Obama's War Of Choice

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Mark Steyn surveys the battlelines in the war being fought by America's inverse Clausewitz:

For most of the previous presidency, the Left accused George W. Bush of using 9/11 as a pretext to attack Iraq. Since January, his successor has used the economic slump as a pretext to "reform" health care. Most voters don't buy it: They see it as Obama's "war of choice," and the more frantically he talks about it as a matter of urgency the weirder it seems. If he's having difficulty selling it, that's because it's not about "health." As I've written before, the appeal of this issue to him and to Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank et al is that governmentalization of health care is the fastest way to a permanent left-of-center political culture – one in which elections are always fought on the Left's issues and on the Left's terms, and in which "conservative" parties no longer talk about small government and individual liberty but find themselves retreating to one last pitiful rationale: that they can run the left-wing state more effectively than the Left can. Listen to your average British Tory or French Gaullist on the campaign trail, pledging to "deliver" government services more "efficiently."

Three stories bubbled up in the past week, although if you read The New York Times and the administration's other airbrushers you'll be blissfully unaware of them: The resignation of Van Jones, former (?) communist and current 9/11 "truther," from his post as Obama's "Green Jobs Czar." The reassignment" of Yosi Sergant at the National Endowment for the Arts after he was found to be urging government-funded arts groups to produce "art" in support of Obama policy positions. And, finally, the extraordinary undercover tape from Andrew Breitbart's Big Government Web site in which officials from ACORN (the Obama chums who'll be "helping" with the next census) offer advice on how pimps can get government housing loans for brothels employing underage girls from El Salvador.

What do all these Obama associates have in common? I mean, aside from the fact that Glenn Beck played a key role in exposing them. We are assured by the airbrushing media and "moderate" conservatives that Beck is crazy, a frothing spokesnut for the lunatic fringe. By contrast, Van Jones, Yosi Sergant and ACORN are all members of the lunatic mainstream, embedded philosophically and actually in the heart of Obamaland.

What all these individuals share is a supersized view of the state, from a make-work gig coordinating the invention of phony-baloney "green jobs" to Soviet-style government-licensed art in support of heroic government programs to government-funded "community organizers" organizing government funding for jailbait bordellos. OK, government-funded child prostitution's a bit of an outlier even for this crowd – for the moment. But you get the general idea.

The New York Times' in-house conservative, David Brooks, was an early champion of Obama and is profiled in the current edition of The New Republic cooing paeans to the then-senator"s "pant leg and perfectly creased pant." Alas, for David Brooks, the bottom has dropped out of Obama's perfectly creased pants. The other day he was tutting that the Obama administration is in trouble because "it joined itself at the hip to the liberal leadership in Congress." My National Review colleague Jay Nordlinger was reminded of an old observation by the great Theodore Dalrymple. During his time as an English prison doctor, Dalrymple frequently met ne'er-do-wells who said they'd "fallen in with the wrong crowd," but, oddly enough, in all those years, he never met the wrong crowd.

Likewise, Obama didn't "join" himself to the liberal leadership; he is the liberal leadership. The administration didn't fall in with the wrong crowd; they are the wrong crowd. Van Jones, Yosi Sergant and ACORN are where Barack Obama's chosen to live all his adult life. Even if he wanted to be the bipartisan centrist of David Brooks' fantasies, look at his Rolodex and then figure out just where such a man would estimate the "center" to be.

My sense from Wednesday's speech is that the president's gonna shove this through in some form or other. It may cause a little temporary pain in Blue Dog districts in 2010, but the long-term gains will be transformative and irreversible.

Meanwhile, Roger Kimball adds, "If you read nothing else about Obama’s health-care speech, read this"

There have been some excellent dissections — I think, for example, of Thomas Sowell’s astringent column contrasting Obama’s rhetoric with that most uncommon virtue, common sense. Many people noted the irony of Obama complaining about the “lies” and misrepresentations of his planned government takeover of health care while he blithely indulged in various truth-economies himself. As Sowell notes, “To tell us, with a straight face, that he can insure millions more people without adding to the already skyrocketing deficit, is world-class chutzpa and an insult to anyone’s intelligence. To do so after an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office has already showed this to be impossible reveals the depths of moral bankruptcy behind the glittering words.”

As usual, Sowell’s column is a model of clarity and perspicacity. Do read it. But the really tremendous piece on the speech is by Shikha Dalmia, an senior analyst for Reason Foundation, who took off the gloves, stepped up to the plate, and scored a touchdown (I am an equal opportunity sports referrer) with her Forbes column “Obama’s Health Care Plan: Put Up And Shut Up.”

The speech, Dalmia observed, showed the American people “the policy equivalent of the middle finger.” Exactly.

Obama came to power promising a new era of “post-partisan” governance in which comity and bi-partisanship would rule. But, as Dalmia notes, “If there was anything bipartisan about the speech it was that he embraced every bad big-government idea from both sides. If he prevails, the American public won’t get “choice and competition” as he proclaimed, but a one-size-fits-all government-prescribed health care plan that it dare not refuse and dare not challenge.”

I like this lady. She tells it as it is.

Perhaps the most striking–and disturbing–thing about the speech was the unblinking confidence Obama exuded while breaking key campaign promises he made to voters. He had raked poor Hillary Clinton over the coals for admitting that her road to universal coverage was paved with an individual mandate. “Everyone would be forced to buy coverage, even if you can’t afford it,” warned Obama in an ad. “You pay a penalty if you don’t.” [Just as Obama ran to McCain's right on healthcare -- Ed]

Yet, there he was last night scolding “individuals who can afford coverage but game the system by avoiding responsibility.” Never mind that the prime gamers are not the uninsured (whose unpaid bills cost “the system” less than $40 billion every year) but the underinsured covered by Medicare and Medicaid (whom private insurers cross-subsidize to the tune of over $90 billion annually because the government refuses to pay the full cost of their care). Still, he hectored: “Improving our health care system works only if everybody does their part.”

Many commentators seem obsessed with the minutiae of the various health care proposals. They do not realize that “reforming” health care, or health care insurance, is merely the pretext for an almost unimaginable increase of government interference in your life. Dalmia has a few examples.

Obama didn’t say exactly how he would make “everyone do their part”–a question he posed repeatedly to Hillary. But his buddy Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has some rather well-developed ideas on that score. Baucus has proposed a bill that would force the uninsured to pay fines on a sliding scale of income, with those making 300% of the poverty level having to cough up as much as $3,800 a year. In short, Americans would have to pay Uncle Sam for the privilege of remaining uninsured. If there were truth-in-labeling laws for Congress, it would be required to call this bill TonySopranoCare.

To be perfectly candid, I did not have high hopes for an Obama presidency. But his deployment of what Mitch Daniels called “shock and awe” statism has made me revise my estimate down sharply. The blithe and confident orchestration of mendacity is, in its way, a marvel to behold. He does it with consummate skill. Consider the “second promise Obama broke on Wednesday night”:

That he would impose no new taxes on anyone making less than $250,000. The penalties that the uninsured — all of whom, I would wager my grandma’s life support, make under $250,000 — would face are certainly a tax. He also endorsed a business tax–err, fee–on employers who don’t provide adequate coverage that, under a House bill, would be about 8 % of payroll. They will pass this on to their employees in lower wages. And he signed up for an excise tax on high-end insurance plans–many of which are enjoyed by plain union folk, not those rich and famous making over $250,000. Under the Baucus bill, this tax would be as much as 35% of the cost of the plan. One would have thought that if the shame of breaking an explicit promise didn’t prevent Obama from imposing this last tax, then the logical absurdity of trying to reduce soaring insurance costs by taxing insurance plans would.

Regular readers know I am fond of observing that “it’s always worse than you think.” Dalmia gets it in one:

It gets worse. In exchange for these bitter tax pills, Obama promised Americans would get eternal health care “security and stability.” To deliver that, he would of course ban insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions–tantamount to forcing fire insurance companies to write coverage on a burning building. He would also prohibit insurers from putting any limits on the coverage they offer and cap what they can require patients to pay out-of-pocket.

In other words, Obama would encourage unlimited health care consumption by patients while eliminating the last vestige of price consciousness.

Depressing, what? But Dalmia’s peroration is even more depressing:

Obama lambasted the critics who claim his reform plan amounts to a government takeover of the health care system. But the plan he laid out Wednesday night will control every aspect of the medical transaction. It will tell patients when, what and how much coverage they must buy; it will tell sellers when, what and how much coverage they must sell. This is not a government takeover of health care? Then Tony Soprano is just a decent, hard-working businessman.

I hope Shikha Dalmia’s superb column will enjoy a very wide readership. It is exactly the sort of tocsin this country needs. The stakes could hardly be higher.

Indeed.