So, just how did we get here?
President Obama said X, and Sen. Ted Cruz said Y, and Bill O’Reilly and MSNBC and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi went into hyperdrive, and … and?
The chronological congruence of the government “shutdown” crisis and the launch of Obamacare (I exclude current foreign-policy topics for reasons of space) suggest the need for aspirin, washed down with a couple of stiff ones.
I have my own theory: Events have been building toward this moment of pain and agony for about 70 years — ever since the historical moment when the American electorate told Franklin D. Roosevelt it was time the federal government started sorting out the particulars of economic growth and distribution. No one figured out (or could be heard saying, anyway) that the more resources Washington felt obliged to oversee, the shriller would grow demands that the bounty go into this pocket or that one.
The current crisis is only peripherally about health care exchanges, spending resolutions and vitriol spewed by the political and journalistic fraternities. The current crisis, at its heart, is about greed and the human lust for authority over other human beings.
It is what happens when the government — a construct made up of humans — acquires, one way or another, nearly uninhibited power over a society’s financial resources. All for very noble reasons. Yes, yes — so goes the story. Noble and generous reasons. Sound, patriotic reasons.
First, under FDR, the government had to haul us out of the Depression. There were make-work programs and subsidies of one kind and another, including the implied subsidy of official protections for labor unions. Then, in the 1950s, Washington had to oversee and maintain our postwar good times. Later, came the demands (dating, in inspiration, from ancient times) that we spread the wealth more equally. The War on Poverty was declared, Medicare was instituted and federal funding for schools grew hugely. Once the principle of government support for health care found firm footing, it was inevitable that claims would arise concerning the need for every last one of us to share the joy. Hence, Obamacare.
No one can tell where things will lead after Obamacare, which is likely to survive in diminished or expanded form once it hooks 10 million or 20 million or 30 million of us on the joys of health care funded by other taxpayers. Earlier retirement, bigger pensions, bigger schools, subsidized auto purchases, subsidized utilities — who can say? This makes it all the more important to restrain and diminish the reach and power of Obamacare.
But along with Obamacare diminishment, assuming anyone can bring it off, needs to come intense and constant philosophical discussion. A discussion of the sort you never hear these days — the kind in which Ronald Reagan used to engage and, before him, Barry Goldwater of blessed memory. The main problem of a health care system funded by government isn’t the cost of the thing, or even the lack of efficiency. It’s the unsuitability of government health care in a country jealous of its liberties — assuming present-day Americans are as jealous of their liberties as was the case half a century ago.
The role that voters and their representatives have assigned government over the past seven or eight decades is the role, ultimately, of smothering aspiration and achievement. We? Achieve? That’s for “the 1 percent.” They’ll do all the heavy lifting — until there’s no more 1 percent left to lift, or even a small fraction of 1 percent. Aspiration and invention will have been effectively outlawed by the tax code, the Environmental Protection Agency, Dodd-Frank and heaven knows what else.
Such is the story Ted Cruz and the whole host of celebrity conservative spokesmen should be telling now in level voices: Mr. Obama isn’t the problem; Obamacare isn’t the problem. These are passing afflictions. The problem is America’s growing acceptance of the delusory proposition that opportunity means someone else’s good luck. That passing the buck is the prelude to receiving bucks galore from other parties. That the government must surely love and care for you because — well, don’t you watch the president’s speeches?
William Murchison is a nationally syndicated columnist.