- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009


So why can’t the silver-tongued post-partisan healer seal the deal on this health care business? Surely it should be the work of moments for the greatest orator in American history to whip up a little medicinal Gettysburg, a touch of Henry V in the Agincourt casualty tent, and put this thing away.

Yet there he was the other night with the usual leaden medley of tinny grandiosity (all the this-is-the-moment, now-is-the-hour stuff), slippery reassurances (don’t worry, you won’t be required to change your present health arrangements), imputations of bad faith to anyone who takes a different view (they’re playing “games”), and the copper-bottomed guarantee that you can have it all for no money down, no interest, no monthly payments, no nuthin’ (“I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit”).

This would have barely passed muster four months back. After a summer of seething town halls and sliding approval numbers, it was a joke. Or, rather, it would have been a joke if the president’s intention had been to persuade an increasingly skeptical if not downright hostile electorate. On the other hand, if the intention was to ram it down America’s throat whatever the citizenry thinks, the joke’s on us.

If it were about health care, it would be easier. It was assumed, for example, that the president’s sly revision of “47 million people without health insurance” from his summer speeches to the substantially lower 30 million was a concession to those who thought his “plan” (he hasn’t actually produced one, but why get hung up on details?) would cover gazillions of illegal immigrants.

If so, it’s a rhetorical feint that’s otherwise meaningless. The minute a First World country has “free” health care, it becomes the provider of choice to anyone who can get there, particularly for any long-term ailments requiring state-of-the-art medications.

In 2004, Britain’s Health Protection Agency revealed that 44 percent of HIV patients being treated by the National Health Service were not residents of the United Kingdom but were from southern Africa. In essence, a huge number of AIDS patients in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho have decided to outsource their health care needs to British taxpayers. Similar trends will manifest themselves here in nothing flat.

But, for the sake of argument, let us concede the president’s current number of 30 million. In order to do something for the 10 percent of the population outside the current system, why is it necessary to destabilize the arrangements of the 90 percent within it?

Well, says the president, not so fast. Lots of people with insurance run into problems when they change jobs or move to another state. OK, In that case, why not ease the obstacles to health care portability?

Well, says the president, shuffling his cups and moving the pea under another shell, we’re spending too much on health care. By “we” he means you and you and you and you and millions of other Americans making individual choices over which he casually claims collective jurisdiction.

That, ultimately, gets closer than anything else he says to giving the game away. For most of the previous administration, the left accused President George W. Bush of using the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as a pretext to attack Iraq. Since January, his successor has used the economic slump as a pretext to “reform” health care. Most voters don’t buy it: They see it as Mr. Obama’s “war of choice,” and the more frantically he talks about it as a matter of urgency the weirder it seems.

If he’s having difficulty selling it, that’s because it’s not about health. As I’ve written before, the appeal of this issue to him and to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Barney Frank et al. is that governmentalization of health care is the fastest way to a permanent left-of-center political culture — one in which elections are always fought on the left’s issues and on the left’s terms and in which “conservative” parties no longer talk about small government and individual liberty but find themselves retreating to one last pitiful rationale: that they can run the left-wing state more effectively than the left can. Listen to your average British Tory or French Gaullist on the campaign trail pledging to “deliver” government services more “efficiently.”

Three stories bubbled up in the past week, although if you read the New York Times and the administration’s other airbrushers, you’ll be blissfully unaware of them: The resignation of Van Jones, former (?) communist and current Sept. 11 “truther,” from his post as Mr. Obama’s “green jobs czar.” The “reassignment” of Yosi Sergant at the National Endowment for the Arts after he was found to be urging government-funded arts groups to produce “art” in support of Obama policy positions. Finally, the extraordinary undercover tape from Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government Web site in which officials from ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (the Obama chums who will be “helping” with the next census) offer advice on how pimps can get government housing loans for brothels employing underage girls from El Salvador.

What do all these Obama associates have in common? I mean, aside from the fact that Glenn Beck played a key role in exposing them? We are assured by the airbrushing media and “moderate” conservatives that Mr. Beck is crazy, a frothing spokesnut for the lunatic fringe. By contrast, Mr. Jones, Mr. Sergant and ACORN are all members of the lunatic mainstream, embedded philosophically and actually in the heart of Obamaland.

What all these people share is a supersized view of the state, from a make-work gig coordinating the invention of phony-baloney “green jobs” to Soviet-style government-licensed art in support of heroic government programs to government-funded “community organizers” organizing government funding for jailbait bordellos. OK, government-funded child prostitution’s a bit of an outlier even for this crowd — for the moment. But you get the general idea.

The New York Times’ in-house conservative, David Brooks, was an early champion of Mr. Obama and is profiled in the current edition of the New Republic cooing paeans to the then senator’s “perfectly creased pant.” Alas, for Mr. Brooks, the bottom has dropped out of Mr. Obama’s perfectly creased pants. The other day, he was tutting that the Obama administration is in trouble because “it joined itself at the hip to the liberal leadership in Congress.” My National Review colleague Jay Nordlinger was reminded of an old observation by the great Theodore Dalrymple. During his time as an English prison doctor, Dr. Dalrymple frequently met ne’er-do-wells who said they’d “fallen in with the wrong crowd,” but, oddly enough, in all those years, he never met the wrong crowd.

Likewise, Mr. Obama didn’t “join” himself to the liberal leadership; he is the liberal leadership. The administration didn’t fall in with the wrong crowd; it is the wrong crowd. Mr. Jones, Mr. Sergant and ACORN are where Mr. Obama has chosen to live all his adult life. Even if he wanted to be the bipartisan centrist of Mr. Brooks’ fantasies, look at his Rolodex and then figure out just where such a man would estimate the center to be.

My sense from Wednesday’s speech is that the president is going to shove this through in some form or other. It may cause a little temporary pain in Blue Dog districts in 2010, but the long-term gains will be transformative and irreversible.

Mark Steyn is the author of the New York Times best-seller “America Alone.”

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