by Victor Davis Hanson
NRO’s The Corner
Speeding Over the Cliff
It is quite amazing to watch Obama invoke God, call a joint session of Congress, go tit-for-tat with the town-hall movement, and reprogram daily the presidential message over the healthcare initiative — all in the midst of a recession. The problem is that right now 85% are not upset with their healthcare coverage, and feel that modifications, not a trillion-dollar reinvention, can address the uninsured, while 100% are paranoid about the economy, mega-deficits, and a shot dollar.
Cannot some staffer take the president aside and simply say, “If you just cool it for a bit, and curb lunatic new spending, the economy will go into its natural cycle of recovery, and you can take credit early next year for the rebound, then find some bipartisan project, and hope and change your way back up”?
The parallels to Clinton 1993–1994 are eerie. He misinterpreted unhappiness over a recession, a Bush aloofness and broken pledge on taxes, and the siphoning of votes by Ross Perot into some sort of hard-left mandate that included, inter alia, nationalized healthcare. Then came the 1994 push-back. But Clinton and his advisors were astute enough to reinvent themselves in the late autumn 1994, and by 1997 he was reelected, taking credit for a surging economy and enjoying 60%+ ratings.
Illegals and Health Insurance — Not So Simple . . .
In all the controversy about the proposed new health plan and its extension to illegal aliens, one question is never raised: Why haven’t illegal aliens, many of them employed, young, and healthy, simply bought private catastrophic plans — and are they presently really uninsured?
The presumption is that poverty precludes purchase of a plan. But $50 billion in remittances go to Latin America and Mexico, at least at the peak in 2007. In my hometown, cell phones and nice cars are evident at the emergency-room environs, as I can attest from a few visits for a broken arm among other things.
In other words, the choice not to buy hospitalization insurance in many cases is one of discretionary spending: Someone decides to buy a cell phone, or send $400 a month back to Mexico rather than buy into something like a catastrophic plan from Kaiser for $300 a month, because 1) he is young and relatively healthy; 2) there is usually a federal or rural state health clinic around that gives free routine care (many here in the central valley), or an emergency room that offers free emergency and catastrophic care; 3) a decision is made to save money from buying such insurance in order to divert it to relatives in Mexico on the expectation that others in the United States (many of them lower-middle class taxpayers) will make up the difference and subsidize free healthcare for illegal aliens if the need arises.
Before we get into an acrimonious debate over the ethics of extending healthcare to a new constituency, we should understand that the ethical question cuts both ways, and that millions illegally here have already made a deliberate decision to subsidize millions in Latin America and Mexico (to the great relief of their governments) on the presumption that they in turn will be subsidized by millions of taxpayers here. I am not sure it is such a moral thing for an elderly person to worry about Medicare cutbacks so that funds could be diverted to extend healthcare coverage to younger illegal aliens, so that they in turn can continue to send billions home. Even stranger, to a large extent that is already happening: We talk about the “uninsured,” but almost daily in Central California, a car accident or an act of violence or a work-related injury sends a Mexican national without documentation to the emergency room — and hundreds of thousands of dollars of necessary, but free, catastrophic care to be picked up by the taxpayer.
Obama Could Learn from Bush
There are eerie similarities between Obama’s present crusade to alter healthcare and Bush’s 2005 effort to change Social Security through the introduction of private accounts. Just as Joe Wilson heckled Obama, so too Democrats booed Bush during his 2005 “State of the Union” address. Bush felt his re-election would translate into grassroots support for Social Security reform. But the problem then was that most Americans were more or less happy with the system, and did not believe that those over 55 were fully exempt from the proposed changes, or that private investments were superior to government-guaranteed returns. They knew there were problems with Social Security’s actuarial tables, but felt that modification, rather than wholesale reinvention, was the proper cure.
The Bush effort failed, and Obama should learn from it: He should remember that most Americans like their health-insurance coverage precisely because it gives them access to the best care in the world (especially when it comes to treatment for cancer and heart problems) and can be improved to extend coverage to the uninsured without radical reinvention.
Most likely, even as he continues to spout hope-and-change, this-is-our-moment rhetoric, Obama will discover the parameters of governance that all presidents — even the most messianic — must operate within.
Obama’s Mad Dash Continues
Obama’s problem is more fundamental than his health-care mess. He campaigned on a no more red state/blue state, white/black, rich/poor polarity, and offered a sort of transcendence that was used to make up for his prior dubious relationships with the likes of Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers.
When governing, his supporters liked to think that he would have to rein in extremists like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to gravitate to the center and work in “bipartisan fashion.” But that was never in the cards. The problem is that beneath Obama’s hope-and-change veneer, his past legislative and vocal record (cf. his Senate partisanship, his statements in his memoirs, his spread-the-wealth, clingers, typical-white-person gaffes, his talk of single-payer healthcare and reparations, etc) were hard left, left even of Pelosi and Reid. The Van Jones appointment was logical, not an aberration. So to save his presidency, since the hope-and-change hocus-pocus has become old and trite, Obama would have to become an un-Obama, and do a 1995 Clinton switcheroo.
We have elected the most left-wing president in our history, apparently to many an unappreciated fact given the Bush unpopularity, the wars, the so-so McCain candidacy, and the September 2008 meltdown, but one that now, through a variety of minor and major incidents (from the apologies abroad and the cap-and-trade zealotry to the Gates incident to Van Jones), is being revealed to the American people — and they are not comfortable with it.
His supporters can charge “racism” or go back to the “this is our moment” tropes, or try to reexamine the crazies more carefully before appointing them, but the problem remains that the Obama worldview, one that he embraced at an early age and deliberately sought to enhance through his education and work in Chicago, is simply not one that most Americans feel comfortable with.
So we are in a race — will a majority of the American people wake up from their past anger at Bush and subsequent hypnotism by Obama before he pushes through and institutionalizes an agenda to the left of what we see in Europe?
The coming months should be interesting.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson