I didn’t watch President Bush’s State of the Union address last night. I’d like to think it’s abhorrence for the pep rally atmosphere, but it’s mostly blind cynicism. I flipped it on a couple of times, but those lasted only a few moments each, so I mostly skipped it. After reading the text this morning, I’m glad I did. I have many, many comments, but more than eight hours have passed since I read it, so I’ve had enough time to digest the reality that few, if any, of the promises will pass. Even if they do, it’s mostly the same nonsense that’s occurred for the last five years. Like I said, blind cynicism. So, instead of a point-by-point replay, I’ll focus on a few points worth noting.
First, as I’ve written over the last few weeks, the president discussed health care. He didn’t offer particulars, so there’s nothing to examine. I hope that will continue, since I don’t like the direction any potential details will follow. Specifically, this:
Our government has a responsibility to help provide health care for the poor and the elderly, and we are meeting that responsibility.
We will strengthen health savings accounts, making sure individuals and small-business employees can buy insurance with the same advantages that people working for big businesses now get.
We will do more to make this coverage portable, so workers can switch jobs without having to worry about losing their health insurance.
The first sentence I quoted merely serves as a placeholder for my “Huh?”. I accept, for the moment, a responsibility to help provide health care for the poor. Why does that also extend to the elderly? The portion of our elderly population that should receive help is already included in “the poor”. I understand how powerful the AARP is, but perhaps we could have a little fiscal leadership to push aside the politics of influence on that issue. Following this definition of “public good,” if I’m rich, I don’t expect government-subsidized health care. Some attention to responsibility would be nice. But enough on that.
My key point on that excerpt is demonstrated by a personal example. Being self-employed, and having left a job with a large company that subsidized my health care costs, I’m in a good position to reflect on the president’s promise of portability. I’ve already stated that we should be removing the handcuffs that keep employee health care (specifically insurance) decisions tied to employers, not figuring out a way to let small business and individuals handcuff themselves to some monolith. That would be a terrible outcome and the reality of insurance portability explains it.
When I left my last employer, I kept my insurance coverage through COBRA. For the privilege I began to pick up the extra premiums. My monthly health insurance expense was $325. Upon replacing my coverage with individual private insurance, my premium for the same effective coverage fell to $160 per month, a drop of more than 50%. Admittedly, $160 would still be a significant sum for low-wage earners. I understand the scope of the challenge. But double the cost to join the same party isn’t a reasonable trade-off.
Obviously, this may not be a one-to-one comparison of what would happen under any proposed plan. However, my recollection of the initial push to enact COBRA standards is that it offered the same rhetoric about helping poor people maintain coverage. If, as President Bush said last night, helping individuals switch jobs without losing health insurance is the goal, detaching insurance from the job would be smarter. Perhaps the details will reveal something different than my example and we’ll all be better off. I doubt it.
Next, on saving the culture:
[Many Americans, especially parents] are concerned about unethical conduct by public officials and discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage. They worry about children in our society who need direction and love, and about fellow citizens still displaced by natural disaster, and about suffering caused by treatable diseases.
As we look at these challenges, we must never give in to the belief that America is in decline or that our culture is doomed to unravel. The American people know better than that. We have proven the pessimists wrong before, and we will do it again.
A hopeful society depends on courts that deliver equal justice under law.
Blah, blah, blah. Forgive me if I’m slow to make the connection, but how do defining marriage as only between a man and a woman and depending on courts to deliver equal justice under the law intersect with each other as the optimal solution? I get the argument that, with “traditional” marriage, everyone has the same right to marry a person of the opposite sex. That’s a nice thought, but to pretend that a significant portion of society hasn’t moved beyond that to a broader acceptance of what is acceptable (not that acceptability itself is a sufficient argument) is intentionally simple to the point of being offensive. The purpose of our Constitution and the resulting government, as well as our underlying principles of equal justice, demand we recognize civil liberties to the greatest extent possible. “Protecting” society with marriage as only one man and one woman necessarily restricts the civil liberties of citizens who wish to marry a same-sex partner. Within civil law, that is forcing subservience to the state at the expense of free will. That’s not an America I recognize. Equal justice means equal justice.
Last year’s much longer post on the State of the Union speech.