The “Thermocline Of Truth”

This excellent metaphor comes to us (by way of Jim Geraghty) from blogger Bruce Webster, who coined it to describe a phenomenon that he observed, originally, while analyzing the ways in which large-scale software projects can fail. In this post, he notes that it applies also to the slow-motion catastrophe we call “Obamacare”. The post is dense with links, which are worth following.

Meanwhile, into the shutdown we go, it seems. There is much infighting on the Right over this (though there is no disagreement that this bill is a monstrosity that should be resisted tooth and nail for the sake of the nation). Many say that because fiscal conservatives in Congress will be blamed, fairly or not, for a shutdown, the better strategy is just to let Obamacare run its disastrous course, and make the Left own it. The problem, though, is that entitlement programs generate constituencies — and in a democracy, if those constituencies are large enough, programs become immortal, even if they increase the overall morbidity of the nation. Like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, we can see the baby cobras curled up inside the eggs, and know that once hatched, they can kill a mongoose, or a man.

The shutdown, however, will cause a great deal of pain, and likely accomplish nothing.


  1. the one eyed man says

    The assertion that a duly enacted law should be blocked because it will “generate constituencies” – i.e., people will like it so much that you can’t take it away from them – is a curious argument to make. It reeks of the we-know-best condescension which progressives are regularly accused of by those on the dark side.

    Let’s suppose that Mitt Romney won last year’s election, and Harry Reid threatened to shut down the government and default on its debt unless Republicans passed legislation requiring background checks for gun ownership.

    Reid repeats the same lines we hear from House Republican. We’re making a stand on principle. We are representing the wishes of our constituents. National surveys show wide popular support for gun control legislation.

    How do you suppose conservatives would have reacted in such a scenario?

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    They would have done their best to oppose it, obviously, as the Democrats are doing here. When political ideologies conflict in fundamental ways, their adherents fight with each other.

    It’s a such a shame that the proponents of these two utterly incommensurable visions of America can’t just figure out how to go our separate ways in some peaceful fashion. I believe the rupture will come anyway, sooner or later — but if we can’t sort it out amicably, it’s not going to be pleasant when it finally happens.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Let’s put it in the simplest possible terms. Imagine that the non-productive segment of society (i.e. those who receive more assistance from the government than they pay out in taxes) becomes a substantial and persistent majority of the population. Their elected proxies take hold of the House, the Senate, and the Presidency — and then, in order to secure the continued support of this popular majority (and their grip on power), enact legislation that provides a guaranteed minimum income of $125,000 to anyone who doesn’t have a job.

    Obviously this would be lethal for the nation. But imagine the constituency it would generate!

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  4. the one eyed man says

    I don’t think that we are any more polarized as a nation than we’ve been in the past. When we were louche and dissolute youths, the Vietnam war was going on, and the nation was riven along political lines, generational lines, and racial lines. Some of us let our freak flags fly, while others were proud to be Okies from Muskogee.

    Today there are those who like NASCAR and F-150’s, and there are others who prefer bike lanes and farmers’ markets. The more things change …

    With the exception of the Civil War, the government was always able to function because the warring parties would compromise, or at least have a stalemate. What is different now is that compromise is anathema to those who insist on ideological purity, and governance has been replaced with extortionate tactics and overwrought political theater.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    No, I think that we are far more polarized now than we were then, when the divide was as much cultural as it was political. The large political initiatives of that era found far more bipartisan support than, for example, Obamacare has. Now we are actually hearing serious talk of nullification and secession.

    Let’s not fetishize compromise; a willingness to compromise between right and wrong is no virtue. Mr. Obama seems to think so himself: he has made it clear that he will not compromise or negotiate with his political opponenents, even as the shutdown and debt-ceiling crises loom. (He is just as intransigent as the Republicans are; either side could end this standoff by yielding to the other.) In the opinion of those opposing Obamacare, they are trying to avert a national disaster.

    If half the people want to exterminate the Jews, and the other half doesn’t, would the virtuous course be to “compromise” by exterminating half the Jews, or by merely incarcerating them?

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink
  6. JK says

    National surveys show wide popular support for gun control legislation.


    I know I keep harping on this – quibbling I know but … just “who” do the surveyors ask the questions of whenever “wide popular support” supposedly means providing a mandate?

    I doubt I’m alone in saying, “Nobody asked me for my opinion.” I vote, surely the voters on my ‘friends and family Verizon network’ should at least occasionally/accidentally be reached. Heck, even the IRS sometimes calls “accidentally the wrong person.” (Though my guess is a survey on a truly “wide popular support” coming from the IRS’d yield more accurately.)

    Mind One-Eye, me asking whether you’ve been contacted to be included?

    I don’t mean to imply I’ve never been surveyed – as an electrical contractor I was asked whether I supported taking incandescent bulbs off the market – my answers that time got lost in the mail.

    Which I can understand. But that was the Post Office.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  7. the one eyed man says

    Of course Obama won’t negotiate. Why should he? The time for negotiation is long past.

    If the Republicans wanted to negotiate on Obamacare, they had their chance when the bill was being drafted. Their strategy was to oppose every Obama agendum, and they declined to play a role in writing the bill. Instead of sitting down at the table, they continually mischaracterized it and used dilatory tactics in hopes that it would die a death of a thousand cuts. They had their chance to negotiate, and they declined the opportunity to do so.

    They had their chance to negotiate over the budget in February, when the Senate passed its spending bill. House Republicans refused to bring the matter to conference, as the compromises which would inevitably result would dilute their ideological purity.

    Now that we are hours away from a government shutdown and days away from a government default, they refuse to accept the fact that they don’t have the votes to repeal the law, and are using the likelihood of economic catastrophe as leverage to extract unilateral concessions.

    Keeping the government open and paying its bills are not negotiable items. As the President has repeatedly said, if Republicans want to partake in give-and-take about Obamacare, they are welcome to do so, although not at the point of a gun. The President is absolutely correct in refusing to countenance extortion, just as a President Romney would be correct in defying the hypothetical demand to pass gun control legislation in order to keep the government running and the bills paid.

    Using government shutdowns and default as leverage to effect changes which you are unable to achieve through the Constitutional process of legislation is intolerable. There has never been a large-scale government shutdown until Republicans did it in 1995, and no political party ever seriously threatened default until the Republicans did so in 2011. Both are unacceptable and cannot be abided by. Giving into hostage taking only leads to more of the same in the future. He should stand by the Constitution and not give an inch, as we might as well shred the Constitution if we are to have government-by-extortion. He should not give an inch, as the collateral damage from Republican hostage-taking is sure to be less than the irreversible damage to American democracy which it represents.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  8. the one eyed man says


    According to Gallup, between 83% and 91% of survey respondents would vote for a law which requires background checks for all gun purchases.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    As the President has repeatedly said, if Republicans want to partake in give-and-take about Obamacare, they are welcome to do so, although not at the point of a gun.

    Without any effective leverage, all that would result is give-and-give.

    Using government shutdowns and default as leverage to effect changes which you are unable to achieve through the Constitutional process of legislation is intolerable.

    You seem to believe that for the House to use the “power of the purse” to resist bad legislation or Executive excess is, somehow, not Constitutional. But it is, of course; the power to do exactly this is vested in the House by design:

    This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people…

    This stand may indeed be bad strategy for the Republicans, but there is nothing lawless or anarchistic about it, as many on the Left have charged. The House has said: “Sure, we’ll pass a continuing resolution that funds the government. Here it is. These are the terms.” The House is simply using the only leverage it has, in perfect concordance with its enumerated powers, to attempt to unmake a very bad law.

    You can rail on all you like about what’s “unacceptable”; that’s fine. I expect you to do so. I also expect the President and his partisans not to compromise. (You ask: “Why should he?” One could answer: “Because it would prevent a government shutdown.”)

    Likewise, I expect opponents of this awful law to continue to do everything in their power to fight it. Each side will loathe and detest and blame the other, and the bitter antipathy that divides them will continue to deepen and fester.

    The course we are on cannot go on forever, and so it will stop. While no one can predict with precision the manner in which it will stop, I think it’s safe to say it won’t be much fun for anyone.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  10. the one eyed man says

    The House has a marginally greater power of the purse than the Senate, insofar as it originates appropriations bills. For these bills to become law, however, they must pass the Senate and be signed by the President. There is nothing magical about originating bills which entitles the House to dictate terms to the Senate and the President, or to subvert the appropriations process by making government funding dependent on nullifying legislation which was duly enacted by Congress, signed by the President, and approved by the Supreme Court.

    There is nothing unconstitutional about a House which refuses to pass a spending bill which the Senate and President will accept. However, it is a shocking dereliction of their responsibilities for governance. In over two centuries of American government, we have never had the government shut down over something which was extraneous to the budget, and no House – especially one where the “majority” was elected with fewer votes than the “minority” – had the chutzpah to flout the wishes of an electorate which gave more Senate seats to the opposing party and re-elected a President with a final score of 332-206. Constitutional? Yes. Responsible? Not at all.

    If they want to have “effective leverage:” fine. Win some elections. That’s how the Constitution allows for effective leverage. Otherwise you have a political system where Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid could have shut down the government to force Bush to end the war in Iraq, allow universal abortion on demand, or anything else which would have been unacceptable to their Republican colleagues.

    * * * *

    While you may fulminate against this “awful law” as though its awfulness is an a priori truth, it’s worth noting that those who oppose it have been consistently wrong.

    We were told that Obamacare would cause health care costs to explode. This was wrong: health care inflation is at its lowest level in fifty years.

    We were told that the projections for insurance costs were wildly optimistic. This was also wrong: they were too pessimistic, and the rates came in 16% below projections.

    We were told that Obamacare would be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. As I predicted on this website, Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion upholding the law.

    All of the parade of horribles we were told to expect flies in the face of an equivalent program in Massachusetts, which is popular and successful.

    As a small business owner, I have to buy my own insurance. Tomorrow I will be able to go to a website and choose among insurers competing for my business in a transparent marketplace. Because my child will (hopefully) be attending college in New York City, I am able to compare different insurers based on their level of out-of-state coverage. I can’t tell you how great this is. Before the health exchanges, it was impossible to make apples-to-apples comparisons among various bewildering insurance packages for rate, let alone features.

    Because I am a perfect physical specimen, I would not get refused for any pre-existing conditions. I can’t imagine the torment a cancer survivor or parent of an uninsurable child must feel pre-Obamacare, or what it is like to know that a re-emergence of a cancer in remission would lead to bankruptcy. You will never hear an Obamacare opponent explain what they would do about the uninsurable, or why the status quo ante is a system worth preserving.

    To be sure, Obamacare has to be in existence for a few years to adequately gauge its efficacy. However, based on what we know so far, it is hard to see how a program which lowers health care inflation, provides greater access to health care, reduces insurance rates, and provides a marketplace to people not covered by group employer plans is so awful, let alone worth shutting down the government over.

    If Republicans actually thought that the law was a disaster, they would do nothing and allow its claimed awfulness to stir the electorate to give them sufficient electoral margins in 2014 to repeal the bill. Their hysteria is a last-ditch effort to sabotage a law which will probably work out pretty well. After its success is widely acknowledged, however, you can bet that – like the Republicans who voted against the stimulus plan but were happy to show up at the ribbon cutting ceremonies – we will hear how they were for it all along. And you can also bet that they will stop calling it Obamacare.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 6:44 pm | Permalink
  11. JK says

    Mr Gallup Sir,

    My number’s in the book.

    I’d welcome an opportunity to participate anytime you’re looking for more than 83% and 91% of whatever it is you’re set out to measure.

    It’s possible I might Sir, skew the numbers but, as I understand it from my friend One-Eye, supposedly you’re aim is to have a truly, “representative survey result” so a little skewing around with the numbers I figure, ought to be natural.

    I’ve deactivated my phone’s “vibrate” function indeed, tomorrow I’ll climb my town’s tower and hook direct into our tornado & EMS warning system. I can do that and not violate OSHA quite easily.

    Arkansas awaits your call Sir.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Permalink
  12. the one eyed man says

    I think that for a national survey company to communicate with Arkansas residents, they need orange juice cans and a whole lot of string.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 6:52 pm | Permalink
  13. Malcolm says

    To be sure, Obamacare has to be in existence for a few years to adequately gauge its efficacy.

    Yes, and we all remember that we had to pass it to see what was in it.

    I already understand where your sympathies lie. Life’s too short to rebut all of this. Readers wishing to understand how harmful this awful law has already been, and will be, may find ample resources online, providing they are still able to afford to get online now that their hours have been cut back.

    We’ll see how this goes, amigo.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 6:54 pm | Permalink
  14. the one eyed man says

    So we shall.

    I can’t help but remark that the last time “amigo” was used on this site, it was your assurance that in Syria, “nothing will happen, amigo.”

    This was before the UN voted for a resolution demanding that Assad give up his chemical weapons, before he promised to do so, before he gave a list of his weapons to the UN, and before he started cooperating with a celerity that nobody expected.

    So maybe you should refer to me as something besides “amigo.” I think Your Excellency would do just fine.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink
  15. Malcolm says

    Oooh! A U.N. resolution. Followed by eager assurances from Mr. Assad — what an agreeable fellow he is! — to be complied with as time and logistics permit, somewhere along the way (excepting, of course, those items that are lost in transit, misplaced in the chaos of war, off the books, stored in inaccessible places, etc.).

    I’m not aware of anything having actually happened yet, tovarich, other than a lot of jaw-jaw. No doubt there will be a little show put on, though, at some point.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Assad is assured of remaining in power (after all, he’s the only one who can keep all these promises), Mr. Putin keeps his installations at Tartus and Latakia while expanding his influence in the region, and Iran (who, by golly, is about to abandon its nuclear program any day now, I hear!) maintains its Mediterranean corridor. That’s a heaping helping of status quo.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 7:16 pm | Permalink
  16. JK says

    I think that for a national survey company to communicate with Arkansas residents, they need orange juice cans and a whole lot of string.

    So then.

    Whatever representative “wide popular support” you’re touting isn’t so?

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink
  17. JK says

    Your Excellency, where Syria is concerned you ought have at minimum an inkling, of WTF is actually happening. From an ‘on-the-round-perspective’ – fortunately there’re fairly easy ways to get there.

    Book a flight for Istanbul, link up with Elizabeth O’Bagy’s tour agents or you can skip McCain’s shell company and travel the somewhat lesser luxurious route through Lebanon. Libya and Iran though are currently offering specials. Kenya too supposedly.

    Book early.

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  18. JK says

    What gives Malcolm?

    I just checked the visible sat loops and the East coast appears like all the lights are still on.

    The Middle East appears just like this time last night – going to hell. The NSA still has the taps on all my stuff and it seems like connectivity remains. C-Span is still the barrel of laughs as last night.

    The Earth is spinning and ol’ Sol looks to remain on schedule. What good is the US Congress if they can’t even manage a proper shutdown?

    Posted September 30, 2013 at 11:32 pm | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    Right you are, JK. I’ve noticed that the wind still susurrates in the pines, and I can still feel my toes. Strange.

    Posted October 1, 2013 at 1:21 am | Permalink

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