The Self Made Pundit
Monday, February 24, 2003
OXYMORONS IN THE OVAL OFFICE: If there were a contest for the Biggest Oxymoron of the Bush Administration, the two top contenders would undoubtedly be “President Bush” and “compassionate conservatism.”
The incongruity of calling Bush “President” began with his appointment rather than election to the office and continues as Bush engages in derelictions of duty on a daily basis. Bush’s maladministration seems limitless, swinging from the neglect of problems such as North Korea’s nuclear threat and the reconstruction of Afghanistan to such active delinquency as arrogantly squandering American leadership in the world and proposing tax cuts for the super-rich in the face of ballooning deficits and an impending war with Iraq.
In the contest for Oxymoron of the Bush Administration, however, “President Bush,” must contend with Bush’s own campaign slogan “compassionate conservatism.” Bush used the catchphrase “compassionate conservatism” during the 2000 presidential election in his unsuccessful attempt to convince a plurality of American voters that he was a different kind of Republican.
Since acquiring office, Bush has demonstrated time and again that there is nothing compassionate about his conservatism. The latest examples of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” are his proposals to “reform” Medicare and Medicaid by cutting their funding and shredding their guarantees of equal treatment to all beneficiaries. As today’s New York Times reports:
President Bush has begun one of the most ambitious efforts to reinvent Medicare and Medicaid since the programs were created 38 years ago. Combined with his earlier plan for Social Security, the proposals offer a fundamentally different vision of social welfare policy, many experts say.
Mr. Bush's proposals for Medicare and Medicaid, taking shape in recent weeks, would transform these pillars of the Great Society and their guarantee of health benefits to the elderly, disabled and poor.
States would have far more power to determine who receives what benefits in the Medicaid program, which covers 45 million low-income Americans. The elderly would rely more on private health plans, and less on the government, for their health benefits under Medicare, which covers 40 million elderly and disabled people.
The administration's vision for Medicare and Social Security moves away from the notion that everyone should be in the same government-managed system with the same benefits. It promises individuals more choices, including the option of picking a private health plan or investing some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market.
But critics say these proposals would also mean less security, fewer guaranteed benefits and more financial risk for beneficiaries.
[S]everal architects of those programs argue that the Bush administration is retreating from the goals of the Great Society and the New Deal, and the promises the government made across the generations. The Bush plans, they say, are essentially an effort to limit the federal government's financial responsibilities and to cap what is now an open-ended guarantee of specific benefits – an effort to move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution.
The architects of Medicare said the program was created with some fundamental precepts that the Bush proposal would undermine: that all working Americans pay into the same Medicare system; that the healthy and the sick, the rich and the poor, end up in the same program; and that all have the same core benefits when they retire.
The idea that the elderly would be better served by a private, for-profit insurance market is anathema to these veterans of the Great Society. Before Medicare, they say, the private health insurance market was a failure for the elderly, nearly half of whom had no hospital coverage. They fear that private health plans would be tempted to recruit the healthiest of the elderly, leaving sicker, more costly patients to the original fee-for-service Medicare program.
The administration's proposal would offer states vast new power to reduce, eliminate or expand health benefits for low-income people, including many who are elderly or disabled. In return for the flexibility, and a temporary increase in federal assistance, states would eventually have to accept a limit on the federal contribution to the program's cost. The choice would be up to the states; they could stay with the existing program.
Administration officials say the plan would allow states to stretch scarce resources during fiscal crises. Critics assert it would replace the poor's entitlement to health care with a block grant to the states, just when the number of uninsured is rising.
Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” would shred the federal social safety net and leave the elderly, the disabled and the poor to the vagaries of state governments and private insurance companies. The only way “compassionate conservatism” cannot be considered a self-contradicting lie is to view it as referring to Bush’s compassion to conservatives who have never reconciled themselves to the federal government’s ensuring healthcare for the elderly, the disabled and the poor.
While the inherent hypocrisy of “compassionate conservatism” would seem to give it an edge in the Oxymoron race, “President Bush” is still in contention since his callous disregard for the least of his constituents – while proposing hundreds of billions of dollars of tax cuts for the wealthy – is yet another dereliction of duty.
While “compassionate conservatism” is certainly a strong contender, since the contest for Biggest Oxymoron of the Bush Administration is a close race, let’s just follow the precedent of Bush v. Gore and appoint “President Bush” the winner.