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James Taranto: Why ObamaCare Makes Us Nostalgic for the Cold War

[James Taranto is editor of OpinionJournal.com and author of its popular Best of the Web Today column. In August 2007 he was named a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board.]

Well, they did it to us. By a vote of 219-212, the House late last night passed the Senate's ObamaCare bill, sending it to the president for his signature. Wisely, the Democrats who run the House dispensed with the bizarre "deem and pass" tactic and voted on the bill directly, depriving ObamaCare foes of what would have been a strong procedural objection....

...ObamaCare will further destabilize American politics. This would be a continuation of a trend that dates to the last major political inflection point: the end of the Cold War.

With 20 years' hindsight, it now seems clear that the Cold War's end had a profoundly unsettling effect on American domestic politics. In the latter half of the Cold War--between 1968 and 1992--we had a fairly stable regime of divided government: Democrats ran Congress; Republicans held the White House....

In 1992, the first post-Cold War presidential election, economic anxiety suddenly mattered much more than national security. Voters rejected a Republican incumbent with a strong foreign-policy record in favor of a Democrat with no foreign-policy experience. The Democrats still had big majorities in Congress, and it looked like a new liberal era was dawning. Sound familiar?

The ensuing 18 years have seen both parties make repeated comebacks, only to suffer setbacks. The permanent Democratic House majority came to an end two years after the new liberal era began. Bill Clinton looked as if he was finished, but of course he wasn't. We saw an impeachment of a president and a disputed presidential election--two events with precedent, but not in living memory. The attacks of 9/11 brought national security back to the fore, so that after the 2004 election Republicans thought they had attained a permanent majority. By 2006, voters were convinced Republicans were incompetent and the Democrats had regained their majority. Then Barack Obama and another new liberal era. And so it goes....

During the debate over the Iraq war, we sometimes puzzled over left-wing nostalgia for the Cold War--expressed, for example, as a desire to "contain" Saddam Hussein's regime rather than get rid of it. How could anyone long for an era in which the threat of nuclear war was ever-present and hundreds of millions of people suffered under totalitarian regimes?

But the Cold War did impose a certain stability on American politics. It constrained our leaders from doing reckless things like bullying through a takeover of one-sixth of the economy--or, for those of a different political outlook, getting involved in a shooting war in the Middle East. This November Democrats seem likely to pay a heavy price for their recklessness. Assuming the Republicans do make a comeback, we hope it isn't too much to ask for a little self-restraint for a change.
Read entire article at WSJ