Friday, February 3, 2012

Insulting Ann Coulter- A critique of Philip A. Klein et al's response to “Three Cheers for Romneycare.”

  Inasmuch as we are a non-partisan organization operating in the public interest, and nothing could be more in the public interest than a full understanding of matters impacting on the 2012 Presidential race, we thought it appropriate if we took a moment to respond to the Washington Examiner's senior editorial writer and blogger Philip A. Klein's rebuttal to Ann Coulter's controversial Feb 1, 2011 article “Three cheers for Romney Care.” We do so due to three primary reasons.

  1. Because Romneycare, and by extension Obamacare-- on which at least a large number of conservatives seemingly are convinced is no different than Romneycare and have asserted was the “model” for the federal legislation which includes a similar “must purchase” insurance mandate-- is an incredibly important matter of national importance.
  2. Because Philip Klein has asserted that Coulter has gone awol and “insulted” the “true conservatives” in the GOP with her assertions and claims in the above-mentioned article, AND
  3. Because a proper understanding of these issues is critically important to the selection of the Republican nominee and next President of the United States, as it acts as a “wedge issue” which motivates significant numbers of GOP voters, if not the electorate generally.
  Initially we must note that it is Ann Coulter's rhetorical trademark to be bombastically sarcastic and drive home her logical points and premises with acerbic wit, sometimes to the point of it being difficult to determine the lines of demarcation between where her sarcasm ends and where she should be taken seriously. Indeed, sarcasm is always a delicate matter of interpretation, (and the reason one should, in general, avoid its extreme use in everyday conversation). It is, however, as noted, Ms. Coulter's trademark feature and, of course, her right to employ as she wishes, in our view to increase controversy and hence, her readership, (even if it sometimes results in misunderstanding or offense).

 Having thus explained, it is in this light that we think Mr. Klein takes far too seriously some of the Ms. Coulter's comments in finding occasion for “insult” in her article, (instead of choosing to respond in a purely calm and rationed way to its main points). Don't get us wrong, we are not saying that Mr. Klein is not at all rational in his response, or doesn't draw blood with any of his own reasoned points, (of which he certainly has some good ones); we are merely suggesting for consideration that Mr. Klein has fallen unwittingly perhaps into Coulter's trap of baiting him to respond in an overly emotional way.

  It is in this sense-- and particularly re: Klein's essential grievance with Coulter that she has intentionally insulted conservatives and/or misconstrued their views regarding Obamacare and Romneycare and erroneously exaggerated the differences between them-- that Klein seems, at least to us, to himself be guilty of the logical fallacy of “paper tiger,” (setting up an opponent's views so weakly or ridiculously as to be easy to knock them down).

  Indeed, as to the specific claim of Klein and Co. expressed separately by blogger Jeff Emanuel in a similar piece citing Klein's published yesterday at, this lack of appreciation for Coulter's trademark sarcasm in interpreting her comments is clearly evident:

Coulter puts her derision for members of the conservative movement on full display by declaring that the only reason opposition to the law exists is because the nickname ‘Romneycare’ sounds like ‘Obamacare.’ 
Jeff Emanuel piece at, Feb. 2, 2012. 

In support of this theory, Klein and Co. cite Coulter's piece, where she says, clearly tongue in cheek:

[B]ecause both Obamacare and Romneycare concern the same general topic area — health care — and can be nicknamed (politician’s name plus “care”), Romney’s health care bill is suddenly perceived as virtually the same thing as the widely detested Obamacare. (How about “Romneycare-gate”?) As The New York Times put it, “Mr. Romney’s bellicose opposition to ‘Obamacare’ is an almost comical contradiction to his support for the same idea in Massachusetts when he was governor there.” This is like saying state school-choice plans are “the same idea” as the Department of Education.
         Ann Coulter, "Three Cheers for Romneycare," Feb. 1, 2012.

  While admittedly a bit over the top, Coulter clearly makes, in typical sarcastic fashion, an extremely rational point completely ignored by her critics, i.e., that their leap in logic equating Romneycare, a state law based on market principles, with Obamacare, an entire federal bureaucracy that is clearly not, is quite a leap of logic indeed.  Unfortunately, the near-reflexive response of her critics makes it appear as if the conservative movement has suddenly lost, in addition to its ability to reason, all sense of humor or memory as to who Coulter, a champion of conservatism known for controversy, (who we formerly loved for years of faithfully ridiculing liberals), is.

  For the record, and for the reasons as are set out herein, we are not at all convinced that Ms. Coulter is near so gung ho for health care mandates as her article's very sarcastic title and comments might imply at first blush. Rather, as the above example suggests, we submit that Coulter uses, (to great effect we may add!), such sarcasm as a rhetorical tool to not only increase her readership, but to make valid points on the critical matter under discussion which her critics ignore at their peril, (and, if it needs saying, secondarily to support who she sees as the most worthy Republican nominee for President, Mitt Romney, who for obvious reasons is inextricably connected to the subject at hand.)

 We would also like to point out that our goal isn't to “show up” or embarrass Mr. Klein or other conservative bloggers in any way, (as if he is not capable of clarification or response to even today's post by this insignificant blogger); rather our goal is to try and facilitate a more sensible discourse between the two camps on this critical issue, so that any disagreement, if upon a proper understanding such continues to exist, is at least on the merits of the relevant issues instead of based on knee-jerk emotionalism and what one may think their opposite-minded fellows in the movement believe, (but in fact don't).

 Further, it is our concern these very public and divisive disagreements are doing real and positive damage to the conservative movement which is in danger of splintering into a thousand pieces and sabotaging the GOP's chances to come together in the all important goal of defeating Obama in the Fall. It is our earnest hope that a more reasoned and civil approach that results in a balanced and thorough discussion of all relevant issues re: such matters and our future nominee might accordingly accrue to the Republican party and general body politic without need of resorting to such damaging and emotionally-laden accusations and counter-accusations we have witnessed of late which benefit no one in understanding what's at stake in this critical debate. Indeed, such public squabbles and misunderstandings can only cause the broader public to question if we are truly ready to govern other than as children and benefit the progressive left who are delighted at the prospect of our continued bickering aiding them in re-electing Barack Obama to a second Presidential term.

 And while we cannot speak to Mr. Klein's motives, (who as far as we can see is otherwise a solid conservative, as we would also grant to Ms. Coulter), we think Klein's response, as a whole, misses the forest for the trees, (more on this below). Moreover, we would be remiss not to note that the differences in their respective perspectives may arise, at least in part, from Coulter's training as a lawyer.

 Take for example, the following passage from Coulter's piece, (laced with her typical sarcasm of course):

One difference between the health care bills is that Romneycare is constitutional and Obamacare is not. True, Obamacare’s unconstitutional provisions are the least of its horrors, but the Constitution still matters to some Americans. (Oh, to be there when someone at The Times discovers this document called “the Constitution”!) As Rick Santorum has pointed out, states can enact all sorts of laws — including laws banning contraception — without violating the Constitution. That document places strict limits on what Congress can do, not what the states can do. Romney, incidentally, has always said his plan would be a bad idea nationally. The only reason the “individual mandate” has become a malediction is because the legal argument against Obamacare is that Congress has no constitutional authority to force citizens to buy a particular product. The hyperventilating over government-mandated health insurance confuses a legal argument with a policy objection. (read more here)
Ann Coulter, "Three Cheers for Romneycare," Feb. 1, 2012.

  Now contrast that with comments in Klein's rebuttal:

Coulter then spends the next chunk of her column making the case that Romneycare is constitutional. That’s true – states have police powers that the federal government does not – but that’s a total straw man. That’s not the argument conservative critics are making. We oppose Romneycare because it’s a massive expansion of government, regardless of the fact that Massachusetts was within its power to enact it. To use another example, it’s perfectly legal for a Republican governor to sign a massive tax increase and a budget that doubles spending, but that doesn’t make it a conservative policy.
Philip A. Klein, Washington Examiner editorial, Feb. 1, 2012, click here for rest of Klein's rebuttal of Coulter's article.
  From just this simple comparison it is immediately evident that Coulter is absolutely correct in assertion that “the hyperventilating over government-mandated health insurance confuses a legal argument with a policy objection,” (notice Klein's statement ending the above quote “that doesn't make it a conservative policy,” italics added for emphasis). 

  Thus, it is clear that Coulter is arguing from a legal perspective, and her critics are arguing from a policy perspective. We will talk more about this in coming days, (and whether, in fact, the State should have the right to mandate that you do anything at all, such as laws forcing you to have car insurance, or give vaccinations to your kids), as well as the further political ramifications of all this. 
(Suffice it to say for now, and as an aside, that unless we want to have complete societal anarchy a la Ron Paul style, just because we don't like a policy does not mean it is unconstitutional; it is however why we have national elections, which, if you haven't noticed, we are in the middle of an election year now!)  In sum, while Mr. Klein may have an excellent understanding about the similarities in the Massachusetts law vs. the national version of Obamacare vis a vis their shared “individual mandate” and certain other provisions, he and other critics give short shrift to affirming (or even understanding?) Coulter's point that the critical difference between the two is in fact a legal one, i.e., the fact Obamacare tramples States Rights and, by implication, the legal provision that gives them effect, (the Tenth Amendment), must logically by the same token render “Romneycare” a lawful exercise of State police power.  Thus rather than the tangential and seemingly insignificant difference that Klein makes this out to be, we submit it is the quintessential, defining difference between these two pieces of legislation, (however similar they may otherwise appear on first impression).  

  Klein, however, ostensibly failing to understand the critical legal nature of this point, or even that Coulter is not necessarily saying that State mandates are all hunky dorie, as opposed to merely lawful-- which again, in light of her propensity for sarcastic exaggeration we suggest a latent disapproval of  state mandates may yet be a distinct possibility on Coulter's part but one she eschews due to a sincerely held legal and conservative philosophy of judicial restraint-- simply barrels on with his own philosophical objection to mandates generally.

 Then too, Coulter's critics seem to miss (or ignore) her point that Romneycare, while certainly imposing an obligation to purchase insurance on Mass. residents similar to Obamacare's mandate on citizens of all states, is a far cry from the 2000+ page bureaucratic-laden Obamacare which, in its full manifestation, will determine what kind of health services one can receive, where and by whom they will be received, and when they can be received, (something which Romneycare, with its emphasis on private insurance purchased in government “exchanges,” doesn't come even near the same level of regulation of the health industry). As Ms. Coulter poignantly said in her article, Obamacare is:

[A] 2,000-page, trillion-dollar federal program micromanaging every aspect of health care in America with enormous, unresponsive federal bureaucracies manned by no-show public-sector union members enforcing a mountain of regulations that will bankrupt the country and destroy medical care, as liberals scratch their heads and wonder why Obamacare is costing 20 times more than they expected and doctors are leaving the profession in droves for more lucrative careers, such as video store clerk. 

 Now before I get any hate mail please don't misunderstand; Klein, and any conservatives so inclined, certainly have the right to object to either Romneycare or Obamacare on any grounds they wish to advance in the public arena, (and indeed, we have exercised our rights accordingly, see our post “So what's really the problem with Obamacare?”). What is wrong however, and what one cannot do, at least logically and fairly, is to act like Coulter's emphasis on the legal aspects which are currently the focus of the pending Supreme Court appeal of Obamacare by 26 states' Attorney Generals is a willful ignoring and “twisting” of the issue under discussion or some kind of rejection of conservative values and philosophy generally. 

 Again, as Coulter points out:

Until Obamacare, mandatory private health insurance was considered the free-market alternative to the Democrats' piecemeal socialization of the entire medical industry. In November 2004, for example, libertarian Ronald Bailey praised mandated private health insurance in Reason magazine, saying that it "could preserve and extend the advantages of a free market with a minimal amount of coercion." A leading conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation, helped design Romneycare, and its health care analyst, Bob Moffit, flew to Boston for the bill signing. Romneycare was also supported by Regina Herzlinger, Harvard Business School professor and health policy analyst for the conservative Manhattan Institute. Herzlinger praised Romneycare for making consumers, not business or government, the primary purchasers of health care. 

In this regard, again, the critics' reply, like Jeff Emanuel in his post on yesterday, is:

[W]hat Coulter ignores is the fact that Heritage has since repudiated the idea of an individual mandate at any level, writing in an amicus brief (pdf) filed in a challenge to Obamacare that “since [the passage and implementation of Obamacare], a growing body of research has provided a strong basis to conclude that any government insurance mandate is not only unnecessary, but is a bad policy option.”
Jeff Emanuel piece,, Feb 2, 2012. 

 But what does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Policy makers rely all the time on the best information available at the time, as even Mr. Emanuel's argument concedes. To hold Romney, or Coulter responsible that, in hindsight, this or that might not have been the best policy solution to the problem is to ask the impossible of our leaders and those like Coulter, who at best are limited to rallying citizens to make their wishes known to their leaders beforehand and afterwards can only comment on the governmental action. Indeed, it is completely irrelevant that the Heritage Foundation, or any other organization or think tank, may, years later, file a legal brief making certain policy arguments, (arguments by the way which are not really “legal” at all but rather "political questions" better addressed to the legislative branches than the Supreme Court which must as a proper function of the judiciary grapple with matters of Constitutional law such as Coulter has rightly focused on).

Then too, Klein states:

Romney signed the health care law with a smiling Ted Kennedy at his side knowing that Democrats had the votes to override any symbolic line-item vetoes of certain provisions. Furthermore, when he signed the law, he had already announced he wasn’t seeking reelection as governor and knew that it would almost certainly fall on Democrats to implement the law. Part of being a limited government Republican is realizing that once you put the infrastructure in place, successors can always add to it.

 Leaving aside another obvious logical fallacy for now, (that of guilt by association), what does the fact that Romney was shortly leaving his office as Governor of MA. have to do with anything?

 First of all, to claim that Romney somehow should have “known” that “it would almost certainly fall to Democrats to implment the law” is again, a standard no politician could ever meet. By this logic I expect every conservative to immediately denounce George Bush (and the Democratic Congress, there's that “guilt by association” thing again!) for passing the Patriot Act in the aftermath of 9/11.  Of course, other than for Ron Paul, whose extreme isolationist ideas and fears enforcing our borders may lead to the government “keeping Americans in” have not mustered more than token support in recent primaries, this will never happen, as conservatives distinctly and almost universally recognize such views as being both irrational and out of the mainstream.

 Lest you should miss my point here, to say that Romney “should have known better” than to pass a law attempting to deal with a real policy problem is akin to saying Bush shouldn't have passed the Patriot Act because “successors can always add to it.” But this surely could be said about any law, and is the reason we have the ability to take action by exercising our rights at the ballot box, (as well as to petition the government for redress of grievances generally); for the purpose of defeating legislators and laws that are burdensome to our liberty or that we don't approve of, (as occurred recently with the ill-fated Sopa and Pipa legislation, see our post on that subject here).  Indeed, and contrary to the idea put forth by Mssrs. Klein and Emanuel, Democracy is not a “do once and done” kind of thing, and never has been.  Rather, as Thomas Jefferson poignantly said, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

 Furthermore, if the Democratic legislature in Massachusetts had the power to “override any symbolic line-item vetoes of certain provisions,” as Klein insists, then they could just as easily have passed a much worse single-payer government health delivery system and, absent Romney's moderating influence, overrode his veto to pass such a plan into law, (even if he had never tried to reach a market based solution to broadly provide health insurance in MA.).  Indeed, by this token, one could easily argue that rather than proof of Romney's "liberalness" and impotence as a "conservative" governor, the truth was in fact just the opposite, as he was able to prevent this much more invasive approach long favored by leftist Democrats from becoming law instead of "Romneycare."   

  Indeed, while any idiot can argue after the fact that as governor Romney should have done this or that differently, the plain fact is that you or I weren't governor of Massachusetts at that time; it is thus simply unfair and unreasonable to hold Romney to a standard that no one could have met, or worse, to somehow conclude that Romney is a “closet liberal” from such actions, rather than a pragmatic Republican governing a very liberal state that did the best he could under difficult circumstances with an extremely liberal state legislature.

 Now I know that will not satisfy the “purists,” for whom nothing short of a blood oath to a "scorched earth" conservatism that strictly subscribes to their pet beliefs and personalities will do, but politics is the art of compromise and incremental reform, and sometimes the best we can do is be involved to protect the fairness and dignity of the process and let our voices be heard in the hopes to effect the outcome. Sometimes the results are immediate, and sometimes that takes decades, (like the fight of Wilber Wilberforce to end slavery in Great Britain), but trying to force an immediate outcome that accords with our views, or, worse, attempt to erect someone who will assume powers to do so, is a prescription that always ends in tyranny! (Indeed, it is also the reason why the way the Democratic Congress forced Obamacare through in a lame duck Congress with backroom deals and sweetheart deals for key Senators was widely seen, and rightly so, as corrupt; My question is, if as conservatives we universally condemned such tactics, are we now willing to adopt the very same corrupt practices as those we then condemned? (Indeed, and again as an aside for those ignorant of American history, this is also why our founders discouraged “direct democracy” in favor of the much more stable "Republican" system of representation by elected representatives guaranteed by our Constitution).

 Thus, and in short, to make the argument that Coulter has “ignored” the relevant arguments of her critics or abandoned conservative principles makes no more sense than the simplistic arguments of Michael Moore or the “Occupy” movement which conservatives reject, e.g., the argument “Bush lied, people died” made in derogation of the fact that at the time the Bush Administration acted on the best data it had available to it and which other countries also stated as fact.  If we now are going to start engaging in Monday morning “after the fact” litmus quarterbacking of fellow Gopers to determine who is truly “conservative” we are going to be busy shooting each other for a very long time. Moreover, again for those short on history, no one would pass that test, (remember, even that “stalwart” of conservatism Ronald Reagan whose name all Republicans revere passed the largest tax increase in California history at the time and, unbelievably, was once pro-abortion!). Accordingly, and along those lines, if we are only going to vote for perfect candidates we might as well reject Reagan's legacy and give our democracy over to dictators now!

 Yes, it is a fact that Romneycare has resulted in a huge increase of public expenditures on health care, but again, as Coulter and her critics both seem to agree, this is due to the state Democratic legislators additions since Romney's original market-based idea, (and as Coulter points out, at least in regard to Mass., a full 45% off their health care budget was paid for by the Feds before Romneycare was passed in the State). Thus, rather than such facts being used to bludgeon fellow conservatives and our leading Presidential nominee to death over things that happened in the past, might we not rather use such facts to come together in universal agreement in the present re: the ills that can be expected of Obamacare, a much more invasive and government-mandated system which everyone, including Coulter and Romney, agree must not stand? Instead, liberals are laughing in glee as we lynch Ann Coulter who we now “purge” as a “betrayer to the cause” with such fervor as would make the strictest Stalinist proud!

 Moreover, our doing so appears, at worst, to ascribe willfully-ill motives to Ms. Coulter which are far from proven, (which we have notably refused to do in regards to Mr. Klein), or, most charitably, to fundamentally misunderstand Ms. Coulter's point that like it or not Romneycare at the time was considered a conservative alternative to the “single payer” system long sought by liberals.

  And while we don't have the time to go point by point through every one of Mr. Klein's and others “responses” to Ms. Coulter, a careful reading of Klein's indignant rebuttal by those so inclined reveals that there are many such examples of such erroneous-- and judgmental?-- fallacies prevalent throughout. Indeed, it seems that Klien and Co. are at least equally at fault for ignoring Coulter's claims as they assert she ignores theirs! (If we were writing about liberals we would call this “hipocrisy.”)

  But as to perhaps Mr. Klein's most vaunted “factual” point, he exerts significant effort to proving that the “premium subsidy” provision of Romneycare requiring that Mass. residents pay something towards their health insurance costs is not to “balance out” the “freeloaders” who use the system-- or in fact, even come close to paying the costs of the expanded number of people now utilizing the health care system in Mass under Romneycare-- and that the requirement to “repay” by way of premiums of residents is not, in fact, utilized for this purpose. Most saliently, he takes Coulter's alleged reliance on this claim, as prima facia evidence proving Ms. Coulter has an ax to grind or is otherwise arguing in bad faith. However, again, in our view, his argument misses the forest for the trees; Indeed, who really cares why Romneycare requires such payments into the system in such a way as to go towards repaying the State for their residents' actual share of health care use or whether such “savings” are achieved by forcing healthier people into the system? More to the point, does it really matter whether the costs of health care are fully reimbursed by people contributing back to the system in the form of premiums or is just representative of the fact they have taken some responsibility for their health insurance costs? (Of course, we concede such hypothetical questions are certainly critical from a fiscal perspective; however, this is not a fair basis on which Klein attacks Coulter because she has not addressed such matters and the question of increased fiscal expense is one on which we surmise all conservatives would agree; thus it is irrelevant to purposes of our discussion here). Rather than center on how or if such savings are attainable, again, the key question that must remain at issue is whether requiring citizens of the individual states to purchase health insurance, or any product for that matter, is a constitutionally valid exercise of federal power under the Constitution's “Commerce Clause.”

  In this light, and while we could certainly have a discussion about whether the alleged savings or “economies of scale” allegedly attainable by mandating that all must purchase some sort of health insurance are, in fact, illusory in light of the increased number of people receiving care, or whether such “savings” could be achieved by increasing the numbers of “healthy” people contributing to the system, accepting such premises on which to argue is not only irrelevant but to cede the argument to the social engineers, (because all such arguments presume that the ends justify the means if we can just show sufficient “savings,” thereby conceding the validity of the ultimate goal of liberal social engineers to establish health care as another entitlement or “right” provided by the government).

  Such an error of course in turn leads straight to what conservatives are supposed to fear most, (not only the loss of personal autonomy in health decisions but the inevitable rationing of care, as if the only worthy goal of our health care system is “savings” an approach utilizing, say, the euthanasia of the elderly could certainly achieve that goal in short order, an utterly abhorrent idea). Again, such arguments as advanced by Klein's "rebuttal" to Coulter's article, philosophically-based as they are, miss the point that it doesn't really matter why government mandates increase the cost of health care or how they are reimbursed, (or not); The questions on which we must remain focused are rather, a) Whether the individual mandate of Obamacare is legally permissible under the Commerce Clause, AND, b) Whether there are other considerations, such as one's genetic makeup predisposing them to certain disease, which justifies the sort of “one size fits all” entitlement approach of mandates as a moral imperative regardless of the cost to society, (which conservatives, again, almost uniformly reject).

  Therefore, while we here at the ACLP certainly believe that the loss in freedom and patient autonomy in making these most personal determinations by individuals themselves instead of allowing the government to determine when and how individuals access healthcare is the primary principal at stake here, to pretend that the Coulter's of the world are literally “off their rocker” or have turned into “liberals” and left the conservative reservation in the dark of night by simply disagreeing on the basis for their dissent is to itself engage in a sort of political correctness which demeans the rigorous intellectual discussion that has long been the hallmark of the conservative movement.

  Of course, surely Mr. Klein must know this, all of which leaves us wondering if perhaps Mr. Klein isn't himself utilizing Ms. Coulter's fondest rhetorical flourish of triggering reactions in others for his own reasons of increasing readership. As they say, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. jp

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