Rent Seeking and Other Blood Sports

The fact that incompetence has a second act in the Oval Office is more a function of inertia on the Right than any achievement on the Left.  Indeed, the Democrats didn't win the last presidential race, the Republicans lost it. And liberals didn't win the budget or health care fights either, the conservatives lost those too.

Mitt Romney never managed to separate himself from the president, especially on domestic issues like debt and health care. On foreign policy, the candidates were indistinguishable. The "what's the difference?" vote stayed home.  As a result, Jeremiah Wright's protégé is still at the wheel.

Obama was probably a bad bet to begin with, but America loves an underdog, especially a chap who talks like a victim and looks like reparations.  All original misgivings about immaturity, lack of experience, and pernicious ideology were validated by first term fits, false starts, and neo-socialist demagoguery. The Democrats even lost control of the House and the national purse strings in the first term - or so we thought.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice, throw in the dice!

People vote with hearts not heads. Statistics might make sense; yet, if your pitch has no emotional appeal, it's a dead letter. Budweiser doesn't sell adult beverages, beer companies sell tradition, babes, and parties. If your message doesn't touch an emotional "g" spot, the product will not sell.

Republicans just don't get that! They are trying to teach arithmetic to the apathetic; a growing core constituency that is barely literate or numerate -- yet very needy. Pundits call the new majority "a low information" demographic. Rush Limbaugh is an optimist. "Low" is an extravagant adjective for Youtubers, tweeters, and twerkers.

The recent government "shutdown" / debt ceiling Kabuki dance is just another gaggle of missed opportunities. Never mind that the end game turned out to be a paid holiday for an already pampered federal work force. If those furloughed public 'servants' are not essential, why not fire them permanently and save a pile of Benjamins?

Alas, the issue here isn't logic. We are talking about emotions. The recent missed emotional opportunities here are four; veterans, the mentally ill, children, and those race baiters.

The GI Care Deficit

The history of federal health care management for active military and veterans is a vale of tears that includes mismanagement, sub-standard care, and outright abuse. And institutionally, no one thinks of a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital as an American national standard for medical staff or patient care. The VA and the military health care system do not host the cream of the crop from any management or medical school either.

Dare we mention Major (doctor) Nidal Hasan, US Army, better at taking life than caring for it? Do we need to review the bidding at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where rehab included rats and roaches? Or recall that the US Army couldn't even keep track of cadavers or ashes at Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington is in the Pentagon's back yard. Who believes that apathetic apparatchiks who can't manage the honored dead should be trusted to manage nationalized care for the living?

The Cuckoo Nest Deficit

Remember also those huge20th Century mental hospitals in almost every state that used to care for patients that could not realistically fend for themselves? Recall also all those institutional scandals about abuses that included lobotomy, shock therapy, strait jackets, isolation, and ice bath therapy. Even one of the Kennedy kids was lobotomized. Remember also the Jack Nicholson film and those lurid Media exposés.  Hat tip to Geraldo Rivera.

You could characterize government response to that catastrophic health care failure in a word: "punt." Institutions like Rockland State Hospital in New York were shuttered and the patients were flushed back onto the street and into the general population where they remain today. "Homeless" is the new psychotic. Some of the mentally ill now pay it forward on occasion when they visit public schools with semi-automatic weapons.

Government did not "manage" mental institutions well nor does government manage the tragic consequences of closing those facilities.

The Orphanage Deficit

Back in the asylum heyday, disadvantaged children were also institutionalized. Abandoned, abused, or neglected kids became "wards of the state" and they were consigned to places like the Lt. Joseph Kennedy Jr. School and Home for Children in the north Bronx or the Cardinal McCloskey School and Home in White Plains, New York. These institutions were often run and staffed by religious orders. Today, like mental hospitals, few urban orphanages survive. Father Ed Flanagan's Boys Town is an exception, a beneficiary of good press, philanthropy, and Hollywood.

The government response to the closure of most indigent child care facilities could be captured in two words; "foster care." Under city and state funded foster care, children are now farmed out to willing families for a fee. The problem with foster care is that surrogate parents, unlike orphanages, do not have to worry about too much adult supervision -- or keeping the difficult kids.

Too many children get bounced from pillar-to-post or to the street like mental patients. The ugly truth here is that it's cheaper for a state to give a check to surrogates than it is to fund competent institutions like Boys Town. Management of most foster care programs is pretty much an honor system where effectiveness is an assumption, not a measure.                                  

Veterans, mental illness, and disadvantaged children are all emotional issues. These are also historic examples of government failures with relatively modest care programs. If government cannot manage small vulnerable groups, history suggests that a national health care system managed by the same drones should be dead on arrival. Alas, none of these arguments surfaced in the run up to default.  If Republicans had the stones, they might have bludgeoned Obamacare into oblivion years ago with the lurid, graphic, albeit insensitive, history of incompetent government "caring."


Only four constituencies have a guaranteed return from the Affordable Care Act; lobbyists, government employees, government contractors, and the existing entitlements community. The return for ideologues is immediate too, a giant step towards socialization. Quality health care delivery might be an afterthought.

When Obamacare fails to be a value added proposition as promised, it should be seen for what it is; another special interest rent-seeking scheme. Victors get to divide the pie.

Burden shifting is part of the hidden agenda too, a replay of earlier mental health and foster care tactics.  Obamacare seeks to shift the cost burden from the unproductive to the productive, from the aged and sick to the young and healthy. Indeed, the Supreme Court rebranded Obamacare for what it is; a massive if not regressive tax increase on the young.

The Obama goal is clearly a single payer system (nee socialized medicine). Single payer efficiencies are attractive in theory, but in practice any system that captures up to a quarter of the economy and is managed by a federal politburo is sure to be inefficient, unaccountable, and unaffordable.  

Race Baiting

While conservatives talk numbers, liberals shout race. The Democrats are winning that emotional contest too. Individuals or groups that oppose the Obama rent seekers are labeled racist. Indeed, racial slurs are flung, ironically, with the quiet approval of our first racially ambiguous, if not affirmative action president. Race is at once the most emotional of issues and the velvet stiletto of modern progressive politics. 

Being called a racist is like being called a rapist. If the lie is repeated often enough, truth doesn't matter. Foot soldiers in this slander campaign are reliable Democratic Party flacks like Chris Mathews who uses two NBC network platforms for partisan race baiting.

Washington is no place for sissies. Politics is not just a contact sport, it's a blood sport. If a punk from Chicago fattens your lip, you need to bloody his nose. If the mayhem escalates, you don't "bring a knife to the gun fight." Politics isn't about comity: it's about winning or losing. Losers don't make policy.

If we can extend the Obama fight metaphor, the Republican Party is off the ropes and on the canvas. If alternative leadership doesn't reach deep for a gut check, the price to be paid is not debt, deficits, or dialysis. The cost will be political monoculture, one-party rule.

The author is an alumnus of the now defunct Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy School and Home for Children, one of those institutions that used to care for the detritus of broken families.