Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Presidencies

It is an irony of fate, I suppose, that tonight's low point in Sarkozy's presidency coincides with Obama's resurrection. Sarkozy's first year was a triumph of the will (n'en déplaise à Leni Riefenstahl). He had his majority, he passed his reforms, he made himself ubiquitous. Obama took office in a moment of such heightened expectations and disastrous calamities that disappointments were inevitable. He faced a vituperative and obdurate opposition and an uncontrollable majority. And yet he persevered. Victory will, for a time, reorient the narratives on both sides of the ocean. The same qualities that had been cast as weakness and indecisiveness in the American president will now be taken as signs of steadfast resolve and tactical genius. By the same token, Sarkozy's confidence and dynamism will be recast (if they were not already portrayed as) arrogance and psychological instability. Too much political writing fits the structuralist image of the overdetermined text, which purports to describe but in fact merely externalizes the structure in which it is embedded. Sub specie aeternitatis, there are better ways to describe what has happened today in France and what will happen tonight in the United States. But there is perhaps a human need to provide the French narrative with an anti-hero and the American with a hero. I'm not really pleased with the French outcome, which the Socialists are already trying to present as an Answer when it is in fact merely a restatement of all the Questions that have gone unanswered since 2002. I am pleased with the American outcome, for all the bill's shortcomings, because, to coin a phrase, it keeps hope alive--hope that for a time had been made to seem a naive illusion by the Republicans, the ugly mobs, the appalling Fox network, and the indiscipline of the Democrats.


CJWilly said...

The weak-spined Dems and Republican troglodytes are to blame, yes. but more than that.

Abolish the Senate!

Seriously. If America had a democratic regime we wouldn't have this problem (or Civil Rights or ratifying Versailles or..). Besides the filibuster and Wyoming=California problem.. Imagine if, for starters, African-Americans of the South - where most still live - were not wholly disenfranchised in the Senate. Imagine if southern states did not each produce 2 die-hard White Republican Senators, but 1 third of southern Senators were Black die-hard Democrats. Obama would have had his health bill in August.

Unknown said...

Yes, something needs to be done about the Senate, but perhaps a rule change will suffice. Abolishing the damn thing would take a Revolution. Still, if Kennedy hadn't died at an inopportune moment, the last few months of maneuvers would have been unnecessary. And there's still the Supreme Court to worry about. I wouldn't put it past the Roberts court to try to find a way to block the health care reform, and Justice Kennedy is not a man to be counted on in a pinch.

MYOS said...

Reinterpretation of signs due to a shift in narrative.

Mostly, those on the right who disliked Sarko but tolerated him because he helped them win have the power to take over, if only at Assemblée Nationale and Sénat. Enough to wreck havoc. So I predict there *will* be significant changes in the government, although I doubt Fillon will be kicked out (unless he quits, better to undermine N.Sarkozy within the UMP).

Not sure "the socialists" are doing what they have been doing since 2002, i.e? using a victory to overlook everything else.
If by "the socialists", you mean "the guardians of dogma in Solferino", yes. But if you mean "socialist governors", I don't think so. True, we haven't heard speeches from all of them, but the ones we did hear sounded nothing like Martine Aubry and "parisian" politicians on TV channels. Fabius + Ayrault were an especially unappealing bunch, for example. And Frêche, for all his shock jock "vive mao, vive lénine" rally cry, did get some assent from pundits for the rest of his speech on the death of traditional parties, the need for a PS more in touch with reality and less into ideology, closer to the "Democrat" model, in favor of local responsibility, etc.

Unknown said...

MYOS, I agree. I think Sarko will have to make major changes in order not to appear out of touch. I'm not even sure he'll keep Fillon. Fillon might even be willing to present his departure as his own idea. In a way, it frees him up, puts some distance between him and Sarko, which could be useful in the future. And the party--time to shake up that bunch. How's this for a thought: Lagarde for PM, Copé to finance. Lagarde enjoys good international press and doesn't threaten any of the barons. Copé at this point can do more damage outside than inside. As LBJ used to say of his enemies, better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.

Mitch Guthman said...

I not a great fan of this bill but I wouldn’t worry too much about the Supreme Court. Absent another Bush v. Gore, the elements that most liberals care about (insurance reforms and subsidies) are probably very safe from attack since they look like very traditional exercises of core functions of the federal government. The subsidies are not but spending. Unless Roberts is willing to basically ignore or rewrite pretty much every Commerce Clause case since the 1960‘s it pretty clear that Congress can regulate insurance companies and prevent them from, for example, denying certain kinds of claims or refusing to sell insurance to people with preexisting conditions, etc. Prof. Balkin has several very good posts up at Balkinization ( explaining pretty clearly for people without much of a legal background.

The one place where is think the plan is vulnerable to constitutional challenge (and where I seriously disagree with Prof. Balkin) is with regard to the “individual mandate”. I actually do agree with the Republicans that the mandate is arguably unconstitutional because it forces people to buy something, a very specific thing, from a group of companies approved by the federal government. The fact that the enforcement mechanism is arguably a tax might not be enough if imposition of the tax (penalty) is deemed to be a mere pretext allowing Congress to do something indirectly that it is forbidden from doing directly. (See generally, McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 423, “Should Congress, in the execution of its powers, adopt measures which are prohibited by the Constitution, or should Congress, under the pretext of executing its powers, pass laws for the accomplishment of objects not entrusted to the government, it would become the painful duty of this tribunal, should a case requiring such a decision come before it, to say that such an act was not the law of the land. (Marshall, C.J.))

This shouldn’t worry anyone except the insurance companies. The severability provisions would result in a health care system without an individual mandate (the thing which prevents healthy people from gaming the system) but with everything else intact, especially the extremely onerous requirements that require insurance companies to sell policies to people with preexisting conditions and (if the Obama administration is to be believed) under a regulatory regime with a strong bias against all forms of price increases.

Inasmuch as I personally object to the imposition of an individual mandate without a public option, I would welcome a decision against the mandate since it would almost certainly bring about the eventual bankruptcy of the private health insurance companies and probably necessitate the adoption of some form of single payor. It would be ironic justice.

DavidinParis said...

To bring this discussion back to a comparison between what has happened in France and the US, I saw an interesting poll today in Le Parisien regarding the French elections. 30% want the reforms to speed up, 30% are fine with present pace and 30% want them to slow down or stop. Now, with a young daughter in a French school, I am always amazed at the emphasis this culture places upon mathematics coupled with a lack of rigor in logic and common sense. My take home message from this poll is that 60% are for the reforms and half of those want them to speed up. How this translates into a vote for the PS that will allign themselves with the party of 'no' remains unclear to me. The irony for me is that the PS in France and the GOP in the US are so similar.

CJWilly said...

The PS and GOP? Hau?

DavidinParis said...

Both are the parties of 'No'.

MYOS said...

DavidinParis: your reply is funny but I don't see it. At this point, the PS is balkanized. What "PS" means in the North bears no relation to Marseille, Lyon, or Poitou-Charentes.... As for Solferino, they're like the Old Guard. Martine Aubry is like a throwback to the 1990s, although with better clothes and haircuts.

The GOP is torn apart with the TeaPartyers and the Rush Limbaugh's, the hawks, the WSJ's supporters...
But at least they've got some common goal and a common enemy.

MYOS said...

Someone sent me this, it's from a "local" PS:

Cincinna said...

This is Obama's "Mission Accomplished" moment. He has lead Democrats to a victory and declared the battle over. The actual war has just begun.

Perhaps if you had actually read the bill, instead of just "hoping", you would understand:

1) All taxes go into effect now.Few, if any
benefits go into effect until 2014.

2) Because of the disincentive to obtain
private health insurance after 2014 due to the fact that the
fine will be greatly smaller than the cost of care and no preexisting conditions will stop one from getting health insurance once they get sick, these companies will use the next few years to jack up health insurance
premiums exorbitantly, The individual or his employer will have to cover all unless they fit into the slightly larger Medicaid pool, a system that is rife with abuse and fraud,

3)Insurance premium raises will
encourage employers to drop health insurance for their employees. Employees who no longer have health insurance will be forced to take on the cost for themselves.

4) Even after 2014, when employers over 50 employees will be required to buy health care or pay a fine, it is likely that employers will choose to pay the fine and pocket the difference, rather than pass it on to the employees.

His win consists of adopting essentially the Romney plan in Massachusetts (a hated system when in effect in Massachusetts according to all polls - remember Scott Brown).

Nothing has been done to address costs, cost-shifting or rationing of care, the thorniest issues in care and something all countries even those with supposedly
"enlightened" health care systems) have to address to avoid insolvency.

The price to be paid for going against the will of the people is always clear.

In all polls in the last 6 months, people do not want Obamacare. Compare this to the strong support for Medicare (69%) and the prescription drug plan (60%).

Obama will face the nearly impossible task of convincing people that "change" is coming while they get screwed royally due to his health-care plan.

I find your slurs and denigration of the "appalling Fox network", the "ugly mobs" and naive "Republican illusions" to be nothing but that typical Harvard
intellectual elitism that infests only the simplest of minds and lives in a world apart from the rest of the America.

It is only that type of belief system that can conclude that
foisting the failed Romney plan on the nation after subjecting it to 4 years of horrific individual costs will succeed in creating a hero, a hero of the masses that will lead this country forward into greater and better things.

Yet those people you deride as those "teabaggers" and "ugly mobs", that is the real voice of America, the people who built this country from scratch, who didn't listen to the British aristocrats when they tried to tell them what to do, who went willingly over to save France two times from
absolute tyranny.

If you believe they're going to roll over and die for some elitist ideal covered in the rags of old
Communist ideology, think again.

In general, the American people have never taken kindly to
their politicians pushing legislation through with such open
and obvious lies, bribes, chicanery, threats and manipulation of rules. I suspect this is moreso now after the
events of the past few years, and to defend the results of such shenanigans as "steadfast resolve and tactical genius" shows the bankruptcy and utterly decrepit
foundation of so-called "liberal" thought.

This is not an American outcome. It is not even a French outcome. Rather, it is the result of those who think they know better than everyone else and are determined to prove just how wrong they are.