Arnold Kling  

Why I am Not a Republican

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Should the Fed be Audited?... Neil Barofsky's Dog Whistle...

Dana Milbank thinks that he has found a "ventriloquist" providing GOP talking points on health care.


Castellanos used the word "experiment" six times to criticize Obama's plan; Steele, the eager pupil, used it 30. Only one thing would have made the performance more impressive: if Castellanos had been able to drink a glass of water while Steele was talking.

My problem is not that a consultant provided talking points to the GOP Chairman. I am sure that consultants provide talking points to party leaders all the time. My problem is that I would prefer different talking points. If I were the ventriloquist, my talking points would be:

1. We are here whenever President Obama wants to try to stop the insanity on Capitol Hill. Instead, he keeps outsourcing his policies to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Thus, the stimulus that will take effect two years after the recession started. Thus, the cap and trade bill that is mostly corporate welfare with a smidgen of CO2 reduction. And thus a health care bill that worsens the outlook for government spending on health care.

2. We will help the President convert the tax deductibility of health benefits to a refundable tax credit, as supported by economists of all political persuasions. That would help pay for reform and also help "bend the cost curve."

3. We will help the President convert Medicare and Medicaid to means-tested and illness-tested vouchers, which would give the United States what other countries have--a fixed budget for health care, rather than an open-ended spending commitment.

4. We will support comparative effectiveness research, as long as it is used in the context of a system where patients and doctors make decisions, rather than have rationing imposed on them from the government.

My goal would be not be to stage a fight with President Obama. My goal would be to stage a fight with the Democratic Congressional leadership, and leave it up to President Obama if he wants to defend their lunacy.

I don't understand the Republican strategy on health care reform, either substantively or politically. But then, I am not a Republican.


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COMMENTS (22 to date)
Ivan writes:

Arnold says: "We are here whenever President Obama wants to try to stop the insanity on Capitol Hill. Instead, he keeps outsourcing his policies to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid."

It's strange that you still believe in Obama-moderate who naively outsource policies to radicals Pelosi and Reid. Do you really think that Obama is any less radical than Pelosi? I remember him saying that if he were to design health care from scratch he would choose single-payer system, i.e. complete nationalization. He promised energy taxes via cap-and-trade that will cause "soaring prices of energy" in his interview before the elections. There is exactly zero evidence that Obama is any better than congressional leaders.

"We will help the President convert the tax deductibility of health benefits to a refundable tax credit, as supported by economists of all political persuasions. That would help pay for reform and also help "bend the cost curve."

Again, you are behaving as if Obama would like to adopt sensible health care policy but does not do so out some sort of political opportunism. Again, claim supported by zero evidence. At the contrary, he is the driving force behind the health care nationalization.

"My goal would be not be to stage a fight with President Obama. My goal would be to stage a fight with the Democratic Congressional leadership, and leave it up to President Obama if he wants to defend their lunacy."

Again and again, you assume, without any evidence, that Obama's "lunacies" are any lesser than congressional ones. I can't see that evidence. Most of the people cannot either. I think that you "beltway libertarians" are in desperate search for elusive "libertarian Obama" many of you hoped and campaigned for previously. And you don't give up your dream so easily, all the facts notwithstanding. Strong-armed GM and Crysler bankruptcies with direct breach of the rule of law and with rewarding his union cronies, exploding deficit and spending, nationalization of health care, draconian energy taxes, card-check legislation - nothing can change your mind. You still see those evil radicals in Congress and good, moderate Obama who only lacks enough political will to confront the radicals. Tyler Cowen dysplays the same kind of denial (Mr Hendersson wrote about that). He describes communist-like and radical environmentalist Papa as "very conservative", and than says president Obama will not find the papa too far left from him. Which should mean that Obama is very, very free market guy.

Mitch Oliver writes:


It's strange that you still believe in Obama-moderate who naively outsource policies to radicals Pelosi and Reid. Do you really think that Obama is any less radical than Pelosi?

I would posit that the presumption that he is "outsourcing" his policy is a rhetorical device. The idea is that, whatever your personal views may be, you present the object of your statement with a charitable view of himself.

As Arnold points out, the purpose here is to triangulate against the Democratic Congress. This strategy avoids a direct attack against a President that while not generally popular has very loyal supporters in demographics you wish to court. This basically says "Hey, we are here to support what the President says he wants and those dirty Democrats in Congress are mucking up."

I suspect that Steele's "experiments" talking point is a signal to those who view the Great Depression as a series of failed experiments on the part of the Roosevelt administration.

The GOP's target right now ought to be the 2010 Congressional elections. I think Arnold's focus on Congressional Democrats is superior to Steele's focus on the President for this goal.

Ivan writes:

Mitch Oliver,

you are right basically. I have read once more Arnold's post and it can be interpreted that way. He provides talking points to Republicans.

But, I don't see the convincing reasons to distinguish between Obama nad Congress even in this context, having in mind that Obama's popularity declines as well. He, not Congress, promised bottoming of unemployment at 8% quickly, he promised cap-and-trade and health care "reforms", he criticized Bush's record deficit. I think it is highly unlikely that you can win in the Congress by avoiding confrontation with the president. Specially you have little reason to avoid such a confrontation when he is extremely vulnerable. If you want to win you must have consistent and logical message. When everyone see what Obama and his people do, your attempt to make a peace with them while attacking Congressional democrats doesn' t seem to be sustainable and convincing position. You cannot win by partially delegitimizing Congress while making partial peace with president, in situation when they act in concert. Republicans didn't win in 19994 that way, neither democrats did in 2006. In both cases, recipe for success was a strong critique of incumbent president's policies. So, I must say that even with amendment that Arnold wrote as if he provided talking points for Republicans, that reflected what I call irrational affinity of many "left libertarians" toward Obama. He still from some reason believes that majority of voters care for beltway libertarians' idiosyncratic notion of "moderate" and maybe even slightly libertarian-leaning Obama.

Tim Fowler writes:

Can you expand on what you mean by "illness-tested vouchers"?

Mitch Oliver writes:

Ivan,
You are correct about the 1994 and 2006 strategies, and Steele's strategy may yet succeed. I certainly hope it does.

I suspect, however, that the Republican brand is so damaged from its abandonment of any sort freedom agenda that it stands little chance of victory. Adopting Arnold's points would begin communicate a renewed commitment to the principals that brought the Regan Revolution and really reduced regulation (as Henderson observed previously).

Otherwise its "Won't Get Fooled Again" all over again.

Biff Baxter writes:

So as I understand it, BO is a naive waif who is being led into a tar pit by the Dem leadership? Is that about it?

What a joke. BO didn't earn the title "Most Liberal Senator" by being led down a path. It was he who was doing the leading.

I hope the Rep's. keep on keeping on. Know why?

It's working.

JKB writes:

Unfortunately, it is the Beltway Republicans who are mounting these attacks. Since limited government is antithesis to them since it would require them to get real jobs, they are fighting over scraps. They can't seem to understand that they should fight for something rather than against Obama. They are letting him dictate the battle plans. But most of all make 2010 about the failed Congress since that is what can be changed.

Arnold's plan is a good one. Separate healthcare from employment, give assistance in the form of vouchers and try the cost control measures in existing programs before going for broke. Point out where the Dems, no just Obama, are unwilling to test their ideas in the real world and where they've gone headlong in imposing them, they have been bad. But most of all, adopt the good parts of the Dems plan if it moves toward better healthcare options instead of bureaucrat dictated suffering and death.

Danno writes:

I agree with Ivan. There is absolutely no good strategic reason to treat Obama like a china doll - his poll numbers are sinking like a rock.

Also, I can tell you how Obama and the Democrats would defeat such a strategy: Did anyone remember how the Senate added $100 billion to the House version of the stimulus bill, only to cut it by $100 billion a couple weeks later? Do you remember how the MSM reported it? They loudly announced the "cuts" and made it sound like the Senate democrats made huge concessions to the Republicans and moderate Democrats. It was nothing but a shell game and everyone fell for it.

The Democrats would do the same thing with healthcare. The congress will overreach, and Obama will ride in on his white horse as the voice of reason, forcing his fellow Dems to trim the most controversial aspects of the bill. In the end, a big dollar, big brother healthcare plan will still be passed into law and Obama will have successfully positioned himself as a moderate by the MSM.

Arnold, you're a lousy strategist.

Wacky Hermit writes:

Obama showed himself to be weak and easily manipulable. He is also personally popular, though these numbers are fading rapidly due to his policy. Therefore it makes perfect sense that the best course of action for those who oppose his policies is to try to manipulate him into abandoning the people who are currently manipulating him into supporting these policies.

These talking points Mr. Kling proposes would be a good first step toward persuading Obama that the Republicans have the reasonable course of action. Obama takes excessive pride in his "reasonableness" so it is a weak point for him.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

"I suspect that Steele's "experiments" talking point is a signal to those who view the Great Depression as a series of failed experiments on the part of the Roosevelt administration."

FDR did get pretty inventive.

Gold clause ban and devaluation: Good experiment. Let's face it, he took Federal power way, way beyond what anyone thought it could be to do the gold clause ban. If only Hoover had done this experiment in 1930 or 1931! The countries that left the gold standard earlier did much better than the US.

Everything else: ineffective or bad experiment

Tom Nally writes:

Dr. Kling says, "Thus, the stimulus that will take effect two years after the recession started."

But what is the basis for thinking that the stimulus will have a positive effect? The whole notion seems to rely on this paradox:

I spend the dollar in my pocket...that's not a stimulus.

The federal government extracts the very same dollar from my pocket and spends it on the collectivist fantasies of politicians...Voila!...Stimulus!

I'm not buying it. I think the stimulus will destroy both wealth and jobs. Why? Because it takes the federal government $1.00 to purchase the same amount of goods and services that can be purchased in the private sector for only $0.75.

When $0.25 of every dollar's purchasing power is lost billions and billions of times over, that represents hundreds of thousands of jobs that will never come into existence. The net effect of the stimulus will be damaging.

hoipolloi writes:

Arnold, this is great advice. It's also how to be "post-partisan." I'd add something in there about how Obama's strawman examples of the political process ("doing nothing is not an option") is a bunch of bunk.

Lummox JR writes:

Obama's numbers may be sinking, but I still think he's too charismatic among independents to make a viable direct target for any political strategists. He's also invulnerable for three more years--he doesn't hold any of the seats in Congress the party wants to capture in 2010. It's way easier to put him on the defensive by showing how he's aligned with an inept Congress than going after him directly. The Democratic Congress however is ripe for such attacks, and convincing the American taxpayer that they're ramming through tons of power-grabbing, damaging legislation that they can't even be bothered to read first is actually pretty easy. The cap-and-trade bill, which would do horrendous damage to the economy if it actually passed, paints a target on everyone who voted for it (including the 8 RINOs).

The RNC doesn't need to treat Obama like a china doll but they lose nothing by letting his poll numbers slip ever further while he defends the deeply unpopular nonsense Pelosi and Reid are dishing out. All anyone has to do to hurt Obama's credibility is let him keep telling the voters that he'll rubber-stamp anything the clown college manages to get to his desk, let him keep picking questionable cabinet members and judges, and let his rhetoric get more desperate as his radically progressive agenda takes on water. Meanwhile the only way to rein in our destructive Congress is to keep the heat on them, letting them feel the anger of their constituents and making November 2010 seem a lot closer to now than they'd like. Their support for the New New Deal has begun to crumble under that pressure; keeping it up is a good thing.

Mike K writes:

There is a way to reform health care and control costs. You hinted at it when you said "fixed budget." What we need is catastrophic care so that people are protected from devastating illness but routine care is their own business with doctors. The French have a system that approximates this. The usual rent seekers, from the AMA (which represents only itself) on down are lined up at the government trough. First, we have to defeat this pork fest; then we can do something about reform.

submandave writes:

I think the focus on Pres. Obama is more a way to simultaneously attack all Dem Congress critters. Pres. Reagan said, "a rising tide carries all boats" but it is also true that all boats tied to a common anchor will founder when the tide rises.

Joe Michels writes:

If you recall a few months back us Republicans were is a state of disarray, we didn't have a message or a spokesperson. While that was all true, I told my friends, just hang in there, the lefties will give us our message; that it will be easy to identify and use against them. I was right on target.

Republicans now have a plethora of messages to send and we are no longer in disarray. We still are seeking our spokesperson, and that is OK. I would rather have a bunch of them, all trying different messages to see which ones rise to the occasion.

Mr Kling has great talking points and a good strategy. Let's see if they can stick to the wall. If not, we move on to the next person with ideas. Newt, Romney, Sarah doesn't matter to me at this point in the game.

chaos writes:

GOP strategy is pretty simple. Fight tooth and nail and watch the polls. So far the results (as small and incremental as they are) have been going to the GOP's way. If the party can keep that trend going, they'll be in good shape for 2010 and 2012.

But after re-reading the post about 3 times, I don't see any explanation of why Arnold Kling isn't a Republican. Fine, so you aren't. But don't title your post that and then tell us what you think the GOP should be doing, tell us why you aren't a Republican =)

Bob Murphy writes:

Arnold, I don't know why you complain that the cap and trade bill only has a "smidgen of CO2 reduction." The target of an 83% reduction in emissions by 2050 is actually extremely aggressive, and is worse than a policy of nothing at all, according to William Nordhaus' latest calibration of his DICE model. (And note that this is the same Nordhaus who co-authored a textbook with Samuelson, and who is a big proponent of a carbon tax.)

If you want details, I summarize them in this blog post at MasterResource.

Jolly Roger writes:

You're not a Republican because the brand is so damaged in your heart, not because of tactical or ideological differences.

Now talk about why the brand is so damaged there.

Neo writes:

The phrase, "means-tested", is most often used by Democrats, but even they won't touch it in regard to health care.
What Republican in their right mind would suggest it first ?

Niccolo writes:

Arnold,

Why doesn't the other side ever bring up the restrictions on interstate health care? It would seem a perfect point to make to talk about one very simple and fully constitutional way to bring down costs?


Could this be an effective talking point? Or are the interstate restrictions not that important to cost? Or would they just fly over most peoples' heads?

Smoothie writes:

That constituted a plan? A tax credit to buy insurance for an unspecified amount? Wow. Real comprehensive. That looks like the GOP's 3 page counter-budget. You've done nothing to address pre-existing conditions, insurance companies dropping employers who have sick employees during re-enrollment, nothing about costs of premiums, medication, the poor who don't pay taxes, how you are going to handle that such a credit RAISES the deficit by lowering tax revenue, etc.

With that craptastic plan, it makes what Steele said sound smart.

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