Thursday, September 10, 2009
The resignation over the Labor Day weekend of White House "green jobs" czar Van Jones tells you some interesting things about the Obama administration.
One of them is that a man who proclaimed himself a "communist" in the 1990s and signed 9-11 "truther" petitions suggesting Bush administration complicitity in the Sept. 11 attacks was considered fit for a White House appointment.
Liberal columnists have been attacking Republicans because some of their voters are "birthers," believers in the absurd charge that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii and thus is not a natural-born U.S. citizen. But they have failed to identify any "birther" that occupied a position in the Republican firmament comparable to that of "truther" Jones in the Obama administration.
Another interesting thing about Jones is that the administration seems enamored of his "green jobs" concept. There's an understandable political reason. Legislation to restrict carbon emissions that is supported by the administration would undoubtedly kill a large number of jobs by increasing the cost of energy, and so you can see why its advocates might want to argue that there will be a compensating number of "green jobs" created -- at least if the government spends a lot of money on them.
But this sounds like fantasy. If there were money to be made in green jobs, private investors would be creating them already. In fact, big corporations like General Electric are scrambling to position themselves as green companies, gaming legislation and regulations so they can make profits by doing so. Big business is ready to create green jobs -- if government subsidizes them. But the idea that green jobs will replace all the lost carbon-emitting jobs is magical thinking.
Obama's approach to health care legislation, unless he made a major course correction in his speech to the joint session of Congress, is of a piece with his hiring of Jones. By ceding the task of writing legislation to congressional Democratic leaders and committee chairmen, he has been following a "no enemies to the left" strategy.
By refusing to rule out the government option -- which its architects see as the road to a single-payer government insurance system -- Obama has prevented the emergence of a set of policies that have a chance of passing the Senate. The Senate Republicans in the "gang of six" who have been negotiating with Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus are not going to agree on a bill without assurance from the White House that they won't get rolled by hard-left House Democrats in conference committee.
Yesterday, Baucus came out with his own plan, which includes a tax on high-value health insurance policies. But this is likely to be rejected by the left, by labor unions that have negotiated such benefits from employers and by members of Congress from states like New York where, because of state policies, almost all health insurance costs that much.
There is an element of convenient fantasy as well in Obama's health care statements to date. We are going to save money by spending money. We are going to solve our fiscal problems with a program that will increase the national debt by $1 trillion over a decade. We are going to guarantee you can keep your current insurance with a bill that encourages your employer to stop offering it.
The list goes on. We are going to improve health care for seniors by cutting $500 billion from Medicare. We aren't going to insure illegal aliens, except that we won't have any verification provisions to see that they can't apply and get benefits.
Most politicians like to promise voters all good things at once. Democrats got in the habit of doing this over the past 14 years when they could not pass legislation by themselves. Van Jones' moment in the White House is over. Exposure of his record in conservative media made him politically unacceptable, even though mainstream outlets like The New York Times ignored the issue entirely.
The Democrats' health insurance bills remain under consideration, and with large majorities in both houses passage of some bill cannot be ruled out. But August town hall meetings and national polls have put the Democrats on the defensive. No-enemies-to-the-left and convenient fantasies may work in Chicago. They don't work so well when your constituency is the whole United States.
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