The Final Days

I thoroughly enjoyed Ruth Shalit's "tribute" to the final, agonizing days of the Bush campaign ("What I Saw at the Devolution," Mar.). As a professional student of the American presidency, I found Shalit's crisp, lucid, and enlightening account of the Bush "devolution" almost without peer.

Yet, as an insider's account of what didn't go wrong with the Bush re-election effort, Shalit's essay could be read as an attempt to a) canonize the heretofore unrecognized accomplishments of Jim Pinkerton (such as they may be) or b) tilt responsibility for the stunning, and at one point unimaginable, defeat of George Bush to Bush himself, along with any number of his sullied advisers (Messrs. Darman, Baker, et al.).

Perhaps Pinkerton deserves credit for accomplishing something during the Bush administration. Beyond his obvious good sense in hiring Shalit, it's difficult to say precisely for what.

More troubling is the implication that George Bush lost the election solely or mainly because of Bush. "We got a weak product," said Baker, referring to President Bush, according to Shalit. True enough, George Bush was "a hard sell," especially against one candidate who refused to play Mike Dukakis and another who refused to play by the conventional rules of the game entirely. Dan Quayle was no Jack Kennedy and George Bush was no Ronald Reagan. Anyone who voted in the 1988 election understood that from the get-go.

Nevertheless, Bush did stand for something, Shalit's comments about a president and a campaign devoid of "ideas" notwithstanding. At the very least, Bush stood for the "legacy" of Ronald Reagan. Surely that counted for a lot of "something" in the minds of many attentive voters. What Shalit fails to acknowledge is that this "something" was rejected by the American voters as well. The 1992 presidential election was more than an ad-hominem referendum on George Bush (or Dick Darman), it was a referendum on the very "idea-driven conservatism" which so attracted Shalit to the White House immediately out of college.

To win in '96, Republicans will need more than a "better product," they'll need some better ideas. This lesson is implicit in Shalit's essay. Her account should also teach another lesson to future GOP campaign consultants: Never underestimate the intelligence or innate wisdom of the American electorate. They may be fooled by a Willie Horton once, but selling them again will be as difficult as marketing a candidate without vision or veracity.

Mark P. Petracca
Department of Politics and Society
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, CA

Actuarial Actuality

Based on faulty analysis, "The Medicare Monster" (Jan.) makes some unfair criticism of my performance as chief actuary of the Social Security Administration. It also contains a number of significant factual errors.

Steven Hayward and Erik Peterson state that Medicare cost $3 billion in 1966; the correct figure is $1.2 billion. Furthermore, the use of the 1966 figure is inappropriate because the benefits were effective on July 1 and there was considerable lag in making payments, so the figure is abnormally low. For the first full calendar year of operation, 1967, the total outgo was $5 billion.

The authors write that "the House Ways and Means Committee estimated that Medicare would cost only about $12 billion by 1990." The Actuarial Report of the Committee (dated July 30, 1965, and signed by me as "Actuary to the Committee") shows a figure of $9.1 billion for 1990 H.I. outgo but no long-range estimate for Supplementary Medical Insurance. So what is the basis for the $12-billion figure?

The article says the actual 1990 cost of Medicare was $107 billion; the true figure (including administrative expenses) was $111 billion, consisting of $67 billion for H.I. and $44 billion for SMI. One might say that the comparison should be for H.I. only—$9.1 billion estimated versus $67 billion actual. But several adjustments to the actual figure are necessary.

First. H.I. was significantly liberalized after 1965, principally by including long-term disabled persons under age 65 and end-stage renal dialysis cases. Based on data for 1989, 89 percent of the expenditures for H.I. were for those 65 or over. So the 1990 actual cost of H.I. for the aged was only $59.6 billion.

Second, the 1965 estimate was based on the assumption that wages would be level in the future (although hospital costs would increase somewhat more than wages)—for the reason that, if wages rose, so too would both payroll tax receipts and benefit outgo. The wage level in 1990 was 4.51 times a high as that in 1965. Thus, the 1990 actual cost of H.I. for the aged, expressed in constant 1965 wage dollars, was $13.2 billion ($59.6 billion divided by 4.51).

Accordingly, the proper analytical comparison of 1990 H.I. costs is $13.2 billion actual vs. $9.1 billion estimated (or a ratio of actual to estimated of 145 percent). Admittedly, this was a significant difference—but nothing like the almost sevenfold difference that the article indicates.

Mr. Hayward and Mr. Peterson refer to a quote from a discussion I had with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Wilbur D. Mills at a hearing in 1963 as a "clash." Not so. I worked jointly for the Social Security Administration and the Committee on Ways and Means. This discussion was a friendly one, for the purpose of "building a record" as to why the assumptions should be more conservative.

Some of the estimated future costs of the H.I. program offered by Mr. Hayward and Mr. Peterson are too low, others too high. Based on the 1965 actuarial report to the committee, the tax rate shortly after 2000 under the optimistic estimate is 3.26 percent (in 2001), vs. Mr. Hayward and Mr. Peterson's 4.38 percent (which would not be reached until 2025). The ultimate tax rate under the pessimistic estimate is 23.11 percent (in 2070), vs. the mere 13.79 percent stated in the article. The tax rate in 2000 under the pessimistic estimate is 4.35 percent, as opposed to the authors' figure of 5.62 percent.

Robert J. Myers
Silver Spring, MD

Mr. Hayward and Mr. Peterson reply: It is difficult to know just how to respond to this peculiar letter, which in the end makes no judgment about whether the Medicare program is actuarially sound in the long run or about the many other serious issues that we raised. In fact, Mr. Myers tends to confirm our point in his last paragraph, where he notes that we may not have been pessimistic enough in our Medicare prognosis.

In the course of gathering research for our article, we found four or five different cost figures for every aspect and every year of the program. Most of the cost discrepancies Mr. Myers raises stem from the use of different government sources. But it is not necessary to bore readers with an endless numbers game. Even if we accept all of Mr. Myers's revisions, they do not controvert the argument that forms the basis of our "unfair criticism." Mr. Myers says nothing about the grossly mistaken assumptions concerning hospital utilization rates, about the huge subsidy required for the supposedly "pay-as-you-go" Medicare Part B program, or about the prominent role medicare has played in perverting the entire health-care marketplace and fueling the inflation of health-care costs.

On this last point, we think Mr. Myers indulges in some revisionism with his parenthetical note about the assumption that "hospital costs would increase somewhat more than wages." All of the reports from the early 1960s, and Mr. Myers's statements to the Ways and Means Committee, confidently (and wrongly) predicted that hospital costs would not rise faster than wages over the long run.

We did not mean to imply that Mr. Myers himself bears the primary responsibility for this debacle. If this is what he means by "unfair criticism," then we offer a mild apology. The main problem lies with the politicians and policy makers who do not understand the inherent limitations and perverse effects of massive government spending programs like Medicare. Perhaps we shouldn't attach blame to the actuaries, but on the other hand, Mr. Myers's inconclusive letter is a good example of why politicians and policy makers don't learn any lessons. And it stands in sharp contrast to the warnings of Roland King, his successor at the Health Care Finance Administration.

Privilege or Protection?

Thomas Hazlett may be right that a boycott of Colorado is a poor tactic for fighting Amendment Two ("Queer Tactics," Mar.). But Amendment Two itself is very wrong and threatens fundamental liberties.

Mr. Hazlett writes: "If the Colorado measure means that competent homosexuals will be 'outed' from city jobs by Baptist preachers with flocks to excite, then it's wrong. But if it succeeds in limiting a gay professor's rights regarding, say, wrongful termination to those which I enjoy, then I favor it. Amendment Two looks pretty evenhanded to me, and I think that it aims at the latter more than the former."

Amendment Two does not in any way limit gays to the rights that straights enjoy. It does quite the opposite. The equal-rights laws in Denver, Boulder, Aspen County, and Telluride provide legal protection on the basis of "sexual orientation." Sexual orientation is understood in all of those laws to include heterosexuality. Therefore a person could not be denied employment in a gay restaurant on the basis of being straight, any more than employment could be denied on the basis of race.

Amendment Two prohibits laws that provide legal protection to homosexuals and bisexuals, but it deliberately excludes heterosexuals. Amendment Two creates special rights of employment and accommodation for heterosexuals that cannot be enjoyed by gay men, lesbians, or bisexuals. Further, gay employees who feel they have been wrongfully terminated in violation of a Colorado company's employment-policy handbook, part of a binding legal contract of employment, would have no legal recourse. The courts would be constitutionally closed to hearing such a case.

According to the Denver Post, "many Coloradans who voted for Amendment 2 said they do not want to discriminate against gays, but they do want to prohibit homosexuals from receiving quotas or other preferences that have been given to other designated minority groups. Most gays themselves agree, saying they never have sought quotas or preferences."

Affirmative-action programs do not make sense for gay men and lesbians. As sexual orientation has no visible traits, imposing quotas would require the public disclosure of every person's sexual orientation, a gross violation of basic privacy. And since gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are in every occupation at every level, preferences are not appropriate anyway. All that is desired is the right to equal treatment in employment, housing, and accommodation without regard to the gender of one's partner.

Under Amendment Two, I can be denied service in any restaurant, hotel, store, or public transportation system. Gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals can be fired without additional grounds, evicted from their apartments, and prevented from petitioning the government, including the judicial, legislative, and executive branches, for a redress of grievances. The same is true for heterosexuals who are perceived to be gay or lesbian.

Mr. Hazlett writes: "The march of the fundamentalists is fueled by the hostility most Americans feel not for homosexuality but for in your face homosexuality." He is quite wrong. The history of gay rights has been one of constant attack by a society enmeshed in ignorance, fear, and hatred. The gay-rights movement, led by radical activists, has been successful in reducing the levels of ignorance, fear, and hatred to a point where open, aggressive hostility is now limited mostly to the fundamentalists.

Mr. Hazlett should have stayed on the subject of tactics in securing equal status, not on whether equal status and acceptance is the goal. There is no other goal.

Robert J. Summersgill
Silver Spring, MD

Homophobia is woven into the fabric of this society in the areas of religion, education, government, business, and media. Because of this, the majority of gay and lesbian people come face to face with some level of homophobia every minute of every day of their lives.

Hostility against gay and lesbian people is much more complex and "in your face" than Mr. Hazlett suggests. It ranges from isolation and abandonment to verbal and physical attacks to death; it can take place privately or publicly. The perpetrator can be anonymous, a total stranger, or someone that we know and trust, like parents, family members, associates, counselors, teachers, friends, or religious leaders.

To suggest that gays and lesbians are responsible for the violence that is perpetrated against them is irresponsible and inaccurate. Many people experience anti-gay violence because they are perceived to be gay or lesbian. How does Mr. Hazlett explain this?

The "special status" that gays and lesbians desire is the very same status that heterosexuals currently enjoy: the legal, religious, and social recognition of relationships with regard to marriage, tax status, guardianship, adoption, and insurance matters; the legal right to engage in consensual sexual activity; the ability to serve in the military; protection from discrimination with regard to sexual orientation in housing, employment, public accommodation, human services, health care, and education. A double standard does indeed exist, and heterosexuals are the beneficiaries of that standard.

Bradley R. Koogler
Columbus, OH

Mr. Hazlett replies: As I wrote, the consequences of Amendment Two are difficult to predict, but Messrs. Summersgill and Koogler spend little time on the subtleties. Mr. Summersgill suggests, quite implausibly, that a repeal of local gay-rights ordinances would strip away basic civil liberties, including the right of contract. He further asserts that affirmative action for homosexuals is impossible due to the "outing" it would entail. He fails to understand the ad-hoc nature of American law: Any contingency-fee attorney can file an affirmative-action suit, arguing either that professed homosexuals are underrepresented or that the working environment is so hostile that homosexuals are afraid to emerge from the closet.

Mr. Koogler asserts that homophobia is woven into the fabric of society. He may well be right. Sadly, local ordinances will be very ineffective in shaping up "parents" or "anonymous perpetrators." In condemning state-mandated discrimination against gays—as I did in my article—Koogler appropriately abandons the "special status" argument. The "equal protection" logic driving Amendment Two can and should be used by the gay lobby to frontally attack this body of discriminatory law, not to inflame the straight mainstream with pleas for minority privilege. (Those responsible for the resulting violence will be its homophobic perpetrators—but the victims will surely be gay.)