Bartley's Lofty WSJ Legacy

March 23, 2012 Topic: HealthDomestic Politics Blog Brand: The Buzz

Bartley's Lofty WSJ Legacy

Longtime readers of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page will recall the educational mission the page set for itself going back at least to the 1970s. This mission was manifest in long, expository editorials designed not just to express an opinion or to argue it forcefully but rather to educate readers on the complexities of major issues.

In the 1970s, when the page was famously pioneering a serious exploration of supply-side economics (and a serious advocacy for supply-side tax policies), editor Robert Bartley produced a number of noteworthy editorials, covering the entire editorial space for a single piece that stepped back and explicated at length the arguments for why economic policies of that time weren’t working and why a tax-cutting regimen would serve the nation far more favorably.

Upon becoming president, Ronald Reagan embraced those arguments and instituted fiscal policies that reversed the economic malaise and set the nation upon a solid growth path with a dramatic reduction in inflation. Bartley deserves credit for devoting so much space to expository editorial writing that turned out to be sound.

And Bartley successor Paul Gigot deserves credit for Friday’s editorial entitled “Liberty and ObamaCare.” Like those editorials of old, this one takes up the entire editorial space and explores the constitutional ramifications of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the subject of Supreme Court oral arguments this week.

In measured, concise and lucid prose, the editorial explores numerous old Supreme Court cases that bear on the question at hand. It offers a history of the Commerce Clause, used by ObamaCare defenders as their foundation stone. And it lays bare the stakes involved. “The stakes,” says the editorial, “are much larger than one law or one President. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Supreme Court’s answers may constitute a hinge in the history of American liberty and limited and enumerated government.”

One doesn’t have to agree with that appraisal to appreciate this kind of probing editorial writing. But in this instance the Journal seems to have it right. This is a very smart brand of polemical journalism.