Obama’s Soft Despo­tism

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Mona Charen

The talk­ing heads love pres­i­den­tial analo­gies. Is Oba­macare’s roll­out Obama’s Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina or his Iraq? Is Mr. Obama’s false prom­ise that you could keep your health care plan like Ge­orge H. W. Bush’s “read my lips” pledge, or is it like Bill Clin­ton’s “I did not have sex­ual re­la­tions with that woman”? Iran-Con­tra any­one?

Th­ese com­par­isons don’t take you far. The pres­i­dent’s trou­bles are unique to his par­tic­u­lar van­i­ties and blind spots.

Some of Mr. Obama’s most de­voted ad­mir­ers are at pains to dis­tin­guish his cur­rent fall from grace from Ge­orge W. Bush’s. Chris Matthews, for ex­am­ple, ar­gues: “The prob­lem with Ka­t­rina was ap­par­ent in­dif­fer­ence. One thing you can’t hold against the pres­i­dent is in­dif­fer­ence about health care. He’s the guy that rushed in, pushed through a pro­gram with pure Demo­cratic sup­port and took all the risks in­volved in it.”

The ac­cu­sa­tion that Bush was “in­dif­fer­ent” to the suf­fer­ing caused by Ka­t­rina is to take as fact the slan­ders of Bush’s de­trac­tors. Mr. Matthews also ex­tends gra­cious al­lowances for Mr. Obama’s mo­tives (though his sug­ges­tion that Mr. Obama “took all the risks” might not go down well with the 63 Democrats who lost their seats in 2010).

This ten­dency to judge lib­er­als and left­ists only by their in­ten­tions is very old. At its worst, it has been of­fered as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the foulest crimes. “In or­der to make an omelet,” Vladimir Lenin is sup­posed to have said, “you have to be will­ing to break a few eggs.” Soviet dis­si­dent Vladimir Bukovsky, years later, replied, “I have seen the bro­ken eggs, but no one I know has ever tasted the omelet.”

The un­rav­el­ing of Oba­macare is a kind of po­etic jus­tice, not just for Mr. Obama, whose over­ween­ing and ut­terly ground­less ar­ro­gance now stands re­buked, but also for lib­er­al­ism. Un­til Oba­macare, lib­er­als had been able to boast of pro­vid­ing ben­e­fits to var­i­ous con­stituen­cies while for­ever push­ing the costs onto fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. This time is dif­fer­ent. Why?

Repub­li­cans can take a bow on this one. De­spite hav­ing lost the 2008 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, they had not for­feited all in­flu­ence over the po­lit­i­cal cul­ture. Their fo­cus on debt and ex­ces­sive spend­ing forced the reign­ing Democrats to trim their sails. The Obama/ Pelosi/Reid troika did not dare to pass another new en­ti­tle­ment that would fur­ther bloat the deficit. In­stead, they had to jury rig a law that would seem to be deficit-neu­tral. And while Mr. Obama lied about the price to be paid (“the av­er­age fam­ily will see premi­ums de­cline by $2,500”), the costs were built into the sys­tem in var­i­ous forms. The young would be forced to pay higher premi­ums to sup­port the older and sicker, Medi­care would take cuts, those with more benef­i­cent plans would pay a “Cadil­lac tax,” in­ex­pen­sive bare-bones cov­er­age would be dis­al­lowed, med­i­cal de­vice mak­ers would pay a tax, Med­i­caid would be ex­panded, the unin­sured would pay a fine (oh, ex­cuse me, a “tax” ac­cord­ing to the chief jus­tice) and more.

Those are just the ob­vi­ous costs. The less ap­par­ent in­clude the in­cen­tives for em­ploy­ers to shift peo­ple to part-time work (less than 30 hours per week by the law’s terms), the in­creased costs of com­pli­ance with the law’s 10,000 pages of reg­u­la­tions, de­creas­ing physi­cian sat­is­fac­tion, ex­ces­sive cen­tral­iza­tion of care and the in­evitable pre­mium in­creases for those with em­ployer-pro­vided cov­er­age.

Un­like Medi­care, Med­i­caid, the Chil­dren’s Health Insurance Pro­gram, Head Start and the rest of the fed­eral cor­nu­copia, the costs of Oba­macare are be­ing felt im­me­di­ately. That’s a trap door for Democrats.

Mr. Obama’s ad­mir­ers may of­fer him credit for seek­ing to do good, but at what price? The Hip­po­cratic oath for physi­cians should also ap­ply to lead­ers: First, do no harm. The en­tire health care sys­tem now trem­bles with un­cer­tainty be­cause Obama im­posed his vi­sion of “fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tion” on a re­luc­tant na­tion.

Even as­sum­ing that Mr. Obama had the best mo­tives — a de­sire to see the unin­sured cov­ered — his greed to con­trol and reg­u­late the en­tire health care sys­tem re­vealed a man with­out wis­dom or pru­dence. He didn’t re­al­ize buy­ing health insurance was so com­pli­cated, he ex­plained on Thurs­day. Any­one who’d even run a Kinko’s would know bet­ter. He didn’t keep tabs on those tasked with cre­at­ing this mas­sive, hy­dra-headed sys­tem. Per­haps he thought there were no prob­lems in the world that wouldn’t yield to another Obama speech.

C.S. Lewis, who died the day John F. Kennedy was shot 50 years ago next week, warned of soft despots: “Of all tyran­nies, a tyranny sin­cerely ex­er­cised for the good of its vic­tims may be the most op­pres­sive. It would be bet­ter to live un­der rob­ber barons than un­der om­nipo­tent moral busy­bod­ies. The rob­ber baron’s cru­elty may some­times sleep, his cupidity may at some point be sa­ti­ated; but those who tor­ment us for our own good will tor­ment us with­out end for they do so with the ap­proval of their own con­science.”

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