The talking heads love presidential analogies. Is Obamacare's rollout Obama's Hurricane Katrina or his Iraq? Is Obama's false promise that you could keep your health care plan like George H. W. Bush's "read my lips" pledge, or is it like Bill Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman"? Iran-Contra anyone?
These comparisons don't take you far. The president's troubles are unique to his particular vanities and blind spots.
Some of Obama's most devoted admirers are at pains to distinguish his current fall from grace from George W. Bush's. Chris Matthews, for example, argues: "The problem with Katrina was apparent indifference. One thing you can't hold against the president is indifference about health care. He's the guy that rushed in, pushed through a program with pure Democratic support and took all the risks involved in it."
The accusation that Bush was "indifferent" to the suffering caused by Katrina is to take as fact the slanders of Bush's detractors. Matthews also extends gracious allowances for Obama's motives (though his suggestion that Obama "took all the risks" might not go down well with the 63 Democrats who lost their seats in 2010).
This tendency to judge liberals and leftists only by their intentions is very old. At its worst, it has been offered as justification for the foulest crimes. "In order to make an omelet," Vladimir Lenin is supposed to have said, "you have to be willing to break a few eggs." Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, years later, replied, "I have seen the broken eggs, but no one I know has ever tasted the omelet."
The unraveling of Obamacare is a kind of poetic justice, not just for Obama, whose overweening and utterly groundless arrogance now stands rebuked, but also for liberalism. Until Obamacare, liberals had been able to boast of providing benefits to various constituencies while forever pushing the costs onto future generations. This time is different. Why?
Republicans can take a bow on this one. Despite having lost the 2008 presidential election, they had not forfeited all influence over the political culture. Their focus on debt and excessive spending forced the reigning Democrats to trim their sails. The Obama/Pelosi/Reid troika did not dare to pass another new entitlement that would further bloat the deficit. Instead, they had to jury rig a law that would seem to be deficit-neutral. And while Obama lied about the price to be paid ("the average family will see premiums decline by $2,500"), the costs were built into the system in various forms. The young would be forced to pay higher premiums to support the older and sicker, Medicare would take cuts, those with more beneficent plans would pay a "Cadillac tax," inexpensive bare-bones coverage would be disallowed, medical device makers would pay a tax, Medicaid would be expanded, the uninsured would pay a fine (oh, excuse me, a "tax" according to the chief justice) and more.
Those are just the obvious costs. The less apparent include the incentives for employers to shift people to part-time work (less than 30 hours per week by the law's terms), the increased costs of compliance with the law's 10,000 pages of regulations, decreasing physician satisfaction, excessive centralization of care and the inevitable premium increases for those with employer-provided coverage.
Unlike Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, Head Start and the rest of the federal cornucopia, the costs of Obamacare are being felt immediately. That's a trap door for Democrats.
Obama's admirers may offer him credit for seeking to do good, but at what price? The Hippocratic oath for physicians should also apply to leaders: First, do no harm. The entire health care system now trembles with uncertainty because Obama imposed his vision of "fundamental transformation" on a reluctant nation.
Even assuming that Obama had the best motives -- a desire to see the uninsured covered -- his greed to control and regulate the entire health care system revealed a man without wisdom or prudence. He didn't realize buying health insurance was so complicated, he explained on Thursday. Anyone who'd even run a Kinko's would know better. He didn't keep tabs on those tasked with creating this massive, hydra-headed system. Perhaps he thought there were no problems in the world that wouldn't yield to another Obama speech.
C.S. Lewis, who died the day John F. Kennedy was shot 50 years ago next week, warned of soft despots: "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."