HAVING STORMED, IN THE NAME OF LES MISERABLES, the ramparts of Republican reaction, Democrats, who call themselves "the party of compassion," now have produced a budget that slashes assistance to poor people for home heating, but cuts nary a nickel from the National Endowment for the Arts, an agency paradigmatic of government's solicitude for the already comfortable. Welcome to the revolution. Moral ostentation was liberalism's delight during the fallow years when Republicans were in power and homeless people were in the streets illustrating the "uncaring" nature of Republicans. But in the liberal party's budget the big winner is the Justice Department, primarily because of funding to put more police on the streets where homeless people still are. No wonder many liberals are uneasy and the administration's leading liberal, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is quite cross.
Television has been aswarm with ads she considers frightfully unfair criticisms of her health care plan. The ads actually are mild -- a prototypical couple saying gosh we don't need costly new bureaucracies to fix health care. "Propaganda!" cries Mrs. Clinton's husband. But if he and she want to see real mendacity, they should see the ad purporting to be a neutral presentation of facts.
It is sponsored by the League of Women Voters, whose agenda is liberal, and the Kaiser Family Fund, a liberal foundation. The Kaiser family name is on Kaiser Permanente, a HMO of the sort the Clintons' plan would favor. The says, "84 percent of Americans who lack health insurance are in families that work hard and pay taxes, but don't get health insurance on the job. That's eight out of ten of us, and that's a fact." No, that's not. Note the pronoun "us." The implied antecedent is the American population, all of us. But the "us" really refers to the approximately one in seven of us who at any moment lacks insurance (some briefly, between jobs, some others voluntarily, because they choose to run the risk).
The administration's slipperiness in portraying a "crisis" and the plan to solve it has been accompanied by vituperativeness when the slipperiness is revealed, as it has been by, among others, Elizabeth McCaughey of the Manhattan Institute, writing in The New Republic. A few weeks ago her withering analysis of the Clintons' plan, complete with meticulous page references to the 1,364-page bill, documented the fact that the plan would give government comprehensive control over individuals' personal medical care. The White House shrilly accused her of a "blatant lie" and of being "deliberately misleading." When The New Republic challenged the White House to send forth someone, anyone, to debate McCaughey, the White House refused wisely, considering McCaughey's shredding, in the current New Republic, of the White House's written response to her first article.
For example, the White House called "ridiculous" her contention that the bill involves racial quotas in medical training. She directs readers to page 515 of the bill. A new bureaucracy that would determine the number of training positions in each teaching hospital would also calculate the percentage of trainees at each teaching hospital "who are members of racial or ethnic minority groups" and which groups are "under-represented in the field of medicine generally and in the medical specialties." Too few Hispanics in thoracic surgery? Government will fix that, too.
Confronted with McCaughey's scholarly precision and tone (she is a constitutional historian with a Columbia University Ph.D.), and with other criticism, administration spokespersons, and especially Mrs. Clinton, have unsheathed a 1960s style of discourse, treating political differences as occasions for moral assaults. Doctors, pharmaceutical companies, insurers and the rest of the private sector -- it is "rife with fraud, waste and abuse," says Mrs. Clinton -- are guilty of greed. It remains to be seen whether Mrs. Clinton's role in Whitewater and related matters disqualifies her as America's moral auditor. However, her moral certitude is commensurate with her intellectual confidence.
Having spent her adult life lawyering and politicking, she now stipulates, among many other medical things, the proper ratio of primary care doctors to specialists. She says: "The American people did not stand on the street corners and say, "Give us more thoracic surgeons'." But neither did they ask politicians and their spouses to lay down the law about such matters. When a health insurance agent asked Mrs. Clinton what would happen to her job under the Clintons' plan, Mrs. Clinton replied, "I'm assuming anyone as obviously brilliant as you could find something else to market." Obviously another of Mrs. Clinton's assumptions is that she and her friends have a right to rearrange, other people's lives.
Replying to a question concerning whether the plan's "employer mandates" -- payroll taxes -- might injure small businesses, which are most of America's businesses, she sniffed, "I can't go out and save every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America." No one is asking her to come "out" and "save" them, but she should refrain from injuring businesses that would not be "undercapitalized" if the Clintons' plan did not confiscate part of their capital.
The Congressional Budget Office last week issued a ruling that one Democratic senator welcomes because "it means we don't have to lie." It refuted the Clintons' preposterous contention that their plan is merely a privately funded reorganization of private programs, not a new government program, and so the costs should not show up in the federal budget. The CBO said the Clintons' plan is a new entitlement program -- larger than Social Security in which "federal law . . . would determine the benefits and premiums." The CBO said the revenue stream raised from employers by the compulsion of the government's sovereign power must appear, like taxes, in the budget as government receipts.
By making untenable the Clintons' pretense that their plan involves no broad new tax, the CBO protected the budget's ability to function as a record of the portion of the private economy that is taken to fund government programs. The White House lobbied furiously to dissuade the CBO from stating the obvious, which the White House rightly considers potentially ruinous.