Monday, November 23, 2009

Do the Means Justify the Ends?

It is a common verbal attack to question an opponent’s motives by asking “do your ends justify the means?” The time has to come to ask the Obama administration whether the means justify the ends? This is a poignantly piercing query in health care, the war on terror, international relations, and environmental policy. Presumed (and perhaps presumptuous) nobility of purpose is weak perfume to spray on poor ends.
In health care, universal health insurance has acquired totemic status in the pursuit of “social justice.” A Medicare-for-all public program is deemed as the egalitarian road to a just society, but forgotten are the consequences of shunting $500 billion from the existing Medicare program, raising taxes by $400 billion, increasing job-killing payroll taxes, and of course, vastly raising government obligations and national debt. Sadly ignored are much simpler approaches of breaking insurance monopolies with cross-state competition, tort reform to ameliorate defensive medicine, encouraging charity care with tax deductions for physicians, ending direct-to-consumer marketing, and fostering cost transparency with direct patient payments from health savings accounts for goods & services costing more than covered rates. Burdening the American economy with more taxes and physicians with more regulations may make health care more equal, but more equally bad: crippled innovation, rationed or lack of services in intensive services (cancer, surgery, ICU), early physician retirement, and worse quality.
As far as the war on terror, it is now “overseas contingency operations”. Terrorism has morphed into “man-caused disasters”. And, now the logical conclusions of this politically correct nomenclature: terrorists are treated as common criminals in federal court, and a prima facie act of treason at Fort Hood was first medicalized as pre-traumatic stress disorder, which is apparently spread by respiratory transmission from soldiers who actually were traumatized, and now is justified as a response to Afghanistan and Iraq. Self-righteous and self-absorbed idealism in the pursuit of being fair to the evil has mated with political correctness to thoughtlessly warp reality: those who sought to be kind to the cruel have now become cruel to the kind. What exactly is the logic of trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court while those who plotted the bombing of the USS Cole are to be tried in military tribunals? Foreigners who attack a warship in a foreign port do not deserve the constitutional rights of Americans, while those who murder nearly 3,000 American civilians for sport are? Eric Holder’s justification that the Cole was a military target necessitating a military trial is thin beer: the Pentagon was also a military target on 9/11. Leave aside the low, but non-zero risks of escape, terrorist attacks on New York, and acquittal: a replay the 1990s’ method of law enforcement to fight terrorism invites intelligence leaks (as is well documented in the Sheikh Rahman trial) and shows weakness (evidenced by escalating terrorist attacks climaxing in 9/11). The only purposes of a federal trial are to show off American idealism and provide an opportunity for terrorists to put Bush administration officials on trial.
In foreign policy, President Obama has gone out of his way to be nice to Iran, Venezuela, and Russia. He has needlessly antagonized Poland, the Czech Republic, and Israel. Turning our back on Iran’s young people and Eastern Europe’s democrats is terribly disconcerting. We shall soon see if these freshman moves were brilliantly calculated gambles or starry-eyed squanderings of American credibility. Right now, my bet is on the latter. I hope to God I am wrong, and no one will be better pleased than I if that I am.
On environmental and energy policy, the means of cutting carbon emissions have become an end unto themselves. Cap-and-trade legislation has become riddled with corrupt subsidies and the infrastructure to build a false bubble economy based on carbon credits as a new currency. Whether or not one believes in global warming, I think reducing dependence on oil from America’s enemies is a good thing as is increasing our efficiency. Elegant means of doing so would be carbon taxes offset dollar-for-dollar by cuts in income & payroll taxes, expansion of nuclear power, prizes for innovation in renewable energy technology, and funding for public transit.
In each of these arenas, idealism has become an article of faith. In doing so, it has become married to a thoughtless “devil-may-care” attitude disregarding grave long-term consequences. From now on, I’m going to start asking my liberal friends if the means justify the ends, and at what point they will start thinking about outcomes as much as they do about process.


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