Belmont Club

A City of Two Tales

Two of the most depressing stories to come out of Washington since the New Year involved vignettes, little slices of life illustrating what happens in that great city when the kitchen lights are turned off and the roaches come out to play. The first is from Senator Ron Johnson who is suing the administration for it would seem, successfully trying to influence congress by exempting them from Obamacare.

Congress didn’t want it to look that way, but they wanted it that way.

Congress established that the only subsidy available to them would be the same income-based subsidy available to every other eligible American accessing insurance through an exchange. This was the confidence-building covenant supporters of the law made to reassure skeptics that ObamaCare would live up to its billing. They wanted to appear eager to avail themselves of the law’s benefits and be more than willing to subject themselves to the exact same rules, regulations and requirements as their constituents.

Eager, that is, until they began to understand what they had actually done to themselves. For instance, by agreeing to go through an exchange they cut themselves off from the option of paying for health care with pretax dollars, the way many Americans will continue to do through employer-supplied plans. That’s when they went running to President Obama for relief. The president supplied it via the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which issued a convoluted ruling in October 2013 that ignores the clear intent and language of the law. After groping for a pretext, OPM essentially declared the federal government a small employer—magically qualifying members of Congress for coverage through a Small Business Health Options Program, exchanges where employers can buy insurance for their employees.

Neat trick, huh? Except that in issuing the ruling, OPM exceeded its statutory jurisdiction and legal authority. In directing OPM to do so, President Obama once again chose political expediency instead of faithfully executing the law—even one of his own making. If the president wants to change the law, he needs to come to Congress to have them change it with legislation, not by presidential fiat or decree.

Kudos to Johnson for not going along with the crowd in Washington. But as for the rest what can you say? “Neat trick, huh?”. Writing a law to look good and then accepting an illegal deal from the man after whom Obamacare is named to get out from under is real special, except that it’s probably not. It’s probably SOP, which is worrisome especially when non-Congress people discover that Obamacare really means they get put on Medicaid, which is bankrupt.

As MSN Money observes, it’s the lack of money which is the root of all evil. “While the law’s online exchanges draw more scrutiny, it’s Medicaid that may determine the health of millions of Americans. The expansion is one of the twin pillars created by the law to supply medical care to the nation’s uninsured, complementing subsidies for private insurance.”

And since those two pillars are wobbling and about to topple over this inevitably creates a two tier system divided by the frontier of money. One one side of the border the poor get to shop at Obama’s equivalent of the Cuban ration coupon store while on the other the glittering denizens are admitted in to the special foreign currency health shop. Still, the low information voters won’t realize there’s nothing in the libreta store until they go inside

The Medicaid fight offers hope for Democrats whose 2014 election chances took a hit from the embarrassing October rollout of the insurance exchanges, said Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor and ex-chairman of the Democratic National Committee. In states like Florida and Pennsylvania, Medicaid may make a difference in governor’s races, he said.

“You’re telling people who don’t have health care now that you can give it to them, and that’s something that can get people off their duffs and turn out the vote,” Rendell said in a telephone interview.

Atta boy guys. Fight into the libreta store and when you get there you can buy whatever’s on the shelves. Well PT Barnum knew the truth. There’s a sucker born every minute. In reality all real men of the people wear Rolexes, as readers of this blog know.

We Bought These Rolexes at the Ration Coupon Store

We Bought These Rolexes at the Ration Coupon Store

But that story is not nearly as depressing as the recollections of Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, whose book, recounting his years as Barack Obama’s SECDEF, was summarized by the Washington Post.

In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.” …

Though the book simmers with disappointment in Obama, it reflects outright contempt for Vice President Joe Biden and many of Obama’s top aides. … Gates says his instructions to the Pentagon were: “Don’t give the White House staff and [national security staff] too much information on the military options. They don’t understand it, and ‘experts’ like Samantha Power will decide when we should move militarily.” …

Gates offers a catalogue of various meetings, based in part on notes that he and his aides made at the time, including an exchange between Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that he calls “remarkable.” He writes: “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. “

Like the Congressmen’s solidarity with Obamacare, Obama’s campaign was all for show. Hillary’s opposition was all for show. Hello, Goodbye boys. Maybe you’ll be sorry, but I’ll catch up with you later.  Still, Gates went along, projecting the image of cool competence dedicated to doing the right thing for the country.

It is hard to be as disappointed with Obama as with Gates. After all, we knew or should have known what Obama was. But there was always the faint hope that cooler heads would checkmate him. What is really shocking is how far Washington will go to get along. But maybe Gates was doing his best. It’s just that the definition of the “right thing” has changed beyond recognition.

Gates memoir even holds out the hope that Hillary Clinton will do better than Obama. “I found her smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world,” he wrote. What’s scary is he may mean it. Hillary is what passes for competent in Washington.

The word Gates uses to describe many of Obama’s actions are “breaches of faith”. That is a literary way of describing what prosaically used to be called a double-cross. But who is double-crossing whom? Implicit in Ron Johnson’s suit and Gates’ memoir is that the politicians in Washington are shafting each other to a minor extent. But in the main they are busy doing a job on the voters. And in that project too many Republicans and Democrats are in it together.

Catching a glimpse of how Washington works through vignettes is fascinating. It seems to be a city populated with ghosts, whose projected images are more substantial than the actual persons themselves. It’s the Hologram, not Princess Leia that actually seem to matter. The miniature figures are on closer inspection such miserable specimens they are hardly worth notice, no more noteworthy then DMV clerks until one realizes they have the power of life and death over billions.

But they are a population which has lost all sense of purpose. Lying is no longer an act that is attended by much danger, but an actual patriotic duty. Lives or lost health seem not to count for much. The whole place is bathed in haze where words like “victory, jobs, honor” have blurred out so much you can hardly make them out except in dim outline. Do these concepts still exist? Or is it all about spin, news cycle and make-up?

What will it take to jar things back into focus? That is perhaps the biggest unanswered question of 2014. And what would anyone take for an answer?

I would add that my disappointment in Robert Gates is not because he was the worst man in the administration, but rather because he was probably one of the better. Times of trial are paradoxically harder on men who must struggle with their consciences than on those who are unburdened by them.  But there is the understandable temptation to go along; to persuade oneself that leaving the field would only result in the SECDEF position going to a hack. Better to moderate things from the inside. Better … better… until in 2009 he wanted to resign but was persuaded to stay on out of loyalty to the institution perhaps. And thus is honor turned upon itself.

There comes to mind the famous speech of the character “Ernst Janning” in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg. Janning played the part of a decent judge fallen in with Nazi officialdom. The allied tribunal hears witness after witness testifying to his sterling character. It is enough to get him off but near to acquittal he makes a statement indicting himself. ‘I am guilty’, he said, ‘guiltier than anyone, because unlike these morons on the stand with me, I knew better than they.’

I am going to tell them the truth about their Ministry of Justice. Werner Lammpe, an old man who cries into his Bible now, an old man who profited by the property expropriation of every man he sent to a concentration camp. Friedrich Hofstetter, the “good German” who knew how to take orders, who sent men before him to be sterilized like so many digits. Emil Hahn, the decayed, corrupt bigot, obsessed by the evil within himself. And Ernst Janning, worse than any of them because he knew what they were, and he went along with them. Ernst Janning: Who made his life excrement, because he walked with them.

I would not go so far as to say Gates did the wrong thing. In the year 2009 any objection against Obama he may have raised would have fallen on deaf ears. Now he has a better chance of a hearing. But it is not an easy admission for anyone to say, “I walked with them”.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.

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