He’s a failure only by American standards. Not by his own.
Since the indignities of the Great Depression swept Franklin Roosevelt and his crack team of social engineers into the highest offices in the land, the Left’s primary political strategy has been to pass as big an expansion of government as is feasible in their brief moments of ascendancy and then to dare the dissidents to take its fruits away when, eventually, they get back into power. As we have all learned over the last 80 years or so, progressives tend to view the welfare state in much the same way as conservatives regard the Constitution: as settled and almost holy writ, the fundamentals of which should be changed only in extraordinary circumstances. In 2012, it was this presumption that informed the popular chant that Obamacare was now “the law” and that it was in consequence to be set in aspic for all time. It is this postulation, too, that explains the crass envy that so many on the left feel for Europe, on which continent the form of sweeping statism that they covet is held to be wholly uncontroversial. And it is this conjecture that explains why FDR wished to entrench positive government action within the nation’s legal firmament, his administration’s hoping that the tenets of the New Deal would eventually be codified into a Second Bill of Rights. Why do we imagine that Obama works so hard to cast his health-care legislation not as a government program that can be altered or repealed at any time but as an immutable “right”? Because, once in, additions to the welfare system are supposed to be untouchable.
By their nature, conservative reforms tend to be easily reversible. Retrenchment can always be superseded by increased spending on newly discovered necessities. Tax cuts can easily be replaced with increases, should the scale of spending or the vicissitudes of the business cycle so demand. Crises and swells in public sentiment are, likewise, the friend of the regulators and the tinkerers, and not of the parsimonious. In our present political discourse, the very concept of “progress” is conflated as a matter of routine with the growth of the state — that word’s being trotted out as a question-begging, catch-all justification for whichever imperatives were agreed upon yesterday at Harvard. The result, as President Reagan quipped, is that “government programs, once launched, never disappear,” their enabling departments representing “the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.” Those who are wondering why a man who ran promising to use executive power modestly is now channeling Julius Caesar should recognize this simple truth, for it will lead them eventually to their unlovely answer. Put bluntly, Barack Obama understands that, long-term, his usurpations are worth the cost to him and his party. Why did the president keep delaying Obamacare, despite his having no legal authority to do so? Because, by sheltering the law from the wrath of the electorate and ensuring that it could be entrenched within American life before anybody noticed that it had been sold under false pretenses, he could turn the conversation away from his own failures and toward the iniquity of those who would have repealed it before it was too late.
This approach has informed his tenure. The sequence: Get the thing in; take whatever losses are necessary; shelter it from harm, legally or not; and then reap the benefits in the long-term. The strategy is an effective one. Michael Cannon and Jonathan Adler may well be correct when they contend that Obamacare-as-written does not permit the IRS to send subsidies through federal health-care exchanges. And, next year, they may even persuade the Supreme Court to rule in favor of their claim. If they do, we will watch the highest court in the land confirm that the IRS and the White House have acted ultra vires once again. But, ultimately, who cares? Having sent money out to millions of people, the president will now be able to paint his opponents as cruel and selfish ideologues who hope to take health care away from the poor. For the sake of argument, we might suppose for a moment that Obama knew full well what he was doing — that is, that he understood that subsidies were not to be given out in this manner but that he did it anyhow. Given his broader aims, couldn’t we regard this as a smart calculation? As any naughty child knows, it is far easier to apologize than to ask for permission.
He’s no more “smart” than he is a failure. He’s cunning and devious, and those are not the same things. And those poor blind souls who are expecting Republicans ever to take advantage of Obama’s lawless manipulations of our former Constitutional system to advance the end of limited government are making the same sort of mistake as those who keep bleating about his “failure”: they’re judging by a set of standards that do not apply.
This ruse seems all the more profitable once one has recognized that President Obama is likely to be untroubled by the possibility that a Republican could eventually use the same tools against the Democratic party and its interests. Fun as it may be for frustrated Republicans to contemplate the prospect of a President Ted Cruz refusing to enforce high tax rates or to prosecute those who violate the National Labor Relations Act or to stop sending out welfare checks, these initiatives would be significantly politically different than have been Obama’s. Before conservatives can make changes, they must persuade enough people that the obvious benefits of a given policy are being outweighed by the distributed and inconspicuous drawbacks. Moreover, the obvious beneficiaries of their thriftiness tend to be less self-evidently sympathetic than do the Left’s. Few people’s heartstrings, I’d venture, are pulled by the thought of reforms to the corporate tax rate; by the deregulation of industry; by the restructuring of unsustainable pension plans; or by changes to the manner in which public-sector unions are funded. By contrast, ten minutes after the passage of their latest grand scheme, progressives are afforded the delicious opportunity to accuse the naysayers of wishing to “take away” goodies from the people. Consider just how quickly conservatives were told that by continuing to oppose Obamacare they were hoping to drag the country all the way back to the dark, apocalyptic days of 2009. Note how comfortable the pro-Obamacare journalistic class has become in telling its critics that they “want to kill people.” Observe the ease with which our friends on the left take for granted that government is the only legitimate means by which moral action may be channeled and that its detractors must therefore be cads and bounders.
All of which adds up to the reason you never, ever compromise with the Left. They are not debating in good faith; neither are they honestly attempting to persuade. They are weaving webs into which they hope to ensnare the well-meaning along with everybody else. “Compromise” only ever works in their favor, and the ratchet only ever turns one way.
Read all of it, and understand fully if you haven’t yet just how our warped and distorted system of (mis)governance now works.