By WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, 3.29.2012, Via Meadia
After oral arguments before the Supreme Court this week, the odds that the Court will strike the individual mandate rose sharply; Intrade markets after the hearings showed bettors thought there was a 62 percent chance that the mandate will fall.
I can’t tell you whether the law is unconstitutional; I can’t even tell you whether the Supreme Court will uphold it — or, if the mandate goes, what else might stay.
But the health care law’s troubles shed some further light on the crisis of American progressivism and the blue social model it has built. Those who believe in the blue model and want to extend it have lost their touch; the dream machines of the blue social engineers don’t sail serenely across the azure sky anymore. Think of the various carbon exchanges and environmental planetary schemes; think of high speed rail proposals like California’s $100 billion train to bankruptcy; think of Obamacare. These days the experts, “social entrepreneurs” and smart young blue twenty somethings fresh out of the Ivy League whomp up social programs with as much verve and dedication as their New Deal and Great Society predecessors, but the new Dreamliners don’t take off. At most they roll around the runway, emitting clouds of noxious smoke; wings fall off, windows pop out, turbines misfire and the tires go flat.
Obamacare was supposed to be the capstone in the arch of a new progressive era. The Dems were going to show us all that government really does work. Smart government by smart people, using modern methods and the latest up to the minute research from carefully peer reviewed articles in well regarded social science journals can solve big social problems. Obamacare was going to be such a big hit that even the bitter clingers would have to put down their guns and their Bibles long enough to thank the Democrats for this wonderful new benefaction.
But even if the Supreme Court doesn’t pull the trigger and kill the law in June, the darn thing won’t fly. The public hates it, and the longer it’s on the books the less popular it gets. This isn’t like Social Security, a program the public fell in love with early on and still cherishes today. It isn’t like Head Start, which remains dearly beloved even though there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that it helps anybody other than the people it employs. Obamacare is only marginally more popular than the Afghan War; already its estimated cost has doubled and we all know these numbers are likely to continue to increase. Obamacare so far is a political flop and shows ominous early signs of being a policy misfire as well. The benefits don’t seem to measure up to the hype, more people are going to lose their existing insurance, premiums are going up and the impact on the deficit is going to be worse.
This is a horrible piece of legislation — as misbegotten and useless to its friends as it is menacing to its enemies. The question is: why? Why did the blues write such a bad law? Why, given a once in a lifetime chance to pass a program that Dems have longed to achieve ever since the New Deal, did they craft a sloppy mess that nobody understands and few admire, and then leave their law so unnecessarily vulnerable to constitutional challenge?