We all keep obediently discussing the new Revelation du Jour about the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad implementation of Obamacare. And to some extent, that’s necessary. People need to know the harm that could come from entering their personal information on the website. They also need to stay abreast of actual news that might help them plan to get through the next few months.
But the more we talk about the mechanical failures of Obamacare, the more we’re behaving like a ship’s crew huddled on the bridge, pulling out manuals and fiddling intently with non-functioning navigation devices while the ship is sinking after a torpedo hit. The problem with Obamacare isn’t that the website doesn’t work.
Herewith the three:
1. The problem with Obamacare is that it fundamentally changes the relationship of government to the people. The change is wholly malign. There is no way to operate the Obamacare system and also force the government to respect the people’s rights. Obamacare will, at every step, increase the risk at which government holds our rights.
We’re already seeing that with the roll-out, which has promptly violated the president’s best-known and most categorical promises – an indication of his complete lack of respect for us – as well as the people’s rights to decide what to do with their own property (in this case, their earnings), and to execute private contracts according to their own preferences.
What matters about Obamacare is that it has forced so many people to do so many things involuntarily. It will continue to do so. Obamacare is about government force, about limiting people’s options, and about constraining the people to do or not do certain things. That’s what government is about, which is why it’s what Obamacare is about. Government is incapable of being about anything else.
The public debate right now treats the Obamacare fiasco as if the central proposition is that taking over one-sixth of the economy is a technological challenge. The reality that matters is that government taking over the network of human decisions involved in “health care” is a moral outrage. Doing that is applying the model of regulatory force to a vast complex of human questions that have no universal, “right” answers. We might as well let the government tell us what to eat, what to wear, where to live, and what God to believe in – and if Obamacare stands, our government will eventually do just that.
2. The current public dialogue on Obamacare presumes that you are constrained by the rule of law, but that the president is not. It also presumes that what Congress will do is guided by transient, electoral political considerations – and that in any case, what Congress does may not matter very much: it’s what the president and the Department of Health and Human Services do that will affect the rest of us.
Perhaps most important, it presumes that whatever things may be happening to you – your travails with economic and health-insurance setbacks – don’t matter. Your frustrations may have electoral implications for Congress, but the fact that you may lose your job or find yourself unable to continue functioning economically because of Obamacare is significant only insofar as it affects the fortunes of Democrats or Republicans in politics.
Obamacare is thus the culmination of a malign trend in government, not the inauguration of such a trend. We aren’t just starting down the road to serfdom. We’ve been on it for a while.
On this road, government is not part of a social contract among moral equals; it is a form of administration wielded by moral superiors with privileges and status, over inferiors without them. The people, on this road, are not flesh-and-blood humans with individual rights, but mere statistics: units of income, age, sex, health, political affiliation, etc. The basic unit of human moral orientation is not the individual, and his standing before God, but the government. Government is what human life is ultimately “about.” What happens to individuals is just a big stack of anonymous incidents and statistics, much like what happens to cattle raised for beef; something to be recorded, planned, and shaped by regulators, but also something the individuals cannot be left with too much discretion over.
That we already operate on these assumptions is evident in the lack of any meaningful horror about Obama’s unilateral, imperialist approach to the law of the land, which he suspends or ignores at will.
It’s evident as well in the silly exercise of legislation as performance art: houses of Congress rushing to pass this or that exceedingly specific law that everyone knows will not make the slightest difference to the reality in which the American people have to live, because the other house won’t pass it and the president won’t sign it. To call this the epitome of constitutional checks and balances is to take a narrow, simplistic view; the larger and more basic truth is that it shows an utter disdain for the appropriate meaning and use of law.
This pattern actually constitutes a misuse of law. We think of it carelessly as a thing to strike attitudes with, no matter how ill-suited it may be as a tool for addressing a particular issue – and no matter what the consequences to us of writing down actual laws, as opposed to merely venting our feelings. Law, like parental rebuke, should carry grave weight and be used sparingly. Deciding to resort to it should be a deliberate process, one that envisions accountable outcomes and not just photo ops and catharsis. Law is nobody’s fuzzy-bear friend; it’s the next-most dangerous thing in human hands, after theology and war.
Oddly enough, someone else alluded today to French General Pierre Bosquet, who said of the charge of the Light Brigade that it was magnificent, but it wasn’t war. I would paraphrase General Bosquet this way: the Obamacare drama is spectacular, but it isn’t law.
3. The Obamacare moment is a remarkably, history-makingly important one, because it gives America a unique opportunity to see health-care-based collectivist brutality for what it is. Many a pundit has pointed out in the last several years that the U.S. has chosen a most peculiar route to nationalized health care: one that keeps edging toward it, while trying to preserve a façade of market freedoms and the innate disciplines of the market.
The other advanced economies have, for the most part, simply gone straight to national health programs of one kind or another. Many Europeans have joined Americans in recognizing that their political left has a collectivist, redistributionist vision in mind. But that hasn’t routinely been made explicit in the appeals to European voters. National health care, for Europeans, is about a utopian idea of humane government and what every citizen should expect from it.
Only the United States is trying to out-and-out “redistribute” the material outcomes of health care processes, while at the same time maintain the fiction that our health care industry, already regulated as intensively as it is anywhere on the planet, is functioning as a free-market enterprise.
As American voters understand it, the purpose of Obamacare is to “fix” problems of “unfairness” in people’s access to health insurance: a formulation in which insurance and “health care” are elided, as if they are one and the same. This formulation allows the Obamacare campaign to focus on money, of which we all have unequal amounts, rather than on access to medical attention – the ability to show up and have your medical problem treated by doctors – for which we have unequal needs, and which no one inside the borders of the United States has actually lacked for many decades.
The Obamacare approach goes even further than that, however, being explicitly about getting young and healthy people to buy into the “insurance” system so that there will be plenty of funds to cover payouts for older and sicker people. It’s also quite clear about subsidizing people up to certain income levels, and soaking the bejeebers out of others starting at very modest income levels; e.g., around $60,000 a year for couples.
This, of course, is what all collective health schemes are about, including national health care systems. But in most places, that’s not the polite way to look at the problem. Certainly it’s not the politic way to look at it: the subtle, persuasive, vote-getting way.
There’s something ingenuously hyperlogical – something sort of Roman – about the American debate, in which a naked appeal to invidious redistributionism is coupled with very plain talk about whom, exactly, the goods will be redistributed away from.
It’s almost funny, in fact, or it would be if it weren’t all coming home to roost right now, on our neighbors’ households and our own. What America has, however, is a very unusual opportunity to see a socialist-collectivist proposal for precisely what it is, rather than through a soft-focus, rose-colored lens. This opportunity is being paired, in the life story of our nation, with an episode of technological haplessness so prolonged and stunning as to defy reason. Only the Almighty Himself, it seems, could cover us with such a dome of impossibly persistent protection.
I’m not sure any nation has ever had a chance like this one to ponder, in slow-motion, what it was about to do. And it may be, in spite of his electoral victory in 2012, that Obama has actually misjudged the American people, or at least the quality of the political moment available to him, as FDR did in the aftermath of his second-term victory in 1936.
Quite frankly, I think the advice to Republicans to simply stand silent and “let Obamacare implode” is foolish. There is no hope of Obamacare imploding. It’s not a malformed bomb, governed by physical principles. It’s a man-made political arrangement. Its defenders will keep moving the goalposts and changing the rules to keep it on the field. It will get all the overtime it needs. The only way to defeat Obamacare is to actually counter it with a plan and a principled argument.
Not having the votes right now to pass legislation is no excuse for failing to show leadership in that regard. Of course the mainstream media won’t give Republicans a platform from which to articulate a better plan – but what’s stopping the GOP leadership in Congress from making a video and putting it online? As of right now, the old-school right’s talking point on Obamacare boils down to “LOL.” That’s not going to win the Senate in 2014. It’s certainly not a purpose around which to rally Republicans and centrist Democrats, whom the GOP will need to do something decisive about Obamacare.
I’m not sure Republican leaders get it. If the GOP isn’t leading the charge against Obamacare, then the party itself has no purpose. Obamacare is an existential crisis for the republic, for the reasons outlined in the three points above. In 2013, if you ain’t relevant to that existential crisis – you ain’t.