by Victor Davis Hanson
President Obama has crossed the Rubicon with the healthcare vote. The bill was not really about medicine; after all, a moderately priced, relatively small federal program could offer the poorer not now insured, presently not on Medicare or state programs like Medicaid or Medical, a basic medical plan.
We have no interest in stopping trial lawyers from milking the system for billions. And we don’t want to address in any meaningful way the individual’s responsibility in some cases (drink, drugs, violence, dangerous sex, bad diet, sloth, etc.) for costly and chronic health procedures.
No, instead, the bill was about assuming a massive portion of the private sector, hiring tens of thousands of loyal, compliant new employees, staffing new departments with new technocrats, and feeling wonderful that we “are leveling the playing field” and have achieved another Civil Rights landmark law. (NB: do the math: add higher state income taxes in most states; the new Clinton-era federal income tax rates to come; the proposed lifting of limits on income exposed to FICA taxes; and now new healthcare charges — and I think you can reach in some cases a bite of 65%to 70% of one’s income.)
So we are in revolutionary times in which the government will grow to assume everything from energy use to student loans, while abroad we are a revolutionary sort of power, eager to mend fences with Syria and Iran, more eager still to distance ourselves from old Western allies like Israel and Britain.
There won’t be any more soaring rhetoric from Obama about purple-state America, “reaching across the aisle,” or healing our wounds. That was so 2008. Instead, we are in the most partisan age since Vietnam, ushered into it by the self-acclaimed “non-partisan.” But how could it be anything else?
Partisanship All the Time, Everywhere
No, Obama has thrown down the gauntlet, and is trying to reify the sloganeering of the 1960s. He apparently reasons along the following lines: that centrist talk was campaign fluff; the voters fell for it, and now it’s his turn to remake America with 51% of the House and 44% of the people. Think Sweden, or, better, Greece as our model at home, and something like America as Brazil in matters of foreign policy. Apparently, Obama figures that people now may not like the present partisanship, but they didn’t like FDR at the time either. Yet whom do they associate their Social Security checks with? Hoover? Coolidge? Harding?
I don’t see why the ram-it-through, healthcare formula won’t be followed by similar strategies for blanket amnesty, cap and trade, and expansions of the state takeover of cars, banks, student loans, and energy.
Remember, all these will be packaged as “comprehensive” reform — comprehensive healthcare, comprehensive immigration, comprehensive energy, comprehensive monitoring of even the banal decisions we make. So what does comprehensive really mean, other than all of us are going to get even more official looking letters in the mail, advising us to fill out a form, pay a fine, and be warned that a new regulation or tax is on the way — followed by the usual state/federal representative’s newsletter bragging about some new entitlement that he “won” for us with our borrowed money?
The Logic of Statism
I expect a lot of the following in the next three years.
1) Them!: More Obama soaring speeches about some “historic” crisis that needs “comprehensive” solutions (e.g., more of “this is our moment” banalities). Those introductions will be followed by alternate praise of some heroic individual who lost her healthcare, struggled to unionize, breathed some sooty air, was deported while cooking the evening meal, etc. These gripping narratives will be mixed in with ‘Them!’ demagoguery (e.g., the healthcare industry, the big corporations, the polluters, the nativists and racists — all of “Them” are standing in the way of hope and change, and, together, yes, we can! defeat them. Oh yes, there is going to being even more sermonizing, and shriller human interest portraits about “Them” smashing poor five-year-old Billy Jones from Topeka who flew up to DC to find Harry Reid for “help”; or “Them” denying Herlinda Lopez from Fresno her college dreams, who then wrote a letter pleading to Michelle for assistance; or “Them” absolutely crushing the mother of Bobby Smith for no other reason than sheer greed, who then took the Greyhound to Nancy Pelosi’s office!
2) The Fedopus has far more than eight tentacles: More letters in the mail from more state and federal bureaucracies (both broke, and searching for billions of dollars for millions of workers who need to be paid). The official looking stationary letters will be advising us that there is a new fee, surcharge, rule, regulation, etc. — mostly in the context that we have already in some way violated something. (Expect in such writs to see your name misspelled, your address garbled, one letter canceling out the one of the prior month, and semi-threatening language demanding compliance. [Don’t dare call the government number since the U.S. can’t hire more competent answerers from India]). This last month, to name a few, I got IRS friendly reminders, State Board of Equalization new rules, federal agricultural surveys, county assessment questionnaires, and the Census. All in all, about 12 official letters came, and I expect more this month. (My favorites are all the county, state, and federal agricultural questionnaires that usually have a warning like, “Do not write ‘no change from last year!’”—meaning that, even though your vineyard hasn’t gone anywhere in the last twelve months, you must go through a zillion questions, marking “No” to things like “Do you have a billboard on your property?” or “Do you raise gaming horses?”
3) More Cynicism: The more Obama talks about the greedy and selfish in society who “take” from others, the more the public will understand that they are in fact the greedy in these crosshairs. Costly health problems that originate with obesity, smoking, alcoholism, unsafe sex, violence, law-breaking, etc. are really due to lack of scheduled office visits. One missed colonoscopy — not 50 extra pounds or 1000 Big Macs over the years — causes cancer. People always ache due to a dearth of medical advisors and outreach counselors — or the diet and prescription drugs pushed on the victim by the profit-mongering corporation. In other words, the old days of a kindly, but tiny government politely advising us about what not to do have now transmogrified into a brave new world in which there is no individual. Instead, there exists only collective responsibility — a creed that assumes those in rehab or on parole or fighting weight-induced diabetes were victims of a system in which those who did not engage in that sort of behavior were culpable in some way and should pony up. Best of all, the system assumes we are greedy, cruel, and selfish for writing things like the above.
4) Pelosism: In our brave new world, expect more of the lurid stories about the secretary of the Treasury not paying his FICA taxes. The multimillionaire Madame Speaker will spend more of the state’s millions on private jet travel as she lectures on carbon footprints and a culture of corruption. We will hear more about the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee hiding his income, or a member of the House Rules Committee bragging that, given the historic importance of healthcare, they are just making up the rules as they go along — and proud of it. Our guardian class has become the new French aristocracy at Versailles. They will rail about Citation jets for the CEO, and then fly federally-owned Gulfstreams; they will put us in Smart cars but limo in Yukons and Tahoes on “official business.” Our lifestyles will be as monitored as much as those who do the monitoring will not be at all.
5) Greedy and Not-So-Greedy Capitalists: And there are “bad” and “not so bad” capitalists too. The CEOs for GM are trying to help America out with green designs and fair wages — so unlike those at Ford and Toyota. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are the model execs, quite unlike the yokels who run Caterpillar and whine about healthcare. George Soros is not really a money speculator that ruins banks, but a transferer of capital to progressive causes. In every statist society, large corporations either resist or join. For the latter, the machinery of government reinvents them as part of the solution rather than the problem — in the way that Al Gore really doesn’t really guzzle electricity, or John Edwards never really lived in a mansion. The transition to a Ministry of Industry requires a Ministry of Truth. With the Obama media we are already half there.
6) The Race/Class/Gender Cult: This federal caring creed trumps all religion. We will hear thousands of homophobic, racist, sexist anecdotes (but not those from a Ruth Ginsberg, or Harry Reid, or Joe Biden) that remind us why the government must enforce diversity set-asides and affirmative actions, and fund new sociological studies proving why group X hates group Y, and why government bureau Z is fighting X on behalf of Y for all our benefit. We are in perpetual war with perpetual ologies and –isms and we need far more Van Joneses to win them!
I understand the reasoning behind Obamism and am familiar with the feel-good, this-is-our-moment rhetoric of egalitarianism. But please at least spare us the fictions and simply be honest: Obama wants a state-run America, somewhere to the left of France or Denmark, a United States unexceptional and merely one of many nations at the UN. This vision follows an existing, decades-long encroachment of government. And it requires all sorts of highly credentialed overseers monitoring and at times justifiably attacking the upper middle class for its deplorable treatment of those below it.
This new America is ultimately predicated on the notion that we were born equal and must die absolutely equal as well. And this is entirely within our grasp, if we just understand that individual responsibility, talent, natural endowment, chance, merit, luck, tragedy, and a dozen other variables far too complex for government to imagine, much less solve, in fact, are not the real obstacles to ensuring equality.
Instead, it is simpler than that: greed, selfishness, racism, sexism, classism, and not niceness on the part of a few really are the culprits. Thank God that a few rare souls like Obama fathom that. And thank God, again, that it will take a singular humanitarian and genius like Obama to make us denser folks see it and do something about it.
That’s about where we are.
Subscript: Do Democrats realize that we really have crossed the Rubicon? In the future when the Republicans gain majorities (and they will), the liberalmodus operandi will be the model — bare 51% majorities, reconciliation, the nuclear option, talk of deem and pass, not a single Democrat vote — all ends justifying the means in order to radically restructure vast swaths of American economic and social life. Is someone unhinged at the DNC? They just blew up any shred of bipartisan consensus when their President polls below 50%, the Democratically-controlled Congress below 20%, and healthcare reform less than 50%. Usually unpopular leaders and their unpopular ideas seek the shelter of minority rights and prerogatives. What will they do when they are in the minority — since they’ve entered the arena, boasted “let the games begin” and shouted “by any means necessary”?
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson