Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Barack Obama

'Obamacare' plaintiff Brown's bankruptcy: Instant karma?

Supreme Court in Washington
What do you call it when someone who is suing to overturn the healthcare reform law files for bankruptcy, listing $4,500 in unpaid medical bills?

Karma? Fate? A lucky break for President Obama?

Really, you can't make this stuff up. Here's what The Times' David Savage wrote Thursday:

Mary Brown, a 56-year-old Florida woman who owned a small auto repair shop but had no health insurance, became the lead plaintiff challenging President Obama's healthcare law because she was passionate about the issue.

Brown "doesn't have insurance. She doesn't want to pay for it. And she doesn't want the government to tell her she has to have it," said Karen Harned, a lawyer for the National Federation of Independent Business. Brown is a plaintiff in the federation's case, which the Supreme Court plans to hear later this month.

But court records reveal that Brown and her husband filed for bankruptcy last fall with $4,500 in unpaid medical bills.

Now, you might expect Brown to be a bit, well, chagrined at this turn of events.  But remember, as Savage wrote, she "was passionate about the issue."

And she apparently still is:

Brown, reached by telephone Thursday, said the medical bills were her husband's. "I always paid my bills, as well as my medical bills," she said angrily. "I never said medical insurance is not a necessity. It should be anyone's right to what kind of health insurance they have.

"I believe that anyone has unforeseen things that happen to them that are beyond their control," Brown said. "Who says I don't have insurance right now?"

Who says? Well, Mary, your lawyer for one. Remember: She "doesn't have insurance. She doesn't want to pay for it. And she doesn't want the government to tell her she has to have it."

Oh yeah, that.  Those lawyers, always running their mouths.  

And for that matter, Mary, those aren't your husband's medical bills, at least not anymore.  Now that you've filed for bankruptcy, they are probably our medical bills, aren't they? 

Although it's not as though Brown is totally anti-government: The couple's Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition said her income was $275 a month in unemployment benefits.

So perhaps she intends to put that toward what she owes: "$2,140 to Bay Medical Center in Panama City, $610 to Bay Medical Physicians, $835 to an eye doctor in Alabama and $900 to a specialist in Mississippi."

Or maybe, as the story says, there's that other way out:

"This is a very common problem. We cover $30 million in charity and uncompensated care every  year," said Christa Hild, a spokeswoman for the hospital center. "If it's a bad debt, we have to absorb it."

Although when the hospital center says "we," it means "us"  -- as in you and I, the ones who do pay for health insurance.  We absorb it, in higher premium costs.

It's called the free market, or "there's no free lunch."  (It's also why a single-payer system such as Medicare would've been a better option than the law we've got, but that's another post.)

But it's also why the "individual mandate" requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance was put into the law.

Why that is so hard for Brown and millions of other citizens to understand is beyond me. 

This isn't Charles Dickens' London: We don't have debtors' prisons.  If Brown and her fellow travelers have their way and the healthcare law is ruled unconstitutional, many others will take the risk "of unforeseen things that happen to them that are beyond their control." 

And if they get sick, and have medical bills they can't pay, then they won't pay.  And neither will the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus.

The rest of us will pay.

You see, Mary, the requirement that everyone buy health insurance isn't big bad government taking away your freedom.

It's just common sense.

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Jimmy Carter, shortchanged again

War on drugs' big catch -- 'Viagra man'

$3 billion in U.S. humanitarian aid buys little respect 

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: The U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear a challenge to the healthcare reform law. Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images

Limbaugh drowns out his own message about the pill

Sandra Fluke on The View
Rush Limbaugh has been trying for three days to apologize for calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" on air without retracting any of his criticism of Fluke's position on contraception. It's a fine line to walk, and he's not nimble enough to do it -- his apology and subsequent explanation did nothing to dispel the misogynistic and voyeuristic self-portrait his remarks about Fluke had painted.

So instead of actually illustrating the "absurdity" of Fluke's testimony, which he says was his intent, Limbaugh became the story. That's why Limbaugh should also apologize to critics of the Obama administration's mandate that insurers cover contraceptive drugs with no out-of-pocket costs. He's trampled all over their side of the issue.

Before going any further, let me acknowledge that I'm probably wasting my time here. Writing about a Limbaugh-related controversy is like writing about Derek Fisher's value to the Lakers or President Obama's birth records. Facts don't matter much, and no matter how persuasive my case might be, I'm not likely to change anybody's mind.

Nevertheless, Fluke's testimony cried out for a rebuttal, albeit a completely different one than Limbaugh delivered. Her basic argument is that birth control drugs are vital but expensive, and some students can't afford them. Therefore, Fluke says, insurance should pay for them.

If something is valuable to society but too expensive for some people to afford, the right way to respond (at least, in economic terms) is by offering subsidies only to lower-income people, and only for that specific thing. The approach being taken toward contraception -- requiring that it be included in insurance policies with no co-pays -- doesn't do that. It subsidizes contraception even for people who can easily afford it, at the expense of those who don't need or use contraceptives.

Supporters of mandatory coverage for contraceptives say that they save money in the long run by averting unwanted pregnancies and certain devastating health problems, such as the ovarian cysts that Fluke talked about in her testimony. Those benefits, however, are spread across the healthcare system. The costs aren't. Someone has to pay for the birth-control tablets, morning-after pills and other contraceptive services that will be provided for free to the insured.

As a result of the administration's new policy, that "someone" will be everyone who pays for coverage. Insurers will project the cost of the prescription contraceptives likely to be obtained by their customers, then recover that cost through their premiums, plus overhead and profit margin. The same will be true for all the preventive services that, according to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, must be provided with no out-of-pocket costs.

The hope is that, over time, these preventive services will slow the increase in healthcare costs and insurance premiums. That doesn't mean the services will be free. It means the initial cost will ultimately be recovered by reducing future price increases.

The Times' editorial board has argued repeatedly in favor of this approach, and it may be the most practical way to maximize the exposure to and benefits of preventive services. It's just not an efficient way to subsidize something that society wants people to have.

It's also worth remembering that health insurance is designed to protect people against the risk of large and unexpected medical costs. If insurers covered the routine cost of things that policyholders know they will need -- toothpaste, for example -- the resulting increase in premiums would probably be greater than the cost of people paying for that item or service themselves. That's because insurers mark up their costs before passing them on to consumers.

Unlike Limbaugh, I'm not suggesting that it's wrong for Fluke to want her fellow Americans to help income-strapped female law students afford contraceptives. I'm just saying that she seems to suffer the same misconception about insurance that most everyone else does. Providing coverage for something doesn't make it "free," and it's not the only way -- or necessarily the best one -- to achieve the intended result.

ALSO:

Blame it on the pill

Birth control: What do bosses get to decide about us?

Contraception spin battle: an attack on faith or women?

--Jon Healey

Photo: Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, left, appears Monday on ABC's "The View" to discuss her contretemps with Rush Limbaugh. Credit:  Lou Rocco / ABC/Associated Press

Mitt Romney, the pandering chicken hawk on Iran

Mitt Romney in Georgia on Sunday

So this is getting seriously stupid, all the campaign-season rhetoric about Iran.

First, President Obama, speaking Sunday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, says:

"I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power. A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort to impose crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

"Iran's leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment. I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I've made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests."

Sounds clear and tough-guy enough, right?

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

Well, apparently not to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who, The Times reported from Snellville, Ga., reacted to Obama's speech this way:

"If Barack Obama is reelected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change," Romney told a crowd of more than a 1,000 people at a pancake breakfast that his campaign hosted in this Atlanta suburb.

When an 11-year-old boy asked the candidate how he would keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, Romney said Obama had not imposed "crippling sanctions against Iran." "He's also failed to communicate that military options are on the table and in fact in our hand, and that it's unacceptable to America for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

"I will have those military options. I will take those crippling sanctions and put them into place," he said. "And I will speak out to the Iranian people of the peril of them becoming nuclear …. I'm not willing to allow your generation to have to worry about a threat from Iran or anyone else that nuclear material be used against Americans.”

Oh, and have some more pancakes, young fellow. I want you big and strong for when I send you off to war!

But seriously. Obama said all options were on the table -- and Romney still called him out. What is this, the second-grade playground?

C'mon, fellows, stop and think a minute. If you don't want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, does it make sense to keep bombarding it with threats of military action? I mean, I'm pretty sure they've got the picture by now. 

Do you really have to make a bunch of paranoid types more paranoid? Isn't this why Israel says it fears Iran -- because it has threatened to destroy Israel?

So how do all of these threats to attack Iran make it want the bomb less?

The bottom line: This is political gamesmanship at its worst. Romney and the GOP candidates court pro-Israel votes by taking an ultra-hard line on Iran. Which forces Obama to hew to a hard line as well.

But it's a very dangerous game. It could lead to war. It could get lots of people killed.

And yes, for me, it's personal too: I have two sons.One just turned 18, at which point you are -- yes, still -- required to sign up with the Selective Service System.

Frankly, I'm getting tired of hearing pandering politicians cast about for votes by offering up the lives of other people's kids in the name of national security.

Take Romney's sons: Did he offer them up as cannon fodder? Check out this New York Times story in 2007, the last time he ran, when he was asked about whether they had served in the military:

Mr. Romney expressed appreciation for the country's "volunteer army" and said "that's the way we're going to keep it." He explained his sons had made different career choices in life and had not chosen to serve in the military, but he mentioned a niece whose husband, he said, had just been called up by the National Guard ….

But he wound up his response with this: "It's remarkable how we can show our support for our nation, and one of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping to get me elected, because they think I’d be a great president. My son, Josh, bought the family Winnebago and has visited 99 counties, most of them with his three kids and his wife. And I respect that and respect all of those in the way they serve this great country."

Yes, well, Mitt, the campaign trail is a rugged place, that's for sure, especially in a Winnebago.

But ask the fathers and mothers and husbands and wives of the thousands of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan about real war.

And then, just maybe, you -- and, frankly, Obama too -- might decide to take your finger off the trigger.

And quit playing politics with the lives of American kids.

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Afghanistan on edge

Staying out of Syria's conflict

Move over, Egypt, Iraq and Syria 

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Mitt Romney speaks Sunday at a pancake breakfast at Brookwood High School in Snellville, Ga., outside Atlanta. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Contraception spin battle -- an attack on faith or women?

Birth control
Democrats like to point out the broad public support for many elements of the healthcare reform law they pushed through Congress in 2010. But polls also show that most people reject the law -- better known as "Obamacare" -- as a whole despite their appreciation for most of its key features. That's because opponents won the fight over how the complex measure would be perceived. In other words, the Republicans' spin -- "it's a government takeover of healthcare" -- was better than the Democrats' spin.

Now, the two parties are fighting over how one portion of the law will be implemented, and the battle over spin has been joined again. There's broad public support for the law's mandate that insurers cover preventive care with no deductibles or co-pays. But the Obama administration triggered a fierce fight with the Roman Catholic Church when it declared that contraceptives were a form of preventive care that had to be provided at no cost to policyholders.

At first I thought the GOP had this issue nailed. The Republicans had a powerful and succinct message: Requiring church-affiliated employers, such as Catholic hospitals, to provide free contraceptives was an attack on religious liberty. President Obama tried to defuse the controversy by exempting churches from having to pay for contraceptive coverage -- the bill will be picked up instead by insurers -- but that's no help for large Catholic employers that self-insure.

As is customary for politicians, however, Republicans weakened their message by offering a counterproposal with problems of its own. The amendment that Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) offered to a highway construction bill Thursday would have let any employer drop any coverage that didn't comport to his or her religious or moral beliefs.

The Blunt amendment, which was narrowly defeated, opened the door to an effective counter-spin by Democrats. Political consultant Doug Schoen lays it out in Forbes: Republicans weren't just trying to free churches from having to provide coverage for the morning-after pill; they were giving every boss the opportunity to drop coverage for contraception. One can imagine the 30-second spots now, played during daytime TV and on female-leaning cable channels: "Republicans want employers to deny coverage for birth control pills, but they have no qualms about insurers covering Viagra!"

What do you think? Offer your own spin in the comments section below.

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A message to 'Obamacare' haters

Birth control: What do bosses get to decide about us?

-- Jon Healey

Photo illustration by Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

With rivals in Michigan, Obama defends his Detroit bailout

President Barack Obama at the UAW legislative conference in Feb 2012
All four Republican presidential candidates opposed the federal bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler, and none of them shrank from that position as they campaigned for autoworker votes in Michigan. In fact, Mitt Romney reiterated the position he took in a 2008 op-ed that Washington should have "let Detroit go bankrupt."

On Tuesday, as Michigan voters went to cast ballots in their GOP primary, President Obama went to a conference for auto union activists to defend those bailouts. Naturally, he portrayed them as an unqualified success, with 200,000 new jobs created by revived companies producing better cars.

The direct cost to the U.S. Treasury is measurable, so at some point we'll know how many billions of dollars it cost to shepherd GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy. But we'll never know what costs the bailouts avoided. Obama's argument hinges on the hypothesis that those costs would have been very, very high. But it's just a belief -- one that we'll never be able to prove or disprove.

Here's an excerpt from Obama's speech:

A few years ago, nearly 1 in 5 autoworkers were handed a pink slip -- 1 in 5.  Four hundred thousand jobs across this industry vanished the year before I took office.  And then as the financial crisis hit with its full force, America faced a hard and once unimaginable reality, that two of the Big 3 automakers  -- GM and Chrysler -- were on the brink of liquidation.

The heartbeat of American manufacturing was flat-lining, and we had to make a choice.  With the economy in complete free fall, there were no private investors or companies out there willing to take a chance on the auto industry.  Nobody was lining up to give you guys loans.  Anyone in the financial sector can tell you that....

Think about what that choice would have meant for this country, if we had turned our backs on you, if America had thrown in the towel, if GM and Chrysler had gone under.  The suppliers, the distributors that get their business from these companies, they would have died off.  Then even Ford could have gone down as well.  Production shut down.  Factories shuttered.  Once-proud companies chopped up and sold off for scraps.  And all of you, the men and women who built these companies with your own hands, would have been hung out to dry.

More than 1 million Americans across the country would have lost their jobs in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  In communities across the Midwest, it would have been another Great Depression.  And then think about all the people who depend on you.  Not just your families but the schoolteachers, the small-business owners, the server in the diner who knows your order, the bartender who's waiting for you to get off. 

GOP candidates would dispute at least two fundamental points that Obama made. First is the assertion that no private lender would provide the loans needed to keep GM and Chrysler going while they were being reorganized in bankruptcy. Romney argued in 2008 that the companies could reorganize without the government's help, and that position has been echoed by many other Republicans ever since.

Given what was happening at the time, their argument seems more than a little quixotic. Even healthy companies were having trouble getting loans, and weak ones were being cut off routinely from new funding sources. If they couldn't generate a cash flow in bankruptcy, they went into liquidation.

The second point in dispute is that allowing GM and Chrysler to liquidate would have been devastating to the auto industry as a whole, causing a vicious cycle of shutdowns among parts suppliers and other carmakers. Some conservatives contend that if the two giants had failed, their most productive units, technologies and workers would have been snapped up by healthy manufacturers and put to more efficient use. That would have been better in the long run for U.S. manufacturing than keeping those assets within large, weak companies.

On both of these issues, though, the real question is how much risk the president should have been willing to take. Given how much trouble the economy was in and how many jobs were at stake in the auto industry, doing nothing for GM and Chrysler would have been an epic roll of the dice. Would private lenders provide the loans needed to keep the two companies, which had burned through all their cash and were losing money daily, going while they were crafting a plan to shed debt and slash labor costs? And if not, would the rest of the industry be able to withstand the impact of one or both of those companies' factories shutting down and their inventories being sold off at deep discounts?

Yes, bailing out the automakers was risky for taxpayers, who probably won't recover all of the billions of dollars they invested in the companies, and for Obama, who has to defend the rescue (and in particular, the seemingly favorable treatment that union creditors received in the process). Those risks pale in comparison, though, to the worst-case scenario that Obama faced in early 2009.

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It's class warfare, by Gens. Romney and Santorum

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Maine's Olympia Snowe decries partisanship -- when it suits her

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

-- Jon Healey

Photo: President Obama joins UAW President Bob King at the union's legislative conference in Washington on Tuesday. Credit:  Susan Walsh / Associated Press

It's class warfare, by Gens. Santorum and Romney

Rick Santorum in Hixson, Tenn.

Looks like the Republicans were right on target with their charges about class warfare. Only thing is, they missed the mark on who's engaging in it --  it's not President Obama but Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

Santorum, campaigning in Michigan, is portraying himself as a fighter for working-class men and women against the "elites in society who think that they can manage your life better than you can."

Ouch -- that would be Romney, not Obama, he's talking about. You know, as in "upper-class Mitt."

Santorum also threw out this class warfare classic at a campaign stop over the weekend, The Times reported:

He criticized the tax plan Romney laid out earlier in the week that would reduce all income tax rates by 20%, noting that Romney said he would make the plan revenue-neutral by limiting mortgage and charitable deductions for the "top 1%."

"Hmmm, where have I heard that before?" Santorum said. "We have a Republican running for president who's campaigning as an Occupy Wall Streeter."

Now wait just a cotton pickin' minute, said Romney -- he of the political and financial golden spoons:

Romney defended his wealth -- and by implication the wealthy -- during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday."

"If people think that there is something wrong with being successful in America, then they better vote for the other guy," he said. "Because I've been extraordinarily successful and I want to use that success and that know-how to help the American people."

But Santorum seems in no hurry to silence the class-warfare guns. In fact, he's been so eager to tout his working-class roots that he’s even, uh, embellished a bit, The Times reported Monday:

"I don't come from the elite. My grandfather was a coal miner. I grew up in public housing on a VA grounds. I worked my way to the success that I had, and I'm proud of it," Santorum said Saturday in Troy, before a working-class audience gathered in the county where Romney enjoyed a privileged upbringing. Santorum didn't elaborate, but his family wasn't poor; his father, a psychologist, and his mother, a nurse, worked for the Veterans Administration -- now the Department of Veterans Affairs -- which provided them with an apartment.

Of course, it's not as if Romney isn't doing a pretty good job of shooting himself in the foot in the class warfare battle, as when he recently told a business audience in Detroit that his wife drives "a couple of Cadillacs."  (Those would be cars built by the company that Romney famously didn't want bailed out, but those nits certainly will be picked by Obama, if not Santorum.)

Still, Romney did have a classic comeback to his rival at a stop over the weekend in Troy, Mich:

"I can attest for my conservative credentials by quoting someone who endorsed me in my 2008 campaign: Sen. Santorum," Romney told the crowd, before noting that Santorum praised him on the Laura Ingraham show four years ago as "a guy who is really conservative and who we can trust."

As they say in politics: Touche!

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The greening of faith

Santorum's true fiscal failures

How about Santorum vs. Obama, winner take all?

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Rick Santorum campaigns at a tea party town hall meeting in Hixson, Tenn. Credit: John Amis / Associated Press

Rihanna needs to explain

Rihanna

There could be a dozen reasons why the music stars Chris Brown and Rihanna have collaborated on vocals on two new songs (as they let the world know earlier this week) three years after he brutally beat her in the face on the eve of the Grammys. Here are some possibilities: They’ve both had counseling and have forged a new and wiser friendship; each felt the other was the only singer who could complement their music; they have cynically calculated that the publicity and curiosity generated by their teaming up would make sales skyrocket…

The specific reasons matter less than the mere fact that Rihanna agreed to sing with her former boyfriend Chris Brown, who is still serving a  five-year probation term for what he did to her. 

Most important is that Rihanna address her decision to collaborate with Brown.  Victims forgive their assailants all the time, that’s fine.   What happened here was not a spat, it was an assault.  And for better or worse it played out on a very public stage — the photos of her face after the beating, the video of Brown in court. 

Someone as young as Rihanna (who just turned 24; Brown is 22) with a huge fan base,  should offer a public explanation for why she would permit a man who assaulted her to now sing alongside her.  Rihanna is a successful and talented musician with a substantial amount of control over her career choices.  This is not a woman with limited skills and opportunities who is compelled to take work with a man who beat her.

Dating violence is a troubling national issue. “In a 12-month period, one in 10 high school students nationwide reported they were physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend,” said President Obama in his White House proclamation declaring February 2012 National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.

Rihanna may consider it onerous to have to answer for her actions, but as a public figure, and a role model to a certain extent, whose fans include many young women and girls, she should tell us all why Brown now deserves the respect that she has bestowed upon him by working with him.  

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Why Chris Brown is no role model

Grammy Awards shouldn't have celebrated Chris Brown

What's really wrong with Chris Brown's Grammy performance

-- Carla Hall

Photo: Rihanna performing at the Grammys at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 12. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

Which political force is more powerful: gas prices or optimism?

Pump prices
The 2012 presidential election is shaping up to be a race between consumer confidence and gas prices.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Survey of Consumers reported Friday the sixth straight monthly improvement in public sentiment. According to my colleague Jim Puzzanghera in Washington,  optimism about the U.S. economy increased despite survey respondents' sense that their own prospects wouldn't improve this year.

That's a fascinating divergence, suggesting that people are expecting a modest economic recovery instead of a dramatic turnaround.

Against that backdrop, Republican presidential candidates in general and Newt Gingrich in particular have been harping on the high cost of gasoline. No question, prices at the pump are sharply higher today than they were when President Obama took office. But one of the main factors, as The Times' Mike Memoli points out, is the improvement in the global economy -- something Republicans would hardly attribute to Obama's stewardship.

Nevertheless, there's a sharp difference between the GOP and Obama on energy policy, so the Republicans' message about gas prices could resonate with voters. How much they care, though, would seem to depend on how insecure they feel about the future. Rising gas prices are debilitating in bad times but more of an annoyance in good ones.

Therein lies one of the real disadvantages for candidates challenging an incumbent. The essential message of challengers -- "I can do a better job than my opponent has done" -- is based on a fundamentally unhappy premise that things are not good in the world. Or rather, they're based on the fundamentally pessimistic premise that things aren't good and they're getting worse. Voters will stick with incumbents even in bad times when indicators are heading in the right direction.

Granted, candidates can build an up-tempo message on top of that downbeat base. Ronald Reagan's campaign in 1980 is the textbook example, combining sharp criticism of President Carter's leadership with a confident outlook. That's probably why Gingrich, when asked at this week's debate to describe himself in one word, said "Cheerful."

But such a message works best when people don't have to be told how bad off they are. That's a perspective they don't really want to hear. A candidate who has to convince them that the world is going to hell in a handbasket is going to have a much tougher slog than one who can say the worst times are behind us. That's another lesson from Reagan, who faced a higher unemployment rate in 1984 than in his 1980 campaign. He won by focusing attention on the encouraging trends -- "It's morning again in America" --  not the facts of the moment.

For the gas-price issue to be really effective, Republicans have to convince voters that times are bad and not getting better. Right now, the consumer confidence numbers show that a growing number of people don't see things that way.

There's a lot of time left between now and the election, of course. But Republicans are in the awkward position of hoping that the pain at the pump will become unbearable.

By the way, The Times' editorial board noted Thursday that the GOP candidates' favorite solution to higher gas prices -- expanding domestic oil exploration and production -- wouldn't produce a gallon of gas for a decade or more. Obama, at least, can say he helped put more people into more fuel-efficient cars now through large tax credits for newly purchased hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles. And thanks to the increased fuel economy standards his administration pushed automakers to accept, far more high-MPG vehicles will be on the road in the coming years -- long before any new U.S. wells produce their first drums of crude.

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What to do about $4 gas

Killing a teenager's laptop, loudly

Santorum may have lost debate, but he won the point about politics

-- Jon Healey

Credit:  Alex Brandon / Associated Press

How about Santorum vs. Obama, winner take all?

The liberal-conservative divide
America, it's time for a little presidential poker. Republicans and Democrats need to go "all in" on Rick Santorum vs. President Obama.

Yep, it's "put up or shut up" time for all you political Texas hold 'em folks out there.

Now, the Obama bet you probably understand. After all, he's the incumbent, and he's running unopposed in the Democratic Party.

But why Santorum? After all, he's not only anathema to Democrats, it's not clear whether most Republicans favor him over Mitt Romney (not to mention Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul).

For the good of the country, though, the GOP needs to run Santorum.

Wait, wait, hold the comments, angry or otherwise. I didn't say "Santorum would be good for the country."  If you're asking me personally, well, it's a secret ballot, but no, I wouldn't put my ink spot next to "Rick Santorum."

But I'm also sick and tired of the partisan divide. It's time to call everyone's bluff.

Conservatives maintain that Obama and the Democrats are destroying the country; that we need to return to Christian values, to exceptionalism, to less government, less regulation, less spending and less taxation.

Sure, Romney touts all that too.  But he just wants the Republican nomination. With that secured, he'll pivot to the center, and pretty soon you'll never know he said half the stuff he did to get the GOP nod. With an Obama-Romney clash, should Romney lose, plenty of Republicans would complain that he wasn't a true-enough conservative.

Santorum, on the other hand, is nothing if not a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. He might pivot to the center too, but he's so far right that he can't even see the center at this point. With an Obama-Santorum battle, we'd be able to settle the liberal vs. conservative debate that's stifling government. 

And here's where the "all in" part happens.

If Santorum wins, liberals should acknowledge that the country is on the wrong path. America doesn't want gay marriage, or legal abortion, or government healthcare, or environmental protections. It wants to slash the size of government and reduce or eliminate entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. It wants religion back in public life; it wants the government out of schools. It wants to spend big on defense; it wants to back Israel no matter what. 

However, if Obama wins, all those conservative Republicans would have to acknowledge that they were wrong. That they're not America's voice. That America is OK with gay marriage and a woman's right to choose; it wants affordable healthcare for all, and a safety net that includes Medicare and Social Security.  It agrees with the separation of church and state and believes that while generating good-paying jobs is important, so is protecting the environment. It doesn't want a 1% and a 99% but a 100% that favors social and economic justice for all.

So after election day, that's it. Someone rakes in all the chips. 

If it's Santorum, then Republicans in Congress, the tea partyers and the Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck/Sean Hannity crowd can crow all the way to the inauguration and beyond.

But if it's Obama, those same folks need to face reality. They need to stop the scorched-earth warfare and let him lead.

And we can go back to the old days, when elections mattered.

Did someone say "deal"?

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The Dow is climbing! The Dow is climbing!

Issa's House hearings on contraception: Where were the women?

Presidential giants of our generation, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton

 --Paul Whitefield

Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times

Honest Abe, cool superhero -- just spare us the Spandex suit

LincolnFaster than a speeding bullet? No, better not use that one (remember Ford’s Theater).

More powerful than a locomotive? The steamers of his day, maybe.

Able to leap tall buildings? He WAS extremely tall, and had a very long stride.

Hang up the cape, pretty-boy Superman. Go hang in a cave, rich-boy Batman. Honest Abe is commanding the superhero scene.

Presidents Day is officially about George Washington, but to most Americans' way of thinking, it honors both Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Was Spider-man Day ever a holiday, hmmm? I think not.

The Times’ "Hero Complex" has a bit written by the author of a forthcoming novel, "Red White and Blood," with Abe offering advice from the grave to save the present-day president.

He’ll be the subject of two films this year -- one based on the Seth Grahame-Smith novel that makes him out as a vampire slayer (remember that rail-splitter’s axe? It wasn’t just good for rails), and the other a Spielberg homage starring Daniel-Day Lewis. I predict a brief tizzy of indignation on Fox because Lewis was born in London.

Just about anyone can act Lincoln, and has, starting with kindergartners in construction-paper stovepipe hats and acrylic beards. Everyone wants a piece of Lincoln. He was the first Republican president, from the anti-slavery party, opposed by pro-slavery southern Democrats. He also supported the union rather than states’ secession rights.  In the middle of the Civil War, he endorsed the transcontinental railway with government bonds and land (you have to wonder whether such a transportation project would have been embraced by present-day Republicans; high-speed rail, anyone?).

Like the union he saved, he belongs to everyone. Kentucky, the state where he was born, claims him. Illinois, his political cradle, claims him. Some gay groups argue that he was gay. His face is on the most common coin of this nation’s making, carried in a million pockets and dropped into a thousand Starbucks tip boxes every day.

And President Obama, another man sent to Washington from Illinois, put Lincoln’s bust in the Oval Office. The Lincoln books just keep piling up.

Lincoln justly ranks as the best or second-best president, ever. He is at least as great as Washington -- unquestionably a better writer, and I believe his teeth were all his own.

There’s much more super-hero material to Lincoln than to Washington, in part because Lincoln was so real. He told jokes, sweated in the fields, made fun of himself, wept and worked his way through war and the deaths of his children. The backstory, as they say in Hollywood, is Carl Sandberg meets Stan Lee. George Washington, on the other hand, was so intimidating, so august and irreproachable that even his fellow Founding Fathers all but tugged their forelocks around him. Parson Weems made up that "I-cut-down-the-cherry-tree" story out of whole cloth to humanize the Olympian Washington. We admire Washington, but we love Lincoln.

So I am enchanted with a Lincoln super-surge, just so long as the man himself -- his melancholy, his insights, his complexities, his nuanced and pragmatic politics, and the character that saved this nation with wisdom and patience and perseverance, not muscle-power -- doesn’t  get lost in a simplistic telling of him.

I ask you, graphic book guys, don't inflict on me the sight of a shirtless Abe with six-pack abs, delivering a version of one of his renowned speeches, yowling "A house divided against itself cannot stand -- RRRRRGGGHHH!" as, with his bare hands, he pulls the Mason-Dixon line back into line.

ALSO:

Goldberg: Mr. Right eludes the GOP

Santorum's theology of the outrageous

Presidential giants of our generation, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton

-- Patt Morrison 

Photo: Abraham Lincoln. Credit: HO/AFP/Getty Images

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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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