I agree totally with John that ObamaCare is a journey into the failed liberal past. But it reminds me, yet again, that there is something fundamentally wrong with the country’s political labels. A conservative, supposedly, is someone who wants to conserve the present system or even return to an earlier era’s form of governance. A liberal, or “progressive,” is someone who wants to progress to a new, better, and fairer world.
From the 1930’s to the 1960’s, those labels fit. The New Deal was all about creating a new system, one that would help lift people out of poverty and protect them from financial disaster. (Whether these ideas worked is another matter altogether.) The conservatives, who had been the dominant political force in the country from the 1890’s until 1932, had no better new ideas than to go down to the Trans-Lux and hiss at Roosevelt. They promised a return to the status quo ante, which the country wanted no part of.
Even in the 1950’s, while conservatives recognized that there was no going back to the pre–New Deal era, they were a brake on change. But by the 1960’s, as Lyndon Johnson tried to finish what the New Deal had started, new ideas were percolating on the Right, new ideas that would bring Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980 and fundamentally change the dynamics of American politics. By 1980, so-called conservatives had become the engine of change, not the brake. They have advocated genuinely new taxation reform, tort-law reform, welfare reform, health-care reform, old-age-security reform, etc.
Since 1980, it is the liberals who have been the true conservatives in American politics, advocating a return to the policies and programs of the New Deal and the Great Society. Is there a single idea in the liberal canon that postdates Lyndon Johnson’s departure from the White House more than 40 years ago?
The current health-care debate is a case in point. Obama is plenty smart enough to know that a bill to create a Canadian-style, single-payer health-care system — a liberal dream since the days of Harry Truman — would have no chance of passage. So the “reform” centered on a free-market-destroying “public option” now being knocked together in various congressional committees seems more designed to destroy the current system than to reform it, the rich being heavily taxed (oh, sorry, pay their fair share) to fund the murder.
The Right’s ideas of fundamentally reforming health care by incentivizing both medical professionals and patients alike to become much more cost-conscious and of reforming how malpractice is handled would drain hundreds of billions of now-wasted dollars out of the system, making it far more possible for the now uninsured to become insured. But these ideas have no place in the system designed by liberals.
Why? Simple, they would work and thus make the 65-year-old dream of a government-run, single-payer system seem the quaint relic from an earlier era that it actually is. So I want new labels to replace “liberal” and “conservative.” The current labels are as out-of-date as fireside chats, bread lines, hobos, and sharecroppers.