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The Democrats' America vs. The Real Thing

Things aren't as bad as the Democrats claim.

12:00 AM, Aug 29, 2008 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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TODAY IS THAT DAY that we all realize that summer's lease has all too short a date. The Labor Day weekend starts tomorrow--the last long, lazy weekend of summer. Fewer Americans than usual have taken to the road because gasoline prices, although easing (Hurricane Gustav permitting), remain high by historic standards. But whether at home or on the road, we know that there won't be another long weekend until Thanksgiving rolls around late in November, and that holiday is more likely to witness snow flurries than warming sunshine in most parts of the country.

Americans who were glued to their television sets watching the Democratic convention that ended last night with Obama's acceptance speech might not be in a mood to relax with their last gin-and-tonic of the season. The picture of America they got from Denver, the mile-high host city--mile-high as in altitude, not the stuff that contributed to making the Democrats' 1968 convention in Chicago such a riotous affair--is of a nation in serious economic trouble and shunned by its former allies. Only 18 percent of Americans believe the nation is on the right track, we were reminded by an Obama-loving media.

As the Democrats see it, America circa 2008 consists largely of uninsured people struggling to pay the health-care bills of their sick kids, people whose homes have been snatched from them by hard-hearted bankers, a massive army of the unemployed, women discriminated against in the workplace, greedy rich people unwilling to pay their fair share of taxes, returning veterans denied benefits by none other than war hero John McCain, and unionized teachers, who say they are eager to do their best for our kids, but remain adamantly opposed to allowing parents to pick the schools that are best for their children and to merit-based pay to reward excellent teaching.

To the Democrats, and to about the half of Americans who have made up their minds, the solution is to elect Barack Obama president of the United States. With the exception of an undetermined number of angry Hillary Clinton fans, Obama's supporters are notable for their enthusiasm. Their man, they believe, will bring justice to the downtrodden, heal the sick, feed the poor, save the planet, and end war. This will be accomplished by raising income, estate, capital gains, and dividend taxes paid by the rich, and freeing up funds by ending the war in Iraq "responsibly". Throw in taxes on polluters and the withdrawal of some tax advantages enjoyed by the big oil companies, and you have a sort of anti-Keynesian fiscal policy: higher taxes as the economy weakens--although not, we are promised, for middle- and lower-income families.

Fortunately for America, the state of the nation is not quite as described by the Democrats. Yes, the health care system is not what it should be, in part because government regulations have intervened between doctor and patient to convert what once was a respectful relationship into an adversarial one. Yes, health care costs are escalating, in part because new technologies and medicines that improve the quality of life are costly to develop. And, yes, things would be a lot better if Americans who do not get insurance from their employers were treated equally for tax purposes with those who do, as John McCain suggests.

But in the end, 85 percent of Americans do have health insurance coverage. Of the 45.7 million people who are uninsured, many receive health care at no cost to themselves from the non-profit hospitals that account for about 90 percent of all such institutions in the US. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, 25 percent of the uninsured are eligible for government-funded Medicaid, but have not signed up, and 54 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34, a group heavily weighted with people who, right or wrong, probably see little need for coverage. Can things get better with sensible policies? Sure. But experience in other countries suggests that massive government intervention in the health care system just might not be the answer. Canadian fugitives from government health care slip across the border to avoid long delays by getting their ills attended to here. There is no traffic in the other direction.