I’ve been mulling over a column by David Brooks on “The Politics of Solipsism” for the past couple of weeks. What he wrote is nervy to say the least. He argues that America has lost the republican virtues on which it was founded, namely, the curbing of self-centeredness in the interest of the public good. I too am a fan of Cicero, but Brooks fails in one of the primary republican virtues by not forthrightly acknowledging that Republicans, the adherents of Ayn Rand, are the ones who have most blatantly deserted these same virtues. Self interest has center stage on their platform.
Brooks praises Truman and Eisenhower, but he fails to mention that it was President Kennedy who repeatedly challenged Americans and asked them to sacrifice. He urged us to go to the moon because it was tough, not because it was easy. And when my father, Robert Kennedy, was running for president and medical students asked him who would pay for more health care for the poor, he quickly answered, “You will.”
Contrary to the Republican philosophy, summed up by Ronald Reagan, that government is the problem, John and Robert Kennedy considered politics an honorable profession and affirmed that government was the place where we “make our most solemn common decisions.”
Both my uncle and my father knew that America is at its best when its citizens are willing to give up something for others. That was the spirit in which they committed themselves to public service. Ultimately they both gave their lives in the service of their country.
Like my father and my uncle, I believe that serving the public good is the essential republican virtue. In fact I led the effort to make Maryland the first and still only state in the country where community service is a condition of high school graduation. I did this because I believe that virtue comes from habits developed, not sermons given. Aristotle said, “we become house builders by building houses, we become harp players by playing the harp, we grow to be just by doing just actions.”
Republican governors are making their mark attacking public servants. They’re laying off citizens who exemplify republican virtues like teaching in inner city schools, fighting drug cartels, and rushing into burning buildings. Why? So that those who make outrageous salaries can pay lower taxes.
Brooks says that Republicans want growth, but I see no evidence that they want growth for anyone but the most well off. Where is the commitment to education, to infrastructure, to science?
Brooks commends Paul Ryan for sending the message that “politics can no longer be about satisfying voters’ immediate needs.” And yet Ryan would give the rich even more of a tax break at a time when our taxes are the lowest in three decades.
George Washington, whom Brooks also praises, would be surprised that the rich are being asked to shoulder less of a burden. He supported excise taxes that would fall disproportionately on the wealthy. When he went to war, he brought his wife, Martha, to share the hard, cold winter of Valley Forge along with him.
The wealthy have a special responsibility. From those who have been given much, much will be asked. In a true republic, people of wealth and privilege are first in line to serve in government, go to war, contribute to the honor and glory of their country. They set the nation’s values. If what they value is money, money, money, then the country will follow.
After 9/11, George Bush asked us to shop. At just the moment when he could have called us to a cause greater than ourselves, he (apparently on the advice of Karl Rove) urged us to step up for new TVs and designer bags rather than for the public good.
So if Brooks really wants to put an end to the politics of solipsism, he must take on the Republican party itself, which has done so little to cultivate the virtues of service, sacrifice, and commitment to country.
Please don’t lecture us about solipsism and republican virtues when it’s Republicans who are the ones who have made such a virtue of self interest.
By: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, The Atlantic, May 22, 2011
Mitt Romney’s defense of the Massachusetts health care reforms was politically self-serving. It was also true.
Despite all of the bashing by conservative commentators and politicians — and the predictions of doom for national health care reform — the program he signed into law as governor has been a success. The real lesson from Massachusetts is that health care reform can work, and the national law should work as well or even better.
Like the federal reform law, Massachusetts’s plan required people to buy insurance and employers to offer it or pay a fee. It expanded Medicaid for the poor and set up insurance exchanges where people could buy individual policies, with subsidies for those with modest incomes.
Since reform was enacted, the state has achieved its goal of providing near-universal coverage: 98 percent of all residents were insured last year. That has come with minimal fiscal strain. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a nonpartisan fiscal monitoring group, estimated that the reforms cost the state $350 million in fiscal year 2010, a little more than 1 percent of the state budget.
Other significant accomplishments:
The percentage of employers offering insurance has increased, probably because more workers are demanding coverage and businesses are required to offer it.
The state has used managed-care plans to hold down the costs of subsidies: per capita payments for low-income enrollees rose an average of 5 percent a year over the first four years, well below recent 7 percent annual increases in per capita health care spending in Massachusetts. The payments are unlikely to rise at all in the current year, in large part because of a competitive bidding process and pressure from the officials supervising it.
The average premiums paid by individuals who purchase unsubsidized insurance have dropped substantially, 20 percent to 40 percent by some estimates, mostly because reform has brought in younger and healthier people to offset the cost of covering the older and sicker.
Residents of Massachusetts have clearly chosen to tune out the national chatter and look at their own experience. Most polls show that the state reforms are strongly supported by the public, business leaders and doctors, often by 60 percent or more.
There are still real problems that need to be solved. Small businesses are complaining that their premiums are rising faster than before, although how much of that is because of the reform law is not clear.
Insuring more people was expected to reduce the use of emergency rooms for routine care but has not done so to any significant degree. There is no evidence to support critics’ claims that the addition of 400,000 people to the insurance rolls is the cause of long waits to see a doctor.
What reform has not done is slow the rise in health care costs. Massachusetts put off addressing that until it had achieved universal coverage. No one should minimize the challenge, but serious efforts are now being weighed.
Gov. Deval Patrick has submitted a bill to the Legislature that would enhance the state’s powers to reject premium increases, allow the state to limit what hospitals and other providers can be paid by insurers, and promote alternatives to costly fee-for-service medicine. The governor’s goal is to make efficient integrated care organizations the predominant health care provider by 2015.
The national reform law has provisions designed to reduce spending in Medicare and Medicaid and, through force of example, the rest of the health care system. Those efforts will barely get started by the time Massachusetts hopes to have transformed its entire system. Washington and other states will need to keep a close watch.
By: Editorial, The New York Times, May 20, 2011