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Who’s Extreme?

Oct 21, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 07 • By JAY COST
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For 80 years, American politics has centered around two goals: growing the economy, and ensuring that the surplus generated by growth is spread to all sectors of society. They have defined the boundaries of our two-party conflict, with both sides “merely” disagreeing about the best approach to accomplish these shared goals. There has long been one crucial sub-point of agreement: Government never takes anything from the middle class; government either gives to it or leaves it unaffected. Naturally, the two sides bicker, accusing one another of violating this norm, but it is a sign of the centrality of the custom that redistribution never takes from the center.

Until now. Obamacare creates a vast array of winners and losers. Plenty of public policies have done so over the years, but Obamacare is unique in that its losers come almost entirely from the middle class. All across the country, middle-class families are receiving letters from insurance providers telling them their rates are going up, dramatically so. This sets Obamacare apart from most other social welfare programs, especially Medicare and Social Security, whose benefits are universal. It’s “radical” in the sense that it departs from the shared norm that has governed public policy for generations. Democrats are speaking hyperbolically about Republicans violating the rules of the game, but in passing Obamacare, the Democrats have done precisely that.

Talking about limited government, the virtues of competition, and personal decision-making is all well and good. But it has not been enough to induce the public to action. If Republicans hope to win this battle, they need to turn the rhetorical tables on the Democrats. They need to show the public that Obam-care​—​rather than their own efforts to undo it​—​is actually the radical innovation.

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