Brooks and Krugman

Bobo is wringing his hands over “The Conservative Intellectual Crisis.”  But he tells us it’s about to get better.  Really — “conservative intellectual” is an oxymoron, with an emphasis on the last 5 letters.  There will be a reply from “soxared, 04-o7-13” from Crete, Illinois.  Prof. Krugman, in “Obamacare Hits a Pothole,” says the news about premium hikes is bad, but not nearly as bad as some critics would have you believe.  Here’s Bobo:

I feel very lucky to have entered the conservative movement when I did, back in the 1980s and 1990s. I was working at National Review, The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. The role models in front of us were people like Bill Buckley, Irving Kristol, James Q. Wilson, Russell Kirk and Midge Decter.

These people wrote about politics, but they also wrote about a lot of other things: history, literature, sociology, theology and life in general. There was a sharp distinction then between being conservative, which was admired, and being a Republican, which was considered sort of cheesy.

These writers often lived in cities among liberals while being suspicious of liberal thought and liberal parochialism. People like Buckley had friends of every ideological stripe and were sharper for being in hostile waters. They were sort of inside and outside the establishment and could speak both languages.

Many grew up poor, which cured them of the anti-elitist pose that many of today’s conservative figures adopt, especially if they come from Princeton (Ted Cruz), Cornell (Ann Coulter) or Dartmouth (Laura Ingraham and Dinesh D’Souza). The older writers knew that being cultured and urbane wasn’t a sign of elitism. Culture was the tool they used for social mobility. T.S. Eliot was cheap and sophisticated argument was free.

The Buckley-era establishment self-confidently enforced intellectual and moral standards. It rebuffed the nativists like the John Birch Society, the apocalyptic polemicists who popped up with the New Right, and they exiled conspiracy-mongers and anti-Semites, like Joe Sobran, an engaging man who was rightly fired from National Review.

The conservative intellectual landscape has changed in three important ways since then, paving the way for the ruination of the Republican Party.

First, talk radio, cable TV and the internet have turned conservative opinion into a mass-market enterprise. Small magazines have been overwhelmed by Rush, O’Reilly and Breitbart.

Today’s dominant conservative voices try to appeal to people by the millions. You win attention in the mass media through perpetual hysteria and simple-minded polemics and by exploiting social resentment. In search of that mass right-wing audience that, say, Coulter enjoys, conservatism has done its best to make itself offensive to people who value education and disdain made-for-TV rage.

It’s ironic that an intellectual tendency that champions free markets was ruined by the forces of commercialism, but that is the essential truth. Conservatism went down-market in search of revenue. It got swallowed by its own anti-intellectual media-politico complex — from Beck to Palin to Trump. Hillary Clinton is therefore now winning among white college graduates by 52 to 36 percent.

Second, conservative opinion-meisters began to value politics over everything else. The very essence of conservatism is the belief that politics is a limited activity, and that the most important realms are pre-political: conscience, faith, culture, family and community. But recently conservatism has become more the talking arm of the Republican Party.

Among social conservatives, for example, faith sometimes seems to come in second behind politics, Scripture behind voting guides. Today, most white evangelicals are willing to put aside the Christian virtues of humility, charity and grace for the sake of a Trump political victory. According to a Public Religion Research Institute survey, 72 percent of white evangelicals believe that a person who is immoral in private life can be an effective national leader, a belief that is more Machiavelli than Matthew.

As conservatism has become a propagandistic, partisan movement it has become less vibrant, less creative and less effective.

That leads to the third big change. Blinkered by the Republican Party’s rigid anti-government rhetoric, conservatives were slow to acknowledge and even slower to address the central social problems of our time.

For years, middle- and working-class Americans have been suffering from stagnant wages, meager opportunity, social isolation and household fragmentation. Shrouded in obsolete ideas from the Reagan years, conservatism had nothing to offer these people because it didn’t believe in using government as a tool for social good. Trump demagogy filled the void.

This is a sad story. But I confess I’m insanely optimistic about a conservative rebound. That’s because of an observation the writer Yuval Levin once made: That while most of the crazy progressives are young, most of the crazy conservatives are old. Conservatism is now being led astray by its seniors, but its young people are pretty great. It’s hard to find a young evangelical who likes Donald Trump. Most young conservatives are comfortable with ethnic diversity and are weary of the Fox News media-politico complex. Conservatism’s best ideas are coming from youngish reformicons who have crafted an ambitious governing agenda (completely ignored by Trump).

A Trump defeat could cleanse a lot of bad structures and open ground for new growth. It was good to be a young conservative back in my day. It’s great to be one right now.

Lordy.  Here’s rhe reply from “soxared, 04-07-13”:

“Another delusional column from the Captain Quint of the Republican party as the great shark moves in to devour it. Mr. Brooks, are you aware Jason Chaffaetz of Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform? He has taken a page out of Mitch McConnell’s How To Make Government Unresponsive by promising to double down on Mrs. Clinton’s email server contretemps while Secretary of State. The obvious goal in mind is impeachment of the new president before she takes office.

This is your idea of a “new conservatism”, Mr. Brooks, one that will “cleanse a lot of bad structures and open ground for new growth”? Well, here’s my take: it’s the obvious and deliberate attempt to destroy an American president before she even takes office We’ve just witnessed your party’s unique brand of conservatism during the Obama administration. The GOP promises more and all you can say today is “it’s great to be a conservative right now”?

Your misty-eyed reminiscence of William F. Buckley, for example, doesn’t take into account his happily-declared racism, his contempt for diversity. Yet you, as is your wont, try to slide by us a Hall of Fame of right-wing intellectuals as a pantheon of American greatness of thought. Mr. Buckley was Ronald “government is the problem” Reagan’s champion.

He’s also the “intellectual” father of Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Coulter, D’Souza, and, yes, Brooks.

Are you proud of that?”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

For advocates of health reform, the story of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, has been a wild roller-coaster ride.

First there was the legislative drama, with reform seemingly on the edge of collapse right up to the moment of passage. Then there was the initial mess with the website — followed by incredibly good news on enrollment and costs. Now reform has hit a pothole: After several years of coming in far below predictions, premiums on covered plans have shot up by more than 20 percent.

So how bad is the picture?

The people who have been claiming all along that reform couldn’t work, and have been wrong every step of the way, are, of course, claiming vindication. But they’re wrong again. The bad news is real. But so are reform’s accomplishments, which won’t go away even if nothing is done to fix the problems now appearing. And technically, if not politically, those problems are quite easy to fix.

Health reform had two big goals: to cover the uninsured and to rein in the overall growth of health care costs — to “bend the curve,” in the jargon of health policy wonks. Sure enough, the fraction of Americans without health insurance has declined to its lowest level in history, while health cost growth has plunged: Since Obamacare passed Congress, private insurance costs have risen less than half as fast as they did in the previous decade, andMedicare costs have risen less than a fifth as fast.

But if health costs are looking good, what’s with the spike in premiums? It only applies to one piece of the health care system — the “exchanges,” the insurance markets Obamacare established for people who aren’t covered either by their employers or by government programs, mainly Medicare and Medicaid.

The way the exchanges were supposed to work was that both healthy and less-healthy people would sign up, providing insurers with a good mix of risks that let them offer reasonably priced policies. Broad participation was supposed to happen because the law requires everyone to have insurance — the “mandate” — or face a penalty. Buying insurance was supposed to remain affordable because the law provides subsidies for middle- and lower-income families, ensuring that health costs don’t become too large a share of income.

Many insurers entered the market in the belief that the system would work as advertised. After all, conceptually similar systems work in other countries, like Switzerland; Massachusetts has had a system along the same lines since 2006 (which is why some of us call it ObamaRomneycare); and even now it’s working O.K. in California, which has managed the program well.

In many states, however, not enough healthy people signed up — and now insurers are either pulling out or hiking their premiums to reflect the not-so-good risk pool. Since premiums have until now been well below projections, this only brings them back up to expected levels. But it’s clearly not good news.

How many people are hurt by these premium hikes? Not as many as you may think.

If you are covered by your employer, Medicare or Medicaid, this isn’t about you. Even if you buy a policy on the exchanges, you’re protected if your income is low enough — $97,200 for a family of four — to make you eligible for subsidies. So we’re talking about a fraction of a fraction of the population (which admittedly may still be several million people).

Oh, and bear in mind that many of those affected by the rate hikes have pre-existing conditions, which means that without Obamacare they wouldn’t be insured at all.

Even if the direct effects of this year’s hike aren’t that big, could it mean that Obamacare is about to unravel? No. Most people on the exchanges receive subsidies, which means that the rate hikes won’t induce them to drop out; people talking about a “death spiral” haven’t done their homework.

So the news is bad, but its badness is limited. Still, the architects of Obamacare had hoped to create a system that would eventually cover almost everyone.

Can the current problems be fixed?

As a technical matter, the answer is clearly yes. Strengthen the mandate; expand the subsidies; close the loopholes that have allowed some insurers to bypass the exchanges; take a more active role in setting standards and reaching out to families to make them aware of their options. Some states are doing much better than others, and it wouldn’t take a lot of money to expand best practices to the nation as a whole.

The trouble is that Congress would have to vote to spend that money. So unless Democrats manage to take the House (unlikely) or Republicans are willing to cooperate in the public interest (even more unlikely), the easy fix that’s clearly in sight will have to wait for a while.

So, is the latest health care news disappointing? Yes. Is it catastrophic? Not at all.

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