Despite occasional talk of pragmatism — of simply doing what works and is necessary — the Obama administration has veered to the far left with a hang-the-expenses, collectivist agenda that will turn our society upside down while likely wrecking its economy, and here comes the big question.
Is America going to say yes?
The issue of the moment is health care legislation that, according to a survey of Democratic proposals by the Congressional Budget Office, would dramatically increase health costs instead of lowering them at a time when we are clearly headed for a fiscal apocalypse fostered by entitlements. Health insurance for everyone would be another entitlement — a "right" extended to everyone by a coercive government abusing the real rights of many citizens in order to bring about calamity.
But the rush to this cliff's edge — let's pass bills by August, shouts our president — is hardly the only sign of a socialist agenda. Clues have included the federal takeover of auto companies and banks, a regulatory scheme that would allow no corporate hiccup to go unregistered, unabashed business bashing, other plans to extend the welfare state, spending to equal and then surpass what you find in Europe, and a nanny-state aggressiveness that would render us all children answering to Big Daddy in D.C.
The excuse has been an economic emergency that required extreme but temporary measures. The facts are that the $800 billion stimulus bill was not needed, at least not in its ill-considered, politically instructed, nonstimulating form; that it's far from certain just how temporary some actions will be; and that administration ambitions far exceed recovery from the recession. Take a look at cap-and-trade, an industry-crippling, prices-increasing idea that will accomplish nothing without international cooperation about as likely as ice cubes in biblical hell.
When the economy is in turmoil, that's what people focus on — will they have a job next week, can they pay the mortgage, will their health insurance lapse? And when a president is brand-new — especially if he is as brilliantly articulate and as everlastingly reassuring as Barack Obama — they give him the benefit of the doubt. Polls nevertheless do show the public is beginning to have at least some trepidation about the direction we're headed even though the adversarial political reporting they must rely on has been a whole lot less adversarial than once it was.
If enough people get worried enough, maybe at least some parts of the Obama program can be derailed before they become permanent fixtures of the American scene, transforming us from a generally thriving, individualist, self-reliant, liberty-loving nation to one that supposes the extraordinary accomplishments of free enterprise could have been centrally planned, that you can get something for nothing and that there is no price, no oppression to be paid for governmental extravagance.
The opinion rebellion — if there is to be one — must start on health care reform, not with a stance that nothing can be done to fix a system that malfunctions in manifold ways, but with a determination that Congress will work out solutions slowly, carefully and in keeping with principles that have served the nation extremely well.
Jay Ambrose is the former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers.