June 21, 2012
June 21, 2012
Why did Republicans turn against the individual health-care mandate after supporting it for two decades?
June 21, 2012
On March 23, 2010, the day that President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, fourteen state attorneys general filed suit against the law’s requirement that most Americans purchase health insurance, on the ground that it was unconstitutional. It was hard to find a law professor in the country who took them seriously. “The argument about constitutionality is, if not frivolous, close to it,” Sanford Levinson, a University of Texas law-school professor, told the McClatchy newspapers. Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine, told the Times, “There is no case law, post 1937, that would support an individual’s right not to buy health care if the government wants to mandate it.” Orin Kerr, a George Washington University professor who had clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy, said, “There is a less than one-per-cent chance that the courts will invalidate the individual mandate.” Today, as the Supreme Court prepares to hand down its decision on the law, Kerr puts the chance that it will overturn the mandate—almost certainly on a party-line vote—at closer to “fifty-fifty.” The Republicans have made the individual mandate the element most likely to undo the President’s health-care law. The irony is that the Democrats adopted it in the first place because they thought that it would help them secure conservative support. It had, after all, been at the heart of Republican health-care reforms for two decades.
The mandate made its political début in a 1989 Heritage Foundation brief titled “Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans,” as a counterpoint to the single-payer system and the employer mandate, which were favored in Democratic circles. In the brief, Stuart Butler, the foundation’s health-care expert, argued, “Many states now require passengers in automobiles to wear seat-belts for their own protection. Many others require anybody driving a car to have liability insurance. But neither the federal government nor any state requires all households to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of a serious accident or illness. Under the Heritage plan, there would be such a requirement.” The mandate made its first legislative appearance in 1993, in the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act—the Republicans’ alternative to President Clinton’s health-reform bill—which was sponsored by John Chafee, of Rhode Island, and co-sponsored by eighteen Republicans, including Bob Dole, who was then the Senate Minority Leader.
After the Clinton bill, which called for an employer mandate, failed, Democrats came to recognize the opportunity that the Chafee bill had presented. In “The System,” David Broder and Haynes Johnson’s history of the health-care wars of the nineties, Bill Clinton concedes that it was the best chance he had of reaching a bipartisan compromise. “It should have been right then, or the day after they presented their bill, where I should have tried to have a direct understanding with Dole,” he said.
Ten years later, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, began picking his way back through the history—he read “The System” four times—and he, too, came to focus on the Chafee bill. He began building a proposal around the individual mandate, and tested it out on both Democrats and Republicans. “Between 2004 and 2008, I saw over eighty members of the Senate, and there were very few who objected,” Wyden says. In December, 2006, he unveiled the Healthy Americans Act. In May, 2007, Bob Bennett, a Utah Republican, who had been a sponsor of the Chafee bill, joined him. Wyden-Bennett was eventually co-sponsored by eleven Republicans and nine Democrats, receiving more bipartisan support than any universal health-care proposal in the history of the Senate. It even caught the eye of the Republican Presidential aspirants. In a June, 2009, interview on “Meet the Press,” Mitt Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts, had signed a universal health-care bill with an individual mandate, said that Wyden-Bennett was a plan “that a number of Republicans think is a very good health-care plan—one that we support.”
Wyden’s bill was part of a broader trend of Democrats endorsing the individual mandate in their own proposals. John Edwards and Hillary Clinton both built a mandate into their campaign health-care proposals. In 2008, Senator Ted Kennedy brought John McDonough, a liberal advocate of the Massachusetts plan, to Washington to help with health-care reform. That same year, Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, included an individual mandate in the first draft of his health-care bill. The main Democratic holdout was Senator Barack Obama. But by July, 2009, President Obama had changed his mind. “I was opposed to this idea because my general attitude was the reason people don’t have health insurance is not because they don’t want it. It’s because they can’t afford it,” he told CBS News. “I am now in favor of some sort of individual mandate.”
This process led, eventually, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—better known as Obamacare—which also included an individual mandate. But, as that bill came closer to passing, Republicans began coalescing around the mandate, which polling showed to be one of the legislation’s least popular elements. In December, 2009, in a vote on the bill, every Senate Republican voted to call the individual mandate “unconstitutional.”
This shift—Democrats lining up behind the Republican-crafted mandate, and Republicans declaring it not just inappropriate policy but contrary to the wishes of the Founders—shocked Wyden. “I would characterize the Washington, D.C., relationship with the individual mandate as truly schizophrenic,” he said…
What’s Wrong with Pakistan? Why geography — unfortunately — is destiny for South Asia’s troubled heartland.
June 21, 2012
Perversity characterizes Pakistan. Only the worst African hellholes, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yemen, and Iraq rank higher on this year’s Failed States Index. The country is run by a military obsessed with — and, for decades, invested in — the conflict with India, and by a civilian elite that steals all it can and pays almost no taxes. But despite an overbearing military, tribes “defined by a near-universal male participation in organized violence,” as the late European anthropologist Ernest Gellner put it, dominate massive swaths of territory. The absence of the state makes for 20-hour daily electricity blackouts and an almost nonexistent education system in many areas.
The root cause of these manifold failures, in many minds, is the very artificiality of Pakistan itself: a cartographic puzzle piece sandwiched between India and Central Asia that splits apart what the British Empire ruled as one indivisible subcontinent. Pakistan claims to represent the Indian subcontinent’s Muslims, but more Muslims live in India and Bangladesh put together than in Pakistan. In the absence of any geographical reason for its existence, Pakistan, so the assumption goes, can fall back only on Islamic extremism as an organizing principle of the state.
But this core assumption about what ails Pakistan is false. Pakistan, which presents more nightmare scenarios for American policymakers than perhaps any other country, does have geographical logic. The vision of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in the 1940s did not constitute a mere power grab at the expense of India’s Hindu-dominated Congress party. There was much history and geography behind his drive to create a separate Muslim state anchored in the subcontinent’s northwest, abutting southern Central Asia. Understanding this legacy properly leads to a very troubling scenario about where Pakistan — and by extension, Afghanistan and India — may now be headed. Pakistan’s present and future, for better or worse, are still best understood through its geography.
THE MUSLIM EXPERIENCE in South Asia begins with the concept of al-Hind, the Arabic word for India. Al-Hind invokes the vast tracts of the northern and northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent that came under mainly Turko-Islamic rule in the Middle Ages and were protected from the horse-borne Mongols by lack of sufficient pastureland. The process of Muslim conquest began in Sindh, the desert tract south and east of Iran and Afghanistan, adjacent to the Arabian Sea, easily accessible to the Middle East by land and maritime routes.
The Umayyad Arabs conquered and Islamicized Sindh in the early eighth century. Then came the Turkic Ghaznavids (based out of Ghazni, in eastern Afghanistan), who conquered parts of northern India in the 11th century. The Ghaznavids were followed by the Delhi Sultanate, a military oligarchy between the early 13th and early 16th centuries, which preceded the splendorous rule of the Persianized Mughal dynasty on the subcontinent. All these Muslim warriors governed immense inkblots of territory that were extensions of the Arab-Persian world that lay to the west, even as they interacted and traded with China to the north and east. It was a land without fixed borders that, according to University of Wisconsin historian André Wink, represented a rich confection of Arab, Persian, and Turkic culture, bustling with trade routes to Muslim Central Asia.
To the extent that one area was the ganglion of this Muslim civilization, it was today’s Pakistan. Fertile Punjab, which straddles the Pakistan-India frontier, “linked the Mughal empire, through commercial, cultural and ethnic intercourse, with Persia and Central Asia,” writes University of Chicago historian Muzaffar Alam. This area of Pakistan has been for centuries the civilizational intermediary connecting the cool and sparsely populated tableland of Central Asia with the hot and teeming panel of cultivation in the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan’s many mountain passes, especially those of Khyber and Bolan, join Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan with the wheat- and rice-baskets thousands of feet below. The descent from Afghanistan to the Indus River, which runs lengthwise through the middle of Pakistan, is exceedingly gradual, so for millennia various cultures occupied both the high plateaus and the lowland riverine plains. This entire middle region — not quite the subcontinent, not quite Central Asia — was more than a frontier zone or a bold line on a map: It was a fluid cultural organism and the center of many civilizations in their own right.
What we know as modern-day Pakistan is far from an artificial entity; it is just the latest of the many spatial arrangements for states on the subcontinent. The map of the Harappan civilization, a complex network of centrally controlled chieftaincies in the late fourth to mid-second millennium B.C., was one of its earliest predecessors. The Harappan world stretched from Baluchistan northeast up to Kashmir and southeast down almost to both Delhi and Mumbai, nearly touching present-day Iran and Afghanistan and extending into both northwestern and western India. It was a complex geography of settlement that adhered to landscapes capable of supporting irrigation, and whose heartland was today’s Pakistan.
The Mauryan Empire, which existed from the fourth to the second centuries B.C., came to envelop much of the subcontinent and thus, for the first time in history, encouraged the idea of India as a political entity. But whereas the area of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India all fell under Mauryan rule, India’s deep south did not. Next came the Kushan Empire, whose Indo-European rulers conquered territory from the Ferghana Valley, in the demographic heart of Central Asia, to Bihar in northeastern India. Once again, the heart of the empire that linked Central Asia and India was in Pakistan; one of the Kushan capitals was Peshawar, Pakistan’s frontier city today.
Later on, throughout the Middle Ages and the early modern era, Muslim invaders from the west grafted India to the greater Middle East, with the Indus River valley functioning as the core of all these interactions, as close to the Middle East and Central Asia as it is to the Ganges River valley. Under the Delhi-based Mughal dynasty, which ruled from the early 1500s to 1720, central Afghanistan to northern India was all part of one polity, with Pakistan occupying the territorial heartland…
June 21, 2012
My earliest ideas about African American religion and political struggle come from my first public memories as a child of the South of the late 1950s and 1960s. The civil rights movement entered our home through the televised images of black churches opening their doors for political rallies and the funerals of martyrs. Those pictures were accompanied either by the spirited call-and-response of black religious music or by the mournfulness of its dirges. I saw Southern black people speaking and singing a language of prophecy and praise that I had come to know in the sacred space of a country church in Virginia. There was something both familiar and unsettling in this. The people I saw were without a doubt “church people,” but they were doing and saying things in public that I had never known black people, especially black church people, ever to dare to do.
I was born too late to be part of the movement, but my immersion from afar in its unfolding drama and denouement left in me gratitude and a drive to achieve when its legacy of affirmative action opened the doors of educational opportunity for my generation of black working-class children. The history I was later taught about that movement, and was later to teach, reinforced the religious sounds and images of my childhood memory, preserved in forms aural and visual. For those then and now, here and around the world, who had never set foot in a Southern black church, these images became theirs too. And so for many of them and for me, African American religion and political struggle seemed poignantly and inextricably intertwined.
The power in those images rested in part on the way they conveyed the surprising political potency of African American religion in the South. I say “surprising” because throughout the twentieth century there were spirited debates among varied groups of African Americans about whether religious doctrines, religious people, and religious organizations were a blessing or a curse in the struggle for black freedom and racial progress. Although churches were continually called upon to be savior institutions, historically they were most often criticized for failing in that mission.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the dominant political narratives treated African American religion with despair and disdain. The emergence in the late 1950s of a Southern civil rights movement with churches, church people, and church culture at its center was a powerful and startling departure from that story, rather than a natural progression. In many ways, the movement is best thought of not as an inevitable triumph or a moment of religious revival, but simply as a miracle. It was brief, bold, and breathtaking, difficult to replicate or sustain, and experienced firsthand by only a small remnant of true believers.
Many since have misread the successes of that period and applied them retrospectively over the entire span of African American political history, seeing the past through the haze of a post-civil rights consciousness. It was the movement itself that changed our notions and expectations about the relationship between African American religion and politics. Our failure to understand this has obscured the important history of the decades of complaints and controversies on the question of how or whether African American churches could be a progressive political force. Debates on the issue preceded and raged within the movement, and figured in its demise as well. My recent work aims to retrieve the history of these important debates for the decades preceding, during, and after the civil rights movement, marshaling evidence from a wide variety of public lives and venues.
Why is the history of these debates important? Because they are evidence of an intraracial struggle for control of the spiritual resources of black people across the country and for control of the churches and religious networks they had built. These debates capture the overlapping challenges of creating a basis for black collective political activism, building independent black institutions, and determining the place of women and men in racial leadership. The fact that religious belief, religious institutions, and religious people came to be seen as so essential to this process remains the central paradox in African American political history.
EVEN BEFORE THE FOUNDING of black religious institutions, black public protest against slavery and against racial injustices was cast, as was much of eighteenth-century discourse, in explicitly religious terms. As early as 1774, Africans in Massachusetts petitioned for release from their condition as “slaves for Life in a Christian land.” In both the North and the South, Christian hypocrisy became a repeated refrain in the fight to abolish slavery—a line of argument made more urgent by the spread of evangelical Christianity during the late eighteenth century, which undercut social hierarchy and racial difference among its followers.
Yet by the turn of the nineteenth century, the power of Southern white Christians had forced a retreat. White Methodists and Baptists dampened their opposition to slavery, acting out racial discrimination within their own denominations and sanctuaries. Free blacks in the North established their own churches, beginning with two groups in Philadelphia in the 1790s. One left a white church to found an independent black Methodist tradition, the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, while the other, the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, chose to remain within the larger Episcopal denomination. Those two decisions are an early indicator of the historical diversity among black churches, their ambivalent relationship to white American Christianity, and their political natures. Both Philadelphia churches supported the work of the Free African Society in Philadelphia, an organization dedicated to racial solidarity and the abolition of slavery.
In the South, enslaved people held a variety of religious beliefs, often sharing segregated worship experiences under the surveillance of white Baptists and Methodists. Simultaneously, many of them forged a separate and largely invisible set of beliefs and practices, some Christian, some Islam-inflected, and some derived from African belief systems. Held in common, however, was the belief that slavery was a moral wrong and that retribution would ensue, an interpretation borne out with the coming of the Civil War and emancipation. Abolitionist claims, whether advanced by blacks or their white allies, were grounded in religious arguments…