WASHINGTON -- There are legislative miles to go before the government will be emancipated from its health care myopia, but it is not too soon for a summing up. Whether all or nothing of the legislation becomes law, Barack Obama has refuted critics who call him a radical. He has shown himself to be a timid progressive.
His timidity was displayed when he flinched from fighting for the boldness the nation needs -- a transition from the irrationality of employer-provided health insurance. His progressivism is an attitude of genteel regret about the persistence of politics.
Employer-paid insurance is central to what David Gratzer of the Manhattan Institute calls "the 12 cent problem." That is how much of every health care dollar is spent by the person receiving the care. Hence Americans' buffet mentality -- we paid at the door to the health care feast, so let's consume all we can.
John McCain had the correct prescription for health care during the 2008 campaign. He proposed serious change -- taxing employer-provided health care as what it indisputably is, compensation, and giving tax credits, including refundable ones, for individuals to purchase insurance. Instead, as the legislative endgame plods toward us on leaden feet, the sprawling bills would subsidize insurance purchases for families of four earning almost $100,000 a year, a redundant reminder of unseriousness about the nation's fiscal mismanagement.
Of course, there now is a commission of experts to recommend cures for this. It should be called the Philip Dru Memorial Commission.
In a scintillating book coming in June ("The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris"), Peter Beinart dissects the progressivism of Woodrow Wilson. Edward House, Wilson's closest adviser, wrote an awful but indicative novel, "Philip Dru: Administrator." With the nation in crisis, Dru seizes power, declares himself "Administrator of the Republic," and replaces Congress with a commission of five experts who decree reforms that selfish interests had prevented.
Wilson, a professor of political science, said that the Princeton he led as its president was dedicated to unbiased expertise, and he thought government could be "reduced to science." Progressives are forever longing to replace the governance of people by the administration of things. Because they are entirely public-spirited, progressives volunteer to be the administrators, and to be as disinterested as the dickens.
How gripped was Wilson by what Beinart calls "the hubris of reason"? Beinart writes: