Monday, February 20, 2006


Judy Baar Topinka on WBEZ today said that Gov. Blagojevich has "announced programs for all intents and purposes are turning the state of Illinois into a welfare state." Those would be the programs to provide a.) universal preschool and b.) health insurance to all children. For obvious political reasons, Republican attacks on these programs don't say "we don't think children should go to preschool/get health care," they say "we can't afford it." At least that's the script, allowing Republicans to sound responsible without having to engage the principles behind these programs one way or the other. So thanks to Judy Baar Topinka (the most "moderate" of Republican candidates, remember) for accidentally saying what she really thinks. That it happens to be ugly kneejerk privilege-protection is clarifying.

UPDATE -- Listen to the debate here.


Saxdrop said...

I'm more than happy to engage the principles behind universal preschool. I guess that means I'm becoming less and less Republican overt time.

For instance, see this study ( Among its conclusions, that in the aggregate pre-K programs have no lasting positive effect as well as a lingering negative behavioral problem, the authors also identify that the students such a treatment would be most likely to help are the severely underpriveleged. So even if such a program were desirable, universal it would not.

Also, thinking in terms of a basic input-output (human capital) model of human learning, international comparisons of reading and math places the average American student at or ahead of similar G7/developed nations at the beginning of school, only falling behind later in school (junior high, high school). A first-order intuition then would indicate that a meaningful increase in student achievement would be best addressed in those intermediate years. Of course this is not necssarily true as human learning is not simply linearly cumulative but certainly much more complex.

See also this study ( which provides some useful comparisons of other interventions' effectiveness to pre-K access.

On the use of welfare state, I'm assuming by the context and the speaker, that it was not uttered in the strict political economy sense of the word, in which the state engages in any kind of involuntary transfers. Well, by that restriction every state (and almost every country would be a welfare state). In a less restrictive sense, it generally may be used to describe a government that actively seeks to redistribute/transfer in such a way that could be considered universal. In that sense, Ms. Topinka does not seem so out of line.

But I'm guessing since it was on the radio, and meant as an attack at the Gov., that's probably not the case.

Rob said...

Nicely done, Saxdrop, way to bring the empirical evidence. (Normally I prefer to traffic in prejudices, assumptions and rumors, but I suppose one can form arguments based on facts, too.) If these studies are correct, it may indeed be more advisable to target preschool to underprivileged kids--but on the other hand, in real terms that is sort of what this proposal does, since kids from rich families already attend preschool a lot more often than poor kids do. Anyway it would be a reasonable angle for Republicans to take: that the program is wasteful and poorly targeted.

Similarly, the Republican candidates are right to argue that the text of Blagojevich's All Kids universal healthcare bill falls short in explaining how the program is to be implemented. I'm still inclined to support Blago on it, though, because it's a great, important idea, and I haven't heard any Republican counterproposals that even attempt to cover uninsured children or expand the scope of healthcare in Illinois in any way.

On "welfare state," I definitely have no beef with Topinka's accuracy--universal healthcare is a sort of welfare, sure. I assume there are conservative arguments aplenty explaining why it's bad for children to have health insurance, just like there are conservative-principled arguments about why we should get rid of social security, amend the constitution to prevent gay marriage and so on. But because these tend not to be the most politically expedient arguments, these issues get presented as arguments about something else entirely: fiscal responsibility, "judicial activism," etc. But here was avowed moderate Judy Baar Topinka expressing distaste for the substance of the All Kids program rather than just its implementation, and in this debate that's noteworthy.

Maybe you're right, maybe you are becoming less Republican, or maybe it's just that the entrenched intellectual (not to mention material!) corruption of the Republican party means they're no longer the party that best represents you...

JM said...

Not to get dragged into an intelligent debate but the last comment regarding "the entrenched intellectual corruption of the Republican party means they're no longer the party that best represents you" strikes pretty close to home if you are on the Donkey side as well.

Rob said...

Wha?? The left never politicizes arguments at the expense of the facts! Bush's stem cell ban REALLY DID kill Christopher Reeves, didn't you know?

But two points in earnest: 1.) The right objectively does have more "stealth" issues than the left--see e.g. the Roberts/Alito hearings, see the way Bush forms his arguments about social security "reform" and for that matter the Iraq War. And 2.) Unless I'm mistaken, I believe that Mr. Saxdrop leans Libertarian, an ideology that doesn't fit perfectly with either party. But I do think that the Bush reign gives Libs plenty of reasons to consider voting Democratic--in 2006 we're the ones who are the party of small, unintrusive government, not them!

JM said...

You second point is true regarding our lib neighbors, but the aforementions swing all depends on the candidate. And when I think of unintrusive I do not think of Sen. Clinton whether it is true or not.