Why The Challenge to Obamacare Was So Significant: “the future of the Democratic Party’s plausible agenda, and of liberalism itself, is on the line.”

November 18th, 2013

This law represented much more than an attempt to lower health costs and give benefits to those who could not buy insurance beforehand. It was a quantum shift in our Republic towards progressivism. This piece in Politico sums up the stakes concisely:

Those words mean that much more is riding on the success or failure of Obama’s signature health domestic policy than the fate of this president. Emboldened conservatives and worried liberals alike agree that the future of the Democratic Party’s plausible agenda, and of liberalism itself, is on the line.

Obama’s challenge is now nothing less than to assure that the cycle of progressivism he presumed to usher in, and the period of renewed faith and confidence in the transformative powers of government that he promised, does not die aborning. That will be no easy task.

“Unlike the Republican agenda, the Democratic agenda does not work unless people have a certain level of trust in the competence of the government to act on their behalf,” said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who 25 years ago helped launch the centrist “New Democratic” agenda that brought the Democrats back from years in the presidential wilderness. “That is, if you will, the Democratic proposition. It’s not to say that the government should do everything, but it is to say there’s an indispensable — and not necessarily small — role for government at every level.”

Conservative thinkers have already seized on the rocky rollout of Obamacare — and the indefensible management failures it implies — as proof positive that the age-old argument over the proper role of state action in American life has reached a fresh danger point for the Democrats.

“At stake is the new, more ambitious, social-democratic brand of American liberalism introduced by Obama, of which Obamacare is both symbol and concrete achievement,” wrote the columnist Charles Krauthammer. “Its unraveling would catastrophically undermine their ideology of ever-expansive central government providing cradle-to-grave care for an ever-grateful citizenry.”

Most people are fairly ignorant about politics (somewhere Ilya Somin is smiling). But the widespread, colossal failure of Obamacare to date can do nothing but reaffirm in the minds of the American people that maybe the government shouldn’t, or more precisely, can’t do all of these wonderful things they were promised.

This law represents a stark clash of views of the American experiment. This year, the cause of progressivism has been its own worst enemy.