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‘But What Is the Reality of It?’

Dec 30, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 16 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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If you have a taste for Schadenfreude (and who doesn’t, especially in this holiday season?), you’ll enjoy Anemona Hartocollis’s article in the New York Times of December 14. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Many in New York’s professional and cultural elite have long supported President Obama’s health care plan. But now, to their surprise, thousands of writers, opera singers, music teachers, photographers, doctors, lawyers and others are learning that their health insurance plans are being canceled and they may have to pay more to get comparable coverage, if they can find it.

The article goes on to detail the Obamacare-induced travails of members of New York’s “creative classes” (a phrase the Times fails to put in quotation marks) and concludes:

“We are the Obama people,” said Camille Sweeney, a New York writer and member of the Authors Guild. Her insurance is being canceled, and she is dismayed that neither her pediatrician nor her general practitioner appears to be on the exchange plans. What to do has become a hot topic on Facebook and at dinner parties frequented by her fellow writers and artists.

“I’m for it,” she said. “But what is the reality of it?”

Ms. Sweeney’s statement-and-question says it all. It’s the voice of liberalism in the age of Obama. She’s for Obamacare, but didn’t know what it was. Now, Ms. Sweeney realizes (sort of) that she’s been mugged by reality. But she’s not quite ready to come to grips with reality. She’s not quite ready to press charges against Obama, or against liberalism.

But at least she’s asking a reality-based question.

In 2014, it’s the job of conservatism, and of the Republican party, to answer Ms. Sweeney’s question. It’s the job of conservatives and Republicans to explain the reality of Obamacare—that it’s bad for health care, bad for jobs, and bad for freedom. It’s the job of conservatives and Republicans to offer escapes from Obamacare, to the extent possible (see the piece by Jeffrey H. Anderson and Spencer Cowan in this issue). It’s the job of conservatives and Republicans to set forth workable alternatives to Obamacare for the future, as Paul Ryan and others intend to do early in the new year.

And it’s the job of conservatives and Republicans to press charges. It’s their job to make the case against Obamacare on the broadest possible terms, as an example—as the example—of unintended-consequences-producing, rule-of-law-undermining, freedom-denying, big-government, liberal social-engineering. Obamacare embodies liberalism’s fatal conceit. It’s the job of conservatives and Republicans to make it liberalism’s fatal overreach. 

So, to answer Ms. Sweeney’s question: The reality of it is that Obamacare is a disaster. And it’s a disaster because, as Margaret Thatcher put it, “The facts of life are conservative.” 

If conservatives and Republicans can explain the facts of life in a language intelligible to contemporary Americans, the year 2014 could be an inflection point in the saga of modern American liberalism, modern American conservatism, and modern American politics. It could be a moment of genuine hope and positive change. Perhaps, to adapt a rhetorical flourish, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when the rise of the nanny state began to slow and our nation began to heal. It could be the moment when we regain our footing and find our way back to the always difficult but ultimately rewarding path of individual liberty, honorable self-government, and national greatness.

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