Listening to President Barack Obama and other top Democrats on the subject of health care, one could be forgiven for thinking commercial medicine itself is on the verge of collapse, and that most of us soon will be completely unable to access decent medical treatment. In response to criticisms from GOP lawmakers and gloomy CBO projections, Obama re-emphasized what he insists is a need for immediate, drastic reform. He dismissed the illumination of the fiscal insanity of his prized health care plan as the “politics of delay and defeat” and “politics of the moment” and said, “The need for reform is urgent and it is indisputable.”
It is impossible to arrive at the conclusions Obama apparently has reached on health care reform without blanking out reality and ignoring a host of contradictions. Sure, health care is expensive. How did it get so costly? Blank-out. Whose responsibility is it to provide health insurance? Blank-out. Who will pay for this massive overhaul? Blank-out. How will this legislation accomplish its stated goals? Blank-out. How have similar programs in other countries fared? Blank-out. What incentives does government have to provide and maintain quality health care? Blank-out. Whose “need” is really served by this behemoth of a bill? Blank-out. What does the bill even say? Blank-out.
Still, even Obama recognizes that time is against him. With his approval ratings falling, his stimulus package failing, the ugly details of the bill leaking out, and the economy already suffering enough, he knows that it’s now or never. That is why he is determined to convince the country that without major action by the great and glorious State, health care costs will climb forever, eventually pricing everyone out of affordable care. Never mind the fact that costs cannot rise out of consumers’ reach without bankrupting service providers. Blank that out, too.
Former President George W. Bush was roundly criticized for employing the “politics of fear” to expand the police powers of the executive branch. During his administration, terrorism was the great goblin to be fended off by our benevolent bureaucracy. If the government did not get greater surveillance and detention powers, it was reasoned, terrorists could execute another massive attack, killing thousands or even millions of Americans. We were urged to be vigilant and trust increasingly powerful law enforcement authorities to guard against evil outsiders sneaking in and attacking us once again. Stand with your country, or the terrorists will win.
The politics of fear are even more pronounced under the new administration, and arguably more insidious. Our sworn enemy during the Bush years at least was tangible and defined, and fighting it was basically a matter of fulfilling one of the few proper functions of government: defending the homeland. In the age of Obama, the enemy is privation itself–invisible, yet ever-present; undefined, yet understood and feared by all; not a prescribed province of government activity, yet action on which is demanded and welcomed by a fear-stricken populace. To fight this enemy, we are presented with an ultimatum: turn choice in health care over to the government, or risk losing medical coverage for our families. We are asked to grant the state a new level of authority, the gravity of which is surpassed only by its ambiguity. A 1,018-page bill, rammed through with little debate and against all informed judgment? So much for that transparency we were promised.
The urgency Obama conveys in his push for universal health care coverage reflects his own concerns about his dwindling political capital, not the dangers of rising health care costs. He knows as well as Congress does that the more time we have to examine the bill and consider the veracity of the claims made to justify it, the more likely we are to hold him accountable for the unprecedented and unacceptable power grab this really is.