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2014: The Year of Obama's Reckoning

11:50 AM, Jan 2, 2014 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Two days after Christmas I found myself in a doctor's office in New Jersey at eight o'clock in the morning. As I sat in the waiting room, a middle-aged woman came in and began a discussion with the receptionist. It seemed that her daughter, who would turn 26 on December 31, was trying to figure out what to do about health insurance.

Obama

The woman explained that her daughter had been on a policy with a low co-pay and deductible (she didn't specify what they were) that cost $240 a month. But Obamacare had scuttled that policy and the most affordable plan open to her was a lot more in monthly costs (again, she didn't specify), but with a $6,000 deductible and $50 co-pays. What this woman was inquiring, on her daughter's behalf, was how much the doctor actually charged just for a garden-variety visit, in case she got sick. Sighing, she said that she and her daughter both suspected that it was probably best if she just skipped insurance, paid the penalty—her word—and then bore any healthcare costs directly.

The entire conversation almost sounded like the script of an RNC ad. But it wasn't. These were real people trying to navigate the real problems caused by Obamacare. And I suspect that over the holidays this scene was replicated all over the country.

Some Democrats might object. They'd say that without knowing how much of an increase the new plan represented, we can't really know how much worse it was. Or that the new plan may have had so many new benefits that this woman (and her daughter) didn't realize that it was better for them. Or that maybe the daughter could have qualified for subsidies. Or that this woman was so misinformed that she obviously hadn't read John Roberts's Supreme Court decision, because there's no "penalty" in Obamacare—it's a tax!

Those arguments are fine, I guess. But as a political matter, I'm not sure they matter. Successful political parties can propose all sorts of things. They can point to a better tomorrow or warn of danger ahead. They can sell hope or tough love. What they generally don't do is argue with the public by telling voters that they're stupid. Which is precisely the nub of all those arguments in favor of Obamacare.

What interested me about the lady in the doctor's office is that the town she lives in isn't all that far out of the American mainstream. It leans slightly Republican, by New Jersey standards. In 2008, her town gave Obama a slight edge over John McCain. In 2012, it swung decisively against him, giving Mitt Romney 59 percent of the vote—a whopping 18-point swing. I suspect that in 2014 we'll see that the swinging hasn't yet finished.

Just guessing by her demographic markers—her geography, age, ethnicity, and the fact that she had a kid but wasn't wearing a wedding ring—there's a good chance she voted for Barack Obama at least once. But going by her tone of voice, I'd be surprised if she ever voted again for a candidate who supported Obamacare.

That's the political price of Obamacare. But there will be an intellectual price to be paid, too. Watching the left trying to defend Obamacare is often funny—witness this bit of shameless goalpost shifting from Washington Post's White House stenography blog. But sometimes it's just sad. Last week, for instance, the New Republic ran a piece that attempted to defend Obamacare by arguing Scrooge was right not to give charity to the poor.

No, really. Take a gander:

Dickens has presented Scrooge cruelly in this passage, and, by invoking prisons and workhouses, he has brought to mind the worst and ugliest of government agencies, in order to shine a warm light on his own preferred method for alleviating poverty, which is private charity. Prisons and workhouses are, even so, state-run social services, and everyone of a liberal sensibility ought to agree that a proper effort to cope with poverty is going to require government agencies more than door-to-door charitable campaigns. If only the oppressed proletarians of the Christmas Carol, the Cratchit family, possessed a full right to vote, which they do not, they would surely vote for government services, to be funded by the very mechanism to which Scrooge adverts, namely, taxation of wealthy persons such as himself.

The entire Carol turns on a plaintive note, which is warbled by the sickly and crippled Cratchit boy, Tiny Tim, who, a Spirit tells us, hasn't a ghost of a chance for survival so long as Scrooge remains tightfisted and cruel. This should remind us that, in regard to social problems and social service A Christmas Carol is, above all, a meditation on health care. Let us ask, then: should Tim's health and ability to survive depend on Scrooge's capricious impulses—his desire, one year, to keep his wealth to himself, or his Christmas recognition, the following year, that he ought to send a proper goose to his exploited clerk's impoverished family and ought even to offer Mr. Cratchit a raise? But, no, Tim's health care ought not to depend on the whims of Mr. Scrooge. The boy needs a reliable medical clinic or a public hospital—a large-scale government service, in short, like a prison or a workhouse, inscribed in law and supported by the whole of society, except devoted, in this instance, to pediatric medicine.

It's a particularly revealing argument in two ways. First, it shows the absurd lengths to which the left is willing to go to defend Obamacare. But more importantly, it exposes the left's core views concerning civil society and the state.

"Civil society" is the layer of organizations, associations, and traditions that have historically mediated between individuals and the state. It is the source of a great deal of good and has long been revered as an important aspect of democratic self-government. But today's liberals find it an annoyance. They believe instead that the power of the state must be made ever more expansive and irresistible. They wish to sweep away imperfect civil society so that all individuals may—must!—have direct, personal encounters with their government.

The American left didn't always think this way.

The corruptions of Obamacare are manifold. The president proposed it without having any real goals for it. Democratic legislators voted for it without liking it. And now, even as it fails, smart people who should know better are being stampeded into defending it. Each of these ill turns were prompted not by wisdom, or necessity, or even ideology, but rather by simple, base partisanship. There will be a price for all of this. And the first part of the bill comes due on November 4.

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