The Easy Part — Jonathan Chait in New York explains implementing Obamacare was the easy part.
For all the Sturm und Drang, implementing a successful health-care reform was not actually very hard, for the simple reason that the United States started with the worst-designed health-care system in the industrialized world. When you spend far more on health care than any country, and you’re also the only advanced democracy that denies people access to medical care, it’s incredibly easy to design a better system.
Obamacare has two basic goals. One is to reduce the explosive rate of medical inflation, and the other is to give all citizens access to medical care. Medical inflation is indeed falling much faster than anybody expected four years ago, to its lowest level in half a century. And affordable health insurance is now available — insurance companies can’t use medical underwriting to exclude or charge prohibitive rates to people who need medical care, and people with low incomes get subsidized. It would be great if lots of people took up the coverage, but the simple availability of it is the main goal.
The health-care system still has lots of problems, beginning with the 5 million poor Americans cruelly denied health care by red state Republicans. Compared to an ideal blue-sky health-care system, we still fall short. What’s beyond question is that Obamacare has effected a revolutionary improvement by its own standards.
If it’s so easy to massively improve health care, why didn’t it happen before? Because passing a health-care reform through Congress is incredibly hard. The system’s waste created an enormous class of beneficiaries with a vested interest in the status quo. And the insecurity of private insurance made Americans terrified of change (which was necessarily complex).
And this is what conservatives have never understood. They act as if reforming health care is a mere matter of drawing up a health-care plan on paper and rounding up the votes, something they could do anytime they really feel like getting around to it, rather than a Herculean political task. They further convinced themselves that administering the new law would prove devilish if not impossible. They had it backwards.
The triumphs of Obamacare were designing a plan that could acceptably compensate the losers and generating the resources to cover the uninsured without alienating those with insurance. Designing and passing Obamacare was a project requiring real policy and political genius. Implementing it was easy.
Segregation Is Still With Us — Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic.
A few weeks ago I wrote skeptically of the jaunty uplifting narrative that sees white supremacy’s inevitable defeat. One reason I was so skeptical was because I’d been reading the reporting of Nikole Hannah-Jones. If you haven’t read her coverage on housing segregation you should. And then you should read her piece from this month’s magazine on the return of segregation in America’s schools:
Schools in the South, once the most segregated in the country, had by the 1970s become the most integrated, typically as a result of federal court orders. But since 2000, judges have released hundreds of school districts, from Mississippi to Virginia, from court-enforced integration, and many of these districts have followed the same path as Tuscaloosa’s—back toward segregation. Black children across the South now attend majority-black schools at levels not seen in four decades. Nationally, the achievement gap between black and white students, which greatly narrowed during the era in which schools grew more integrated, widened as they became less so.
In recent years, a new term, apartheid schools—meaning schools whose white population is 1 percent or less, schools like Central—has entered the scholarly lexicon. While most of these schools are in the Northeast and Midwest, some 12 percent of black students in the South now attend such schools—a figure likely to rise as court oversight continues to wane. In 1972, due to strong federal enforcement, only about 25 percent of black students in the South attended schools in which at least nine out of 10 students were racial minorities. In districts released from desegregation orders between 1990 and 2011, 53 percent of black students now attend such schools, according to an analysis by ProPublica.
Hannah-Jones profiles the schools in Tuscaloosa where business leaders are alarmed to see their school system becoming more and more black, as white parents choose to send their kids to private (nearly) all-white academies or heavily white schools outside the city. It’s worth noting that the school at the center of Hannah-Jones’ reporting—Central High School—was not a bad school. On the contrary, it was renowned for its football team as well its debate team.
But this did very little to slow the flight of white parents out of the district. (This is beyond the scope of Hannah-Jones’s story, but I’d be very interested to hear more about the history of housing policy in the town.) Faced with the prospect of losing all, or most of their white families, Tuscaloosa effectively resegregated its schools.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a political solution here. It’s fairly clear that integration simply isn’t much of a priority to white people, and sometimes not even to black people. And Tuscaloosa is not alone. I suspect if you polled most white people in these towns they would honestly say that racism is awful, and many (if not most) would be sincere. At the same time they would generally be lukewarm to the idea of having to “do something” in order to end white supremacy.
Taking Nutsery Seriously — Elias Isquith in Salon on what Cliven Bundy tells us about democracy.
Needless to say, the prospect of responding to this melodramatic and messianic crankery with ridicule is extremely tempting. And when you consider the fact that the Nevada Constitution, which Bundy claims to hold sacred and well above its federal counterpart, explicitly demands its adherents recognize the supreme authority of the federal government, that temptation becomes more seductive still. But while it’d be fun to respond to the Bundy set by cracking jokes about black helicopters and Agenda 21, it’d be a mistake to dismiss the Cliven crew’s success thus far entirely. There’s a reason they’ve gotten so much attention and spurred so much enthusiasm, especially on the right. Their prescriptions are wrong, but in their limited way, they’ve recognized the disease.
That disease is a growing sense of distrust of the government, which according to Gallup is reaching levels unseen in nearly 20 years. Americans have always been famously suspicious of government, of course, but even for America, having eight out of 10 people say they rarely or never trust the end-result of the democratic system is bad. And one of the reasons this intensifying mistrust is so worrisome is that it’s so obviously justified. Indeed, anyone who’s lived through the past 15 years of American politics — with the secret spying, the secret incarcerations, the secret torture, the secret drone strikes, and the secret indifference to the economic fortunes of the 99 percent — and still trusts their government wouldn’t just be naïve. They’d be a fool.
Two developments this week offer a useful glimpse of how the cynicism animating Bundy-styled populism is supported by a thin rail of truth. One involves Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary, Harvard president, and presidential economic advisor who in so many ways embodies Washington, D.C., as it functions in the modern era. The other features a major new report from two academics — one from Princeton, the other from Northwestern — who tried to figure out who, exactly, calls the shots in the U.S. and whose policy wishes are listened to by the White House and Congress. Put both stories together, and you begin to see where today’s pervasive anti-government sentiment is coming from.
Doonesbury — Bought and paid for.