Victor Davis Hanson: Desperately Seeking a Healthcare Bill

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.]

Speeding Over the Cliff

It is quite amazing to watch Obama invoke God, call a joint session of Congress, go tit-for-tat with the town-hall movement, and reprogram daily the presidential message over the healthcare initiative — all in the midst of a recession. The problem is that right now 85% are not upset with their healthcare coverage, and feel that modifications, not a trillion-dollar reinvention, can address the uninsured, while 100% are paranoid about the economy, mega-deficits, and a shot dollar.

Cannot some staffer take the president aside and simply say,"If you just cool it for a bit, and curb lunatic new spending, the economy will go into its natural cycle of recovery, and you can take credit early next year for the rebound, then find some bipartisan project, and hope and change your way back up"?

The parallels to Clinton 1993–1994 are eerie. He misinterpreted unhappiness over a recession, a Bush aloofness and broken pledge on taxes, and the siphoning of votes by Ross Perot into some sort of hard-left mandate that included, inter alia, nationalized healthcare. Then came the 1994 push-back. But Clinton and his advisors were astute enough to reinvent themselves in the late autumn 1994, and by 1997 he was reelected, taking credit for a surging economy and enjoying 60%+ ratings...

Obama Could Learn from Bush

There are eerie similarities between Obama’s present crusade to alter healthcare and Bush’s 2005 effort to change Social Security through the introduction of private accounts. Just as Joe Wilson heckled Obama, so too Democrats booed Bush during his 2005 “State of the Union” address. Bush felt his re-election would translate into grassroots support for Social Security reform. But the problem then was that most Americans were more or less happy with the system, and did not believe that those over 55 were fully exempt from the proposed changes, or that private investments were superior to government-guaranteed returns. They knew there were problems with Social Security’s actuarial tables, but felt that modification, rather than wholesale reinvention, was the proper cure.

The Bush effort failed, and Obama should learn from it: He should remember that most Americans like their health-insurance coverage precisely because it gives them access to the best care in the world (especially when it comes to treatment for cancer and heart problems) and can be improved to extend coverage to the uninsured without radical reinvention.

Most likely, even as he continues to spout hope-and-change, this-is-our-moment rhetoric, Obama will discover the parameters of governance that all presidents — even the most messianic — must operate within.

Obama's Mad Dash Continues

Obama's problem is more fundamental than his health-care mess. He campaigned on a no more red state/blue state, white/black, rich/poor polarity, and offered a sort of transcendence that was used to make up for his prior dubious relationships with the likes of Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers.

When governing, his supporters liked to think that he would have to rein in extremists like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to gravitate to the center and work in"bipartisan fashion." But that was never in the cards. The problem is that beneath Obama's hope-and-change veneer, his past legislative and vocal record (cf. his Senate partisanship, his statements in his memoirs, his spread-the-wealth, clingers, typical-white-person gaffes, his talk of single-payer healthcare and reparations, etc) were hard left, left even of Pelosi and Reid. The Van Jones appointment was logical, not an aberration. So to save his presidency, since the hope-and-change hocus-pocus has become old and trite, Obama would have to become an un-Obama, and do a 1995 Clinton switcheroo...
Read entire article at Private Papers (website of Victor Davis Hanson)

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Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 11/17/2009

You touched on the key to Clinton's success above, but did not dwell on it.

Clinton and other Democrats were greatly impressed (or frightened out of their wits, if you prefer) by the really strong campaign of Ross Perot in 1992. Perot bought $60 million of prime time television, and gave basically the same lecture over and over, with easel and pointer, about the need for balanced budgets. He built up a lead over both his rivals, and likely would have been elected president had he not suddenly suffered unreasonable fears and withdrawn from the race. When he got back in, it was too late, because his withdrawal had made him look unstable.

Many Democrats, however, including Clinton, did not overlook the fact that Perot's message about deficits had been sold. From that time on they decided nobody was going to out-deficit them, regardless how badly they wanted more spending and redistribution. Their Kent Conrads realized nothing would work if they could not get reelected.

The Perot message was sealed two years later when the GOP took over the House. By that point everybody hated deficit spending and high inflation. More importantly, Bill Clinton got out in front on the proposition. Fortunately for him, there was enough Reaganism remaining in the system to produce budget surpluses when a modicum of spending control was combined with the "peace dividend" and carried him to handy reelection, despite his lecherous personal life. He got lucky, too, when the "stupid party" nominated Bob Dole, and then when it forced him to "cave" on welfare reform.

But the key to it all was the series of chalk talks with easel and pointer by the Bantam rooster from Texas.

Today the Perot lesson has been forgotten mostly, and the siren song of deficit spending, to be cleared by high inflation, has led the Obama fanatics off the cliff again. We can only hope they will debase the currency so badly this time it can never happen again.