Thursday, September 24, 2009

Those Leftists At It Again

It is really extraordinary. Johanna Neumann of the Los Angeles Times traces the "roots of our current political polarization date back decades, when a confluence of events turned Washington from a parochial Southern town where power was guarded zealously by those at the top into a media-savvy place where bit players like Wilson can captivate national attention." The major culprit is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R.-Ga.), who "encouraged lawmakers to spend more time in their districts. Roll-call votes -- that too was an innovation of the C-SPAN times -- would never take place on Mondays and only rarely on Fridays."

Buried, though, in this plausible and sensible thesis is the apparent presopposition, in which she implausibly asks

Why is it, I asked, that the extreme wings on the right and left are driving the nation's politics even as public opinion clings to the good common sense of the center?

Read that over- "the extreme wings on the right and the left." The extreme wings on the right and the left.

For months, the major controversy in Congress over health care has been the public option. The public option that, according to President Obama

....would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5 percent of Americans would sign up.

Mr. Obama obviously is "reassuring" listeners- and insurance companies- that fewer than 5% of Americans would be enrolled in a public plan. Literally- although it's hard to believe that he actually is this protective of insurance companies- the President is saying that less than 5% of Americans would be "impacted" (affected, to those of you who know English) by this plan. This, in turn, suggests that his public option wouldn't even give insurance companies much, if any, incentive to lower prices.

Meanwhile, the office of Senate Finance Committee chairmanMax Baucus (which reportedly has been in close contact all along with Obama Chief Of Staff Rahm Emanuel) has devloped a bill which, as summarized by AFSCME president Gerald McIntee, contains

no employer mandate, no public option, no help for retirees. The finance committee bill imposes substantial costs on the states, weakens state insurance regulation and taxes our health plan.

This wouldn't be "the extreme wing" on the left "driving the nation's politics" even if it reflected the desires of the American people. Which it doesn't. Throughout the health care debate, most polls have shown more Americans supporting a public option than opposing it; some have shown overwhelming support. Yet, all Republicans in the United States Senate oppose a "robust" public option, and clearly at least a few Democrats do also.

The mainstream media and the Obama administration have managed to cast a public option (for which few people would be eligible) rather than single payer as the one held by the left wing of the Democratic Party. This leaves Max Baucus, Rahm Emanuel, and other advocates in the "liberal" party dancing to the tune played by the insurance industry portrayed as holding the "moderate" position.

There are corollaries in other industries, of course, including our most critical and urgent domestic problem (assiduously ignored by almost everyone except the "extreme wing" on the left), operation of the financial system. Paul Krugman explains in his New York Times column

What’s wrong with financial-industry compensation? In a nutshell, bank executives are lavishly rewarded if they deliver big short-term profits — but aren’t correspondingly punished if they later suffer even bigger losses. This encourages excessive risk-taking: some of the men most responsible for the current crisis walked away immensely rich from the bonuses they earned in the good years, even though the high-risk strategies that led to those bonuses eventually decimated their companies, taking down a large part of the financial system in the process.

The Federal Reserve, now awakened from its Greenspan-era slumber, understands this problem — and proposes doing something about it. According to recent reports, the Fed’s board is considering imposing new rules on financial-firm compensation, requiring that banks “claw back” bonuses in the face of losses and link pay to long-term rather than short-term performance. The Fed argues that it has the authority to do this as part of its general mandate to oversee banks’ soundness.

But the industry — supported by nearly all Republicans and some Democrats — will fight bitterly against these changes. And while the administration will support some kind of compensation reform, it’s not clear whether it will fully support the Fed’s efforts.

I was startled last week when Mr. Obama, in an interview with Bloomberg News, questioned the case for limiting financial-sector pay: “Why is it,” he asked, “that we’re going to cap executive compensation for Wall Street bankers but not Silicon Valley entrepreneurs or N.F.L. football players?”

That’s an astonishing remark — and not just because the National Football League does, in fact, have pay caps. Tech firms don’t crash the whole world’s operating system when they go bankrupt; quarterbacks who make too many risky passes don’t have to be rescued with hundred-billion-dollar bailouts. Banking is a special case — and the president is surely smart enough to know that.


The extreme left wing may be controlling the Democratic Party. That would, obviously, prominently exclude the Senate Majority Leader, the Chief of Staff to the President, and President Barack Obama.

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