The HHS 6% Error Is No Big Deal

We Heart ObamacareWhy is it that whenever discussing Obamacare, I feel like I’m in a fight with a creationist? This was well spoofed in an episode of Futurama, where it really doesn’t matter how many transitional fossils science finds, creationists will always be there to point and say, “Aha! What about the transition between Homo rhodesiensis and Homo sapiens?!” But whereas creationists are largely considered freaks, not welcome on sane television, their closely related cousins the Obamacare denies are considered quite respectable.

Just like the creationists, the Obamacare denialists will always have another reason why the healthcare reform law is evil and unworkable and whatever other pejorative they can come up with. Jonathan Chait pointed this out earlier this year about Reason Magazine‘s Peter Suderman, Libertarian Accidentally Shows How Obamacare Is Succeeding. In the article, Chait chronicled how Suderman would publish an article that claimed Obamacare wasn’t going to work for reason X, only to follow it up with a later article where he admitted that reason X didn’t come to pass, but that Obamacare wouldn’t work because of reason Y. And so on. Chait summed it up with his usual style:

We have gone from learning that the law has failed to cover anybody to learning it would cover a couple million to learning it would cover a few million to learning that it has probably insured fewer than 20 million people halfway through year one. The message of every individual dispatch is a confident prediction of the hated enemy’s demise, yet the terms described in each, taken together, tell the story of retreat. The enemy’s invasion fleet has been destroyed; its huge losses on the field of battle have left it on the brink of surrender; the enemy soldiers will be slaughtered by our brave civilian defenders as they attempt to enter the capital; the resistance will triumph!

This is why the most recent Obamacare outrage is so pathetic. The news is minor, Obamacare Sign-Ups Were Inflated With Dental Plans. The Department of Health and Human Services got screwed up and included 400,000 dental plan sign-ups in their figures for the number of people signing up for Obamacare. So instead of just over 7 million new sign-ups, it will be 6.7 million. This is causing conservatives to complaining the the administration did this on purpose because apparently the 7 million figure is really important to them.

Of course, the critics would have to say that. If they didn’t, they would have to explain why it is that the administration is lying so little. Why not goose the number by a million or two? It doesn’t really matter. Any negative news about Obamacare will be trumped up as proof that the law is evil and unworkable and whatever other pejorative they can come up with.

What I don’t understand is why supporters of the law would pretend that this error was a big deal. Today, the very smart and reasonable Jonathan Cohn wrote, The Government Overstated Obamacare Enrollment by 400,000 People. That’s Inexcusable. Really?! A 6% error that was caught by the government itself only a month after it was made is an “inexcusable” error? This is part of the problem with liberals: we are in such a rush to be so squeaky clean that we push anti-government narratives like this.

An administration screw-up that only affected the monitoring of a program and not the program itself is not an “inexcusable” error. That word should be applied to things like the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. That actually cost human lives. That’s inexcusable! People make mistakes all the time. Other than giving Republicans yet another talking point, the 6% error had no negative consequences.

Government Shutdown Unlikely to Hurt Republicans

Paul WaldmanPaul Waldman wrote a good article yesterday, How Republicans Are Learning to Love the Shutdown. He isn’t alone: a lot of people have been reporting about the increasing zeal that the Republican Party has for shutting down the government. Right now they are talking about doing it over the president’s expected announcement of executive action on immigration. But it doesn’t much matter; they have increasing zeal for shutdowns, breaching debt ceilings, and impeachment. They’re Republicans!

What no one seems to be discussing is why this is. I’m afraid that this was always going to happen. The only question is whether the Republican leadership can somehow divert this trend. The way it works this is. When the Democrats had complete control in Washington, the Republican position was quite rightly, “So what?! We’re still going to fight you with everything we have.” But when the Republicans gained control of the House, the Republican response was, “We won the last election: now you have to do everything we say!” The leadership had to point out that this was not, in fact, how things worked. The Republicans only won one chamber of Congress. They didn’t have the Senate and they didn’t have the White House.

Now that the Republicans have won both chambers of Congress — but before actually getting into power — the base is again acting out like children, “Can we do everything we want now?!” Although this behavior is typical of conservatives, it doesn’t only affect them. Whenever a court overrules some democratically approved law, people normally complain, “But it’s what the people want!” I have to remind them that 51% of the people might want to enslave the other 49%, but that hardly makes right.

The question now is whether the Republican leadership will be able to quiet the masses. It’s actually kind of hard. When they had the House from 2011-2012, the Republicans didn’t shut down the government. The leadership could rightly argue that if the new Republican Representatives were good little boys (and a tiny smattering of girls), they would have the White House in short order and all their dreams would come true. That’s why we did get the shutdown in 2013. I question whether “We’ll win the White House in 2016!” will be all that compelling an argument.

Right now, the Republicans are making the argument that the last time they shut down the government, it didn’t hurt them. In fact, it might have helped them, by causing liberal and moderate voters to just give up on democracy. These people are forgetting an important point, of course. The 2013 government shutdown hurt the Republicans enormously at the time. But they were saved by the website debacle that was all anyone was talking about as soon as the shutdown was ended. By January, everyone had forgotten about what the Republicans had done and were still thinking that the government couldn’t do anything right, as was clear thanks to the Obamacare website. I don’t think they are going to have that good fortune again.

Just the same, as long as the Republicans don’t shut down the government within three months of the next election, I wonder how much it would matter. The truth is that Americans don’t much pay attention to politics. A September poll found that over 40% of Americans said they didn’t know which party controlled the House and the Senate. And that doesn’t even include the ones who said they knew but were wrong. Although 38% knew that Democrats controlled the Senate, 20% said the Republicans did.

Given all this, it is amazing that Americans blame the Republicans for shutting down the government even at the time. They certainly aren’t going to blame the Republicans a year later. And as I indicated, in the long run, Republicans are probably helped by government shutdowns. It is a great way to push their philosophy that the government is incompetent. That not only increases the number of conservatives who show up to vote, it decreases the number of liberals who bother to vote.

So I won’t be cheering if the Republicans shutdown the government. The harm done to the people of the United States will be for nothing. And the best outcome will be that it will have no effect at all in 2016. And it might result in the people deciding that the way to get things done in Washington is to put the people who have obstructed for the previous eight years into power. Because Americans are just brilliant at that kind of anti-logic.

Indy Mike Works for Republicans From “Center”

Sam SederThis morning while making breakfast, I was listening to part of Sam Seder on Majority Report. He was talking to “Indy Mike” — a guy I had heard mentioned in the past but didn’t know anything about. He was talking about how Obama shouldn’t take executive action on immigration reform. Instead, he should use the new Republican controlled Congress to make a deal with the Republicans. And if that didn’t work, well, everyone would know that the Republicans are just unreasonable.

It was one of those instances where I’m in the kitchen shouting at inanimate objects. Seder patiently explained multiple times that Obama had done exactly this five months ago when he announced that if the Republicans in the House wouldn’t do anything, he would. And Seder noted that the Senate had passed a draconian immigration bill that Boehner has always refused to bring up for a vote. What was entirely typical of Indy Mike is that he didn’t seem to know this history. As usual for such a “centrist,” he was calling for Obama to do what Obama has already done. And then he claims that Obama will get credit for being the “adult in the room,” even as he shows that he has given Obama no credit whatsoever for being the adult in the room previously. In fact, Indy Mike didn’t even seem to know that Obama had been the adult in the room over and over again.

Later, after Indy Mike went on his merry, Seder speculated about an alternate universe. Suppose that Indy Mike had not made his public announcement that Obama should try to make a deal now and wait until next February to do anything. Further, suppose that Obama went on television tonight and did exactly what Indy Mike thinks he should do (what Obama did do five months ago). In February, after it was clear that the Republicans were not going to do anything regarding immigration reform, Indy Mike would say exactly what he said today: Obama should offer to work with the Republicans and only take executive action later. Tomorrow, tomorrow! You’re always a day away!

When Seder countered that Obama had lately done exactly as requested, Indy Mike fell into a kind of No True Scotsman fallacy. Sure, Obama may have done what Indy Mike wanted, but he didn’t really do it. He wasn’t effective doing it. He didn’t publicize it enough. What this allows is for supposed centrists like Indy Mike to constantly move the goal posts. And that is because they aren’t actually interested in the policy. But that doesn’t mean that they are interested in process either.

Based upon things said after Indy Mike left, I got the impression that Indy Mike is independent in the sense that my father is; that is to say that he is just a conservative. The “middle ground” is a nice spot of ground to stake out if you are a conservative who doesn’t want to be seen as a conservative. You can claim to be reasonable and not partisan, when what you really want is for nothing to get done. If a deal ever becomes a real possibility, you can just join your friends on the right at that time.

The net effect of this kind of “third way” rhetoric is to allow Republicans to get a pass. Over the past 40 years, we have seen the Democratic Party move steadily to the right to the point where they are no longer even liberal on economic policy. The Republicans, meanwhile, have gone off the ideological cliff. But according to Indy Mike, it is still Obama who should be doing everything he can to get along with the Republicans. Even if the two parties were at the same place as they were in 1972, it would not follow that the Democrats should always be expected to be the “adults in the room.”

What’s more, listening to Indy Mike, the Republicans and Democrats are only equally to blame when Sam Seder asks that question explicitly. Otherwise, it is always the Democrats who are discussed. This is a kind of Marxist concept applied to modern American politics: each according to his gifts. Since we all know that the Republicans are unreasonable, we can’t expect anything from them. And the more unreasonable they become, the less the self-described centrists will ask of them. The “third way” crowd like Indy Mike are the best propagandists that the Republican Party ever had.

Jimmy Ruffin: Not Just David’s Brother

Jimmy RuffinThe great soul singer Jimmy Ruffin died on Monday at the age of 78. He is best known for the song “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” which we will listen to shortly. I just wanted to mention that the obituaries for him have bugged me. He was the older brother of David Ruffin, lead singer for The Temptations in the mid-1960s when they had hits like “My Girl.” But Jimmy Ruffin was a major talent in his own right. What does a man have to do to get a little respect?

Part of the problem, I suppose, is that his career was focused on the United Kingdom. And you know Americans: if it doesn’t happen here, it never happened at all. Still Ruffin had two top-10 hits here. And “Brokenhearted” is one of those songs that was a lot bigger than its chart placement would indicate. I always thought it was a number one hit, but it only made it to number seven.

Ruffin had been very sick for at least the last month, but he had been performing until quite recently. He left us with a career that spanned seven decades, a dozen albums, and countless singles.

Duane Allman

Duane AllmanOn this day in 1946, the great guitarist Duane Allman was born. I can’t think of anyone who plays rock even as good, much less better. Most people think Hendrix was better, but it is hard to see that. I think that is because of what Hendrix did regarding the sound of the guitar. In terms of what he played, it was mostly pretty standard blues. Allman was pushing the envelope of what rock guitar was. It was still mostly blues, but it was a whole lot more. It is sad that we missed out on his evolution. He died in a motorcycle accident when he was only 24 years old.

He worked as a session musician for years, where he had a profound influence — working with people like Boz Scaggs, Wilson Pickett, and Aretha Franklin. He is probably best known for his guitar work on Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla.” He’s the one who created the guitar riff, which is about the only thing people remember on the song. He and Clapton shared guitar on the song with countless overdubs. But all the slide guitar was Allman.

Allman teamed up with his younger brother Gregg and a number of other great musicians to form The Allman Brothers. The three albums they released while Duane was still alive are all classics. They are more standard blues rock, but this isn’t Savoy Brown — as good as they are. And live, they are really something special. I’m having some difficulty finding really good live video, so here is “Whipping Post” from 1970 at Fillmore East (not the concert their third album was drawn from):

Happy birthday Duane Allman!