As an art form, caricature is fun. The caricature of ideas, however, does not have the same appeal. And when the caricaturists seek to arouse fears and anxieties by distorting unfamiliar ideas into misshapen and threatening images of insidious evil and betrayal, they do public debate and even their own case a great disservice.
The Social Security Act in its final form was far from a perfect piece of legislation. In important respects it was actually weaker than the Wagner Lewis bill of the year before. It failed to set up a national system and even failed to provide for effective national standards. It left to the states virtually every important decision and thus committed the nation to a crazy- quilt unemployment compensation system. . . .
For all the defects of the Act, it still meant a tremendous break with the inhibitions of the past. The federal government was at last charged with the obligation to provide its citizens a measure of protection from the hazards and vicissitudes of life.
It was one year from euphoria to defeat. On the evening of September 23, 1993, I sat in the gallery of the House of Representatives for President Clinton's speech introducing the administration's Health Security plan. For those of us who had worked on it, this was the climax of a long, intense, and not always easy collaboration. I had been one of about ten people on the health policy team in the White House who had written and rewritten the plan after the cast of hundreds had left. Now the president had the nation's attention focused on ideas we deeply believed in, and he spoke with tremendous force.
One argument for a sharp increase in tobacco taxes is that it would force smokers to pay for the increased medical costs they generate. But some economists say higher medical costs are only half the story. Peter Passell wrote last July in the New York Times that "a full accounting must also include the savings from smoking. Yes, savings: the reduced cost of private pensions, Social Security and nursing home care for smokers who die before their time." And on a full accounting, according to studies cited by Passell, the social costs of smoking may be too small even to justify current taxes, much less an increase.