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The Monday Column from Clark Judge

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Charles Krauthammer, the Choice of Decline, the Health Care Overhaul
By Clark S. Judge, managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc.;special assistant and speechwriter to President Reagan

Monday night last week, I attended the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lecture dinner at the Pierre Hotel in New York. Charles Krauthammer was the speaker. In an address from which the current Weekly Standard cover story is condensed (, he argued that the decline of American global hegemony or its continuation will not be the inevitable result of historic forces but of both foreign and domestic policy decisions the nation itself makes.

“For America today,’ he said, “decline is not a condition. Decline is a choice.” He added: “The current liberal ascendancy in the United States–controlling the executive and both houses of Congress, dominating the media and elite culture–has set us on a course for decline.”

For me the most original and telling section of the lecture concerned domestic rather than foreign policy.

Yes, as Peter Wehner later wrote on the Commentary blog (, Mr. Krauthammer’s indictment of the president explained the Nobel Peace Prize announcement later in the week. As Krauthammer said of Obama’s ongoing global apology tour, from international podium to international podium, Mr. Obama has spoken the words that the Nobel Committee wanted to hear. As Krauthammer put it:

“[A]s he made his hajj from Strasbourg to Prague to Ankara to Istanbul to Cairo and finally to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama drew the picture of an America quite exceptional -exceptional in moral culpability and heavy-handedness, exceptional in guilt for its treatment of other nations and peoples.”

But by now everyone with eyes and ears knows where the president is going in at least the tone of international affairs.

No, the real insight of the talk was that the president’s social democratic policies at home are incompatible with global greatness. Krauthammer noted:

“Domestic policy, of course, is not designed to curb our power abroad. But what it lacks in intent, it makes up in effect. Decline will be an unintended, but powerful, side effect of the New Liberalism’s ambition of moving America from its traditional dynamic individualism to the more equitable but static model of European social democracy.”

Massive spending on domestic programs, starving of defense budgets, the decline of the dollar: all these, Krauthammer argued, are as of a piece.

Another way to put it (my words now, not his) is that when we talk about presidential legacies, we should remember the legacy of George Washington (with the assistance of Alexander Hamilton) in making the United States government the most credit worthy entity in the world. With this incomparable financial foundation, in the past century we won two world wars and a Cold War. We saved civilization. And yet now, as we race past one trillion-dollar spending milestone after another, in the course of single presidential administration, we could destroy this essential gift.

It does not have to be that way. A great decision-a pivotal decision-on whether we go down Krauthammer’s social democratic road of decline will be made in the next few months: Do we adopt a social democratic model for health care reform?

To now, the president and his allies have done all they could to ignore-and keep the bulk of the media ignoring-the fully formed alternative model that fixes U.S. health market problems while truly reducing costs-that is, prices — and with minimal federal spending.

That model is simple. It includes, for example, creating a national health insurance market (to replace the antiquated fifty state insurance markets of today and introduce intense nationwide competition); making our tax treatment when buying health insurance for ourselves no different from that which large employers enjoy when they buy insurance for us (so no one is effectively forced to buy through the employer, as is the case today); enhancing health savings accounts (so each of us has greater control over our daily health care choices); removing the legal barriers that keep doctors from creating companies to deliver health services and develop health products (called the Stark Laws, they are a drag on entrepreneurship in the healthcare marketplace); instituting medical malpractice reform; eliminating mandates.

From Harvard professor and Manhattan Institute scholar Regina Herzlinger, to Stanford professor and Hoover Institute scholar John Cogan, to Columbia University business school dean and former chair of the Council of Economic Advisors Glen Hubbard, to Pacific Research Institute president and economist Sally Pipes, to many other scholars, this model has been carefully and imaginatively developed over the past two decades. It fits the needs and strengths of America in the twenty-first century, as the administration’s model based on 1930s social democratic thinking cannot possibly do.

On a Sunday talk show, ABC’s This Week, George Will noted that, correctly and honestly calculated, the president’s health upheaval plans currently will cost the nation $1.8 trillion over the next ten years. As Charles Krauthammer pointed out last Monday, embracing such a program could profoundly compromise America’s strength and security for decades to come. There is a better road. Will we take it?


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