So is Rep. Mo Brooks (R.-AL) our Henry Brougham (1778-1868), 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux? In 1816, the British lawmaker moved in Parliament that the records of income tax should be destroyed in order to protect posterity even from hearing of it.
The enormity of the institution, Brougham knew, would be dispiriting to future generations. Perhaps — but only perhaps — the foul practice was an expedient justifed by the enormous expense exacted by the Napoleonic wars. But with Bonaparte safely stowed in the Atlantic fastness of St. Helena, the civilized world could now not only dispense with this ostentaious form of fiscal cannibalism but also erase the very memory of the accursed habit by which the state helped itself to the substance of its people. The Romans pronounced the curse of damnatio memoriae on particularly egregious emperors and other public officials, Tiberius’s right-hand-man Sejanus, for example, not to mention Commodus and Elagabalus.
The hilariously misnamed “Affordable Care Act,” aka ObamaCare, is probably the least popular piece of legislation since Prohibition. Obama did not so much engineer its passage as shove it down the throats of the American people, bribing, cajoling, threatening lawmakers to get on board with this heinous intrusion of the state into the precincts of everyday life, finally passing the bill without a single Republican vote.
I am not going to insinuate myself into the yammering blame game that has followed on Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s failure to pass his alternative to ObamaCare last week: Was it because the bill was deficient? Because he lacked the requisite political skils to muster support? Because of the intransigence of the so-called “Freedom Caucus” (which the commentator Hugh Hewitt amusingly called the “Area 51 Caucus,” in search of legislative flying saucers)? Or maybe it was only the petulant cussedness of the Democrats who have refashioned themselves the party of obstruction? I don’t know the answers to those questions.
But I like Mo Brooks’s approach to the problem, which in some ways is similar to Lord Brougham’s approach to the evil of the income tax, in some ways akin to Alexander the Great’s solution to the problem of the Gordian Knot. On Friday, Brooks filed the “ObamaCare Repeal Act” in Congress. ObamaCare itself runs to thousands of pages. Brooks’s remediation runs one sentence:
“Effective as of Dec. 31, 2017, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is repealed, and the provisions of law amended or repealed by such Act are restored or revived as if such Act had not been enacted.”
C’est tout. Finis. End of show.
Will it work? Ask yourself this: Do our duly elected representatives really want to repeal ObamaCare? After all, it encompasses some 20 percent of the U.S. economy. Think of the opportunities for graft, for deal-making, for influence-peddling! Think of the opportunities for extending the reach of the government into the lives of the citizens! Doctors, hospitals, other health-care facilities, pharmaceutical companies, and manufacturers of medical equipment: all now transformed into wards of the state, i.e., subject to the whims and regulations of — yep, you guessed it — those very duly elected representatives: what an opportunity! Imagine if someone had told Lord Brougham that, one day in the future in a country pretending to be a democracy, the state required its subjects to buy health care insurance on pain of a special levy if they failed to do so!
Politicians may or may not wish to repeal ObamaCare; those that do also wish to replace it, i.e., promulgate some other “government program,” i.e., opportunity for graft, influence-peddling, regulatory imposition, etc. Mo Brooks, on the contrary, seems to entertain the deeply heterodox idea of simply getting rid of the Leviathan.
I think Brooks’s chances of success are approximately zero. But then some very smart people (I know they are smart because they told me so themselves) told me that Donald Trump could never, ever be president. The whole idea was ridiculous, beneath consideration, and a distraction from the serious business of maintaining the status quo, which no one says he likes but which an awful lot of people are doing very well out of, thank you very much.
So we’ll see. Brougham didn’t get very far with his proposal. Brooks probably won’t get very far with his. But this is a very odd year. We are living, I believe, in one of those “plastic moments” that Karl Marx told us about when many of our taken-for-granted assumptions about the way the world works are suddenly up for grabs, negotiable, under siege, even overturned. Already, perhaps, the aperture of opportunity is beginning to close, but we still, just two and a bit months into the Trump administration, enjoy one of those rare moments when many things are possible that just yesterday were beyond reach. As I’ve had occasion to observe in this space before, Trump will have to act quickly and boldly if he is going to accomplish any significant proportion of what he wishes to accomplish. He should take a page from Machiavelli, not necessarily with respect to ruthlessness —I leave that open — but with respect to speed. As Machiavelli advised, if you have to do unpleasant things, “do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily.” People have short memories. They will forget a leader’s burst of activity directed against opponents, especially if it is followed by various benefits and largesse for the people as a whole.
So far, I am happy to say, Trump has been moving pretty fast. He has also, despite some eyebrow-raising tweets, been moving with a normality that must be impressing even his NeverTrump critics. I want to see more of both, the speed and the normality. Trump should keep Lord Brougham and legislators like Mo Brooks in mind. He should also remember Alexander’s elegant solution to the Gordian Knot. All are likely to come in handy.