Jonathan Chait

Noemie Emery Crushes Straw Man, Basks in Victory

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Noemie Emery's latest story for the Weekly Standard offers a fairly useful summary of the state of conservative thought about liberalism and the welfare state. Here are the first two sentences:

The intentions of Democrats are only the best. They want all of the old to have lavish retirements, all of the young to have scholarships, verse-penning cowboys to have festivals funded by government, and everyone to have access to all the best health care, at no cost to himself.

Let's take these three claims in order:

1) Democrats want "all the old to have lavish retirements." In fact, the average Social Security beneficiary collects about $14,000 a year, a sum that few would describe as "lavish." What's more, President Obama and numerous Senate Democrats have agreed to cut Social Security benefits, while seeking to preserve the program's role in preserving minimal standards of retirement that keep the elderly out of poverty.

2) Democrats want cowboy poets to have government-financed poetry festivals. Obviously, a Democrat, Harry Reid, supports this particular program. But to generalize from Reid's parochial belief in a small program to the general core beliefs of "Democrats" is exactly as accurate as concluding from the support for Tea Party Republicans for various earmarked projects that support for pork barrel spending is a core value of the Tea Party. In other words, it is completely inaccurate.

3) Democrats "want everyone to have access to all the best health care, at no cost to himself." There are numerous odd things about this claim. Start with the end, "no cost to himself." Medicare in fact charges premiums. The Affordable Care Act likewise uses subsidies and regulation to make individual private insurance affordable, but it sets up regulated exchanges where customers have to pay for their insurance plan. What's more, Emery's belief that Democrats want to give everybody "all the best health care" runs directly counter to her previous accusations that Democrats want to reduce the quality of the health care system by rationing. ("Everyone fears a system that could give them the wrong doctor instead of the right one at just the wrong moment, and everyone, no matter how rich, strong, well-connected, or seemingly healthy, knows that an accident or a bad diagnosis can come any day.") Indeed, it runs counter to years of right-wing cant, which deems the goal of Democratic health care reform to be the installation of mediocre European or Canadian-style care lacking the lavish fdeatures of the "best health care system in the world."

In sum, I didn't bother to read the rest of Emery's piece, but I did receive another useful lesson in the state of conservative thought.

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