It seems like there is just no escaping the drumbeat of bad economic news. Two examples from today’s headlines: in May, the number of Americans who use food stamps rose to 40.8 million, an all-time high, and first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose again last week. I find the first figure particularly amazing: more than 40 million Americans need help just to eat!
Former Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes famously preached that voters based their votes on the state of their wallets. With the economy in the doldrums, and bad news an unwelcome constant in our daily lives, it is any wonder that President Obama’s job approval ratings keep dropping?
Does anyone in government stop and think about what they are really doing, anymore?
Here’s the latest story of some ridiculous lack of judgment by a government regulator. A 7-year-old girl in a suburb of Portland, Oregon sets up a lemonade stand at a neighborhood festival and starts serving lemonade made from bottled water and Kool-Aid mix, at a price of 50 cents a cup. Some county health inspector with a clipboard comes up and asks the kid to show her temporary restaurant license. Not surprisingly, the child doesn’t have one — they cost $120, after all — and the health inspector tells the kid that she has to close up shop or face a $500 fine. The child left in tears. Of course, the county health inspectors defend the action, saying that they “need to put the public’s health first” and must “protect the public” no matter how small the business or how young the proprietor.
Didn’t anyone at the county health department ever have a lemonade stand? Doesn’t anyone at the county health department have any common sense? Is unlicensed lemonade sold by a 7-year-old really such an enormous risk to public health that the full weight of the country government must be brought to bear?
Whether a 7-year-old gets to run a lemonade stand without being harassed and reduced to tears by clipboard-waving bureaucrats doesn’t mean a lot in the grand scheme of things. This story reveals a greater concern about how government works, however. One reason why some people, at least, oppose the government making decisions about their health care is precisely because they are worried that those momentous decisions will be made by nameless bureaucrats who don’t have the sense to determine that a 7-year-old’s lemonade stand doesn’t pose a fundamental risk to public health.
Tuesday’s election in Missouri included a ballot initiative where voters were asked to weigh in on whether a key provision of the “health care reform” legislation — the “individual mandate” that requires people to either get health insurance or pay a penalty — should be invalidated. More than 71 percent of the Missouri voters voted yes on that issue.
I’m sure supporters of health care reform have lots of rationalizations for the landslide in Missouri — it was a special election, Republicans were more motivated to go to the polls, serious people understand that ballot issues aren’t going to decide the matter and therefore we shouldn’t pay attention to the results, etc. — but I think the Missouri election result has to be viewed as having some significance.
The reality is that, when voters were asked to pull the lever on a key feature of the “health care reform” legislation, they rejected it overwhelmingly. Commentators can pooh-pooh the results if they wish, but does anyone doubt that if Missouri voters had overwhelmingly approved of the individual mandate that result would have been cited as evidence that popular perception of the legislation was changing?
I don’t know whether an up or down vote on one part of a complex bill can tell us much about how voters will treat members of Congress when they stand for re-election in November. Most voters aren’t single issue voters; they typically consider an incumbent’s overall record. Still, if I were a Democrat who had voted in favor of the “health care reform” legislation and its individual mandate centerpiece, the Missouri results would leave me feeling queasy.