The tide is turning…
Updated Nov. 15, 2013 6:55 p.m. ET
Congress right now has a historic chance—really, it could wind up in the history books next to the stopping of FDR’s court-packing scheme in 1937—to hold back ObamaCare. Congress can delay it, or pass a law mandating or allowing insurance companies to continue insuring everyone they just threw off coverage. Heck, they could try to vote now, under new conditions and with the American people behind them, to repeal the whole thing.
And who knows, they just might.
A great deal is possible because the people are coming around to the Republican point of view on the program: They do not like it, do not trust it, do not believe it will make things better. The president got caught—and it’s amazing he did it, because he must have known he’d be caught when the program debuted—dissembling, for three years, as he sold and attempted to popularize his program. In fact if your insurance isn’t provided by an employer or the government, chances are pretty good you will soon lose your policy, your doctor, your premium price.
The White House is getting timorous. They’re losing their usual braggadocio, their burly confidence that they can weather any storm. By now they’ve seen a lot of Titanic cartoons. By now they’re wondering if that music they’re hearing isn’t “Nearer My God to Thee.” The polls show less faith in the president, less trust.
What a fall, and how richly deserved. The administration didn’t care enough to make sure the people of their country were protected. In the middle of a second Age of Anxiety they decided to make Americans more anxious. The next few weeks and months they’ll continue to see the people’s mighty wrath.
The mainstream press is already beginning to peel off. Bill Clinton gave them permission for that. Big Dawg was right: The president has to honor his own word and protect those who trusted him and have been thrown off their plans. The press, and congressional Democrats, are no longer disloyal if they say the same thing. Democrats in the House seem near to snapping, and you never know what the House will do. They’re elected every two years. They’re always in an election cycle, and are thus more reactive to and sensitive to shifts in public thinking.
It would make history if congressional Democrats proved to be serious, equal to the moment, if they pushed back against the White House and came through for the American people by moving, in a real move, not a cosmetic gesture—too late for that, that’s what they should have been doing a month ago!—against ObamaCare. And you get the impression they just might.
It would be practical. People back home don’t like ObamaCare now, and soon—as the Nov. 30 website deadline is blown, as public clamor spreads about canceled policies, higher costs, doctors no longer on the network—they’ll like it even less. Weeks ago they were talking of the possibility of a death spiral, but ObamaCare is in a death spiral.
So the Democrats’ moving against it would be realistic, practical. Successful politicians are by definition survivors. They’ve been loyal to Mr. Obama for a long time, but most of them don’t really know him. They don’t owe him much. And he is tanking their brand. Democrats can claim a special reason for reversing their earlier support—they believed the president when he said you could keep your coverage. But now, having seen the anxiety the people back home are feeling, they’re bravely standing up to the administration to protect the constituents they love. “We need national health-care relief. The system has long been broken, but let’s face it, this program isn’t working and won’t work. It’s time to start over again and get things right.” That’s the way to go for Democrats, “Get things right.” They shouldn’t give up on the issue—the trauma of the past few weeks will likely, and ironically, leave Americans more open to a simple single-payer approach—but they should give up on ObamaCare. And they should always call it that, to distance their own future programs from it.
Or they can hunker down and lose in 2014. They can take the advice of Democratic National Committee chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Run on ObamaCare, go home and explain how great it is. Which is another way of saying stand by the limp and tattered flag, draw all the fire and die on the field.
More and more it seems obvious that the vast majority of the politicians who pushed the bill in the House and Senate never read it. They didn’t know what was in it. They had no idea. They don’t understand insurance—they’re in politics, a branch of showbiz.
Some of them would have tried to read it, but it was 2,000 pages of impenetrable paragraphs—real word-clots, word-slabs—accompanied by long lines of swimming numbers. Comprehensive bills are never comprehensible ones—they are meant to lack clarity. Administrations get bills passed and then let administration regulators interpret them. That’s why Nancy Pelosi said: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” It was literally true!
After failing to read or understand the bill, members of Congress relied on briefings from some guy from the White House, some kid from the speaker’s office, and whichever Ezekiel knockoff was available as an expert. Lawmakers listened. They took notes.
The briefers thought—hoped—they themselves understood what they were saying. But they were never sure either! You can sort of think you know what you’re saying when you say things like, “When each local exchange module launches it will reflect a national weighting of ‘invincibles’ and ‘ancients’ that will stabilize prevailing market realities while providing broader access not only to the poor but to those who currently have non-grandfathered or insufficient plans. So in the end it’s win-win for everyone.” Would they have known what any of that would mean in terms of real-world application? The congressmen tried, in their distracted way, to understand. And gave up. And went on “Hardball” saying, “It’s win-win—broader and better coverage for all!”
Most of them had no idea what they were voting for. They’re as surprised as anybody at what’s happened. And it’s not only because so many of them are idiots. They believed what they were told and, more important, they wanted to believe it. And, I suspect, they had a magical and almost touching belief in the ability of the U.S. government to do anything. It’s done anything in the past, why wouldn’t it now? (Because in the past it wasn’t asked to construct huge, sprawling, incoherent Rube Goldberg machines? And because government hasn’t always executed brilliantly, but often just well enough not to make everybody cry?)
One thing about the progressives of Congress: They really drank the Kool-Aid. They really did think government could do anything. They were sincere! They really thought there were no limits. I wonder if this will sober them up.
People are wondering if we are seeing the end of liberalism. We are not. Liberalism, a great and storied American political tradition, will survive this. But progressivism—liberalism without blood—has been badly, deeply damaged. We are seeing the end of its first major emanation, ObamaCare.