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Roger’s Rules

“What Just Happened?”

March 29th, 2010 - 8:15 am

Our daughter, aetat 2 and a bit, has been talking up a storm lately. The world, she has discovered, is a surprising place. When something happens that she doesn’t understand, her usual query is: “What just happened?” There’s an unexpected noise: “What just happened?” Her mother exclaims over a dropped stitch: “What just happened?” I scan the latest news out of Washington and mutter: “What just happened?”

It’s hard to know how to respond. One thing that happened is that she is already nearly $40,000 in debt: how precocious the young are today! A week ago, the Obama administration, aided by its Democratic allies in the House, passed one of the most unpopular and radical pieces of legislation in the history of the Republic. What just happened? The United States suddenly became poorer. How much poorer? It will take years, maybe decades, to tabulate. AT&T acknowledged the obvious by taking a billion-dollar charge in its first quarter to help pay for the anticipated cost of Obama’s experiment with socialized medicine. Caterpillar, 3M, Deere & Company, and AK Steel Corporation also announced that they would be taking huge charges in order to prepare for the government’s intrusion into their businesses. What just happened? The recession just got longer. Adding tens or hundreds of billions of dollars of liabilities to your balance sheet isn’t exactly a prescription for growth, is it?

What just happened? In the kaleidoscope world of Obama, it’s hard to keep track. A few days into the brave new world of ObamaCare and at least a dozen major companies have seen the future and have seen that it is expensive. Just wait till the health insurance companies finish totting up the damage, dividing it by the number of policies they write, and passing along the cost to you, the consumer, in the form of higher premiums.

But wait! Wasn’t ObamaCare supposed to make thing cheaper? That’s what the Democrats have said. (Well, some of them. Nancy Pelosi, in an uncharacteristic burst of candor, said that “we have to pass the health care bill so that you can find out what is in it.”) But companies across the country have started assessing what’s in store and are planning accordingly. They have looked to the market, not The Narrative, for their marching orders. As Andrew McCarthy observed over the weekend, our Democratic masters in Washington do not appreciate this forthrightness. The Narrative according to them is that ObamaCare will make health care cheaper. Ergo, if premiums go up, if companies lose various tax credits for providing health care or drugs, that’s just too bad. More expensive is the new cheaper. The Narrative demands it. Hence, as McCarthy reports,

People’s Commissar Henry Waxman is now planning to haul the companies before his committee because their disclosures fail to play along with our Leftist rulers’ script that Obamacare “will expand coverage and bring down costs.”

But, say, aren’t companies required to disclose events that materially affect their balance sheets? Isn’t that part of what financial transparency is all about?

Yes, but in this case, honest reporting of liabilities takes a back seat to promulgating The Narrative: that spending trillions of dollars and putting the government in charge of health care will make the delivery of health care cheaper and more efficient. Does anyone — anyone — believe that? Does Henry Waxman?

Ah, what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive! Would that Sir Walter were with us today. Now companies are wedged between the rock of disclosure requirements and the politically correct requirement to get on board with The Narrative. It’s what McCarthy calls the “whipsaw” effect.

If we are now under a system where disclosure gets you a public whipping and other threats by the Powers That Be while nondisclosure promises the ruinous expenses of defending against criminal investigations and civil enforcement, this is no longer anything but a thugocracy.

Americans are entering upon untrodden ground here. What just happened? Everyday, it seems, brings some new enormity. ObamaCare is a bludgeon with which Obama beats down capitalist instincts. Spreading the wealth around requires that he spread the pain around, too. Suddenly, anyone with a job is “rich.” Taxes must rise. Regulation must become more onerous. Individual initiative must be stifled. Everything must be more complicated, more subject to oversight by the only part of the economy that’s booming: the public sector, the sector the rest of us pay for with our taxes.

What just happened? It’s untrodden ground in this country, but other countries have not been so fortunate. For decades, the Soviet Union labored under similar contradictions. How was the wheat production this year, comrade? The correct answer is “Absolutely splendid!” The true answer is “Disastrous.” Hunger, of course, is a counter-revolutionary sentiment, as is dissatisfaction with the paradise your masters are preparing for you. Dissent is now unpatriotic. Criticism is a sign of greediness. What just happened? Something glorious, friends. We’ve put ourselves deeper into debt which means we are ever so much more prosperous. We are about to see taxes rise enormously, which means we will become enormously richer. We have just passed a bill that will employ 16,000 new IRS agents, which means we will be freer than ever of government intrusion. We have cut our defense budget, obliterated critical programs, therefore we are more secure. What just happened?

F. Scott Fitzgerald once remarked that it is a mark of genius to be able to hold two contradictory ideas in mind simultaneously. If Fitzgerald were right — “if” as in per impossible — Obama would be one of the greatest political geniuses we have had to suffer under.

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