THE RICH LOWRY COLUMN
By Rich Lowry
Barack Obama raised near-millennial expectations last year. If elected, he’d transform the dreary realities of Washington with his blazing freshness. He’d win over Republicans with his engaging post-partisanship. He’d solve long-standing national problems with his nonideological pragmatism.
None of this overpromising was ever very likely to come to fruition. But Obama has now fallen down on a much more elemental test of leadership: He can’t tell the truth about his signature initiative.
Obama’s health-care push has been the most dishonest White House advocacy in recent memory. What he says about reform bears no relation to the legislation he wants Congress to pass as soon as recalcitrant Democrats can be bludgeoned into line. According to Obama, no one will lose his private coverage; costs will be controlled; and the legislation will be paid for. Obama must know that these are all politically necessary things to say, and also that none of them describes Nancy Pelosi’s handiwork.
Obama can’t bring himself to grapple with “reality-based” health-care reform, because it belies too many of his most essential sound bites. In the campaign, Obama said, “We need to tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.” On health care, Obama knows that if he doesn’t keep telling people what they want to hear — regardless of the facts — all is lost.
The phantom cost-savings measures that Obama touts can’t be detected by anyone else, including Blue Dog Democrats and the independent Congressional Budget Office. Will this stop Obama from selling health-care reform as a cost savings? Of course not.
Obama can’t admit that he is bending the famous cost curve upward, any more than he can admit that the House plan might throw millions of people out of their private coverage or that the bill will — despite its raft of new taxes — add another $239 billion to the deficit over 10 years. In its latest missive, the CBO says the numbers get even worse beyond the 10-year window. So the entire budgetary rationale of ObamaCare — improving the nation’s long-term fiscal outlook — has been obliterated.
Obama’s plan is becoming one of the most implausible and thoroughly discredited free lunches in American history. Asked at his recent press conference what sacrifices people would have to make in the cause of reducing costs, Obama said, manfully, that “they’re going to have to give up paying for things that don’t make them healthier.” As if the only factor adding to costs is greedy otolaryngologists extracting kids’ tonsils unnecessarily, the strange anecdote of wasteful health spending that Obama invoked at his presser.
Surely, the public is beginning to miss Obama circa the fall of 2008. It voted for him because he seemed reasonable, different and moderate. He could recapture that appeal by pronouncing the health-care effort so far an unfortunate misfire and starting again on a truly bipartisan basis. But he prefers to risk going down fighting — and dissembling — on behalf of his grand, misbegotten scheme.
(Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.)
© 2009 by King Features Synd., Inc.