The spectacularly dreadful debut of Obamacare represents the greatest political opportunity for conservatism and the Republican Party in two generations. Big government stands rebuked. It has overreached, overpromised, and, embarrassingly, failed to deliver. Even if the website's gremlins are banished, and even if Obamacare purrs along like a BMW from now on, voters will be disillusioned.
They will be disappointed because the president and his party promised that the program would provide coverage to the uninsured, expand the services provided at no charge to customers, cover those with pre-existing conditions, oblige insurers to keep adult children on their parents' policies, remove lifetime caps, and offer free preventive care. At the same time, (set ital) no one would pay a penny more (end ital) (In fact, everyone's premiums would decline by $2,500.), and no one would lose access to the plan they were happy with or be obliged to switch doctors. Oh, and not a dime would be added to the deficit.
It's been said that the Democrats are the Santa Claus party. For generations, they've succeeded politically by delivering benefits and sending the bill to future generations. That is how we've accumulated a national debt that is, according to Chris Cox and Bill Archer former members of Clinton's Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform, north of $86 trillion. (Republicans have contributed as well.)
If Democrats had structured Obamacare the same way -- benefits now, costs put off into the indefinite future -- they would not be in immediate trouble. But Republicans had succeeded in influencing the political culture enough that Democrats feared they could not pass another new entitlement (even one relying solely on Democratic votes) that did not at least pay lip service to deficit neutrality. That's how they came up with the convoluted tangle of exchanges, subsidies, mandates, taxes, regulations, and Medicaid expansion that is currently nose-diving.
Because Democrats attempted to keep Obamacare deficit-neutral, someone had to pay. Voters might have thought that privilege would go only to the rich. But substantial numbers of middle-income Americans are finding that the new law, rather than delivering a benefit, is taking something away from them. Some are losing money, as their premiums rise; others are losing coverage, as their plans are cancelled.
Voters may accordingly be newly receptive to the Republican message of skepticism about big government. But an opportunity is not a silver platter.