Sunday, July 1, 2012

Obamacare v. Founding Principles

The Recovering Bureaucrat is as entertained by all the blather in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling in NFIB v. Sibelius as he was by all the bloviating leading up to it.  What is still clear is that the fault lines in our current political economy are holding up remarkably well, and neither side is about to recruit masses of converts from the other.  The presidential election will still go down to the wire in November—unless Europe falls off the cliff, something the Europhiles may have just barely delayed enough to help Obama avoid losing.

What amazes the RB is the remarkable power of denial that is gripping the political leadership and much of the citizenry of the Advanced Sector.  He has written extensively about the Eurozone delusion; the lead opinion in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision last week preserves America’s version of the blue social model fantasy.  The RB disagrees and fights back because not only is the model’s dependence upon government intervention into civil society unsustainable, it has the effect of eroding the very republican virtues of self reliance, personal freedom, and individual responsibility that are the moral foundation of the American experiment and the wellspring of its prosperity.

As the RB has often pointed out, the reaction against our founding principles has existed since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  But it was only with the rise of the Progressive Movement at the end of the nineteenth century that its critics turned to the federal government as an instrument of the insurrection.

Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin W. Roosevelt are the political leaders most complicit in this powerful undermining of America’s world historic achievement.  We should be grateful that nobody of their stature is around today to champion their misguided cause—but on the other hand neither do we have anybody of the stature of the founders or of Abraham Lincoln to champion American exceptionalism.

Walter Russell Mead has done us the favor of codifying the current “blue social model” version of the Progressive war against our fundamental values.  The decision authored by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is only the latest in a string of rulings favoring the blue social model since West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish in 1937 finally cleared the way for FDR’s New Deal interventionism.  In the thirties, as today, the left wing attacked the Court’s previous unwillingness to certify New Deal legislation as constitutional as “obstructionist and political.” 

And little has changed in the ensuing 75 years.  The Left has adopted the “living constitution” creed and relentlessly assails its opponents as evil, greedy, uncaring, insensitive, the 1%, etc.  In the days leading up to the Obamacare decision, the MSM was filled with dire warnings about the civil war that would ensue if the Court ruled in a “partisan” manner—that is, against the blue social model.

Well, Chief Justice Roberts pulled that fat out of the fire, and now suddenly instead of playing the partisan hack, in Thomas Friedman’s words, he “not only acted out of political character but did so truly for the good of the country.”  The arrogance of this observation, of course, lies in Mr. Friedman’s careless and unconscious assumption that he knows best what is truly “good for the country.” But this is what passes for dispassionate analysis among the acolytes of the Church of the All Powerful State.

The chief mouthpiece with a summa cum laude in Church arrogance is the always reliably mendacious and partisan Paul Krugman, who set the tone for the tentative triumphalism of the left with yet another screed extolling the virtues of its latest extension of government power.  

According to Mr. Krugman, “the real winners are ordinary Americans—people like you.”  Since he didn’t consult the Recovering Bureaucrat before claiming to speak for him, perhaps he will accept this modest demurral—and that of the majority who in poll after poll have said we have no use for the program.  But that’s one of the blind spots of Messrs. Krugman, Friedman, and all the “progressives,” who have convinced themselves that they know better what is good for the poor, benighted unwashed who unwittingly ingest the toxins of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.
In short, unless you belong to that tiny class of wealthy Americans who are insulated and isolated from the realities of most people’s lives, the winners from that Supreme Court decision are your friends, your relatives, the people you work with—and, very likely, you.  For almost all of us stand to benefit from making America a kinder and more decent society.
Of course we are required to defer to Mr. Krugman’s version of “a kinder and more decent society,” which is the same as Mr. Friedman’s “good of the country,” and its breathtaking assumption that such a creation is the role of government!

At least Mr. Krugman pretends his opponents have an argument, which he can dismiss contemptuously.  After all, regardless of the encroachments on our core freedoms required to run the program, we are assured that they won't cost the average citizen anything to be concerned about. “The Affordable Care Act . . .” he avers, “is fully paid for, with an explicit combination of tax increases and spending cuts elsewhere.”  Gosh, just like we don’t have a deficit problem because it’s mostly money we owe ourselves?

After sharing this air-brushed version of the latest “progressive” attempt to create Utopia, Mr. Krugman gets back to the business at which he excels, demonizing those who disagree.
But what was and is really striking about the anti-reformers is their cruelty. It would be one thing if, at any point, they had offered any hint of an alternative proposal to help Americans with pre-existing conditions, Americans who simply can’t afford expensive individual insurance, Americans who lose coverage along with their jobs. But it has long been obvious that the opposition’s goal is simply to kill reform, never mind the human consequences. We should all be thankful that, for the moment at least, that effort has failed.
“Long been obvious” to shamelessly partisan blue social model defenders, that is, a faction that goes back to the Progressive Era and the New Deal.  For it did not occur to the likes of Harold Ickes, Thurman Arnold, and Stuart Chase when they were slandering New Deal opponents in the 30s any more than it occurs to Messrs. Krugman and Friedman today that there is a powerful, historically valid, morally imperative reason to oppose the relentless encroachment of government into the affairs of the citizenry.  It is for this purpose that the RB writes at all.

Many better writers have offered thorough and powerful critiques of the Progressive blue social model, and the Recovering Bureaucrat defers to them for their trenchant and penetrating analyses.  The defenders of America’s foundational principles are many and active, and the RB is happy to count himself among them.

Nonetheless, in spite of the assertions of writers like George Will and Randy Barnett, there is little solace to be gained from Chief Justice Roberts’ neat little trick of turning the individual mandate into a constitutional tax.  (Predictably, the mendacious White House is still pretending otherwise.)  His denial of Commerce Clause jurisdiction is nice but non-binding until the Court applies it directly to other congressional adventurism.

The Obamacare Illusion

The possible good news is that, like all the other overreachings of the Church of the All Powerful State, Obamacare is likely to fail on its own merits.  Indeed, many conservative writers have been saying this since its passage.  And since Thursday there has been much happy talk in the MSM about the supposed benefits of the program that carefully ignores or willfully misrepresents the costs that will have to be borne by taxpayers if it is fully implemented.

Only the blindly partisan can assert with a straight face that Obamacare is even in the ballpark as a remedy for what ails our health maintenance challenges in 21st century America.  The non-sycophantic Left has always disdained the program’s preservation of private insurance as the instrument of reform, arguing instead for a “single-payer” approach—i.e., government-run health care.  Conservatives, on the other hand, understand that market principles can and should drive cost and care decisions, and that keeping what used to be an employment benefit as the cornerstone of the new approach is not sustainable.  They recognize that until there is a direct nexus between keeping ourselves healthy and being financially responsible for that, we won't have the incentives in place to focus on long-term health maintenance.  Costs spiral upward in part because health insurance disconnects how we maintain our own health from what we pay to do so.

In the meantime, no one actually knows how much full implementation will cost, although only the ideologues are convinced it will save us all money.  The White House asserts that it will “bend the expense curve” downward, but what else are they going to say?  All the RB knows is that the ballyhooed subsidies and tax credits are code for “somebody else pays for your benefit,” and that somebody else can only be taxpayers.

Like the fight against coerced CO2 reductions via global treaties, many Americans are skeptical of the leftwing promises because their big-government solutions are always more costly than advertised even when not based on questionable assumptions about future conditions.

So there is no reliable evidence that the “Affordable Care Act” is in any sense of the term affordable.

It is not surprising that supporters ignore that matter and concentrate instead on the so-called benefits.  And here is where the real damage gets done.  We are told about the blessings of the ban on insurance companies denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions, its provision to allow adult children to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26, and its expansion of prescription drug coverage.  These, supporters assert, are good things and only the greedy or hard-hearted would deny them.

And, like all context-free assertions, it is difficult to disagree—as long as you don’t ask pesky questions like, who pays for these features?  And, are they worth the price?  And, how does this promote personal responsibility for keeping ourselves healthy?

We Boomers are still a generation of spoiled children, unwilling to do the hard work of keeping the torch of liberty burning bright against all the seductions of the older paternalistic order upon which the blue social model rests.  We want the money but are unwilling to defend the system that produced it.  We’ve turned a blind eye to the fundamentals that made us the wealthiest cohort in human history, preferring to live off the fat of the land.  It’s a age-old human quandary: do we risk growing into an uncertain future, or do we stay hunkered down in the present we know?

Our founders had a definitive answer and came down on the side of personal liberty with its nexus with risk and wealth.  They believed that when we humans have a personal stake in our prosperity, we will seize the opportunity and make the most of it.  They believed that the community as a whole prospered when its individual members were all pursing their happiness as they each defined it.  They rejected the belief that the community could set the terms of happiness for its members, seeing in this the same kind of tyranny that resided in the monarchical system they rebelled against.  They advanced instead the radical notion that a nation resting upon a system of law created and sustained by the consent of the governed was sufficient to unleash the creative power of its citizenry.

The determination, even today, of huge numbers of us to turn our backs on that faith shows exactly how radical it was and remains today.  And Obamacare just offers more seductions in the form of free-lunch "benefits" to sustain the momentum of this rejection of these radical principles in favor of the paternalistic society that the Church of the All Powerful State is eager to solidify.  The Church promises security if only we reject the chaos of individual liberty.

In a way, the Chief Justice’s refusal to grasp the nettle was fitting, because for far too long we Americans have been unable or unwilling to make the truly tough decisions about exactly who we are.  Our founders offered a revolutionary and compelling vision, one for which not all of our ancestors were prepared—even as millions flocked to these shores drawn by that exact vision and prepared to enjoy its blessings.  So we slug it out, blue states and red states, Democrats and Republicans, paternalists and individualists, without coming to a common understanding.

But the Recovering Bureaucrat is confident that reality is bringing the day of reckoning ever closer.  None of the high priests of the Church of the All Powerful State, not President Obama nor Italy's Prime Minister Monti (who just browbeat Angela Merkel into the latest save-the-euro scheme), wins a war against math.  Perhaps the hubris of Obamacare—like that of the Eurozone—is bringing us one step closer to deciding once and for all whether we are the America of the Founders and of Abraham Lincoln, or of Woodrow Wilson and FDR.

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