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Napoleon, Obama, and Health Care ‘Reform’

Like Napoleon in Spain, a short-run victory on ObamaCare could prove disastrous for the president in the long term.

by
George Leef

Bio

September 3, 2009 - 12:30 am
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Why ObamaCare is different

Now think about ObamaCare. It’s different than all those welfare state policies in a crucial respect: it will create concentrated, visible costs for people, but the benefits will mostly be intangible and diffused. That isn’t a politically successful model. Instead, it’s likely to create a national uprising, just as Napoleon’s invasion of Spain did.

ObamaCare is an attempt to provide expansive health care benefits for millions of people who previously made do with much less, while simultaneously bringing down total health care spending. That will inevitably lead to the kinds of denial of treatment decisions and rationing by waiting list that are found in Britain and other countries with heavily politicized systems. Americans won’t react with indifference when grandma can’t get a hip replacement because some federal panel has decreed that it wouldn’t be cost-effective. Never before has a government program here created large numbers of people who will see themselves as terribly victimized by it.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical conversation between Grandma Green’s daughter and her congressman, whom we’ll call Representative Frump.

Daughter: “My mother needs a hip replacement to be able to regain mobility and enjoy life, but some bureaucratic panel said she can’t have it. You voted for ObamaCare even though we both wrote to you to explain why we were against it. What do you have to say?”

Congressman Frump: “Well, too bad about your mother, but you’ve got to keep in mind that under our reformed system, we are now insuring millions who used to be uninsured. That’s a great step toward social justice for America!”

Concentrated cost versus an abstract benefit. That defense won’t play in Peoria. It probably won’t even play in San Francisco, Boston, or Washington, D.C.

Guerilla warfare to come

The political insurgency will be fueled by cases like Grandma Green’s. Every adverse medical outcome that can plausibly be blamed on ObamaCare will be used to fan the flames. Congressmen and senators who voted for the legislation will be the equivalent of the vulnerable French garrisons and supply trains in Spain. They’ll be attacked repeatedly and many will fall. Political ads built around instances like the conversation above will take a large toll on Democratic loyalists.

Worse yet for the left, Americans who would never have thought about the damage that other parts of its collectivist, anti-individual agenda are doing to the country will become receptive to such messages. Many who were drawn into the insurgency because they dislike ObamaCare will come to understand that it is only one of hundreds of federal programs that harm people, waste money, and make us poorer. In short, ObamaCare will help catalyze opposition to statism itself.

Another similarity to Napoleon’s peninsular campaign will probably be the efforts at suppressing it. One of Goya’s most famous paintings depicts a French firing squad executing Spanish rebels. Doing that might appeal to some of Obama’s staff, but the actual tactics will involve increasing harassment from the IRS, the Federal Election Commission, and other federal bureaucracies capable of making life miserable for those who publicly criticize ObamaCare and its defenders. Like the firing squads, those efforts will only make the resistance more determined.

Could ObamaCare actually be driven out, as the French were from Spain? The conventional wisdom has been that if it passes, we’ll never get rid of it. I’m not sure about that. True, bad laws are hardly ever repealed, but for the reasons I’ve given, ObamaCare is going to be uniquely vulnerable. Combined with the outrages that other aspects of Obama’s statist, authoritarian agenda will keep producing, the United States is going to experience the political equivalent of the uprising against Napoleon.

That uprising has already begun and if ObamaCare is enacted, it will intensify greatly. The political combat will be vicious. My hunch is that Obama will regret that he roused the still-substantial portion of the American populace that prefers liberty and individual responsibility to subservience to the nanny state.

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George Leef, a writer in Raleigh, N.C., is the author of Free Choice for Workers: A History of the Right to Work Movement.
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