Progressive Government FailsPosted: October 31, 2013
Obama’s ideology is the politics of the personal cram down
Daniel Henninger writes: A reader remarked last week that Barack Obama is running out of human shields. With the father of ObamaCare unavailable to explain the greatest fiasco of his presidency to Congress, the American people had to settle Wednesday for his surrogate, Kathleen Sebelius.
Let us try to understand clearly what is happening now with the Obama presidency. On display to everyone watching this week is not merely the failure of a federal website or a software program or Ms. Sebelius’s management skills. This is the failure of the very idea of progressive government. Not liberal government. Progressive government.
That battle a few weeks ago over the government shutdown was a familiar Beltway spectacle. But what is happening this week to ObamaCare and the political class that created it is historic. Forty years from now, the millennials who in 2008 and 2012 believed in and voted for the progressive ideal—limitless, mandated, state-led goodness—can tell their grandchildren they watched it fall apart in 2013. This is the glitch that failed.
In the 1990s, the American left, burdened with 90 years of unfortunate left-wing metaphors, rebranded itself in the U.S. as the “progressive movement.” Teddy Roosevelt invokes cheerier memories than Leon Trotsky. In the 2008 U.S. presidential election, the left rode to power with Barack Obama.
Mr. Obama is, without embarrassment, a man of the left. American progressives saw their win with Mr. Obama as the overthrowing of the postwar Democratic liberalism that culminated with the Clintons, a liberalism willing most of the time to coexist with markets, property and private enterprise. Progressives hated these accommodations. They were purer than that. He was purer than that. Together, they created ObamaCare.
What made ObamaCare an exemplar of progressive politics and policy is precisely what has been on view this week in news stories and the Sebelius hearing. It’s not that the health program was to be administered by the state or that it promised benefits to all. Liberalism did that for decades. What made it peculiarly progressive were the mandates. And not just the law’s individual and business mandates to purchase their insurance. The essence of modern Democratic progressivism is: “You will participate in what we have created for you, and you will comply with the law’s demands.”
Nothing could have been more crystal clear than the explanation for all the canceled insurance policies from the White House’s Jay Carney, the bland face of progressive coercion: “What the president said and what everybody said all along is that there are going to be changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act to create minimum standards of coverage, minimum services that every insurance plan has to provide. So it’s true that there are existing health-care plans on the individual market that don’t meet those minimum standards and therefore do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act.”
If this White House and its progressive ecosystem have a political motto, it’s this: Get over it.
American progressivism is politics by cramdown. Ask Jamie Dimon. Ask the coal miners the EPA is putting out of business. Ask the union workers waiting for jobs on the Keystone XL pipeline. Ask Boeing BA +0.85% in South Carolina or the harmless tea party groups from towns no one has ever heard of that were shut down by the IRS, or the 20,000 inner-city parents and students who marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest obliteration of their charter schools by New York’s progressive mayoral candidate, Bill de Blasio.
Up to now, most of the events of the Obama presidency have passed in and out of the news as just politics. But with ObamaCare and its details touching so many people all at once, it has become impossible not to recognize that the Affordable Care Act is an offensive ideological exercise, not merely an entitlement program. By Mr. Obama’s own admission, this law is the way he wants the world to work in the U.S.—whether in health, education, energy, infrastructure or finance. And what Americans now riding through the ObamaCare hurricane of canceled policies, disappearing doctors and rebooted promises have to be asking themselves is: Do I want to live with this level of personal enforcement in the U.S.?
Perhaps the better question is, will the political class help them understand what ObamaCare is, or wanted to be? Most Republican politicians aren’t particularly comfortable doing ideology. But the left revels in it. Mr. Obama bellows it in every speech. And absent someone shouting that the progressive emperor suddenly isn’t wearing any clothes, they will win with it again.
Barack Obama may have spent a lifetime failing up, but eventually it’s just failure. He has presided over five years of sickly economic growth, inadequate job creation, a doubling of the food stamp population and now this—ObamaCare.
Progressive government has failed in the U.S. Most fascinating to behold will be whether the Democratic presidential candidate who follows this meltdown will embrace it, fake it or move on.
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