Obama and the Limits of Schadenfreude
The word of the week seems to be “Schadenfreude.” We have Obamacare, or, rather, what appears to be the unravelling of Obamacare to thank for that.
“Schadenfreude”: “hurt,” “damage,” “detriment” plus “joy.” Is there any more perfect German word? Taking malicious glee in the misfortunes of others. It is not an attractive emotion, though it is (to allude to a German philosopher who knows all about these things) a human, all-too-human one. I’m not sure what aspect of the mess is producing the most glee. The display of technical incompetence on the part of those who spent some $650 million of taxpayer (i.e., your and my) money creating a web site that doesn’t work. That was pretty nice. The fact that construction of the site was given to a former classmate of Michelle Obama in a no-bid contract is a nice touch.
And who hasn’t enjoyed the spectacle of the site crashing whenever Kathleen Sebelius holds a media event to demonstrate how easy healthcare.gov is to navigate. Nice! Then there is the sideshow of Democratic lawmakers having apoplexy as they begin to realize the extent of this debacle — the millions (yes, millions) of folks who have found a letter notifying them that their insurance has been cancelled because of Obamacare, the thousands of doctors who have been dropped from various insurance plans. Ouch and double ouch. Then there is the central drama revolving around President Obama. “If you like your insurance plan, you can keep your insurance plan. Period.” He said that, or variations of that, over and over again. This video complication capture 36 separate occasions when the president publicly made that promise—a promise, we now know, he knew he could never keep, had not intention of keeping, didn't want to keep anyway, since the two-fold goal of Obamacare is to destroy private insurance and bring all us plebs under the wing of an all-encompassing “single-payer,” i.e., the federal government.
The revelation of Obama’s lies, his obvious confusion and the hunted-look he has exhibited at press conferences while his approval rating is in a death spiral (it dropped to 37%, the lowest of his presidency, in a CBS poll released this morning). All of this is, for the opponents of ObamaCare, ample ground for malicious glee, and I at least can deeply empathize with the blogger who wrote that “if schadenfreude had calories, I'd weigh 300 pounds.”
There is, of course, a dark side to this story, which Jonah Goldberg neatly captures at NRO with a column called “Obamacare Schadenfreudarama.” He begins by paraphrasing Oscar Wilde: “You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the unraveling of Obamacare.” Except, as Jonah goes on to note, “tt is no laughing matter that millions of Americans’ lives have been thrown into anxious chaos as they lose their health insurance, their doctors, their money, or all three. Nor is it particularly amusing to think of the incredible waste of time and tax dollars that has gone into Obamacare’s construction.”
Jonah is right that the unrolling, and subsequent unravelling, of Obamacare has provided hours of entertainment for the politically mature. “If you can’t take some joy,” he writes, “some modicum of relief and mirth, in the unprecedentedly spectacular beclowning of the president, his administration, its enablers, and, to no small degree, liberalism itself, then you need to ask yourself why you’re following politics in the first place.” Too true, too true. Consider:
The hubris of our ocean-commanding commander-in-chief surely isn’t news to readers of this website. He’s said that he’s smarter and better than everyone who works for him. His wife informed us that he has “brought us out of the dark and into the light” and that he would fix our broken souls. The man defined sin itself as “being out of alignment with my values.” We may be the ones we’ve been waiting for, but at the same time, everyone has been waiting for him. Or as he put it in 2007, “Every place is Barack Obama country once Barack Obama’s been there.”
A little Schadenfreude is certainly in order. The news today that Obama was briefed last spring about possible widespread failures when the web site went live may seem to deepen the glee even as it deepens the malice. After all, the president has all along acted surprised by the technical failures bedeviling the roll-out of healthcare.gov. But now it turns out that the surprise, like so much else about the president, was feigned.It was part of his campaign of mendacity, i.e., lies.
Those are harsh words. But they accurately describe a harsh reality. In the end, what’s happening in Washington is no laughing matter. Sure, I feel a frisson of glee when contemplating the train wreck that is Obamacare. Jonah Goldberg, like many others, is right to invoke the operation of nemesis following ineluctably upon the career of hubris. But behind the folly, laughter, and ridicule is something that gives me pause. One of the most disturbing aspects of this entire affair is the stench of lawlessness that surrounds it like a miasma. President Obama carps impatiently that he will simply direct insurance companies to reinstate the policies that they, in an effort to follow the law, have been required to cancel. He says that he will direct that application of the law be delayed a year — but he says nothing about where he is supposed to get the authority for such actions. The president’s response to the embarrassment of the eponymous legislation he shoved down the throats of the American people is one of the most disturbing occurrences of his administration. Since Magna Carta in 1215, a test of legitimacy has been the extent to which the sovereign is subject to the laws of the land. Obama is not a sovereign, exactly, but he acts as though he were above the law, that the law (like taxes) were something to be imposed on the rest of us but which he and his magic circle of apparatchiks could ignore or “delay” or partially implement at their pleasure. The law is binding upon us little people, and upon insurance companies, which would be severely penalized should they fail to abide the provisions of that intricate legislation.
I suspect that one of the reasons Obama’s approval rating is in free fall is because of his obvious surprise and petulance in his public encounters over the disaster of Obamacare. He has made some grudging half apologies, but it is clear that the only thing he is sorry about is that he cannot — not yet, anyway — simply decree what happens with health care in this country. He believes himself above the law and is impatient about finding a means of achieving that discretion. For our own good, of course. Many observers on the Right have long known this about Obama. Suddenly, though, it is out there for all to see. The American people don’t like tyrants, even smooth-talking, Harvard-educated ones. The great trek away from Obama and what he stands for — above all, government unlimited — has begun. The journey will not be pretty, but I think it is all but certain to continue.
Also read: Obama's Poll Panic