Commentary Magazine


They Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

If you wanted a sound bite that embodied much of what is wrong with contemporary liberalism, you could do worse than listen to the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on health care:

We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in but we’re going to get health-care reform passed for the America people.

Set aside the fact that Ms. Pelosi sounds like Tareq and Michaele Salahi trying to crash a White House State dinner. She seems to view herself as part of the guardian class, as one of our philosopher kings who knows better than the great, unwashed masses what is good for them. It is of a piece with the collectivist mindset, one that believes that it is with the ruling class that wisdom resides. They know best – and they will give you not what you may want but what they believe you need.

This view is exceedingly arrogant and, if it is indulged in often enough, it becomes, in some sense, anti-democratic.

There is a long history in America to dictate the proper role of its legislators. Some argue they ought to mirror public opinion all the time; others argue that we elect people to political posts based on our confidence in their judgment. They therefore have a relatively free hand to pursue the agenda they deem appropriate. But even those who subscribe to the views of the second group understand that in the end, ours is a representative form of government. The will of the people matters. We are, after all, a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The public has seen how Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and President Obama want to jam health-care legislation down its throat despite its obvious wishes. The public has ways of fighting back against such things. They are known as elections. Three of them have happened recently, in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts. The Democrats have lost each one – and in the process they have lost independent voters by a margin of at least two-to-one. In each of those elections, local issues obviously played an important role in the outcome of the races. But framing each of these elections was the sense that the federal government has become too large, too intrusive, too expensive, and too incompetent. It has not earned the right to run one-sixth of the American economy.

What President Obama has succeeded in doing is to boil down politics to a fairly basic and elementary level, including the role of the state in the lives of its citizenry. Ms. Pelosi and Messrs. Reid and Obama are advocates of what Margaret Thatcher called a “nanny state” – the state that takes too much from you in order to do too much for you. Those who believe the American people are prepared to embrace such a thing are badly misguided. Democrats are learning that lesson the hard way. And with the mid-term elections approaching, they should keep in mind the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive: They ain’t seen nothing yet.