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February 09, 2012

James Taranto and the Inconveeeeeeenient Truth

Yesterday, the Blog Princess impudently pointed out that the widely held view that Mitt Romney did little or nothing to support the pro-life agenda is not supported by pro-life activists who were on the front lines at the time:

“Since being elected governor, Mitt Romney has had a consistent commitment to the culture of life. As governor, he worked closely with Massachusetts Citizens for Life. Misguided attempts to blame Mitt Romney for the fact that state-funded health care in Massachusetts funds abortion ignore the facts. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 1981 that the Massachusetts Constitution requires the funding of abortion. This decision forces Massachusetts to fund abortion to the same extent it funds other medical procedures. A 1986 attempt to overturn the court ruling with a Constitutional Amendment failed. Obviously, in providing health coverage, the governor and the legislature were bound by this decision.” Ann Fox President, Massachusetts Citizens for Life

The view from that rear view mirror is so easy to distort, isn't it? All you need to do is 'forget' to mention facts that undermine your narrative.

Likewise, it has become something of an Article of Faith in conservative circles that health care reform in general (and the individual mandate in particular) are evil progressive ideas that real conservatives have always opposed as if their very lives depended on it. Apparently the 'us vs. them' view of political advocacy requires a finely honed talent for selective amnesia and a studied aversion to looking at events in their historical context.

But as James Taranto ably points out, in this regard Google is not our friend:

In an October column, we recounted the origins of the ObamaCare individual mandate at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. In a USA Today op-ed earlier this week, Heritage's Stuart Butler offers his own account. But crucial elements of it are at variance with the facts. Here is the key paragraph:
The confusion arises from the fact that 20 years ago, I held the view that as a technical matter, some form of requirement to purchase insurance was needed in a near-universal insurance market to avoid massive instability through "adverse selection" (insurers avoiding bad risks and healthy people declining coverage). At that time, President Clinton was proposing a universal health care plan, and Heritage and I devised a viable alternative.

Even if you don't know the history, you can see that this is reminiscent of a John Kerry tale: "I remember spending Christmas Day of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese Allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real." Richard Nixon was not yet president in 1968, and neither was Bill Clinton 20 years ago, in 1992.

To be sure, that's a quibble. Unlike Kerry, who cited a specific date, when Butler says "20 years ago" he is referring to a temporal order of magnitude. It would be close enough to say "20 years ago" if Heritage proposed the individual mandate in 1993 or 1994.

But it didn't. Butler's approximation runs in the other direction. He first proposed the individual mandate almost 23 years ago, in a 1989 "Critical Issues" monograph titled "A National Health System for America." (The Heritage website lists the publication date as Jan. 2, 1989, but it was actually June 1 of that year, according to a contemporaneous Washington Post story.)

For most purposes, "20 years ago" is a close enough approximation for 23. In this case, however, it gives the lie to Butler's claim that Heritage first embraced the individual mandate as an "alternative" to President Clinton's "universal health care plan." Bill Clinton became president more than 3½ years after the monograph's publication.

Butler also writes: "My idea was hardly new. Heritage did not invent the individual mandate." He offers only one item of evidence for this assertion: "Even libertarian-conservative icon Milton Friedman, in a 1991 Wall Street Journal article, advocated replacing Medicare and Medicaid 'with a requirement that every U.S. family unit have a major medical insurance policy.' "

That Friedman piece ran in the Journal Nov. 12, 1991--more than 20 years ago, but 29 months after Heritage published the monograph. Forbes's Avik Roy reports that he attempted without success to substantiate Butler's claim of unoriginality: "As far as I have been able to find, Stuart's 1989 brief is the first published proposal of an individual mandate in the context of private-sector-managed health systems."

History is so inconvenient at times, no es verdad? Perhaps this explains why we so often prefer purposely vague verbal zingers to serious attempts to look at historical events in the context of the times?

Full marks to Taranto for his refreshing commitment to accuracy. I like my history served straight up, even with the bitter aftertaste.

Posted by Cassandra at February 9, 2012 08:26 AM

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Comments

History is so inconvenient at times...

That's because while we rightly expect that history holds the "truth," we mistakenly expect that it shares it with the present. It doesn't. What we get is recollections, viewpoints, anecdotes, and interpretations. Oh, and dates. Oops.

Posted by: spd rdr - red-headed herring at February 9, 2012 10:49 AM

As you know, my youngest son attended St. John's in Annapolis (the one with the great books).

St. John's examines the western canon "out of context", as it were. In other words, they spend little/no time trying to understand the ideas in currency at the time a work was written. Nor do they care what modern scholars have to say about the work.

The value in this approach is that it makes it possible to evaluate ideas "on the merits", so to speak. But in doing so, students can't help but be influenced by the ideas in currency in the present time. So their view is not really unbiased either. Future students would see the same work through a different frame of reference.

That was one criticism my son had of the curriculum, and I think it's a valid one.

We see everything through the lens of the present, but past decisions were made by people seeing through the lens of their own time and based upon the information available then. This matters, because every decision involves tradeoffs and the tradeoffs change with circumstances and the times.

Posted by: Princess Leia in a Cheese Danish Bikini at February 9, 2012 11:38 AM

I certainly missed when exactly the true conservatives took up the flaming torch for no individual mandate. In fact, any rational policy discussion about health care I ever heard included that everyone must buy in. That has always been true from any side of the political spectrum.

It's true for one simple reason, no one gets to opt out of the disease risk pool. Now, how you go about it is a different question.

Posted by: Allen at February 9, 2012 11:56 AM

You men - always cloaking policy debates in the mantle of patriarchal authority and unearned race and gender privilege....

Tsk, tsk, tsk :)

Now, how you go about it is a different question.

Bingo.

Posted by: Why is it a "Man" Date? at February 9, 2012 12:13 PM

Individual Womandate, I like it. Imagine slipping that one in during a verbal discussion on it.

What did you just say?
Nothing.
Are you sure?
Yes.

:)

Posted by: Allen at February 9, 2012 12:18 PM

...any rational policy discussion about health care I ever heard included that everyone must buy in.

Speaking of influenced by the ideas in currency in the present time....

Another rational discussion holds that no such universal buy-in is appropriate: a free market will set prices, and individuals will determine their buy-in/stay out choices according to their own ideas in currency in their own world view.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at February 9, 2012 02:11 PM

The point, Eric, is that it's dishonest to pretend that conservatives - lots of them - haven't been advocating an individual mandate, or to pretend that the mandate was raised by progressives.

You can decide as a conservative not to buy HC security at the expense of liberty, and that's a valid choice. What you don't get to do is pretend that progressives have been the only ones arguing the other way.

Posted by: Why is it a "Man" Date? at February 9, 2012 02:28 PM

Eric, you would be correct in a world we do not currently live in. Under Reagan, Congress passed a law forcing all hospitals to give everyone certain medical care regardless of ability to pay.

If you didn't have a universal care provision then a universal buy provision would be inappropriate.

Posted by: Allen at February 9, 2012 02:30 PM

You can decide as a conservative not to buy HC security at the expense of liberty....

I also can decide, as a conservative, not to buy HC in support of liberty. Also, I don't recall suggesting anything about progressive or conservative arguments on this--or any other--mandate. Perhaps you can point to my words so that I can clarify them.

...Congress passed a law forcing all hospitals to give everyone certain medical care regardless of ability to pay.

That's part of my point. There is no free market in health insurance, as this narrow example illustrates, even more so than in any other industry. This failure is a lot of what underlies the cynical argument that it's actually valid to have a universal care provision with an accompanying universal mandate to buy.

If you didn't have a universal care provision then a universal buy provision would be inappropriate.

NSS.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at February 9, 2012 03:29 PM

I also can decide, as a conservative, not to buy HC in support of liberty.

Isn't that the same as not buying HC security at the expense of liberty?

I don't recall suggesting anything about progressive or conservative arguments on this--or any other--mandate. Perhaps you can point to my words so that I can clarify them.

My "you" was a generic you. As in, "not you *personally*, but 'one' ...". But I agree, this was not clear from my comment.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 9, 2012 04:02 PM

Under Reagan, Congress passed a law forcing all hospitals to give everyone certain medical care regardless of ability to pay.

Which is, or sounds as though it ought to be, unconstitutional. But then Reagan wasn't a "real conservative" either :p He should have fought harder.

/flouncing off into the sunset, petticoats a swishin'

Posted by: Cassandra at February 9, 2012 04:05 PM

I also can decide, as a conservative, not to buy HC in support of liberty.

Isn't that the same as not buying HC security at the expense of liberty?

We seem to be misunderstanding each other on this one, too. My position is that a (not necessarily the) decision not to buy HC supports liberty.

You seem to be saying such a decision can only come at the expense of liberty. Have I accurately summarized your position and/or better clarified mine?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at February 9, 2012 04:25 PM

My position is that a (not necessarily the) decision not to buy HC supports liberty. You seem to be saying such a decision can only come at the expense of liberty.

What I was trying to say is that the decision to have government force the purchase of HC insurance on individuals must inevitably come at the expense of their freedom (not to buy it). IOW, I think we are in violent agreement :p

Posted by: Jon Lovitz' Bratty Little Sister at February 9, 2012 05:11 PM

What I think we are finding is that the libertarianish wing of conservatism has simply gotten larger over the past 20-30 years. Thus the modern epithet of "Establishment"/"Big-Government" Republicans whom the Tea Parties view with almost as much disdain as Democrats.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 9, 2012 05:55 PM

What I think we are finding is that the libertarianish wing of conservatism has simply gotten larger over the past 20-30 years.

I agree with you here.

/rest of comment self edited for the sake of my rapidly vanishing sanity.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 9, 2012 06:10 PM

A little retrospective on the history of the individual mandate.

http://tinyurl.com/6m6uf6n

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at February 9, 2012 08:03 PM

...there is no important difference between state-run socialized medicine and federally run socialized medicine.

Except for the fact that if you can't stomach your state's laws, you can move to another state and remain American.

But if you can't stomach federal law, you have to move to another country.

I wonder whether he thinks there's no important difference between state prohibitions on abortion and federal ones?

Kind of puts paid to federalism, doesn't it?

I can't comment on Coulter's arguments. I didn't quote her before and I haven't quoted her defenses of Romney. People can make their own determinations about the quality of her reasoning. I did so many years ago and have stuck to my guns regardless of whether her current arguments align with my positions or not.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 9, 2012 09:08 PM

From the article:
"To judge by opinion polls, however, the government never bothered obtaining the consent of its citizens before imposing the ObamaCare compact. Heritage in 1989 and Obama in 2010 both underestimated the extent to which the idea of compelling individuals to purchase a product or service goes against the American grain.

Heritage has changed its mind, and Butler concludes his op-ed with a mea culpa of sorts: "I've altered my views on many things. The individual mandate in health care is one of them." Acknowledging error is a sign of integrity, but you have to be truthful about it."

The point of your post is valid. However, wrt the so-called "conservative pundits", I rarely consider anyone who gets paid to write for the media as a *true* whatever they say they are. That said, I think where the hair is split is that as conservatives re-evaluate and re-re-evaluate their positions (something I rarely, if ever, see with progressives) on a subject, their positions will often change. And I'm always reminded of Churchill's thoughts about liberals and conservatives:[paraphrasing here due to lack of sufficient caffeine]
"If you aren't a liberal at 20, you haven't got a heart. If you aren't a conservative at 40, you haven't got a brain."
In this case, it seems to me that the really *true* conservatives are the 60% of everyday, ordinary Americans who go about their days doing the best they can to live their own "life well-lived". And, as my emphasised portion in the quoted text shows, when conservative pundits saw the almost palapable rejection of the mandate, they re-evaluated their positions to come more into line with what Conservative America was thinking. In other words, they got better.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at February 10, 2012 08:51 AM

"/flouncing off into the sunset, petticoats a swishin'"

You wear a petticoat over the danish? Kinda defeats the purpose of a bikini, dudn'it?
0>;~}

Posted by: Snarkammando at February 10, 2012 08:54 AM

...where the hair is split is that as conservatives re-evaluate and re-re-evaluate their positions (something I rarely, if ever, see with progressives) on a subject, their positions will often change.

This is EXACTLY what frustrates and infuriates me so much, DL. I started out somewhat liberal (as in akin to a moderate Democrat) and moved farther to the right over a 30 year period. I've always, except for the very first time I voted, voted Rethug.

I don't recognize the party I see today. Screeching about ousting RINOs, calling people traitors and wimps for disagreeing or worse, doing what most folks who are actively thinking do as they move through life: changing their minds on some issues. I get it - people are scared.

But this isn't what I signed up for. Thinking is good. Asking questions is good. Examining old assumptions and beliefs in light of new information is good.

I value these qualities in my friends and demand them in an elected official. No one, going into public office, knows as much as they will know once they are knees deep in briefings and policy proposals and proposed legislation.

I WANT someone who isn't afraid to ask questions.

What I don't want is a party that brands anyone who strays off the intellectual reservation as a RINO or traitor.

I'm trying to imagine what Buckley or Reagan would say if they were still alive.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2012 08:59 AM

"Thinking is good. Asking questions is good."

I'm thinkin' that now is a good time to ask about judging caption contests and the designated hitter rule.
0>;~}

Posted by: Snarkammando at February 10, 2012 09:14 AM

I don't mind starting up caption contests again, but I will need help finding pictures and judging.

I'm finding it quite a challenge to balance my new job with blogging and my family and job have got to come first.

If y'all will help, I'm game.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2012 09:18 AM

So, does that mean you're for the designated hitter?
0>;~}

Posted by: Snarkammando at February 10, 2012 09:37 AM

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