The final desideratum of the New Deal welfare state

The Democrats and Health Care - An account of political self-destruction


The passage of Barack Obama's health-care legislation in the spring of 2010 proved profoundly injurious to the president and his party in the November midterm elections. Studies conducted at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota agree that at least one-third of the 63-seat Democratic loss in the House of Representatives can be attributed to the electorate's negative reaction to the health-care bill—which suggests that the legislation was responsible for taking a bad election and turning it into a historic disaster.

Indeed, the determination of Democrats to push for the passage of health-care legislation may have created a new political dynamic in the United States. Since 1991, as I explained in an article published in the March 2010 issue of Commentary called "Health Care: A Two-Decade Blunder," Democrats have operated under a misperception—the misperception that health care was a winning issue for them. It has repeatedly led them to mistake voter concern for the economy for support for the Democratic health-care vision. In both 1992 and 2008, Democrats won the presidency in the midst of economic turmoil. And following both elections, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama saw their respective victories as a mandate to make a government-run health-care system—the final desideratum of the New Deal welfare state—a reality. Clinton's failure to get it and Obama's success in getting it led both men to spectacular midterm defeats.


In June 2009, according to the New Republic's Jonathan Cohn, chief Obama adviser David Axelrod briefed the president on polling numbers showing the unpopularity of his health-care plans, telling him that "these numbers are pretty discouraging—there's a political cost to this." Obama responded with a story of a cancer patient who lacked health insurance and told Axelrod, "Let's keep fighting."

In August 2009, Vice President Joe Biden and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel suggested that they turn away from health care to spare the party a political disaster. Obama refused, telling some of his aides, "I feel lucky." A month later, according to David Paul Kuhn of Real Clear Politics, Virginia Senator James Webb visited President Obama in the White House and "told him this was going to be a disaster." As Webb described it, Obama somewhat blithely "believed it was all going to work out." In retrospect, the preternaturally calm-in-a-crisis Obama celebrated in best-selling books like Game Change seemed less calm than bizarrely oblivious.

Comment: Word of the day (new word for me!): desideratum. The Dem health care plan (passed into law), commonly called Obamacare, is not better or less costly! Hopefully key provisions will die in the courts!

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