Saturday, October 20, 2007
Orange County Register
On Thursday, Congress attempted to override President Bush's veto of the SCHIP expansion. SCHIP? Isn't that something to do with health care for children? Absolutely. And here is Bay Area Democratic Rep. Pete Stark addressing the issue with his customary forensic incisiveness:
"The Republicans are worried that they can't pay for insuring an additional 10 million children. They sure don't care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where are you going to get that money? Are you going to tell us lies like you're telling us today? Is that how you're going to fund the war? You don't have money to fund the war on children, but you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people? If he can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement."
I'm not sure I follow the argument here: President Bush wants to breed a generation of sickly uninsured children in order to send them to Iraq to stagger round the Sunni Triangle, weak and spindly and emaciated and rickets-stricken, to get their heads blown off? Is that the gist of it? No matter, Congressman Stark hit all the buzz words – "children," "illegal war," "$200 billion," "lies," etc. – and these days they're pretty much like modular furniture: You can say 'em in any order, and you'll still get a cheer from the crowd.
Congressman Stark is unlikely ever to be confused with Gen. Stark, who gave New Hampshire its stirring motto, "Live free or die!" In the congressman's case, the choice appears to be: "Live free on government health care or die in Bush's illegal war!" Nevertheless, in amongst the autopilot hooey the Stark raving madman did use an interesting expression: "the war on children."
One assumes he means some illegal Republican Party "war on children." Last Thursday, Nancy Pelosi, as is the fashion, used the phrase "the children" like some twitchy verbal tic, a kind of Democrat Tourette's syndrome: "This is a discussion about America's children … We could establish ourselves as the children's Congress … Come forward on behalf of the children ... I tried to do that when I was sworn in as speaker surrounded by children. It was a spontaneous moment, but it was one that was clear in its message: we are gaveling this House to order on behalf of the children."
Etc. So what is the best thing America could do "for the children"? Well, it could try not to make the same mistake as most of the rest of the Western world and avoid bequeathing the next generation a system of unsustainable entitlements that turns the entire nation into a giant Ponzi scheme. Most of us understand, for example, that Social Security needs to be "fixed" – or we'll have to raise taxes, or the retirement age, or cut benefits, etc. But, just to get the entitlements debate in perspective, projected public pensions liabilities in the United States are expected to rise by 2040 to about 6.8 percent of our gross domestic product. In Greece, the equivalent figure is 25 percent – that's not a matter of raising taxes or tweaking retirement age; that's total societal collapse.
So what? shrug the voters. Not my problem. I paid my taxes, I want my benefits.
In France, President Sarkozy is proposing a very modest step – that those who retire before the age of 65 should not receive free health care – and the French are up in arms about it. He's being angrily denounced by 53-year-old retirees, a demographic hitherto unknown to functioning societies. You spend your first 25 years being educated, you work for two or three decades, and then you spend a third of a century living off a lavish pension, with the state picking up every health care expense. No society can make that math add up.
And so, in a democratic system today's electors vote to keep the government gravy coming and leave it to tomorrow for "the children" to worry about. That's the real "war on children" – and every time you add a new entitlement to the budget you make it less and less likely they'll win it.
A couple of weeks ago, the Democrats put up a 12-year-old SCHIP beneficiary from Baltimore, Graeme Frost, to deliver their official response to the President's Saturday-morning radio address. And immediately afterwards Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin and I jumped the sick kid in a dark alley and beat him to a pulp. Or so you'd have thought from the press coverage: The Washington Post called us "meanies." Well, no doubt it's true we hard-hearted conservatives can't muster the civilized level of discourse of Pete Stark. But we were trying to make a point – not about the kid, but about the family, and their relevance as a poster child for expanded government health care. Mr. and Mrs. Frost say their income's about $45,000 a year – she works "part-time" as a medical receptionist, and he works "intermittently" as a self-employed woodworker. They have a 3,000-square-foot home plus a second commercial property with a combined value of over $400,000, and three vehicles – a new Chevy Suburban, a Volvo SUV, and a Ford F-250 pickup.
How they make that arithmetic add up is between them and their accountant. But here's the point: The Frosts are not emblematic of the health care needs of America so much as they are of the delusion of the broader Western world. They expect to be able to work "part-time" and "intermittently" but own two properties and three premium vehicles and have the state pick up health care costs. Who do you stick with the bill? Four-car owners? Much of France already lives that way: A healthy, wealthy, well-educated populace works a mandatory maximum 35-hour week with six weeks of paid vacation and retirement at 55 and with the government funding all the core responsibilities of adult life.
I'm in favor of tax credits for child health care, and Health Savings Accounts for adults, and any other reform that emphasizes the citizen's responsibility to himself and his dependants. But middle-class entitlement creep would be wrong even if was affordable, even if Bill Gates wrote a check to cover it every month: it turns free-born citizens into enervated wards of the Nanny State. As Gerald Ford likes to say when trying to ingratiate himself with conservative audiences, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have." But there's an intermediate stage: A government big enough to give you everything you want isn't big enough to get you to give any of it back. As I point out in my book, nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: Once a fellow's enjoying the fruits of Euro-style entitlements, he couldn't give a hoot about the general societal interest; he's got his, and who cares if it's going to bankrupt the state a generation hence?
That's the real "war on children": in Europe, it's killing their future. Don't make the same mistake here.