by Victor Davis Hanson
NRO’s The Corner
The strangest thing about Obama’s gargantuan, trillion-dollar-plus new healthcare entitlement is the timing.
Not only are we running $1.7 trillion annual deficits and scheduled to nearly double the $11 trillion debt in only eight years — and watching the logical end to an entitlement state in Greece’s implosion — but we are witnessing the meltdown of almost every government-run program imaginable: Medicare is broke; the Postal Service is insolvent and cutting back Saturday service (but probably not a commensurate one-sixth of their budget); and now Social Security spends more than it takes in.
So is this frenzied effort to expand government, widen entitlements, raise taxes, and borrow more money some sort of nihilistic urge to achieve a universal, cradle-to-grave, redistributionist entitlement state at about the same time the entire system goes bankrupt?
Constant campaigning, photo-ops, fluff interviews, adulatory essays in the corrupt media — all this can give a one or two point plus in the polls. But the reasons the bumps are transitory and followed by net losses after a week or two is that the public now realizes we are broke. When Obama announces yet another give-away or entitlement, the public equates that with spending more money we have just borrowed, and suspects that this can no more go on than can the spree of the giddy shopper who maxes out a dozen credit cards, oozing wealth and confidence, before the tab comes in and financial destruction follows.
Marching to Nowhere Fast
The Obama administration is in a bit of a quandary.
On the one hand, it has found in the healthcare legislation a paradigm of how to pass a bill that polls below 50 percent, authored by a Congress that polls below 30 percent and championed by a President that polls below 50 percent, without a single vote from the opposition: legislative gymnastics; picking up reluctant Democratic votes with promises of financial largess, executive orders, or personal perks; galvanizing a compliant media to champion the “success” and “momentum” of the president; and ridiculing as racist those who oppose the bill, comparing them to opponents of the landmark civil-rights bills of the 1960s.
In theory, energy and immigration bills could be cast in the same light and rammed through with the same procedure, perhaps even in the Senate. But on the other hand, it is hard to see the president’s polls improving enough to prevent an implosion in November. Even apparent legislative success brings no lasting political rewards, since the majority of voters will resist things like cap-and-trade and amnesty even more than they did healthcare. The more Obama advances out on the plank, the more his supporters applaud his progress, the more the frail board will start to bend, crack, and break.
The point when liberal Democrats most applaud his momentum and progress will probably be the same moment when things implode — sort of like the proverbial army that rushes headlong well beyond its base of support, emboldened by a sense of progress, unaware that each step forward is further isolating it and winning it a host of new vulnerabilities.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson