October 31, 2007
How I Feel About Voucher Cranks, Teacher Union Obsessives, Etc
Matt pithily sums up my feelings:
But in neither case would it address the issue in a comprehensive way. Which, I think, is one of the main attractions of the voucher concept — it lets people get indignant about the sorry state of public education by basically assuming the problem away, thus avoiding the need to deal with the real issues.
There are a lot of very good, very smart people thinking through education policy, childhood poverty, etc. Then there are somewhat more shallow people who want to propose a tough-minded solution to the sorry state of inner city education, and they fasten on vouchers (which no evidence has ever suggested will actually solve the problem) or teacher's unions (ditto). Those policies may have some worth. But they are not Answers, no study has ever suggested otherwise, and forcing us into an endless conversation over them is actually bad, so far as I can tell, for the education debate. They do, however, give a certain class of participants a useful club with which to beat on liberals and accuse them of active opposition to the disadvantaged.
How Science Works
I feel a bit weird saying this, but read Dilbert.
"He Was Injured. Injured Bad."
As Jake says, this is probably the greatest health insurance ad ever.
All decent people should read Paul Waldman's blistering takedown of Tim Russert in today's Prospect. It's too good, and too important, to miss. For my part, whenever I see Russert on the teevee, I always feel like I'm watching archival footage from the 70s. The guy just looks anachronistic. And his questions are terrible. These lightning rounds, the "yes or no" demands Russert/Matthews/etc pull -- an honest answer and a monosyllabic answer are related things, but they are not, crucially, the same thing. An honest opinion may be complicated, and even layered. Issues aren't binary. And if Clinton believes that Spitzer's decision to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants is a necessary, if regrettable, stopgap that should only exist in the absence of comprehensive reform, and that highlights the need for comprehensive reform, saying that, rather than saying "yes," is a much more illuminating answer.
On Obama Love
Mike Meginnis suggests there's an element of anti-racist signaling to the sudden elite affection for Obama:
it’s hard to adopt any low-cost behaviors that signify such anti-racist perspectives without causing awkwardness. We all feel sort of weird around that white guy who spends every waking minute talking about civil wars in Africa, blood diamonds, his appreciation for the music of Bob Marley, and so forth. He means well enough but we don’t know how to read him — to what extent is his conspicuous demonstration of virtue an endearing flirtation with genuinely progressive politics, and to what extent is it all just a cover?
Obama support offers people a chance to symbolically demonstrate their enlightenment at no cost. I’ve heard and read a number of times now about racist white people developing a strange attachment to Obama. They don’t normally like Democrats but this kid seems alright. It doesn’t hurt that he uses language designed to help him buddy up with those who are, more or less, afraid of black people — he is, in some ways, professionally a nonthreatening black man. I don’t mean that as a criticism. To an extent this highlights the expert way in which he has navigated this country’s complicated and often awful relationship with race, but ultimately it doesn’t mean much for his chances come election day. People are brilliant in this country at finding ways to vote conservative when everything they know tells them not to. My mother knew Bush was a disaster and she voted for him anyway not because Kerry would do anything to make abortion more common but because he approved of it. They’ll find something or other like that come election day if Obama gets the nod.
What do you guys think?
Hillary Hate, Barack Love
To add onto Matt's comments on Hillary hatred, I was at a political dinner last night and ended up chatting with an older woman who's very big in Republican circles, was high-up in the Bush 2000 campaign, etc. She's furious at the GOP for abandoning everything she ever believed in and making a mockery of her life's work. The only way she'd vote for a Republican, she said, is if the Democrats nominate Hillary. "Anything to keep that woman out!" Somewhat predictably, she was supporting Obama.
This is, I gather, the Andrew Sullivan approach, too. But I don't really get it. I realize I'm a bit overly wonkish, and not everything can be boiled to policy proposals, but Hillary and Obama aren't that far apart in ideology. Their likely administrations probably wouldn't be that different. If you're a serious dove on foreign policy, I can see a stronger preference of Obama. If you're interested in a transformative presidency that inaugurates a new progressive era, I can also see placing that bet on Obama. If you're really worried about executive competence, I can imagine going with Clinton. But it's really not clear to me what is drawing disaffected, elite Republicans to Barack. His rhetoric is, I guess, pretty non-threatening, but so was Bill Clinton's when he was breaking the Democratic Party of its 80s orthodoxies, and these very same people went to war against him.
Things That Don't Surprise Me
Tyler Cowen links to a Cato book that he calls "a good introduction to the empirical literature on vouchers and charter schools." The book, according to Amazon, shows that "The consensus of this research overwhelmingly favors competition and parental choice in education." On the other hand, a recent RAND book on the very same subject concludes, "In the end the evidence shows nothing, but it doesn't refute anything either." And over at EPI, we get Helen Ladd, of Duke University, saying, "On average, students who use vouchers to switch to private schools achieve at no higher levels than those who remain in the public schools. So much for the view that the autonomy of private schools makes them more effective."
One thing that is a bit unclear to me is why Congress doesn't have the courage of its convictions. In other words, why don't they appropriate massive amounts of money for two grand experiments, one testing a conservative education solution, the other implementing an ideal-world progressive alternative. Convince some demographically similar, money-hungry localities to take the funds and create the programs, and then see what happens. It may not settle the debate, but at least we'd have more data. And in general, you'd think you could get these bills through, so long as they twinned conservative and progressive solutions.
Vouchers and Health Insurance
If you want to see, like, six, really unconvincing, but really pissed-off and insulting arguments for vouchers, scroll through McArdle's place for awhile. It'll raise your blood pressure. At least until you're overtaken be sheer befuddlement.
Her argument, in a nutshell, is, "Either you agree that poor kids should be allowed to exit until the system works for them, or they don't." What? Since when do libertarians think making something cost money is the same as prohibiting you to do it? Poor kids can exit the system. They just need to become rich kids. But does Megan apply this theory widely? Does she agree that the Federal Government should pay for all Americans to have health insurance from any insurer, either public or private, that they want, at least until Aetna begins working better? Because if she does, then I've massively misunderstood her writing up till this point. If she doesn't, however, then her constant screech of hypocrite throughout this argument makes no sense -- particularly given that she has awesome, employer-funded insurance, while all millions of Americans are trapped on the individual market.
Indeed, unlike with vouchers, we actually know that being uninsured is bad for you, and that the poor have better outcomes when they're given full insurance. But, like with the schools, they -- not to mention many in the middle class -- are currently unable to purchase exit from their shit insurance -- or uninsurance -- systems. But then, systems don't seem to be much under analysis here. Megan's posts are remarkable for their lack of data as to why vouchers are actually superior. Which is because there is no data on that point -- vouchers haven't proven themselves in any of the largescale experiments we've conducted. What Megan is offering is "exit," not improvement. A big ladling of libertarian economic theory onto the trays of the poor. And if you're not down with that, well then, you hate the poor.
Universal Health Care in New Mexico?
That's what Richardson is proposing. You sort of wonder how he had time to draw up the bill given all the campaigning, and how he plans to shepherd it through the political process given his expectation to be on a national ticket in a couple months, but whatever. I'm always happy to see another UHC bill offered up, even if it is just so the candidate can mention it in speeches for higher office. Maybe a post-campaign Richardson or his successor will actually make it a reality.
While I'm on the topic of state-based universal health care plans, I should mention, because I didn't make it clear last time, that I really would like to see single-payer tried on the state level. I don't think states can sustain these public-private hybrids, but they may well be able to keep up single-payer.
Hillary and Drivers Licenses
I can't speak to the early hours of the debate, but I did tune in for Hillary Clinton's answer on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, and unlike everyone else, I thought it was a damn good answer. She did seek a couple sidesteps and refused to give a flat yes or no, but she defended her reasoning on the issue, accurately explained the forces and pressures behind Spitzer's decision, and refused to offer the truly craven evasive answer of a simple "no." When Dodd challenged her, and she struck back with, "well, if an illegal immigrant hits you in a car, how are you going to identify them," I thought it was one of the night's better moments. But maybe I'm bad at judging these things. Watch it here:
Meanwhile, I wasn't much impressed with Obama. His problem in debates is that he gives answers rather than makes points. On a question about medical malpractice, he began talking about reimbursement rates. That's an interesting policy discussion -- particularly to me -- but it won't win him one more vote, or help him advance an ounce of narrative. It sounds cynical, of course, to say that he should respond in a more politically calculated manner, but he does have white papers and a policy page, he needs to use these debates to raise his profile.