Letter to a Trump Supporter #5: Affirmative Action

This is the fifth in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

Continuing our conversation about Barack Obama, he sent me a so-called “Newsweek” article blaming affirmative action for the Obama presidency.

Below is my response.

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Dear Mr. ——,

This is an interesting argument. Thank you for sending it. Before addressing it, I should note that it wasn’t published in the reputable Newsweek, but rather on a conservative website called “American Thinker.”

I also don’t think it’s fair to call Newsweek “liberal,” especially without any proof to back it up. It’s not easy to measure media bias, but the economists Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo came up with a clever way in the one of the top research journals in 2005. They rated each news outlet by how often they cited more conservative or liberal think tanks, where “conservative” or “liberal” was judged based on the legislators they were associated with. They came up with a score of 66 for Newsweek, making them more conservative than Republican Rep. Constance Morella and significantly more conservative than the average Democrat, but more liberal than the average Republican. Basically, middle of the road.

But that’s beside the point. The author, Matt Patterson, makes some astonishingly incorrect claims.

First, it’s not just Barack Obama who hasn’t released his transcripts from college. George W. Bush didn’t release his. John McCain didn’t release his. Donald Trump didn’t release his. Basically, no presidential candidate has done it.

Second, he did not have bad grades in school. On the contrary, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, which by the way is how I graduated from UPenn. In fact, his classmates said “he was a natural leader, an impressive student, a nice guy.” One of his professors said he was so smart that the professor once joked, “Barack, I’m teaching this class, not you!”

Third, he did not become president of the Harvard Law Review because of affirmative action. On the contrary, it was the conservatives on the editorial board who swung the election because, as one of them said, “they had a sense that he was more open-minded and would listen to the conservatives, and would value and accept their contributions in a way that some of the other candidates would not.”

And it turns out they were right. “He ended up upsetting many more of his colleagues on the far left than those of us who were on the right,” recalls this particular editor, “in part because the bottom line for him as president of the law review always remained putting out a first-class publication.”

I should note that the editor who said those things went on to work for George W. Bush’s administration. Hardly a biased source.

Fourth, it’s false that he “authored no signature legislation as legislator.” He crossed the aisle to co-sponsor the Lugar-Obama Act with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar to help our allies detect and interdict illegal shipments of weapons of mass destruction. He also joined with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn to sponsor the Coburn-Obama Transparency Act, which created a website to show Americans how all their money is being spent. He contributed key provisions to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, prohibiting lobbyists from flying Congress members on corporate jets for free and requiring them to disclose bundled campaign contributions. All three bills were signed into law by George W. Bush.

So, the truth is actually the opposite of what Patterson claims: Barack Obama was a high achiever for many years in multiple facets of life before he ran for president.

When you think about it, it’s pretty surprising that anyone would question his intellect. We all watch him on TV, and we hear how thoughtful, poised, and articulate he is — to the point that many Republicans have criticized him for being too professorial. He quotes the great philosophers off the top of his head. He never loses his temper, never engages in name-calling, always tries to see a problem from multiple angles.

In all these ways, he is the type of man I was raised to be — by my father and all the men I grew up around, including you.

The thing that amazes me the most, though, is that Patterson thinks any of these things is evidence of “affirmative action.” After all, he could make the exact same argument about plenty of white presidential candidates. George H. W. Bush, Dan Quayle, George W. Bush, and John McCain were all terrible students. Did they become successful because of affirmative action?

Well, actually, in part, they did. See, the thing we often forget is that black Americans were prohibited from occupying most high-paying professions until a few decades ago, and racial discrimination persists to this day. Experiments, statistical analyses, and surveys all show that employerslenders, and voters are less likely to choose a black person, even if they are slightly more qualified, than a white person.

Less likely, not more likely. Affirmative action exists, and has existed for centuries, but it’s been in favor of whites, not blacks.

Funny how Matt Patterson never wrote about that problem.

Best regards,
Anthony

Republicans Want to Replace Obamacare with…Obamacare-Lite?

Americans Trust Democrats Over Republicans on Health CareEver since Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010, the Republicans in Congress have tried to repeal it. This week’s vote was their 50th attempt.

And yet, despite their unyielding opposition, their earnestness rings hollow to most Americans for the simple reason that they have not offered an alternative path to health care reform. Even the party’s own strategists have chastised it for its negative approach, for failing to offer a plan of their own, for obstructing rather than leading.

Finally, their pleas have been answered — in the form of the Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility, and Empowerment Act, or “PCEREA,” sponsored by Republican Senators Orrin Hatch, Tom Coburn, and Richard Burr.

At long last, we can answer the simple question that Democrats have been asking Republicans since March 23, 2010: You got a better idea?

Unfortunately, the answer is a disappointing “no.”

The ACA, better known as “Obamacare,” has four major provisions: (1) a ban on price discrimination against sick people, (2) an “individual mandate” requiring everyone to purchase health insurance or pay a fine to the IRS, (3) tax credits for Americans who cannot afford to purchase insurance, and (4) a Medicaid expansion for the poorest Americans who don’t pay enough taxes to qualify for the tax credits.

The PCEREA does away with the first provision right off the bat. The most popular feature of Obamacare, the one that appeals to our basic sense of fairness, is the rule prohibiting insurers from charging different prices to different consumers based on health status. The Republicans would erase this rule, once again making insurance least affordable for the people who need it the most.

With the first provision gone, there isn’t much need for the second one. This is what most people have trouble grasping about the individual mandate: As unpopular as it is, it’s necessary in order to sustain the most popular part of the law. Without an individual mandate, a ban on price discrimination will simply result in insurers charging high rates to everyone, driving all but the sickest consumers out of the market. Insurers can only afford to charge reasonable rates across the board if healthy people are required to buy in.

The PCEREA replaces these two provisions with two new provisions called “continuous coverage” and “auto-enrollment.”

Under “continuous coverage,” Americans would be given a one-time opportunity to buy insurance at prices that aren’t based on health status. So long as they keep this insurance plan for the rest of their lives, they’ll never be discriminated against. If they miss this opportunity — say, by being born after the window passes — they can be discriminated against. If they lose their plan — say, because they change jobs — they can be discriminated against. Basically, “continuous coverage” is a con, a “first come, first serve” lottery that doles out the right to fairness like it’s a privilege, a prize in some twisted game, and then snatches it out from your hands if you fall on hard times or dare to exercise your freedom of choice.

Under “auto-enrollment,” states can sign you up for insurance without your consent, but you can opt out. Basically, the Republicans are assuming that the problem with the insurance market is that Americans are so stupid that they aren’t signing up for insurance that they need and can afford.

Astonishingly, the Republicans have simply taken the provisions of Obamacare and made them temporary — and called it “reform”! We’ll give you fair prices, but only for a little while. We’ll require you to sign up for insurance, but only until you back out.

The third provision confirms this ploy. Just like the ACA, the PCEREA offers tax credits to Americans who purchase insurance on the individual market. The only difference is that the Republicans’ tax credits are far less generous, helping far fewer people.

Finally, the PCEREA addresses Medicaid by restricting its availability to only certain types of Americans, apparently the ones whom the Republicans deem worthy: pregnant women, children, the disabled — but not, for example, working parents. It would also change Medicaid into a block grant program, where it would get a chunk of money every year regardless of how much it needs, leaving most states with tremendous shortfalls during recessions and leaving patients out in the cold when they need help the most.

This last provision is just cruel, but the Republicans can slip it into the bill because the rest of the proposal looks so thoughtful and measured that they’re hoping you won’t notice that it will do almost nothing to address the serious problems ailing our health care system. It is little better than the status quo that existed before Obamacare — and in that sense, they haven’t really offered an alternative after all.

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This op-ed was published in the Huffington Post, and an abbreviated version was published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The Republican Riddle: What the States Know That the Feds Don’t

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I’m going to tell you a riddle. It’s a paradox of sorts, and it’s confounding some of the brightest political minds of our time. Here it is…

The Republican Party has lost the last two presidential elections. In the House of Representatives, they lost the majority of the nation’s votes. In the Senate, they’re outnumbered 55 to 45.

The future looks even dimmer. The youngest generation is more liberal than its immediate predecessors, and they’ve been turning out in record numbers. The electorate is becoming more educated and more diverse — two liberal trends that don’t show signs of stopping anytime soon.

And yet, at the state level, the story is completely reversed. Republican governors outnumber Democrats 30 to 20, and they control a majority of state legislatures.

How can that be? What are Republican politicians doing right at the state level that they aren’t doing at the federal level?

I’ll give you a hint: They aren’t who they say they are.

The answer to this riddle is the greatest act of hypocrisy in modern politics. It’s a magic act, really. An illusion. Don’t be fooled by appearances. Look at what they do, not what they say.

Republican politicians say they want smaller government. They say the states are better at governing than the feds. They say we can afford tax cuts. They say we need tax cuts.

But their actions tell a different story.

Take Obamacare for example. The Affordable Care Act instructed the states to set up exchanges where people could purchase affordable health insurance that they weren’t getting from their employers. Twenty-six governors declined, choosing to let the federal government do it for them. Of these twenty-six, twenty-four were Republican.

These Republican governors, who say the states are better at governing than the feds, ceded enormous power to the federal government, violating a core principle of their party’s ideology. And then they crowed that Obamacare was a failure because it required a massive federal bureaucracy — the very bureaucracy that they chose to create!

The dirty little secret of Republican politicians at the state level is that they love the federal government. They need it. They depend on it.

In fact, Republican states receive far more federal spending, relative to the taxes they pay, than Democratic states. For every dollar they put in, Republican states get $1.46 back. Democratic states get $1.16. Of the 22 states that voted for John McCain in 2008, 86 percent received more federal funding than they paid in taxes, compared to only 55 percent of the states that voted for Barack Obama.

Then the Republican politicians have the temerity to brag that their states have lower taxes. Well, of course they can afford lower taxes: The feds are picking up the tab!

What they don’t tell you is that they’re spending just as much money. They’re just being subsidized by the Democratic states!

It’s no surprise, then, that Republican state governments are more popular than Democratic ones. They have lower taxes and more federal funding — both of which are very popular.

Thus the riddle is solved: At the state level, Republicans are cynically and diabolically riding to victory on the wings of a big federal government while claiming to be doing the exact opposite.

At the national level, meanwhile, they’re just starting to learn how to play this game. In Washington, Republicans really have been trying to shrink the federal government, so much so that they threatened to default on the nation’s debt and blow up the global economy if the President didn’t agree to cut spending on everything, including retirement programs.

It wasn’t until they realized that the spending cuts were extremely unpopular — because, you see, the public actually needs the services that the government provides — that they backtracked and claimed that they never supported them in the first place. And when the President finally proposed cuts to retirement programs, they attacked him for even considering such an idea…even though they basically forced him to do it.

But the award for worst hypocrisy surely belongs to Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, who went all-out to prevent sending federal aid to Hurricane Sandy victims and then demanded that the federal government send aid to their home state in the wake of the recent tornado disaster.

Maybe they’re finally starting to figure out what state-level Republicans have already discovered: The government is an essential part of our social fabric. It does important things, and someone has to pay for those important things. You can’t cut spending without hurting people, and you can’t cut taxes without cutting spending or blowing up the deficit.

There’s no such thing as real magic. Anyone who says differently is trying to trick you.

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An abbreviated version of this op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.