Obama’s ‘vision thing.’ Sep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By JAY COST
Toward the end of Ronald Reagan’s second term, a friend of Vice President Bush encouraged him to think carefully about what a Bush presidency should look like. According to Time, Bush responded, “Oh, the vision thing.” Fairly or unfairly, this phrase came to characterize the Bush 41 tenure. Despite his impressive résumé spanning three decades in government, he seemed not to have a clear view of what he wanted to do.
When Barack Obama campaigned for the White House in 2008, that hardly seemed like his problem. Obama would take in the whole sweep of American history in his speeches to suggest that his candidacy was its culmination. His heavy-handed propaganda—from the Greek columns to Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster—suggested a man with a vision surplus.
In the sixth year of his presidency, it is clear that Obama does not have much of a vision at all. Sure, he is a man of the left and possesses a commitment to its goals; he thinks government should grow larger and taxes should increase. Beyond that, he does not seem to have a firm sense of the reforms he should implement, how to implement them, how he fits into the constitutional schema, what a sensible U.S. foreign policy should be or how to execute it.
This is not to say that the White House does not offer positions on the issues. We are inundated with Obama positions. We are also treated periodically to longer “think pieces” from sycophantic authors granted extraordinary access to reinforce the point that this is a president deeply engaged in the issues of the day, struggling to bring order from chaos.
Yet the constant positioning and propagandizing belie deep-rooted ambiguities in this administration, which—it must be noted—has taken flak from left and right for years. Radical academic Cornel West recently suggested that Obama is a corporatist stooge, while Rand Paul fretted about the “socialist nightmare” the president is creating. Some might think these critiques accidentally demonstrate that the president is down-the-center. More likely they point to the absence of “the vision thing.” Sometimes he’s a corporate crony, sometimes a socialist; it all depends on what side of the bed he wakes up on.
Consider health care. If any issue might suggest an Obama vision, this would be it. But what, really, is Obamacare? It is quite unlike Medicare or Social Security. Both programs—despite their shortcomings—are conscientious mixes of policy ideals and political realities, crafted by men with clear visions. Look carefully at both programs, and you can see that vision, not only of what the proper policy is, but how to get it through Congress and build public support.
Obamacare exhibits none of these qualities. It is a bizarre Rube Goldberg contraption with no clear idea at its core. The exchanges are intended to promote competition while the Medicaid expansion doubles down on single payer. It reins in the insurance companies while the risk corridor program shovels billions to them in bailout cash. It expands coverage for prescription drugs for seniors while simultaneously granting drug companies some exceedingly generous rents.
It is almost as if it were written with no White House input except, “Get me a bill to sign!” The historical record suggests that was more or less the case; apart from tasking his aides to run interference with industry insiders, the president was notably aloof from the proceedings on Capitol Hill. For instance, in a summer 2009 conference call with left-wing bloggers, the president was asked if people would be able to keep their existing insurance. His answer: “You know, I have to say that I am not familiar with the provision you are talking about.” Exactly.
It might in fact be more accurate to call it Pelosicare or Baucuscare. House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus were the two most important agents in getting a bill to the president’s desk. Disengaged from most of the policy details as well as the legislative horse trading, Obama considered his main task to sell the legislation to the country—a task at which he failed miserably.
Don’t laugh—it’s better than you think.Aug 18, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 46 • By JAY COST
The rollout of Hillary Clinton’s new memoirs, Hard Choices, was not a resounding success for the former secretary of state. She stuck her foot in her mouth regarding her family’s vast fortune. She had trouble answering questions about her evolution on gay marriage. Critics, on the whole, found the book tired and shopworn.
Hillary’s Democratic challengers are likely to fall short. Jun 2, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 36 • By JAY COST
Hillary Clinton is back in the news, facing questions about her health and lingering doubts about what exactly happened in the aftermath of the Benghazi terror attack. Meanwhile, some Democrats—Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont most notable among them—have been making noises about challenging Clinton for the Democratic nomination. In light of the fact that Clinton was the overwhelming frontrunner at this point in the 2008 cycle, such events cannot be overlooked. It’s a fair question to ask: Is Clinton really as strong as she appears for the 2016 Democratic nod?
Five phony success stories.May 19, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 34 • By JAY COST
With enrollment in the Obamacare exchanges now closed, Democrats and their friends in the media are ebullient. Obamacare is an enormous success, they say, and conservatives have been humiliated. On closer inspection, however, things seem decidedly less bullish for President Obama’s signature achievement.
Among the many exaggerations and inaccuracies the law’s defenders are touting, five stand out.
How Obamacare pays off insurers.May 12, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 33 • By JAY COST and JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
When the government provides medical care, it normally delegates the task. Under Medicare, Washington doesn’t employ doctors, nurses, and hospitals to treat the elderly. It has to coax them to participate. Similarly, Obamacare functions only if big insurance companies are willing to play ball with big government. Those driven by the profit motive must be won over by those driven by the power motive.
The Democrats’ Senate problem.Apr 14, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 29 • By JAY COST
What do Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia have in common? For one, none has a city larger than 400,000 people. For another, they all voted for John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. For yet another, they are the most likely places for Republicans to pick up Senate seats, thus taking control of the upper chamber, in 2014.
These three facts are related.
Mar 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 27 • By JAY COST
"Ready for Hillary” is the rather ominous name given to the super-PAC working on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s putative presidential campaign. One group that appears to be ready for Hillary, according to the Hill, is the vast array of lobbyists known as K Street:
Everybody loves the spirit of compromise. Except voters. Mar 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 25 • By JAY COST
Historically, potent third parties or outside political movements have had one of two origins. On the one hand, they were driven by powerful personalities who did not fit cleanly within either of the major parties: Theodore Roosevelt (1912), George Wallace (1968), and H. Ross Perot (1992, 1996) are the three primary examples.
The corrupting effects of Obamacare.Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By JAY COST
On February 4 the Congressional Budget Office dropped a bombshell. Analysts there found that Obamacare’s structure will create an enormous implicit tax on work, such that people on the lower end of the economic scale will have an incentive to quit their jobs or scale back to part time to maximize their premium subsidies. In an earlier study, CBO had estimated that this disincentive to work would destroy the equivalent of less than a million full-time jobs. Now, it projects that an equivalent of more than 2 million jobs will be lost as people voluntarily leave the workforce.
Feb 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 22 • By JAY COST
Last month, the House Republican leadership released its guiding principles on immigration reform. While mostly boilerplate, the document suggests that the House GOP envisions a bill similar to last year’s Senate compromise spearheaded by Marco Rubio: enhanced border security in exchange for legalization of the illegal immigrant population; more visas for the highly skilled and permits for temporary guest workers; and a rationalization of the immigration process.
Let’s redistribute power, not income.Feb 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 21 • By JAY COST
Barack Obama’s latest State of the Union address was a dreary, tiresome affair—which, to be fair, could be said of most such addresses by most modern presidents. The only real surprise was how he soft-pedaled the problem of inequality. Pre-speech hype had promised this would be the centerpiece theme, and it’s certainly one that has been a hobbyhorse of his Democratic party since its founding. But perhaps, on deeper reflection, we should not be so surprised that the word itself was only mentioned once.
Big government in bed with big insurance.Feb 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 20 • By JAY COST
Obamacare is like an onion: The more layers you peel back, the worse it smells. The latest revelation about this horrible law is the presence of a “risk corridor,” a euphemism for an insurance industry bailout that will occur sometime in the next year.
Hosted by Michael Graham5:15 PM, Dec 9, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with staff writer Jay Cost on his recent cover story, The Battle of 2014 on the political landscape for the 2014 elections.