Connecting to the base ctd.

Mark says it all too well:

Conservative wonks simply aren’t doing their jobs.  What they are doing is picking apart liberal proposals, picking apart conservative proposals, attacking the low-hanging fruit of conservative extremism, and occasionally making suggestions to liberals on ways of either improving liberal proposals or making those proposals more palatable to conservatives.  What they are not doing, and largely are not even trying to do, is to drive the GOP agenda.  They are, in effect, content to leave the GOP agenda as little more than “vote no on everything” and tear down whatever the liberals do. [….]

Liberal wonks are not going out of their way to antagonize their base, calling them names, questioning their intelligence, and attacking their integrity.  The liberal base meanwhile does not go out of its way to antagonize its wonks, calling them names, questioning their loyalties, and attacking their integrity.  Instead what they are doing is lobbying each other, with the wonks making the base better informed about what should and should not be important, and the base making the wonks better informed about what is and is not politically possible.

Which leads me to this post at Right Wing News recounting some reactions to their “Least Favorite People on the Right Poll.”  After summarizing reactions from David Frum, Andrew Sullivan, and Charles Johnson (all of whom made the cut) John Hawkins writes:

See, this is why I find people like Frum, Conor Friesdorf, Kathleen Parker, David Brooks, Meghan McCain, etc., etc., so worthy of utter contempt.

Frum, runs a website called “A New Majority,” so one might presume he wants to a build a “New Majority” of some sort. Yet, look at the reality of what he is best known for doing: He attacks conservatives for the amusement of liberals. But, how do you build a “new majority” doing that?

Liberals have no interest in David Frum’s ideas. They simply want to use him as a stick to beat conservatives with. Conservatives obviously have no use for someone who drips with contempt for them — and moderates, well, being moderates, you can’t build anything with them. They simply don’t have the fire or the ideological coherency to build a movement around.

Out of this batch of squish “reformers,” the only one I have noticed who doesn’t fall into this trap consistently is Ross Douthat. I often don’t agree with Ross, but I at least respect him because he is smart enough to realize that if he is going to change the Republican Party, he is going to have to do it by bringing conservatives on board with his ideas, not by pooping in his hand and hurling it at the conservatives he doesn’t like.

Another perspective from Steve Benen:

If the political world had an honest, serious debate, in which credible experts explored real-world solutions, chances are very good progressive reform advocate would win. When it comes to health care and the broken system, the facts just aren’t on conservatives’ side. Indeed, the NYT piece noted some of the conflicts among conservative wonks who realize that a) they want to cut costs from the health care system; b) the most effective ways to save money in the system come from centralized, government decision-making; and c) they’re against centralized, government decision-making.

So, The Wonks don’t get invited to Tea Parties or onto Fox News. They don’t write nutty pieces for the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Their opinions are not sought out by Republican policymakers.

Instead, we’re left with liars and fools, spreading propaganda and nonsense, leaving us with a discourse unbefitting our democracy. It’s a shame the voice of the opposition is stark raving mad, and the idea of an enlightened debate is a naive daydream.

Lots to chew on….

I think Benen is wrong, of course, that progressive arguments would always win.  Progressives are fallible, too.  Looking across the pond, we can see where many left-leaning policies have begun to be scaled back with conservative, market-friendly policies helping to cut costs and reduce waste.

I also think Hawkins goes overboard, though we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss his point.  While Frum and others are coming up with some very good policy, they’re also doing a pretty good job at making sure the conservative base never listens to any of it.  And why should it be so hard to suggest smart policy and refrain from attacking the conservative base’s heroes like Limbaugh and Levin?  I mean, if you don’t like Limbaugh just ignore him.  Just come up with better, more substantive ideas that conservatives – not just liberals, and not just fellow dissidents – will also listen to.

This is what I gleaned from Mark’s post.  He’s right – the liberal coalition is far more accepting of their wonks, and their wonks are far less likely to tear down the base or the Democratic political leadership.  Maybe the right is in too disheveled a state to benefit from this analysis.  Maybe its core constituency, and more importantly, its leadership, is simply too bogged down and insular.  And perhaps the civil war will take place on the right between the tea partiers and the leadership, between the dissatisfied base and the ineffectual party leaders, and the wonks can sit by the sidelines making no enemies until its over.  Cooler heads can prevail if they have any audience left.

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48 thoughts on “Connecting to the base ctd.

  1. ” b) the most effective ways to save money in the system come from centralized, government decision-making; ”

    Not sure if this has been demonstrated yet. Is the Obama plan all that cheap? Sure, a centralized system offers some economies of scale. But beyond that, the way it saves money is by… rationing care. Which isn’t exactly a popular proposal at the moment. I think progressives have basically admitted that to do reform right is going to require MORE resources from a broad base of taxpayers. It’s going to require punitive measures against ‘Cadillac’ plans. Etc.

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    • The Obama plan isn’t that centralized. If we’re talking about cost-control, the best option by far would be a British-style NHS (although this wouldn’t necessarily deliver the best outcomes, which is why you won’t find many progressives advocating for it).

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    • There are other places to save money: paying doctors less, paying pharma less, paying insurance companies less, paying hospitals less. At some point those ideas will be debated and discussed. However to get a bill passed now, those dragons cannot be fought. Or well they can’t be fought by one party alone.

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    • Sam – I couldn’t agree more. I disagree with that sentiment. Top-down, central-planning-style cost control is not likely to do nearly a good enough job. The cost of health care has to be closer to the consumers of health care, plain and simple. This requires a much more decentralized effort – and competition.

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      • The Obama Plan is far from a centralization plan, in fact the main components of it is to increase competition and lower overall distortions in the present “market” (I use scare quotes because frankly US healthcare hasn’t been a market since well before the 1960s), by requiring guaranteed issue + mandate (with measures that would rebalance the risk pool so no one’s left holding the bag), the NHX for most private buyers, and subsidies to simply let people buy plans which they couldn’t before (which expands the consumer base for the market thereby increasing competition.)

        How anyone can consider this “centralized” is rather mind-boggling.

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      • “The cost of health care has to be closer to the consumers of health care, plain and simple.”

        I’m really not sure that’ll do it. After all, consumers of health care are often, essentially, making decisions under duress. Sometimes they can’t make decisions at all.

        And given how low prices often signal “shoddy goods”, I would not be surprised if moving costs toward the insured didn’t have as great an effect on prices as is expected. (Why is this doctor so much cheaper? What’s wrong with that procedure that it’s so much less expensive than the others?)

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    • This is nonsensical.

      Policy wonks tend to be ideologically neutral. Most serious policy analysts are as well, except insofar that they believe government action can be effective under the right circumstances. This is why you’ll find broad based support for policy optimal solutions such as Wyden-Bennett or Brad DeLong’s plan among them which tend to be ideologically hard to pin down because they don’t fit the preconceived notions of “left” and “right.”

      Instead the problem is the politicians and the communicators who don’t want to even listen to things that can be placed in broad based terms. I’ll be the first to point out these people in both liberal political parties and conservative ones, but there’s a simple point here: the conservative “base” has been conditioned to believe everything is some sort of existentionalist threat to their way of life, not incremental changes to governing structures to better them.

      Why? Because it’s easier to create a cult of ideology than it is to create a governing coalition. This is why so many of the Republican agenda points seem to be based on slavish following of ideological talking points, rather than policy wonkery. There’s no shortage of center right or even self-identified Republican policy wonks. As a policy professional in training many of the most insightful and interesting professors I’ve studied under have been conservative thinkers. But they’re not wed to their ideology so much that it lets them ignore the fact that government generated distortions will exist regardless of whether it intervenes or if it simply lets go and watches.

      Rather they can argue very persuasively that in certain cases it’s better for government to stand by and let things play out, or that the unintended consequences of intervention are more pertinent. To a person, almost none seems to believe in anything the current set of political actors seem to want to advocate.

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  2. The terms “right” and “left” gets tossed around a lot. One tick when discussing the “left” is the assertion that those of us on the left have no tolerance for any market solution and want government to do everything. That is simply wrong. The “left” in America, as most know, would be centrist or right leaning in many European countries. American Libs in general are open to market solutions and involvement. The thing we get into these debates about what the proper role of gov is when there is a disagreement, so it magnifies the distance between views.

    The “right”( wide but accurate generalization) seems to have dogmatic view that markets are the only answer and government has no role. There is a bit of false equivalence going in with attributing the same sort of dogma to the R and to the L.

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        • Liberal generally, in favor of markets but not opposed to regulation so long as it is practical. I’ve never heard/read any coherent description of neoliberal foreign policy short of free trade and an opposition to expensive wars.

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        • Freddie once (back at L’Hote, I think) said that to him the three distinguishing marks of neoliberals (vis a vis paleolibs and/or progressives, and I think in his mind more or less limited to neolibs overall aligned on the left half of US politics) were:

          1) Generally positive stance toward globalization;
          2) Generally negative view of unions; and
          3) Aversion to identity politics.

          That rung fairly true for me, and it fit what I saw in the mirror. I’d be inclined to add a specific fourth of a fondness for technocratic solutions, though.

          I’m sorry the meme didn’t propagate further, because I think Freddie got it.

          An alternative, more right-leaning and far less US-centric definition of neoliberal is whatever the editorial stance of The Economist is (probably valid from at least the late 80s on).

          (any similarities between those positions/attitudes and the nearly extinct Rockefeller Republican may or may not be coincidental but was not remarked on by Freddie to my memory)

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            • Hail, fellow neolib!

              When you wish “we could say that we neoliberals are not hostile to unions …”, does that mean you think neolibs as a group _are_ hostile to unions? Exhibit 1 for the prosecution: Mickey Kaus.

              But in parsing out neolibs’ attitudes toward unions, I think you/we need to distinguish between public sector and private sector. In California at least (I get the impression that CA is a relative outlier in this respect) the public sector unions are very powerful in local Democratic politics. Private sector, much less so.

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              • Hail, fellow neolib!

                I was actually just looking at item #2 on yours list, wishing I could disagree with it but sighing because in general with neoliberals I don’t think I can.

                I agree in spades that there are numerous glaring examples of unions being absolute plagues (especially when they attatch themselves to the body politic). So in that aspect I’m right in line with neoliberals in general. I just wish that we could maybe emphasize and remember how much unions historically are responsible for our general wellbeing and how important a role they may still play either at some point in the future or in other less developed countries. Balance in all things.

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    • This is true to a point. That said, in practice the American Left’s answer whenever a problem comes up very much seems to be to immediately shout “market failure” and then try to regulate it. Maybe my impression is wrong, though. No snark – is there any current problem where the answer of a majority of the American Left would be other than to decry a market failure and seek to regulate it?

      Of course, the American Right tends to talk a good game about having faith in markets, but in practice their response to problems is almost always to either pretend that there’s no problem at all or just deregulate the things that hamper big businesses while leaving in place the regulations that hamper small businesses.

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      • is there any current problem where the answer of a majority of the American Left would be other than to decry a market failure and seek to regulate it?

        No snark, but I can immediately think of 2: Gay marriage and Afghanistan.

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          • Well, that isn’t really a fair question, I don’t think. We’ve had a few decades of Republicans slowly dismantling a lot of the regulations that we had (or just not enforcing those regulations), and we now see the results of that de-regulation binge. Of course the left will want to reinstate those regulations.

            The Right deregulates the energy markets and says that the market will make sure that nothing bad happens. Then, Enron happens, and people wonder why. The left sees that deregulation immediately preceded Enron. The left says the market DID fail and wants to regulate companies like Enron again. QED.

            That doesn’t seem strange to me, but I’m a Leftie, so of course it wouldn’t.

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            • Not to argue because I think you’re broadly correct but I do so enjoy throwing monkey wrenches in too easy us versus them breakdowns. IIRC, the Carter Administration got the ball rolling on a sizeable chunk of deregulation well before Republicans got anywhere near power.

              Also, the idea that any market in America is free takes quite a bit of selective economic understanding, which isn’t to say that market failures don’t happen and aren’t a problem but that reality is murkier than less regulation = the market’s failure and not the failure of the remaining regulation to be good or – you know – enforced.

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        • Actually when it comes to gay marriage, in states where the electorate has limited or banned it outright, the standard response is to challenge it in the courts.

          So if you view the political arena as another market – and it is – legal challenges (regardless of how worthy they may be) are essentially saying the political market has failed to secure my rights and therefore must be regulated/corrected, which is essentially what happened in Iowa.

          It’s not literal but the fundamentals are quite similar.

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      • Mark- A)JHG has a good answer.

        B) I don’t think this is free market vs. gov. Yes some of us evil L’s do want more regulation but that is not the same as gov control or imply free markets stop existing. I have not heard any L saying financial companies or banks should stop existing ( as a real socialist would). But there is a push to reinstate or add new regulations due to the ooopsie the wondrous financial industry dropped on the world economy. One of the functions of gov is to do the things the free market cannot.
        Yes L’s complain of market failures when we see one, but are L’s saying that markets should stop existing or that the gov should have complete control over the economy. No. We have these debates around contentious issues, not whether free markets are good for 401k’s, cream filled snack foods, sports teams or general wealth creation.

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        • Like I said, I think it true up to a point. What I’m suggesting is that liberals have this tendency to see a market failure whenever there’s a significant economic problem. And, to be fair, conservatives and libertarians are not for the most part anarchists and will generally tell you that they accept that there is a role for government if you press them, yet whenever there’s a problem, they tend to immediately cry “government failure.”

          One of the more certain principles of free-r markets is that they will allow bad things to happen, sometimes very bad things. But the reason why markets are generally preferable to central planning or close regulation is that you can’t get the good without the bad and the good almost always outweighs the bad. When you take something out of the hands of the market, you don’t just lose the bad, but also the good. So just because something bad happens as a result of the market doesn’t make it a market failure, yet everytime something bad happens as a result of the market, it seems like the liberal response is to find a market failure. That’s not to say that market failures don’t exist or that sometimes the bad can’t outweigh the good, just that in practice American liberals seem to find market failures every bit as easily as libertarians seem to find government failures.

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          • Mark –

            I think greginak makes a good point and your perspective may be skewed by the way you are framing it. I expect it has to depend on what you consider “something bad” happening in the market.

            Bad things happen in the market all the time (and you are right that the good almost always outweighs the bad.) Businesses fail, homes are foreclosed, people go bankrupt and new products tank. Each of these bad things is disastrous for the individuals involved, but liberals aren’t generally calling for the government to come in and mitigate things for these individuals. Now when these bad things build up on each other to the point that the bad things are systemic and the impacts of failure are greater and the damage done becomes more collateral, then liberals will then call for greater regulation. But, wouldn’t you say that more often than not the market is given opportunity to right its wrongs first? The banking fiasco was a long time in coming and some economists were sounding the alarm, so surely the financial sector had an opportunity to fix things without the government getting involved. It didn’t.

            And, as greginak says, liberals actually love the market for all the things it is good at. We like our iPhones and shopping malls like everyone else. So, in the context of all the market activity that takes place all the time, good and bad, liberals are calling for regulation of an awfully small percentage of it.

            Oh, and to turn your last comment, libertarians are willing blind to government success, but I don’t think you can say that about liberals and market success.

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  3. “There are other places to save money: paying doctors less, paying pharma less, paying insurance companies less, paying hospitals less.”

    But all of these things can be done without a centralized system. HMOs tried to do many of these things in the 1990s. And succeeded to various extents. Until people screamed high holy murder. because they did not want those things being done to their health care.

    Ultimately, the best way to reduce costs is to institute death panels. Seriously. Someone has to say “no” to a lot of the care that’s being offered right now. Another panel, let’s call it a “Everything but the kitchen sink” panel, is going to have to tell people “no” when it comes to running each and every test to exhaust all the possibilities regarding diagnoses.

    Is it more likely that a government system or a corporate system will tell people no in this fashion? Given political realities, I think neither will do it. Instead, we will have a system in which everybody gets everything they want, nobody says no to anybody, and we will all be shocked a few years later when the bill comes due.

    As for instituting a system that tells doctors, “No, you are not allowed to make tons of money any more…” Good luck. Politically, it’s a non-starter.

    As it stands, I see no serious proposal that actually hammers costs in the fashion that’s needed. Except in Sarah Palin’s imagination. Sadly, I suspect a system with death panels is exaclty what we need and won’t get.

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      • Re: shortages

        I keep seeing this argument, but it never addresses price controls in other countries. Maybe someone has addressed this and shown how Socialist Country X has price controls and has lost Y% of their medical providers because of it, but I’ve never seen anything address this point.

        Is this a belief or an empirical argument that you could share?

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  4. “is there any current problem where the answer of a majority of the American Left would be other than to decry a market failure and seek to regulate it?”

    Traffic congestion. At least, they appear to want market pricing of roads. Not train usage.

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      • There could be dynamically priced congestion tolls. Your GPS could show prices per mile or block along possible routes to your destination. As congestion on a stretch of road increases, the price would increase, and would be reflected on your GPS. As congestion decreases, the price would fall, but probably ought to fall more slowly in order to allow the road to empty out a bit.

        Seems like that’d be more dynamic than privatized roads, and otherwise would act similarly. A privatized road is still a monopoly. If you don’t want to pay the owner’s price, you have to change your route. Privatizing a road is just changing the monopoly holder, and in fact passing it on to someone who can raise tolls without facing the prospect of being voted out of office. (Sure, drivers could take other routes, but sometimes that simply isn’t feasible.)

        The closest you can really get to true market pricing on roads are private cab and bus lines who travel on those roads, where you can choose the transportation provider who offers the combination of service and price that suits you.

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  5. /sigh

    you guyz are a bout as bright as a sack full of hammers.
    your two problems are really one problem.
    If you could grow the base you wouldn’t be enslaved to Rush and Beck and the WECs.
    But Rush, Beck and the WECs ensure that you can never grow the base.
    Bad force-feedback cycle.

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    • Even if that’s the case, your prescription (attack the pundits over and over again!) has no real potential for success other than A) it earns you liberal adoration and B) it pisses off people you might otherwise be able to convert. Conor, much as I admire him, is walking down that very path. And it won’t do him any good in the long run.

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      • No…it is a death spiral. The more you pander to the WEC base, the more the party repells the demographics it needs to survive into the 21st century…leading to further contraction of the party and allocating more power to the WEC base….
        The CJ model is the one you should embrace.
        People can be racists and homophobes and creationists…..they just can’t scream about it openly or try to force creationism on other peoples children……or scream about it on radio or tv.
        It is repellent.
        I don’t see Charles’ readership dropping.
        He is treating his commentariat like adults instead of retarded petulant children.

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      • And I don’t think you have any useful memes left.
        Conservatism is an empty purse in the 21st century.
        People want more government, and actually, in the wake of the econopalypse NEED more government. Free market capitalism is exposed as survival of the greediest. Federalism is just localized mob rule. Manzi’s small pockets of federalists would just be distributed Yearning for Zions, minature Jesuslands.
        You need to reinvent conservatism.

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  6. I disagree with the Hawkens approach- it seems to be, lets put forward ideas that don’t irritate the Conservative Orthodoxy, sort of a circling of the wagons against the Leftist barbarians.
    But the circumfrance of acceptable thought in Conservative circles keeps shrinking- Notice how even today truly conservative people like Lindsey Graham and Newt and John Boehner (JOHN BOEHNER fer godssake!) are being excommunicated from the brethren. The conservative movement is not suffering from a spate of bad publicity, its not suffering from poor marketing- it is truly and badly split.
    There are genuine disagreements over the role of government, of America’s role in the world, not to mention social policy.
    Hawkins and the Townhall side seem to be telling the Frums and Sullivans to well, just to shut up really and stop giving the Bad Guys a foothold. It reeks of cultish “us against them” thinking that will only result in the worst ideas of the Left seem sane and acceptable by comparison.
    The best thing Wm. F. Buckley did for conservatism is to distance himself from the Birthers- er excuse me- the Birchers, and become the respected voice of principle and reason.
    We are at a similar point once again.

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    • Agree or disagree with the Hawkins approach, his approach is exactly what 1 in 5 voters in this country are taking. Ridiculing them and the voices they trust and needlessly attacking them is not the solution. Talking to them directly, on their terms, is the solution. They don’t need you to agree with them on everything, just to treat them with a modicum of respect.

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      • And what if those 1 in 5 voters are embracing self-destructive ideas that are damaging to their communities and the national interest? Is simply going along with them any sort of solution? The evidence so far is that it doesn’t matter how or what you say to these people. Indeed, constructive civil debate is the one thing they aren’t offering or asking for. Does it make sense to keep that angry, confused and ignorant 20% – and in the process to abandon any pretence of sanity or constructive engagement with national issues?

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      • Mark, that’s simply not true. Have you watched the townhall “debates”? Everytime someone tries to point out that what the “base” is claiming is wrong, they get boo’d and abused for trying to do so, however respectful they might try to be.

        This persistent belief that you simply need to talk to them correctly is in some ways I think a mirror of the peacenik theory of war. War is never necessary! You just need to find a better way to talk to them!

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  7. b) the most effective ways to save money in the system come from centralized, government decision-making;

    I thought I was a voice in the wilderness on this. Now if only these folks would speak up more.

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  8. “Top-down, central-planning-style cost control is not likely to do nearly a good enough job.”

    There are three things of note about our health care system: It costs far, far more than anyone else’s, it performs well below average for the developed world, and it is the last one in the developed world not to have adopted some form of universal coverage. These things are not unrelated.

    The really, truly maddening thing is that our government spends more, measured either as a percentage of the budget or on a per-capita basis, than most other countries that fully cover their citizenry. Not only does our healthcare cost more, it is perversely more reliant on the government.

    I know the end of the Cold War validated the simple parable that markets=good, central-planning=bad, but it’s no coincidence that the most marketized medical system on Earth is doing so very poorly.

    Socialized medicine works for a lot of countries. It’s not like we don’t have numerous successful examples. We’re the weird outlier with substandard results. We’re the ones with the primitive, inefficient system.

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  9. “I mean, if you don’t like Limbaugh just ignore him. ”

    Easier said than done. Much harder when every “conservative” I know outsources their thinking to the man. Should I ignore them too?

    For what it’s worth though, I’d send them here to get some much-needed helpings of serious conservatism, but I’m afraid there’s not enough white grievance and liberal-bashing to hold their interest.

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