm among the electorate. Similarly, Blue Dog Democrats – particularly the newer ones elected in 2006 and 2008 – can recognize who in the Republican party they can caucus with to stop reckless spending. To reduce spending, we need to support conservatives – many of them have a D after their names.

Something needs to be done about healthcare because it is a mess. Yet one can’t help but wonder how making access easier isn’t going to increase usage thereby spiking up costs. Can you imagine how much more we would all be hooked into the system if going to the doctor or hospital wasn’t on par with a trip to the DMV and a 3-hour Scientology “audit”?

The House. Is Voting. On Cap and Trade. Friday!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rove vs. Carville - 2009 Speakers Series

Last Tuesday I attended the Speaker Series here in New York City that featured a debate between Karl Rove and James Carville moderated by Charlie Rose.

Now these two gentlemen, as much as they both demand respect and even admiration, should probably be universally scorned. These two men in duality may in fact be primarily responsible for the never-ending campaign that has created the contentious political landscape that has buried quality solutions to problems, heightened the emotions around what should be straightforward off-election cycle issues, and as a result further disenfranchised the majority of Americans over our political process.

Because of people like Rove and Carville now every policy proposal and every issue is a campaign regardless of what time of year it is. Campaign is actually a euphemism for minor issues becoming apocalyptic battles between the forces of good and evil. Newly elected representatives quickly become incumbents that send surrogates out to the media and even stump for themselves even though the election they won was only a few months prior.

There has been much more harm than good from this. In theory it would be great for citizens and their representatives to be engaged at all times throughout the year without an election forcing the interaction. In practice, the only thing it’s really done is take the intense “us vs. them” rancor that occurs every 4 years in the last two months of a presidential election and maintained that level of animosity for the duration of the elected’s term. And when there are no issues, there’s nonsense no one cares about like Obama vs. Cheney and Bush firing four US Attorneys. What’s worse is there is no context to these “debates” that are really nothing more than childish pundits pouting and all but covering their ears yelling “na na na na” when the other side speaks even an alternate – let alone opposing – view. You can’t blame the media for not providing context because they need viewers and readers every day so it’s against their interests to give weight to certain issues over others. Furthermore, the goal of strategists like Rove and Carville is to have the media create noise over nearly every issue.

With that political reality hovering over us as we walked out of the venue when the debate was over, my friend that also attended put it perfectly, “I didn’t learn a thing, but that was a lot of fun.”

What was a lot of fun was an event that got pretty raucous a few times. There was the typical “engagement” of the Manhattan crowd that loudly booed at certain times when Rove spoke – so glad they were open-minded enough to hear an insider from outside of their political persuasion explain himself. After all, everyone was there to hear the crowd hiss and yell out instead of hearing what Rove had to say. These New Yorkers are so sophisticated: shouting down the opposing viewpoint, reading the New York Times, commenting on the Daily Kos, and watching MSNBC to keep up with current events.

But let’s face it; our side isn’t any more sophisticated. Everyone watches and reads news that’s tailored toward their base political beliefs and ignores everyone else. It’s all infotainment just like this debate. It’s probably why so many people paid so much to be there in person. Instead of yelling at the TV if they happen upon Fox News, they can be around like-minded people and shout down someone in person

While both men took the stage at 8:15 there were idiot protestors that waited until 9pm to start making noise about how “Rove is a war criminal” culminating in one of them calmly walking on stage with handcuffs ready to arrest him before being tackled and carried out. Even Carville yelled for them to shut up.

The most heated moment was during the discussion of Hurricane Katrina where they were flat-out screaming with fingers pointed right in each other’s faces. Carville was ranting about how “Bush didn’t care” and “He was out in San Diego.” Rove countered with explaining “the buses were underwater because the mayor was too incompetent to order an evacuation” and that the people of Louisiana knew who to blame by voting out the mayor and the governor in the next elections.

Carville really is a cartoon character. He exceeded very high expectations for live entertainment. It got histrionic and very childish at times like when he cleaned his glasses with his tie after making a mediocre point he thought was brilliant. Still, nothing beats his spastic muttering of arrogant dismissiveness against straw man arguments he claims are Republican positions. The way he rephrases and twists what his debate opponent says into the most reductionist red meat for the left-wing is uncanny.

It’s the job of a reviewer to critique what did happen and not what the reviewer wishes had happened… except in cases like this where it is so obvious what should have been done.

Charlie Rose is just miserable and deserves the blame for making a possibly fascinating and forward-looking discussion into a tired, cliché left-right political debate. He had his moments moderating and there’s no doubt he’s very smart, but he needs to know we were all there for Rove and Carville that night. At the same time the Charlie Rose show is watched by an audience interested in whatever guest is on that particular night. No one cares what Charlie Rose thinks. The topics he chose modeled his show with in-depth discussions of the superficial given equal time to the relevant. He wanted to really delve into both the Bush and Clinton Administrations and their legacies. He often asked multi-faceted questions that took upwards of 90 seconds to finally finish. Lame.

The main issue with the debate is that Rose should have absolutely focused on the present and the future. There could have been a “clear the air” portion that could have rehashed some of the biggest misconceptions the public has about the last 20 years from these two insiders. Admittedly it was interesting that one of Rove’s first answers was to dismiss the myth of the base election. He further explained that the base, by its nature and namesake, is a minority and that a party has to reach out to persuade the voters necessary to win an election. Likewise, it was funny for Carville to contort his face like a Gremlin giggling over the joy of recommending the attacks on Rush Limbaugh by the White House in an official capacity.

As entertaining as it was for Rove and Carville to really go at it and talk over each other as they compared the Bush and Clinton administrations, it would have been much better had the two discussed 2008 campaign and the next 2-4 years. This would have resulted in a sort of improvised brainstorming and strategy session in front of the live audience. A focus on predictions and trends would create a dynamic where Rove and Carville would be forced to work together and against each other. Normally I am against speculating this far out in politics where things can change in an hour, but these two men are Seers.

With this in mind the debate could have been separated into two segments. The first segment could have been about the 2010 congressional elections. The first topic: maintain and even increase the Democrats’ seats in Congress. Carville would be in his element while Rove would have to give insight to the other side. And then the second topic would be the converse: what advice or strategies do they have for the Republicans to make gains? Now Carville is helping the Republicans and Rove is working with him.
Questions that would have been great to ask because they need to be answered by major figures like Rove and the conservative netroots alike with a guy like Carville acting as an overcritical beta tester:
Who should lead the Republican party?
What is the main thing Republicans need to focus on for 2009 and then after?
How do Democrats maintain and possibly expand their power to record setting numbers?
What would be the worst thing/best thing Democrats and Obama can do to destroy/build on their political capital?
What would be the worst thing/best thing Republicans can do to destroy/rebuild their political capital?

The second segment would then be about the 2012 Presidential election.
What does Obama need to do to win another 4 years?
Who will run on the Republican side?
What are the major Republican candidates’ weaknesses and strengths in the context of the political landscape and against Obama?
How do the Republicans take on the juggernaut that is the Obama machine – his personal charisma, his tremendous war chest, and an endless supply of volunteers – with 3 years to prepare?

The reason Rove was so entertaining and insightful on Fox News during 2008 because he was making observations and giving advice to the Democrat party as well the Republicans. How did the Speakers Series not take advantage of this? At least they took advantage of James Carville, but that’s easy – just unlock the cage and replace the leash with a shock collar.