Gary Hart on the ‘I’ vs. the ‘We’

Former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, the one-time serious presidential contender who destroyed his political career with a zipper problem, is 74 now and has a blog called “Matters of Principle.” The current post discusses the issue that seems to permanently define U.S. politics:

 “One side sees the U.S. government as a barrier to economic opportunity and individual freedom, and the other side sees the same government as the instrument by which social justice is achieved. Since it is the same government, the difference must be in the preconceptions of the antagonistic sides,” Hart wrote. He continues:

“…Perhaps it’s in the American character always to want to re-litigate every question, to never accept a decision as final, to presume that every policy, even those agreed to by a large majority, ought to be challenged repeatedly.

“Central to this characteristic is the notion that conservative presidents and Congresses seriously intend to diminish the size of government. They never do. They never have. The common response to this truth is that “liberals won’t let them.” That is nonsense. Who won’t let them are the American people, the very people who vote for conservative candidates believing that the government they intend to shrink is a different government than the one that provides the services they want and demand.”

The whole post — titled “Which will it be; the I or the we?” — is here.

The title of the blog, “Matters of Principle,” derives from this Jeffersonian homily: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Hat tip to frequent Blackink commentator Ray Schoch, who called the Hart post to my attention.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/17/2011 - 10:05 am.

    The “have it your way” attitude that is encouraged in every aspect of modern life is simply not compatible with compromise.

  2. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/17/2011 - 01:47 pm.

    Hart is simply wrong on the history here. There have been reductions in gov’t in the past, both in size and in scope. Wilson gave us far greater restrictions on liberty than we have today. We had a larger gov’t during WW2 than we have now. He is right, of course, that it’s harder to roll things back. That’s one of the reasons that conservatives are pushing for a repeal of Obamacare, quickly before it gains too much traction.
    It has famously been observed that ‘something that can’t go on, won’t’. That’s where we’re headed with regard to spending and debt. We will simply have to reduce spending on defense and entitlements. That’s true even if it’s those icky GOP’ers that are arguing for it.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/17/2011 - 05:28 pm.

    The closest thing that I can find to your quote is “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop,” by Herbert Stein. I’ll leave it up to our readers if that was said famously.
    I’m not sure if the various health care initiatives referred to (famously?) as ‘Obamacare’ qualify as entitlements, unless you include Social Security, or is that a non sequitur on your part?
    I think that what conservatives most fear about the health care initiatives is that people will try them and find that they like them. And it has been argued (with supporting data) that when people seek health care earlier health care costs are lowered in the long run, since early treatment is usually less expensive than waiting until a condition is life threatening. Also issues of less lost productivity.
    And the bottom line is that no one in the political main stream has argued for a long term increase in spending (although Republicans do seem to take the lead in supporting increases in defense spending); the question is the economics of cutting spending during the start of a recovery from a depression. FDR tried that in 1937, with near disastrous results.

  4. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/17/2011 - 09:59 pm.

    Paul, conservatives biggest fear about expanding gov’t health care is that once the entitlment becomes the norm it becomes nearly impossible to govern it. Look at Medicare and Medicaid. Both very quickly busted through their projections and are now eating up a larger and larger portion of the overall federal budget. Future projections see them growing and growing and yet both are very hard to change. Any proposal to change parameters on who gets it or how much is shouted down by interest groups and opposition party hacks. And yet those changes will have to be made at some point or those programs will eat up everything. Conservatives rightfully fear that Obamacare (and yes I’m going to use the handy tag that lets everyone understand what is being talked about) will follow the same growth curve. Just last week about half of its purported savings, the CLASS act, turned out to be wildly over-optimistic. Other skeletons are certain to pop out in the future.
    It’s not really a case of people ‘liking it’ as much as it’s that people can’t go without it. Medicare/Medicaid was first sold as a small program that would help the poor and elderly with some medical bills. Now it dominates and drives the entire medical market. If it were to disappear tomorrow there would be chaos and not because people would feel sentimentallity over it but because they’ve become dependent on it.

    You’re right that there isn’t a blanket support in defense reduction from the GOP. Sorry, I was too glib there. It’s notable that the only Presidential candidate that is really talking about it is Ron Paul. Maybe Obama although his credibility on the issue is beyond shot.
    It will have to happen though. We’re due for some serious conversations on what the scope of responsibility should be for our armed services. Overdue really.

  5. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/18/2011 - 10:51 am.

    The reality is that health care under the present failed market is driving health care beyond the ability of more people to afford. The health care insurance that is available has large deductibles and can be denied to people with “pre-existing conditions.” “Obamacare” promises to lower health care costs and make health care more affordable for people as long as the mandate is sustained. Otherwise, single payer becomes the most affordable from everyone’s perspective, including the government/public’s.

    It seems hard for conservatives to get their minds around the idea that if people are being charged for a necessity at fixed prices (and health insurance rates are fixed by insurers just the same as if they were taxes), they are being “taxed” no less or differently than if they are being taxed by the government. Insurance premiums are a form of tax. If I pay $400/month more in taxes but I no longer have to pay a health insurance premium of that amount because I get Obamacare that also by the way expands my covered options, what’s the difference?

  6. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/18/2011 - 12:01 pm.

    John, you’re right that we’re dealing with fixed prices but you’ve got the wrong target. You’re not digging down far enough. The big driver isn’t some arbitrary number that the insurance companies have come up with, they’re fixed by the gov’t. Specifically in the amounts they pay out to Medicare recipients. That drives the whole thing. And has been ratcheting it up for more than 40 years.
    Think of another necessity market that has only light gov’t intervention, the food market. We give out green stamps and provide for some very basic products, like gov’t cheese. The market hasn’t been distorted to any large amount. Food is cheap and remains so instead of a steady gradual increase in price. We’ve had large innovations in variety and preparation. Big strides in service. The biggest strides have been in efficiency, something that is notably absent in the set price universe of healthcare.

    One thing that liberals have trouble getting their head around is that more gov’t intervention does not lower prices. Health care is eating up budgets all around the world. A few countries are at a lower rate of growth in costs but all of public sector options are growing. This isn’t the way to fix the problem.

  7. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/18/2011 - 07:41 pm.

    I have troubled following your facts or your logic here, Peder. If I understand what you’re saying correctly, the government, and specifically, Medicare, is responsible for driving all of health care costs. That’s quite a claim and one I’ve never heard before. I think experts are in agreement that out of control and duplicative administrative costs of private insurers are responsible for the cost and price issues. But how do you figure that one? Are you saying that the government acts as a “price leader” allowing other price fixers to set their prices accordingly? Or are you saying that government controls costs such that those costs must be passed along to other “health care users”? I’m prepared to listen to reasoning here because at least you seem to accept the fundamental that the insurance industry, especially the health insurance industry, is not a “free market” controlled by competitive forces. I’m not sure that applies necessarily to the “health industry” per se where there is some competition among hospitals and doctors.

    I’m not sure I accept your analogy of the food market either. The food industry is actually highly concentrated and the prices are distorted. At the production end, it is heavily subsidized by price supports, creating another set of market distortions. All at the cost of quality. The highly processed stuff we have come to call “food” is cheap. Quality food, fresh, organic food is not. Have you heard there is an obesity epidemic in this country?

    In fact, how can you say liberals have a hard time getting their minds around government intervention does not lower prices? The premier government program, agriculture, was instituted specifically to raise prices. The National Labor Relations Act was created to protect the right to organize. The right continually complains about that one, blaming unions for high costs (wages) and driving business offshore.

    Yes, health care is driving budgets around the world but it’s largely a function of the aging population of the West. In the US it’s worse and it’s not because of Obama care or, I submit, Medicare.

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/19/2011 - 10:54 am.

    The main reasons why our health care costs are twice as high as those of the civilized world (despite the poorer results) are:
    A. Private insurance company profits, and
    B. Unnecessary procedures due to:
    1. Defensive medicine to avoid possible law suits, and
    2. Profit from these procedures.

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