Dr. Obama

The president’s health-care fix better reduce the deficit. Our bloated entitlement spending threatens to undermine our position as a world power.

The air is thick with cries, at least from some precincts of the Right, that President Obama employed Chicago-style ward heeler tactics to pass the health-care bill. Not so. In relying upon Democrats to pass the bill with no Republican support, Obama has, in fact, become a Washingtonian.

Obama's entire campaign in 2008 was predicated on the basis that he would usher in a new era of good feelings. He would transcend the bad, old ways of Washington. Obama was the anti-Bush. Divisiveness was out. Bipartisanship was in. Obama would end the old enmities that have been festering in Washington for several decades. The atrabiliousness of the baby-boom generation would be replaced by comity.

It never happened. Blame it on Obama, as his foes do, or blame it on Republican obstructionists, as his supporters avow. Either way, Obama has found his voice as the tribune of the Democrats, and, in many ways, it's the Republicans who helped him find it.

The GOP is counting on a sustained guerrilla campaign against ObamaCare to turn Democratic control over Congress into a mere interregnum. But while the battle against health care has unified much of the GOP, the perils the party faces should not be discounted. For one thing, the latest Gallup/CBS News poll suggests that now that health care has been signed into law by Obama, 49 percent of the public supports it. The public, of course, is fickle. It likes winners. The One has won. Had the Democrats failed to pass the bill, it would indeed have been his Waterloo. Now it could end up looking like his Battle of Inchon-a daring maneuver to rescue victory from the precipice of defeat.

Conservatives are lining up to continue the conflict. But already a few fissures are becoming apparent in their ranks. The most notable dissident is David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute and eponymously named FrumForum. Frum's conservative bona fides need no recitation. Frum argues that the Right is all wet when it comes to health care. Instead of weakening Obama, he suggests, the Republican refusal to compromise has revivified his presidency. Frum's heresies prompted the Wall Street Journal editorial page, where he worked for several years, to denounce him. The Journal would like to throw him into the old Roman Forum to face conservative gladiators: "Mr. Frum now makes his living as the media's go-to basher of fellow Republicans, which is a stock Beltway role." It is? The Journal continues, "he's peddling bad revisionist history that would have been even worse politics. The truth is that Democrats never had any intention of working with Republicans . . ." Frum points out that this latter contention is laughable, given that the Journal itself was lambasting the notion that Republican lawmakers might cooperate with Senator Max Baucus.

By now, however, this is all ancient history, revisonist or not. The real danger is that conservatives will continue down the road of exaggerating the perils of health care rather than pointing to the actual problems with the bill. Will the costs of premiums actually be reduced? How onerous will the tax hikes become? (And, on a somewhat different note, will Americans freak out at the requirement in the bill that Burger King and McDonald's fess up to the number of calories in their food on menus? If anything might send them into cataleptic shock, it's the realization that a Big Mac apparently has more than 500 calories.)

Let's face it: the greatest problem that America faces is not the health-care bill or even its lousy eating habits, but the overall surge in entitlement spending. Both Democrats and Republicans show scant interest in restraining the deficit. It will be interesting to see how both parties respond to Obama's deficit-reduction commission, headed by former-Senator Alan Simpson and former-White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, both of whom appear to have a pretty clear understanding of the terrifying effects of trillion-dollar deficits on our currency, inflation, and prosperity.

Those effects are not confined to domestic policy. They also threaten to turn American into a weary titan, which is why Niall Ferguson is not unreasonably raising the specter of permanent decline in Foreign Affairs. To banish, or at least ameliorate, it, Obama, to his credit, is pulling troops out of Iraq and, more importantly, insisting that his military surge in Afghanistan begin to draw down in 2011. The money for unlimited intervention abroad simply isn't there. If Obama hews to his foreign-policy course of moderation, he'll end up stealing the lunch money of the GOP, which refuses to reflect upon the legacies of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George H. W. Bush. The further Republicans stage a gadarene rush to the Far Right, the more ground they will cede to Obama.

 

Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.