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Sunday, July 29, 2012

What's in a name: the power of ignorance and word association in politics.

In the recent GOP primary in my state there was, once again, a statewide contest in which I had to choose between two weak candidates. One candidate - let's call him 'Skunk'-  has been featured on these pages before; based on private interactions I believe him to be racist and intemperate. The second candidate, 'Eagle', was a cipher. He ran no campaign and had no web presence. As far as I could tell, he filed to run and then forgot about it. I had no idea what his policy positions were.
   Faced with choosing the hard campaigning Skunk, the retiring Eagle, or simply leaving one line blank on my ballot, I took the partisan path. I voted for Skunk. I reasoned that his racism was irrelevant to the particular office he was pursuing. Moreover, his racism was not publicly known; so, it might not taint the party by association. Skunk's background and expertise was also highly germane to the office he pursued. Moreover, I wanted the GOP to  capture the office. If Eagle refused to campaign in the primary, he would be annihilated in the general election.
   I was amazed to learn that Eagle won the primary. I chortled when I heard his acceptance speech at the GOP state convention. He acknowledged that he had not campaigned and was honored that the People had chosen him. It was therefore their campaign, the People's campaign. ...The rest was too incoherent to remember.
   So, how did Eagle beat Skunk? Word association. Skunk's and Eagle's real names were respectively associated with negative connotations like skunk, or positive connotations like eagle. Time and again I find that most voters, even the more motivated primary voters, have no acquaintance with any candidates other than the top of the ticket; so, they cast a random vote or allow themselves to be swayed by a pleasant name.
  In this instance, perhaps pervasive ignorance will lead to the optimal result. I had to hold my nose to vote for Skunk. Perhaps, continued ignorance and pleasant names will prevail in the general election, and Eagle will be elected. Perhaps we will be luckier yet and the Eagle cipher will actually be elected and competently perform his duties after election. I wish, however, that luck was not the major determining factor in so many elections.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Parsing Roberts's Obama Care Ruling

After days of fuming over Justice Roberts's egregious Obama Care decision, I shocked myself this morning by finding grounds on which to support his ruling. I still abhor Obama Care; I merely note that I can make some logical (but probably not legal, given my lack of legal expertise) support for the awful decision. I will have to begin by assuming that it is reasonable and correct for Roberts to redefine the penalty as a tax. Such procedural questions are outside my bailiwick. The reduced question I wish to consider is:
Is it a significant expansion of federal power to say that the government has the right to coerce participation in commerce by means of the tax code?
  To remove partisan considerations from this question, recall that most Republican plans for correcting the distortions in the health care market include giving individuals an income tax deduction for purchasing health insurance. Therefore, the GOP plan (which I have heretofore supported) includes a measure which reduces taxes (a penalty by another name, according to Roberts) for those who purchase health insurance. This is logically equivalent (plus or minus a tax increase) to penalizing those who do not purchase health care. Of course, the Democratic plan implies an implicit tax increase, whereas the GOP plan does not. So, in the large, the two approaches differ on the mandate issue only on the issue of tax rates. No one argues that Congress does not have the right to raise our taxes. Hence, if we grant Roberts's redefinition of the penalty as a tax,  the two parties seem to agree that the mandate is constitutional.

Of course Obama Care is not the first instance of the federal government requiring, through taxes/penalties participation in commerce. Every year when I pay my income taxes, I pay the penalty for not participating in the home mortgage market. My taxes are higher than those of my colleagues with large mortgages. Nonetheless, despite these penalties, I have refused to buckle to federal coercion to support the banks by selling them a mortgage on my home.

  As I chew on this thought, I still come to a different conclusion than Roberts. Roberts's argument is essentially that Obama Care is the reductio ad absurdum of our current taxing policies. That mortgage deductions pave the way for Obama Care do not justify the latter in my mind. Instead, it suggests that such tax policies contain hidden erosions of our freedoms and should be disposed of with Obama Care.