Peter Ferrara: Washington Knows Best
This column originally appeared on The American Spectator website on December 30, 2009.
The health policy atrocity that Washington Democrats are now finalizing represents an ugly new turn in American politics. From almost the founding of the Republic, we have seen demagogues seek to sway public opinion in their favor with crass arguments appealing to base motives in the electorate, from racism to class warfare to xenophobia. But that is NOT what we are seeing in Washington today, on issues from health care to “global warming” to federal deficits, spending, taxes, welfare, energy, and beyond.
What we are seeing in Washington today is much worse. What this mob currently in power is telling us on health care, and the rest of the issues, is that they know what is best, and they are not the slightest bit interested in what the people think. If any of us disagree, that is because we are ignorant yahoos, malevolent Nazis, or crazy teabaggers, and our “elected representatives” have not hesitated to respond by calling American citizens precisely such names when they have exhibited the temerity to dissent. This is not a perversion of democracy. This is a complete abdication of democracy, or rule by the people, displaced by a new elitism, or rule by elites, which is a form of undemocratic authoritarianism.
We can’t use phrases like “health care debate” to discuss what has happened, because there has not been any such debate. Ditto that for global warming policy, where the EPA, following the lead of President Obama, insists on plowing ahead regardless of what the public thinks, or what any dissenting scientific authorities have to say. Debate requires a willingness to listen to what others have to say, and to respond with rational arguments. But Democrats have refused even to hold hearings on their final health care proposals, which were not even released to their Congressional colleagues until the last second, and then rushed to a vote, without even full scoring of their implications. This spectacle is an abuse of office.
From the polls, to phone calls and letters to the Hill, to public protests, all signs indicate overwhelming and exploding public opposition to the Democrats’ government takeover of health care. The Left has now joined the Right in opposing the legislation for their own reasons. But none of this has made any difference to the ruling Democrats. The attitude they are displaying is that they already know everything about everything, and they are not interested in what anyone else has to say.
Demagoguery at least shows some respect for public opinion. What we are seeing in Washington today is the replacement of a functioning democracy, based on consent of the governed, with a New Authoritarianism based on arrogant power. Washington knows best is the new ruling doctrine, and no dissent is respected, or would even be allowed to be heard if the new ruling class were to have its way. Certainly that is the view of the governing bodies of the old establishment media, which not only refuses to allow the airing of dissenting views, but joins in ridiculing them. The one TV network that does allow all sides to be heard, Fox News, is attacked by high government officials for doing so, including the President himself, joined by the so-called mainstream media, from the New York Times, to NBC, to Time magazine. This is starting to look more like Venezuela than America.
That is because from the halls of power in Washington, to the corridors of media in New York City, the New Left from the 1960s has suddenly seized power in America. Its troops are behaving exactly like the New Left campus leftists who have shouted down and shut out dissenting views for decades. The result now is a fundamental crisis of democracy in America. If our system that previously produced the greatest, freest, most prosperous country in the world is to survive, patriots across America, from every village and farm, every town and county precinct, every neighborhood, barrio, and ghetto, every profession, every church, every discipline, will have to rally to save it. Putting America back on track to freedom and prosperity, and the restoration of the American Dream, will require fundamental reforms of our system of government, to put the people back in charge, ensure power to the people, and never allow the threat of such an effective anti-democratic coup d’tat ever to arise again.
Medicare’s New Death Panel
This new anti-democratic, elitist, authoritarianism can be seen in the emerging policy results of the health care debacle. As Scott Gottlieb explains in the December 24 Wall Street Journal, the Senate health bill establishes a new unelected Medicare Commission with the power to displace your doctor’s judgment as to your treatment and care with its own. Gottlieb writes, “In particular, the Obama team wants to give the agency the power to decide when a cheaper medical option will suffice for a given problem and, in turn, when Medicare only has to pay for the least costly alternative….In fact, the bill lets Medicare seek almost any restrictive payment authority it wants from a Medicare Commission established for the purpose of cost control.”
The Obama Administration, indeed, has already sought judicial approval of this new authority under current law in the case of Hays v. Sebelius, decided just before Christmas. The case involved Ilene Hays, a Medicare Part B beneficiary, who had been taking the prescription drug DuoNeb for approximately four years under the advice of her doctor, to control Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Though that drug regimen had worked well for Ilene, the Medicare bureaucracy decided that another, less costly drug treatment would work just as well, contrary to the advice of her doctor, and ruled that it would only pay for the cost of that cheaper drug treatment.
Ilene sued, claiming that Medicare does not have the authority under current law to overrule her doctor. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Ilene, concluding that the Secretary of HHS and the Medicare bureaucracy were attempting an end-run around current law, and that “Nothing in the statute authorizes this least costly alternative policy.” But on Christmas Eve, the 60 Democrat Senators voted to overrule Ilene and the Court, and grant the Medicare bureaucracy precisely the power that was rejected in this case, through their vote for the “historic” Reid/Obama health care bill.
When Medicare was adopted, the law expressly prohibited any such government intervention in the decisions of your doctor regarding your treatment and care. Now the Democrats in Washington have voted to take the power and control over your health care away from you and your doctor and give it to the government. And that policy won’t be limited to Medicare. As Gottlieb writes, “The impact of these provisions won’t be limited to Medicare. Private insurance in the federally regulated ‘exchanges’ will take cues from Medicare, since they’re both managed from the same bureaucracy. Medicare will set the standard for medical care across the entire marketplace.” Again, the Democrats and their bureaucrats in Washington are sure they know everything about everything, even how to treat your serious medical condition better than your doctor.
Yet, the problem with the Democrats’ New Left extremism on health care is even more fundamental than this. Today’s pacemakers include wireless computer chips that enable doctors to go online at their offices or other locations to monitor exactly what is happening with their patient’s heart at home or elsewhere. A doctor can send a message for the pacemaker to jolt a stopped heart back to life, or the pacemaker can be programmed to do that on its own. In one case, the heart of a senior citizen who had suffered four heart attacks over 17 years stopped three times on the way to the hospital after his doctor warned him of the danger from a remote location, and each time the pacemaker jolted him back to life. The man is still alive today, and just enjoyed Christmas with his family.
But under the Obamacare socialized medicine system that the Democrats have now whooped through both houses of Congress, you can forget about the investment in both physical and human capital that was necessary for this modern medical miracle. Who is going to invest in the development and manufacture of such high tech medical equipment, and in developing the medical expertise to administer it, under government policies to sharply restrict the compensation for such investment?
Such medical innovation will not only come to a halt. The ability of our medical system to provide such cutting edge, high tech medical care to save lives will deteriorate and go backwards. The great historic achievement that the Democrats claim now to have won is the government takeover of health care so that they can precisely redistribute resources from such care to achieve what they say would be a greater good. But the ugly truth is that what they are really doing is redistributing the hefty health resources that today save the lives of the really sick to other uses where they think they can buy far more votes for all that money. That is the New Authoritarianism at work.
The self-deluded Democrats in Washington are so sure the American people are going to somehow be grateful for this government takeover and trashing of their health care. But the American people will not stand idly by and accept this fundamental assault on a central component of their current high standard of living. Nor will they meekly accept what is essentially a loss of democratic control over their own government, and the fundamental disrespect, of the New Authoritarianism. These are just a couple of the reasons why a political revolution is coming that no one in Washington can comprehend today.
Change We Can Believe In
What is needed is fundamental change in our system of government to ensure that the people will remain in charge, and to pull the plug on the New Authoritarianism. Such changes will be embraced by a broad, tri-partisan coalition of Republicans, Independents, and even grassroots Democrats. These populist reforms fit perfectly the grassroots populism of the Tea Party movement.
Exhibit 1 of such reform is a constitutional amendment extending the concept of Recall to members of Congress, both representatives and senators. The amendment would give the people the right to petition for a special election to remove and replace a specific congressman or senator representing them. Many states have long had such recall authority. Arnold Schwarzenegger was first elected governor of California through such a recall election, which removed the previous duly elected Democrat Governor Gray Davis. Such right of recall needs to be applied to future Presidents as well.
What this Congress has proven is that our “elected representatives” can no longer be trusted with two years between elections, given that they sneer at their constituents now rather than seeking to represent them. With the health care fiasco, for example, they are openly trying to bury the country with a mess that they think can never be reversed, regardless of the consequences in the next election, which already seems long overdue. Ditto that for the EPA’s threatened global warming abuse, wasteful green energy subsidies, Barack Obama’s one third increase in federal welfare spending, and other runaway spending, deficits, and debt. With the constant threat of a recall election, democratic accountability would be maintained throughout each term, and the New Authoritarianism would be short-circuited. Our representatives would have to consider the views of their constituents and the impact their policies will have on them throughout their term, rather than just talking a good game at election time.
This would aid greatly as well in countering the growing problem of stolen elections. Senate Democrats, in fact, never earned their 60-vote majority at the ballot box. At least four of those 60 currently sit as a result of stolen elections. These include Al Franken of Minnesota, where Democrats pursued recounts in Democrat precincts until they could manufacture enough votes to put him over the top, and Tim Johnson from South Dakota, who was originally “elected” by counting Democrat votes on the state’s Indian reservations as many times as necessary for him to win. Then there is Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey, whom the state Supreme Court allowed Democrats to add to the ballot to replace disgraced Sen. Robert Torricelli well after the deadline for such replacements by state statute, because Torricelli seemed hopelessly behind in the polls. Alaska Democrat Al Begich sits in the Senate today because the Justice Department brought criminal charges against incumbent Sen. Ted Stevens just before election day that were later thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct and corrupt evidence. Without that filibuster-proof 60-vote majority, the health care abuse would have been stopped. With recall, those who steal elections can be immediately subject to replacement by special election in accordance with the will of the people.
Recall would also stop the growing problem of Blue Dog Democrat fraud, where liberal Democrats get elected by posing as Reagan conservatives at election time, and then vote like George McGovern once they get to Washington. When representatives betray promises made to voters soon after their election, they can be quickly recalled. In an age of dishonest, party-controlled media, such right of recall is even more necessary to maintain rule by the democratic will of the people, because without a free press to keep candidates honest, electoral mistakes are more likely to be made.
Another populist Amendment would impose term limits on congressman, two terms for senators, and six terms for representatives, for a total of 12 years in each office. The Supreme Court ruled that the states could not constitutionally impose term limits on members of Congress, which is what killed the popular term limits movement. So this highly desirable reform can only be accomplished by constitutional amendment.
Another Supreme Court decision requires a constitutional amendment to adopt a presidential federal line item veto. This would maintain democratic accountability by providing a means to counter earmarks and other abuses buried in large omnibus bills, continuing resolutions, and must pass defense bills. Most states provide this power to their governors, and it would be an important tool to counter runaway federal spending. A similar amendment would adopt the one subject rule at the federal level now in force in 47 states, which requires each bill to cover one subject. That would again avoid evasion of democratic accountability by preventing the New Authoritarians from burying elitist policies in mega bills where they would metastasize unnoticed until it is too late, another reform all the more necessary because of our corrupt media.
Writing in the December 22 Wall Street Journal, Lee Casey and David Rivkin introduce a constitutional amendment that would enable two-thirds of the states to propose constitutional amendments directly, without calling a constitutional convention. Such proposed amendments would then have to be ratified by two-thirds of the states, a process with plenty sufficient safeguards against ill-considered amendments. As Casey and Rivkin argue, this power would restore the critical balance between state and federal power that was originally intended and that has now been lost to a power mongering, runaway federal government.
The Tea Party now has a populist agenda. Besides these reforms, we can overthrow the New Authoritarianism by not underestimating the political revolution that is now underway. There is a tide in the affairs of men, Shakespeare taught us, and what we have to look to even more than where the public is today, which is plenty interesting already, is where the current sweeping tide is leading us a year from now. Given all that has happened in one year, and all the dangerous pitfalls that lie ahead for incumbents due to potential adverse developments, the greatest danger to the revolution is that potential candidates, donors, political professionals, and others will underestimate the strength of the tide a year from now, and challenges that could have succeeded will never get off the ground. Long-time liberal incumbents that may seem invulnerable today will seem hopeless a year from now.
Example by way of prediction: Barbara Boxer is already toast in California, if Carly Fiorina can just be sure to put together a well-financed campaign with strong grassroots organization to get her vote out. Example of the possibilities: fathead Chuck Schumer could be beaten next year by a good candidate running a strong campaign. Sweeping possibilities exist as well for Democrat primaries against seemingly entrenched left-wing incumbents.
Remember what Shakespeare said about that tide not taken at the flood that would have led on to fortune, but omitted all of life is spent in shallows and miseries.