Friday, October 9, 2009

Bobby Jindal's Brave Move, Part Two

My piece defending Bobby Jindal, which I published in Fox News’ Fox Forum, seems to have raised some eyebrows, from such thoughtful observers as Philip Klein at The American Spectator, Michael Cannon at the Cato Institute, Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review, and Matt Welch at Reason.

In my piece, I praised Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, for having taken on “the task of forging a ‘governing conservatism.’” And Jindal would certainly seem well equipped to do just that: Having piled up a 93 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union for his votes in Congress, he was elected to the statehouse in Baton Rouge in 2007, running on a platform of post-Katrina reform and renewal.

And in the midst of the ongoing vigorous debate over Obamacare, Jindal jumped in with his own healthcare ideas, which appeared on the op-ed page of Monday’s Washington Post. Most of his ten policy planks were well within conservative/libertarian orthodoxy, including tort reform and the portability of insurance. But he also offered this suggestion:

Require coverage of preexisting conditions: Insurance should not be least accessible when it is needed most. Companies should be incentivized to focus on delivering high-quality effective care, not to avoid covering the sick.

And that has caused some consternation--actually, a fair amount of consternation. Thus we see the ongoing challenge of forging a “governing conservatism,” or, as some would clearly prefer, a “governing libertarianism.”

While it might be asserted that the two intellectual traditions, conservatism and libertarianism, are--or should be--the same, there has, in fact, been a tension over the decades. Here, for example, are some strong words from Whittaker Chambers about Ayn Rand (in National Review), from Friedrich Hayek about conservatives, and from Russell Kirk about libertarians.

However, it could be argued that today a conservative-libertarian fusionism now prevails--on domestic and economic policy, at least--as opposed to both social policy and foreign policy, where nobody even aspires to consensus.

But if domestic- and economic-policy fusionism prevails among the intellectuals, there’s still the question of what the Republican Party thinks. Not every conservative/libertarian has affection for the GOP, of course, but the more politically minded among them maintain at least a tactical alliance.

And yet the Republican Party has its own imperatives. In 2003, the Republican Congress enacted, and President George W. Bush signed into law, the most significant piece of healthcare legislation in the past four decades, the Medicare Modernization Act--also known as Medicare Part D, the “prescription drug benefit.” This legislation is regarded with horror by many, if not most, conservative/libertarian intellectuals.

Even so, Republicans in the Senate six years ago voted
42:9 for the legislation, with the “ayes” including such conservative figures as Sam Brownback, Orrin Hatch, Jim Inhofe, and Jim Talent.

And in the House, the vote among Republicans was even more lopsided, 207:19, with the “ayes” including such right-leaning luminaries as Scott Garrett, Mark Kennedy, Steve King, Jim Nussle, Richard Pombo, and Chris Smith.

Surely there have been some second thoughts among those “aye” votes--and some of the “ayes” are no longer in office--but I am not aware of any great rethinking of Medicare Part D among elected Republicans.

In fact, many, if not most, elected Republicans are supportive of Jindal-style efforts at defining a “governing conservatism” that is unlikely to please purists. Moreover, one of the new talking points among Republican leaders in 2009 is to “protect Medicare and not cut it in the name of ‘health-insurance reform.’”

No doubt there’s an inevitable gap between the intelligentsia and officialdom, between the avant-garde and the stalwarts. The Movement has its ways, and they are important; elected officials have their ways, and they are important, too.

The question is how it might be possible--if it is possible--to narrow the gap between them. Ideology vs. pragmatism. The perfect vs. the good. Winning an argument vs. actually winning elections.

Thus the grand project of fusionism must continue.


  1. With friends like those who needs enemies?

    Where do these guys get the idea that they can just act like Democrats when we elect them for being something else and stay in office? Things like Medicare Part D are why I have a hard time voting for Republicans. At least when a Democrat does something stupid we can count on Republicans (for a while anyway) to fight them. When Republicans promote socialist policies there's nobody else out there to stop them.

    I have no problem with recognizing that one sometimes has to make tactical alliances and tactical retreats in politics as in war, but when you get in the other guy's trenches and start advancing his line for him there's something seriously wrong.

    On the particulars here, can anyone tell me what stops someone from not paying for an insurance policy, waiting until he becomes ill, signing up for insurance during his expensive treatment and then quitting again the minute he's cured? If that's possible it's going to demolish the insurance industry. Rates are going to skyrocket for those who play by the rules and what do you think the proposed solution from the opposition will be? Free markets? Nope, this plan will be tagged as a "free market" plan and when it fails the only alternative presented will be socialism. Isn't that a strategic failure? Or is Jindal counting on the idea that his plan doesn't have a snowball's chance of passing so the point is to just be an alternative in the abstract that people can talk about? If so then why not let them talk about something that would have worked anyway?

    I think that the way to eliminate most of the preexisting condition mess is to get rid of the idea of employer-provided insurance. The way that most people lose their coverage in the first place is because of losing or changing their jobs. Why do people use this silly way of selecting and buying insurance? It's the tax law that makes it considerably more expensive to buy insurance as an individual than through an employer, so let's make insurance and medical expenses tax deductible and most of this problem would go away naturally. Isn't that better than something that in the long run will destroy and discredit the free market and lead to socialized medicine as its main consequences?

  2. [quote]The question is how it might be possible--if it is possible--to narrow the gap between them. Ideology vs. pragmatism.[/quote]

    I don't think they are mutually exclusive.

  3. Bobby Jindal's name comes up frequently as a potential contender in what I term the "Clean Up Ticket" of 2012. The rationale would be similar to LBJ-Nixon or Carter-Reagan. If the country continues to function in a spiraling economy and job market the voters will seek a clean up Republican administration. Certainly by then the Bush animosity wound will be long forgotten. As a quasi personal handler remark, Jindal has to learn to slow his speech pattern down. I know that this is habitual but the voters want slow and measured. At any rate he is brilliant and comes across as a people's advocate in a dominant fashion as he demonstrated in the Katrina disaster. I would like to campaign for a Pawlenty-Jindal ticket for now. Governor Pawlenty impresses me as presidential, strong personal appearance and conservative values. The combination of the young and aggressive futurist team, I think would be unbeatable.

  4. Mandating coverage of preexisting conditions is redefininf insurance as something that is not insurance. You buy insurance when you don't need it, for the occassion when you do. It is simply impossible to explain how the cost of insurance would not skyrocket, whickly piling people into a government plan that covers cost by taxing, borrowing and printing money.

    In Houston, there is the Harris County Hospital District where people in need can go. I did, a year after I was diagnosed with MS and my COBRA expired. It was a cattle call, of course, but only a fantasizer can imagine that a federal government bureaucracy would not be worse than a local one. Imagine if you could buy collision insurance for you car AFTER you had wrecked it. Sure, the needy should be cared for, but by private and local efforts.