Commentary Magazine


Barack Obama’s Lèse Majesté

I’m really beginning to miss George W. Bush’s characteristic humility. All people who reach the White House have healthy egos and ambition to match. They wouldn’t want the world’s toughest job if they didn’t, or make it through the world’s toughest political obstacle course to get there. But Bush has always seemed to me like a genuinely religious man, humble before his God, aware of his own human fallibility and capacity for error.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, gives the strong impression that his religion is strictly of the photo-op variety, assumed for political purposes, and that he worships not at an altar but at a mirror. And if there is any humility whatever in his nature, he keeps it well out of sight. Even his jokes about himself tend to turn on the fact that he, unlike the rest of the human race, is president of the United States.

One way this attitude is expressed is through his my-way-or-the-highway approach to all who disagree with him, and his division of the body politic into good guys (those who agree with him and his programs) and bad guys (everybody else). Consider his statement last week in Virginia regarding health care: “I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking,” he said. “I want them just to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess.”

Who, exactly, are “the folks who created the mess”? The only honest answer is the American people and the politicians they elected to govern the country in their name. It can’t be just Republicans or conservatives. Health insurance began in this country in 1929. Over the next 80 years, the health-care “system” evolved the way it did thanks to rulings by the IRS and state insurance regulators, mandates from Congress, and federal and state programs meant to help the poor, the elderly, children, etc. In those 80 years, the White House was held by Republicans for 40 years and by Democrats for 40 years. The Senate was held by Republicans for 24 years and by Democrats for 56. The House had a Republican majority for 16 of those years, the Democrats for 64 years.

Democracy is a messy business. Politicians of the Left, Right, and Center are always in the re-election business first and foremost, so they tend to take the path of least resistance, whatever is most politically expedient at the moment, and let the future, even the easily foreseen future, take care of itself. The squeakiest wheels (i.e., those with the best lobbyists) will get the grease. Finally, matters will get out of hand—often after a disaster, such as last year’s financial crisis—and tough choices will become unavoidable. That is when, and only when, they get made in a democracy.

With the demographic group of highest voter turnout—seniors—showing up in droves at every congressional town-hall meeting and loudly voicing its opposition to ObamaCare, it is hard to see how the plan can survive politically. It will be interesting to see if and when Barack Obama figures out that he is only the president and that the sovereign in this country are the people. At the moment, he is telling the people to shut up and get out of the way.