Now consider health care. Liberals have been pushing for some version of universal, single-payer health care for over a century. But President Obama couldn't deliver that, even with total control of both houses of Congress. Why? Because vast numbers of Americans didn't want to lose what they had or didn't think government could offer something better. Obama understood this. So, rather than try to persuade the American people to downgrade or otherwise adjust their expectations, he simply lied to them. He said everyone in America satisfied with the health-care status quo could keep the health-care status quo, period. Like your doctor? Keep your doctor. Like your plan? Keep your plan.
Moreover, anyone dissatisfied with the status quo would get everything they wanted, too. It would be better! Cheaper! Faster, stronger, bionic! Whatever you want, he promised it.
But that was an impossible, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too promise.
Americans blame the parties for a lot, but a lot can be blamed on Americans. I don't necessarily mean that in a negative or accusatory way. I merely mean that the parties tend to lag behind the times. Culturally, Americans want all the upside and none of the downside. Fight the war on terror but don't violate my privacy. Kill our enemies but don't kill anyone by accident. Contain threats but don't cost too much.
When it comes to government services, the same mind-set rules. A lot of it has to do with technology, which changes culture far more than any sitcom, song or movie. ATM machines, iPhones, apps, GPS, debit cards, you name it: All work so seamlessly we've come to think this is the way things -- all things -- are supposed to work. It's not an intellectual conclusion but a feeling stemming from lived experience. In pitching Healthcare.gov, Obama pandered to that expectation, vowing the site would work as well as Amazon.com. But the government doesn't work like Amazon.com. It literally can't work like Amazon.com.
In the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, many Republicans are growing more skeptical about the national security state and foreign interventions. If Obamacare continues to unravel, it will be interesting to see if Democrats undergo a similar readjustment, and stop overpromising and underdelivering.
But the far more important development will be when Americans start to downgrade their expectations of what government can do.