Category Archives: Policy

Rick Perry hates Texans.

(Austin is very nice though!)

Rick Perry doesn’t seem to like his fellow Texans (via Politico):

Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry accused President Barack Obama on Wednesday of “punishing” Texas and being “hell-bent” on turning the United States into a socialist country.

Speaking at a luncheon for a Midland County Republican Women’s group, Perry said that “this is an administration hell-bent toward taking American towards a socialist country. And we all don’t need to be afraid to say that because that’s what it is.”

Perry praised the tea party movement to the Republican activists in attendance, crediting the grassroots groups with discouraging some Democrats in Washington from pushing for a public option in the health care bill.

Under Gov. Perry’s wise leadership, Texas has consistently won the coveted title of “nation’s least-insured state.”  Texas leads the nation in uninsured adults and children; a staggering 25 percent of Texans – or 6 million people – live and work without health insurance, and that includes nearly 1.4 million children.  What’s more, Texas is ranked near the bottom when it comes to health care utilization, especially among children: overall, Texas is ranked 43 in terms of prevention and treatment, and among children Texas is ranked 40, with only 67.3 percent of Texas children receiving a preventative medical and dental visit in the past year.

Those of us without a sociopathic disregard for our fellow citizens recognizes that absent some serious intervention in the health care system, this trend is sure to continue, with more and more Texans losing their health insurance, and more and more Texans dying because of it.  I’d like to think that Gov. Perry knows this and is working diligently to find a solution to his state’s health care catastrophe.  But judging from his comments and his steadfast opposition to health care reform, I think it’s safe to say that Rick Perry is mostly unconcerned with the growing humanitarian crisis in his state.  Which makes sense.  The large majority of the uninsured are located in the South and the West, which also happen to be the last remaining Republican strongholds.  And as such, Rick Perry’s casual disregard for the uninsured puts him in close company with most of his ideological fellow-travelers.

To jump on Matt Yglesias’ point from this past weekend, if we operated with a slightly less absurd set of political institutions, a minority of legislators from sparsely populated states – or even larger states – wouldn’t be able to obstruct efforts to provide millions of people with potentially life-saving insurance.  Moreover, if we had a more responsible media, obstructionist legislators and leaders would be treated with disdain and opprobrium, not regularly trotted out as respectable members of the political elite.

Thoughtless and Racist.

I’m going to be vague on location here to avoid giving away too much, but I had a friend who just had to interview a group of homeowners in a portion of the northeast that’s very wealthy and smugly liberal. The group was concerned about a mixed-income housing unit going through the zoning approval process. These folks were going to get some new neighbors, and they didn’t like it. They actually feared it, and said so on the record.

Officially, the group was upset about increasing traffic, and that the plan called for some units’ backyards to face the street, forcing them to look at backyard things like playsets and grills. Zoning officials addressed those concerns, but residents were still not happy. When a group of a dozen neighbors called my friend over to their swanky townhouse complex, which is on the border between well-off and less well-off sections of the city, some unofficial objections leaked out through the aggressive use of pronouns.

I mean, why do they all have to live in this side of the city. Right?

Last week, this same town filled all three available board of education spots with candidates who came out against “heterogeneous classrooms,” which are experimental classes in some local middle schools that do away with the former method of grouping kids by ability. Ability is assessed at way too tender an age, and in suburban schools the achievement gap by and large splits black and Latino students from their white peers. The idea used to be that kids learned best in similarly abled groups, but it turns out that idea hurts lower-achieving students and does little if anything to help higher-achieving ones. This parental fear that lower-achieving kids are somehow going to infect the higher-scoring ones with their stupidity has no merit. I can’t say for certain that heterogeneous classrooms were the deciding factors in the elections, but it was a big issue during the campaign and those who supported them lost.

I don’t see the harm in calling “ability grouping” what it really is: segregation. And I see no harm in calling the condo-folks’ efforts what they really are: unofficial redlining. They believe lower-income residents, largely black and Latino, will lower their property values, blight their neighborhoods because they don’t make home improvements and use their pools without permission (kids knock on their doors in the summer to ask to use their pools, and are turned away.) But what really worries the residents is that people who don’t look like them will be so woven into their lives that they see their backyard playsets every day, that they can’t tell one yard from the next.

The people in the townhouses trying to guard their suburban idyll will tell you it has nothing to do with race, and I think they actually believe it. They were all white, young professionals who aren’t among the wealthiest in the city. This area went heavily for Obama last year, and in general aggressively pursues affordable housing projects like this one. It’s a city outwardly concerned with equality and opportunity for all but at the same time people gripe about the taxes and policies used to provide services for them.

Both these instances made me think about the controversy after a New Mexican hotel owner asked his workers to Anglicize their names. For some, it was a shock to call this racist. I learned about it when I saw a CNN banner that read “Racist, or Thoughtless?”

As if people can’t be thoughtlessly racist. In fact, people are more often thoughtlessly racist than they are aggressively so.

Which is why I was the only person on Jimmy Carter’s side when he called out the obvious racism against Obama. I know the argument against his having said it; that it’s not helpful, only puts people on the defensive and shuts down conversation. But I have a certain affinity for a fellow white Southerner who sees racism from a different angle, when it’s spoken in closed company by people who assume you agree with them. That’s what upset my friend the most; the homeowners spoke to her as if she knew what they were trying to say. They call it dog-whistling for a reason: It’s under the surface until you call it up and address it, and white Americans just don’t have these conversations that often, if ever.

Sacrifing Abortion.

Was the amendment restricting insurers that get federal dollars from paying for abortions a necessary evil to get health reform passed? Probably. It’s a heartbreaking setback, and, as Emily Bazelon points out in Double X, this only hurts poor women.

Just to keep things in perspective, though, women without health insurance don’t have abortions paid for now. I’d rather be certain that all women are getting the gynecological care they need, including effective birth control, than fight this battle right now.

Executive Mandates, Executive Power and Health Care Reform.

Getty Images

I predicted this story a few months ago; a grudging acknowledgment that President Barack Obama’s hands-off approach on health care might have been the right one after all. It’s not that I necessarily think it’s better that Obama let Congress hash out the health care plan and then let the town hall hysteria boil and dissipate on national television. It’s just that a kind of coolness and steadiness has always been his strategy, and so far it has worked.

There’s something else at work here, too. Obama seems to appreciate Congress’s place in the process. Respecting Congress might seem a hard thing to do, but it’s what presidents once did. The mini-series on John Adams, based on the biography by David McCullough, lets Adams a little off the hook for The Alien and Sedition acts because he was merely acquiescing to Congress’s will, and they had enough votes to override a veto anyway. In fact, Jon Meacham tells us in “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House” that the first six presidents rarely used their veto power, usually overriding only those acts they saw as unconstitutional.

It was Jackson, Meacham said, who used veto power for laws with which he disagreed. It became a political tool and a method for making policy. It was Jackson who first saw himself as having a popular mandate, representing the will of the people over the entrenched interests of Congress.

For many of us here, that probably seems like a good presidential philosophy as long as Obama’s in the White House. It feels like Obama is representative of the popular will, and its tempting to want him to take up the progressive mandate mantle. It’s not as though Obama’s completely against strong executive power, as we’ve argued before; he seems particularly reluctant to roll back Bush era expansions of it. But there’s something to be said for respecting the institution and the slow and steady progress it’s most inclined to make, and Obama tends to put his faith in the electoral process. American democracy can evolve in punctuated equilibrium fashion, and the South, interested from the start in establishing a different kind of America, is still fighting the rupturing battles of the 50s,  60s and 70s (even all the way back to the 30s). Change was faster then, but it came at a price. Gay rights advocates, Americans without health care and all of us breathing increasingly warm and poisoned air can point out that slow change costs us something, too. Perhaps progressives can console themselves with this; change is change, and it’s never failed to come.

A Public Option and Employer Insurance.

A new poll shows that a majority of the public supports a public option, and it’s time for lawmakers to listen. When Senators like Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch inveigh against a government-provided insurance option, we all know on whose behalf they’re speaking. But the problem is some of their constituents believe the nonsense about a public option limiting choice for Americans. The Republicans argue that when President Barack Obama says you can keep the health insurance you have if you like it, he’s not telling the truth. But the real truth is that nothing guarantees you can keep the insurance you have anyway.

Because of rising costs, employees were losing their employer-based insurance before,which is what helped spark this call to reform. Employers are also forcing their employees to contribute more money to crappier plans that then ask for even more out-of-pocket payments if you ever use them to go to the doctor. That’s why the number of uninsured Americans kept growing year after year. The Kaiser Family Foundation tells us that’s likely to keep happening without reform.

One of those crappy, high-deductible plans for which I still have to contribute a sizable percent of my income is what I’ll be struggling to afford next year. I’m going to change insurance companies for the fourth time in two years. The first change was my “fault;” I changed employers and moved to a different state. The other changes came when my company was sold and bought, and then bought again. Now, my new owner has decided the health care plan I elected is too expensive. If I want to keep my doctors on the new plan and they’re not in the network, there’s a good chance my insurance will only cover 85 percent of “reasonable and customary” costs. Is there a list of what the company considers “reasonable” for different types of treatments or procedures? No. I’m sure whatever I face next year, I can count on a confusing bill to follow.

This is what’s frustrating to me about the right’s claims of personal choice and responsibility in the health care debate. I’m pretty trapped with whatever new plan my new employer wants to implement. And it doesn’t feel like choice.

Quote of the Day.

One of Sully’s readers explains how he came around on DADT.

I used to be of the same mind as your military reader who says we cannot repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, as it would bring homosexual men and women into danger. I had served in the Marine Corps, and still bear my marine tattoo. I believed that we had to keep homosexuals safe from the barbarous military men (the women weren’t violently homophobic, in my experience) until I spoke with another former marine who told me that my good intentions were small minded.

Homosexual men and women needed to suffer publicly. They needed to be beaten and keep standing. They needed to be promoted into powerful non-commissioned officer ranks. There needed to be gay drill instructors who put recruits in awe of their abilities. There had to be openly gay marine and soldier heroes to show the homophobes that they are wrong, just as Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, and all the rest have done.

And, as I write this, I realize that’s why so much of the country fears letting homosexuals serve openly in the military, because it will show America that they are not inferior. The hardscrabble Americans in the military will learn that there are gay men who are better than themselves, that there are lesbians tougher, and smarter, and more heroic than they will ever be. That’s why they must keep Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, in order to maintain the hideous illusion of superiority for the homophobes of all stripes.

Connecting a Few More Dots.

(Cross-posted from the League of Ordinary Gentlemen and U.S. of J.)

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

There’s a part in The Audacity Of Hope, where writing about race, Obama notes that, rightly or wrongly, a significant swath of white people are exhausted, and repeatedly scolding them (even if you’re right) is unlikely to alter the poverty stats. What we need, Obama argued, is a different strategy, one that connects our practical interests with the practical interests of the broader country–less energy on Don Imus and more on Harlem hospital. This sounds like a surrender, but it’s really a re-affirmation of strategy that goes back to Douglass. The point was never to wash white people, (an arrogant pursuit, at any rate) but to free ourselves. My interest in anti-racism is passing. My interest in black people is essential.

As much as I am sympathetic to Ta-Nehisi’s aversion to focusing on anti-racism, I think he is a little too quick to divorce anti-racism from the broader struggle for the practical interests of black people.  That is, if you were going to translate “practical interests of black people” into a legislative program, it would look pretty similar to the platform liberals have been pushing for the better part of a century: universal health care, robust public education, and generous income supports (EITC, unemployment benefits, welfare, etc.).  And so when Obama says that we should connect the practical issues of African-Americans to those of the country, what he means – really – is the opposite: the practical issues of the country are those of black people; and programs designed to benefit the country at large will also benefit (maybe even disproportionately) black people.

But here is where anti-racism and public policy is directly connected.   It’s not just that racial prejudice makes it incredibly difficult to pass legislation that directly addresses problems within minority communities – no, racial prejudice makes it incredibly difficult to pass legislation which directly benefits the majority of Americans.  And most of us know this.  The easiest way to sink an expansion of the welfare state is by attacking it as a give away to African-Americans (or more recently, Hispanic immigrants).  Political scientists have consistently shown that latent prejudice can be “primed” and channeled into a generalized opposition to almost any kind of social spending.  Indeed, the positive relationship between high levels of “racial conservatism” and opposition to the welfare state is one of the closest things to received wisdom that you can find in political science.

More importantly, however, is the fact that actively calling out a racial appeal can serve to defuse its power.  Tali Mendelberg addresses this with considerable detail in her book The Race Card, but it suffices to say that a large part of the power of racial appeals stems from their subtlety.  No one likes to think of themselves as a racist, or even as someone who harbors racial prejudice, and a skillful racial appeal takes account of this by offering a plausible non-racial narrative.  If someone makes the racial narrative explicit (which isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds), it is possible to defuse the appeal, and make its intended targets inclined to reject it.

Insofar that the “anti-racism project” is important, it’s precisely because stopping (or diminishing the force of) racial appeals is an integral part of building support for greater social spending and greater investment in underprivileged communities.  That’s not to say that we should devote much – or any – of our time to the Don Imus’ and Rush Limbaughs of the world, but that advancing the practical interests of the country, and thus the practical interests of black people, requires us to spend real time and devote real energy to pushing against racially negative language and racially negative narratives.