Thursday, 16 February 2012

In which I risk seeming in agreement with Rick Santorum

It seems to me that if one’s goal is to reduce the escalating costs of health care (or at least reduce the rate of escalation of those costs), it would be rather counterproductive to increase people’s consumption of health care resources. Yet a number of policies, all implemented or encouraged by the present administration, have done so:

  • Obamacare proper required all health care plans to get rid of co-pays for many routine office visits to physicians.
  • The DEA‘s War on Meth and People with Colds has pushed two states (Mississippi and Oregon) to the point of requiring a prescription for dispensing any effective cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine, and many other states require it to be controlled behind the counter. Already one idiotic prosecutor has gone after someone trying to evade this silly requirement. Ten years from now, if not sooner, I have good money that says the feds will be going after “meth doctors” who are “overprescribing” pseudoephedrine, à la Oxycontin, and pharmacies who are “oversupplying” it.
  • Now, we have the administration requiring health care plans to provide women with birth control without a co-pay. Never mind the evidence that women on the pill have worse taste in men.

I get that these things are politically popular and/or support politicians’ desires to Look Tough On Drugs. I also get that women who cannot afford birth control probably should have that expense covered in full. What I don’t get is why these mandated “no-co-pay” coverages aren’t means-tested in some way to at least try to keep costs under control for the large share of the population who can reasonably afford some out-of-pocket health care expenses—indeed, our entire federal income tax system is structured, in part, around the idea that 7.5% of your AGI is expected to be dedicated to health care and thus cannot be deducted, even if you itemize deductions.

Finally, I conclude with the following two necessary caveats: (a) I have no particular truck with the moral positions of the Catholic Church or other churches with similar positions on birth control, and think if they want to employ people they can either provide health care coverage or pay the fines/taxes for not providing it, and (b) employer-based health care in general is a stupid way to accomplish universal coverage, and given that we seem to have decided that universal health care coverage is desirable it follows that some form of single-payer or government-subsidized system is preferable, particularly if you’re going to have a nominally private system that is totally loaded down with mandated coverages (aka unfunded mandates), must-issue rules, and uniform premiums. Hence I think some sort of subsistence level universal government-paid system, with rationing-by-queueing and ward-type inpatient service, is inevitable (if not desirable), and as long as individuals are free to pay (or buy supplemental insurance) to upgrade their place in line and to the Beyoncé Birthing Suite, I can’t say I have any particular problem with it.

Thursday, 19 May 2005

Man bites dog, Hitler edition

You can tell things have gotten bad in Washington when even Democrats are being compared with Adolph Hitler. I think Ed Cone put it best:

Yes, it’s bad, it’s deplorable, a United States Senator should not say such things. But let’s maintain perspective: it’s Rick Santorum. What do you expect?

Original story here for those who haven’t heard enough Hitler comparisons in the past six months.

Monday, 28 April 2003

Good free advice

Jacob Levy at The Volokh Conspiracy has some excellent advice for those who don’t want the Supreme Court expanding the right of privacy. Quoth Jacob:

A note to those whose preferred-policy-position tracks Kurtz’s. If you’re worried about judicial slippery slopes, if you want to head off sweeping court decisions that accomplish too much and push too far, you should get out there and push for legislative repeal of the bad laws that invite such a judicial response. If Texas had repealed its sodomy statute, there’d be no Lawrence v Texas to be arguing about in the first place. Don’t merely passively “favor” such repeal, but do something about it—including arguing with your socially-more-conservative friends and allies about it. Some death penalty supporters have noticed this dynamic and have actively worked for important procedural reforms.

Of course, this wouldn’t be much help to guys like Rick Santorum who want to keep sodomy criminalized (and, despite some peoples’ efforts to wriggle some other meaning from his interview, Santorum fairly clearly stakes out a “sodomy ought to be illegal” position), but this point shouldn’t be lost the “moderates” who are running around defending him—like Kurtz and the other folks at NRO.

From the looks of things, the Alabama legislature doesn’t read The Volokh Conspiracy (link via How Appealing).

Friday, 25 April 2003

Santorum’s Zone Gets Flooded

As I mentioned in the update to my last post on Rick Santorum, Pieter at Peaktalk said Bush could get himself in a lot of trouble by defending Santorum’s statement. Well, Andrew Sullivan links to an AP report from this morning; according to the report, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said:

The president believes the senator is an inclusive man. And that’s what he believes.

A similar report appears on the Reuters newswire. Needless to say, Sullivan isn’t happy. I just think the president’s needlessly carrying water for someone (like Trent Lott) who can’t be bothered to help himself.

Of course, if Bush did cut Santorum loose, Kevin Drum would just see it as another in a long line of Bush betrayals of people who’ve helped him in the past but fell in disfavor. But I could live with that…

Wind Rider at Silent Running (as they say, the blog, not the 1970s Bruce Dern vehicle that’s one of my mother’s favorite movies) thinks Santorum is being unjustly pilloried; my response is over there in his comments. Glenn Reynolds links to another defense, as does Matthew Yglesias; my response is not to even post a direct link.

The Santorum Fury

Dan Drezner has caught up with the Santorum debacle today; as usual, he has good points, pithily stated.

TV punditry, on the other hand, seems rather disconnected from what IMHO is the real issue here. Now, granted, as CalPundit says, “virtually every single paragraph has something to shake your head at.” But it’s odd that much of the head-shaking is still directed at the statement produced with the reporter’s inserted (gay) in the most famous quote in the interview, which reads in the transcript as follows:

We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, [sodomy] undermine[s] the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does.

(I’ve cleaned up the second sentence because it’s fairly clear he’s talking about the act of sodomy, even though the original quote reads “they undermine”—a less charitable interpretation might read it as “[homosexuals] undermine,” but I don’t think a reading in context supports that interpretation; the word “homosexuals” only appears in the reporter’s question, and isn’t even mentioned in this paragraph of his response. But as Glenn Reynolds points out, the quote’s very incoherent.)

He’s clearly talking about “the right to consensual sex” here, not just between homosexuals, transsexuals, bisexuals, or what-have-you, but everyone. Most Americans—whether the Supreme Court thinks so or not—almost certainly think they have such a right. (Of course, most Americans also think they have the right to choose the members of the Electoral College, despite the plain text of the Constitution indicating the contrary, so maybe we should take this argument with a grain of salt.)

Now some of Santorum’s defenders, including those on Special Report with Brit Hume today, have trotted out Justice White’s 5-4 majority opinion in the unfortunately-named Bowers v. Hardwick (478 U.S. 186, 1986), which is the Supreme Court’s controlling precedent in Lawrence v. Texas (no relation). Justice White writes:

And if respondent’s submission is limited to the voluntary sexual conduct between consenting adults, it would be difficult, except by fiat, to limit the claimed right to homosexual conduct while leaving exposed to prosecution adultery, incest, and other sexual crimes even though they are committed in the home. We are unwilling to start down that road. (195-96)

The statute at issue in Lawrence, unlike that in Bowers, only applies to “deviate sexual intercourse” between individuals of the same gender. It is distinctly possible that the Supreme Court will overturn it on equal protection grounds, as the current justices did in another gay rights case by a 6-3 margin in Romer v. Evans (517 U.S. 620, 1996), without even reaching the “right to consensual sex” question; however, that would not strike down existing state laws like Mississippi’s that do not restrict the statute to a particular gender. But how far-reaching would a “right to consensual sex” be?

  1. Adultery and pre-marital sex would almost certainly have to be legalized. However, statutes against these acts, like those against heterosexual and homosexual sodomy, are basically unenforced, so the practical impact of this right on legislative authority would be minimal.

  2. Incest among sterile adults would probably be protected by the right. However, incest involving minors would almost certainly not be (a law prof would have the citations to cases); the same goes for statutory rape laws. Forbidding incest involving the possibility of procreation among adults would be more problematic with a “right to consensual sex,” but I’d imagine it’s doable as a public health issue.

  3. Polygamy (including bigamy), as distinguished from polyamory, involves more than a “right to consensual sex.”

Of course, the scope of this “right” largely depends on how broadly the Supreme Court decides to draw it and what sort of scrutiny they want to employ. My gut feeling is that the Griswold and Stanley lines will be augmented with Romer to produce a fairly narrowly-drawn decision that focuses on the 4th Amendment interest in personal privacy in one’s home, while arguing that the strict scrutiny standard applies as much to that 4th Amendment interest as it did to the 1st, 14th, and 15th Amendment interests at stake in Romer. It may open the door for challenges against laws like those Santorum cites, but I doubt the Court will go beyond the Texas statute in the case at hand.

Radley Balko has a spirited defense of the 9th Amendment that basically reflects my own views on the matter. And Pieter at Peaktalk points out the sticky position George Bush is in:

The GOP has to maneuver very carefully here in order to ensure that as many people as possible stay under the Republican umbrella and going out to bat for gay Americans just does not make electoral sense at this point in time. Yet, Bush may have lost some valuable voters over this issue and he will need to mend some fences over the next few months otherwise this issue will come back to haunt him during the campaign trail. By not disapproving Santorum’s comments, Bush will open himself to criticism that he believes that the government does have a role to play in people’s private lives and that may cost him more than just a few gay votes.

Wednesday, 23 April 2003

Santorum and Empire

Steven Kruczek, whose blog The Grille I discovered via BlogMatrix, has a very interesting—and IMHO dead-on—take on what ails Republicans when they speak on legislative solutions to moral issues. The money quote:

Conservatives, it seems to me, have the same problem on moral issues as Liberals have on economic issues. Liberals see homelessness, poverty, or other suffering and say “something must be done!” Similarly, Conservatives see homosexuality or other acts they see as deviant and say “something must be done!” … Therefore the right, like Liberals for economic policy, turns to the government for solutions. Unfortunately, in both morality and economic redistribution, governments are no good at affecting [sic] solutions to these problems.

And this is where the right gets itself into trouble.

I can’t really do it justice here… just RTWT™. (And bear in mind that BPAW™.)

Johnny Two-Cents finds Santorum’s connection of the right to privacy to the Boston child molestation scandal the most bizarre part of the interview (and approvingly cites my snarky comment at Matt’s place on the two major parties). Like Kevin Drum points out, this has got to be the Most. Outrageous. Interview. Ever. The whole thing deserves a good Fisking (I wonder if Santorum thinks the right to privacy covers that?).

Tuesday, 22 April 2003

Santorum Sanitarium

As mentioned previously, Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has been getting a fair amount of defense from the libertarian parts of blogdom. However, the Left Leaner has dug up the transcript of the interview (via a Feedster search that led me to Atrios—I always knew he’d be good for something), and in some ways it’s even more damning. The actual text of what Santorum says:

AP: OK, without being too gory or graphic, so if somebody is homosexual, you would argue that they should not have sex?

SANTORUM: We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does.

The italicized part is the commonly-excerpted part. The reporter originally added the word (gay) to the statement, but Santorum is clearly coming out here in opposition to the Supreme Court stating that there’s a “right to consensual sex within your home.” Or, to clarify for those who haven’t had my civil liberties lecture, he thinks it ought to be constitutional (syn: legal, permissible) for a state to outlaw sex between consenting adults—any consenting adults.

But wait—it gets better. Let’s continue on the magical mystery tour of Rick Santorum’s constitutional philosophy:

It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold—Griswold was the contraceptive case—and abortion. And now we’re just extending it out. And the further you extend it out, the more you—this freedom actually intervenes and affects the family. You say, well, it’s my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that’s antithetical to strong, healthy families. Whether it’s polygamy, whether it’s adultery, where it’s sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.

That’s right. Your personal liberty is less important than the government’s compelling interest in creating “strong, healthy families” like Rick’s. (Insert your own joke about social capital and communitarianism here. No offense, Bob Putnam.)

Then it just gets plain weird:

Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that’s what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality…

AP: I’m sorry, I didn’t think I was going to talk about “man on dog” with a United States senator, it’s sort of freaking me out.

I’m freaked out, and I’m only reading this sludge.

SANTORUM: And that’s sort of where we are in today’s world, unfortunately. The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we’re seeing it in our society.

Let’s zoom in on this part: “The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions.” Chew on that for a while. Now let’s compare and contrast with a different view of what the state’s role should be:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

The fundamental purpose of our government is to secure individuals’ God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not to decide what people get healthcare, figure out who’s more worthy of an air-conditioned house, or—for that matter—dictate what two consenting adults are allowed to do in their bedroom. Perhaps Sen. Santorum should think about that for a while.

Jacob Levy at the Volokh Conspiracy has more; he’s much less sanguine about Santorum’s comments than Eugene was (although in the latter’s defense, I don’t think Eugene had seen the interview transcript at the time).

Andrew Sullivan makes the same point in the midst of flooding the zone on Santorum. The sad thing is that if Santorum were talking about economic policy in the same terms (hypothetical: the state ought to have the right to limit people’s income to $100,000 per year), the usual suspects on the left would be cheering him on… which nicely dovetails with Eugene Volokh’s point here about why libertarians can’t be Democrats either.

Radley Balko (The Agitator) is equally unimpressed—and by that, of course, I mean thoroughly disgusted with the illiberal bullshit coming out of Santorum’s mouth.

Monday, 21 April 2003

More Republican idiocy

I have to wonder if ascending to a leadership post in the Senate requires contracting Tourette’s syndrome. The latest moron: Rick Santorum (R-PA), whose attitude toward homosexuality is (and I quote, believe me I wish I was making this shiz-nit up):

If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.

The most charitable interpretation of this quote (which apparently refers to the Supreme Court’s upcoming case that might overturn the unfortunately-named Bowers v. Hardwick, Lawrence v. Texas—no relation) is… scratch that, there is no charitable interpretation. The dude’s a moron, or high, or something. Compare this made-up quote:

If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to drink alcohol within your home, then you have the right to do blow, you have the right to deflower virgin cheerleaders, you have the right to drink bongwater, you have the right to sunbathe naked on your front lawn. You have the right to do anything.

It makes about as much logical sense. Possibly more.

James Joyner has more; he finds a bit more logical consistency in Santorum’s statement than I give him credit for.

You can read a more benign intent into the quote from the more recent article that most have linked from; however, the original wire story (linked above) puts a bit more context around it—and Santorum’s definitely staking out a vehemently anti-gay position. Also: Matthew Yglesias, along with most of the blogospheric left, isn’t particularly surprised.

Eugene Volokh thinks it’s a faux controversy. Just to be clear, my objection isn’t so much to the position Santorum stakes out as it is to the choice of activities he implicitly compares homosexuality to. For example, heterosexual sodomy, premarital cohabitation, and the sale of sex toys are sexual acts whose constitutional protection might follow from overturning Texas’ sodomy statute, yet Santorum doesn’t complain about them—even though those acts are considered morally questionable in some quarters and remain technically illegal in certain states, including Mississippi; see e.g. Mississippi Code 97-29-105 (distribution of sex toys illegal—up to a year in jail, plus fines), 97-29-59 (“unnatural intercourse”—up to ten years at Parchman, where presumably more “unnatural intercourse” would take place) and 97-29-1 (cohabitation illegal—up to six months in jail, plus fines).

Via John Cole. A bit of surfing with Lexis-Nexis failed to turn up the original source for this quote; it apparently came directly from an interview with this reporter.