Hope and Change Meet the Devil in the Details

Jon Sanders

8/4/2009 12:01:00 AM - Jon Sanders

Despite months of campaigning, pleading, browbeating, demonizing insurance companies and upstart Republicans and stretching the truth on a Procrustean bed of sound bytes, Pres. Obama is seeing increased opposition to his health care plan. As more facts about it emerge, the more people reject it.

The president's recent travails with his health care efforts — I balk at the word "reform" since, although Obama's plan would indeed amount to a reformation, it would be woefully lacking in the positive outcomes the word "reform" implies — were entirely foreseeable. It's likely the president and his administration knew as much; yes, I'm not buying the excuse du jour that the reason for all the hurry this summer was that this unfathomably costly program would magically fix the deficit.

The strength of a "Hope and Change" campaign, as many noted, was that it was so vague and touchy-feely that it encouraged voters to project their own hopes and dreams of change onto the image of the largely unknown and unexamined candidate. Once the elected politician began providing details on what his changes actually would be, however, hopes started dashing right and left.

No doubt few hoped that change in the nation's health care industry would be the kind that we now know would result from "Obamacare." Having been told for several years now that the crisis in America is that millions of people here don't have health insurance (often shortened to the more alarming but factually incorrect "don't have health care"), people find it difficult to reconcile those alarms with the administration's animus against private health insurance providers. If they're so bad, remind us again why was it so terrible that not enough people chose to contract with them for insurance?

Likely few hoped to see health care change that would effectively dump folks off the private insurance they already have. Few probably hoped to see private health insurance made to become more expensive. It's hard to imagine many people hoping that the government would not only get involved in providing health insurance, but also so stack the deck against private providers as to effectively compel businesses to offer the "public option" and individuals to take it. Nor is it easy to think of many people who would approve of the president playing cutesy with that technicality by saying the government wouldn't force people off the insurance they have now.

People sincere in the belief that health care isn't available to enough Americans are also highly unlikely to have hoped for a board of government bureaucrats deciding at what point in a person's life or illness to deny any further health care. Nor are they likely to have hoped for that board to be so powerful as to regulate options available even for those people who choose, despite the government's fist on the scales, to retain private health insurance.

They're also unlikely to have been hoping that the same man who promised tax cuts for 95 percent of Americans would change into the president whose administration would, in less than a year, start beating the drums for middle-class tax hikes for pay for his health care deform.

Whatever hope and change different individuals envisioned when they entered the voting booths last November, it's highly unlikely that they foresaw all this. Townhall events pushing the president's plan have become markedly fractious. From Philadelphia to Bristol, Virginia and elsewhere, they're letting the administration have it.

In general, appeals to hope and change speak to the optimism that is ever-present in the American spirit. Importantly, it is an optimism rooted in the unqualified success of the American Experiment, which is no less than the liberation of individuals from the unnecessary interference of government — as revolutionary a concept 233 years ago as it is today. A nebulous call for hope that is later revealed as just another attempt to return free men to the nursery of a nanny state is one that will still fall flat in America.