Don’t Canonize Obama Just Yet

March 23rd, 2010 at 4:13 pm | 18 Comments |

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You have to feel a little sorry for liberals today. It’s been so long since they could claim a world-historical figure as their very own, that their gushing encomiums over President Barack Obama’s triumph in passing national health insurance reform have become just a touch too mawkish.

For example, Matthew Yglesias has placed Mr. Obama into the pantheon of liberal lions exactly one year and two months into his presidency:

Now that it’s done, Barack Obama will go down in history as one of America’s finest presidents. It’s always possible of course that, like LBJ, he’ll get involved in some unrelated fiasco that mars his reputation. But fundamentally, he’s reshaped the policy landscape in a way that no progressive politician has done in decades.

Not to be outdone, The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait makes virtually the same point:

Let me offer a ludicrously premature opinion: Barack Obama has sealed his reputation as a president of great historical import. We don’t know what will follow in his presidency, and it’s quite possible that some future event–a war, a scandal–will define his presidency. But we do know that he has put his imprint on the structure of American government in a way that no Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has.

So eager are our liberal friends to anoint the president as the inheritor of Franklin Roosevelt’s mantle that Chait goes the extra mile in homage and writes that the bill is not only good — it’s great!

Historians will see this health care bill as a masterfully crafted piece of legislation. Obama and the Democrats managed to bring together most of the stakeholders and every single Senator in their party. The new law untangles the dysfunctionalities of the individual insurance market while fulfilling the political imperative of leaving the employer-provided system in place.

I’m sure it will come as a surprise to you that this cut-and-paste, deal-laden, haphazardly thrown together, mish-mash of an entitlement bill was “masterfully crafted.” Perhaps Chait means it the same way that a Da-Daist painter “masterfully crafts” a surreal portrait — you don’t have a clue who it is or what it means but it’s expensive and nobody really wants one hanging in their living room.

Pre-sanctifying Obama before the president has even started his second season on the golf course is sort of pathetic. It’s like consecrating a baseball rookie as a Hall of Fame candidate in April when he’s hitting over .300. Let’s revisit the rookie’s stats at the All Star break and tell me then if we should send his uniform to Cooperstown.

Similarly, the real damage Obamacare will do won’t kick in until 2014, when the individual mandate forcing everyone to buy insurance kicks in. That’s when those 10,000 extra IRS agents that are being hired will find something to do with their time besides annoying citizens about their taxes. Our IRS overlords will be on the job, making a list and checking it twice for insurance scofflaws. Beyond making sure you have insurance, these 10,000 extra pairs of eyes will also determine whether or not you have the right kind of coverage that have been dictated by the bureaucrats.

I see the potential for a situation comedy in this, as intimidated citizens are forced to argue with the Revenuers that A, B, and C in their policies puts them in compliance with the law while the infallible Treasury Agents don’t quite see it that way. Hilarity ensues when the poor schmuck gets caught in the wheels of IRS administrative justice and is ground to powder — outlasted by the well meaning, but bumbling bureaucrats. Perhaps we could call it 2 ½ Feds.

Then there’s the deficit. A great deal was made by proponents of the bill that the preliminary analysis by the Congressional Budget Office gave the House bill with reconciliation fixes a passing grade when it came to cost versus savings. The $940 billion price tag over the first ten years of the bill was accompanied by $138 billion in deficit reduction. The fact that the total budget deficit over that same span of time is predicted to be $7.12 trillion wasn’t mentioned by supporters of Obamacare for obvious reasons; the $138 billion reduction in that number is an obscene joke and Congress is, after all, a family show.

To be sure, history is not on the side of Obamacare supporters. Every single health care entitlement has far exceeded budgetary expectations. In the case of Medicare, it is particularly telling.

In 1965, the House Ways and Means Committee estimated that the hospital insurance program of Medicare — the federal health care program for the elderly and disabled — would cost $9 billion by 1990. The actual cost that year was $67 billion.

In 1967, the House Ways and Means Committee said the entire Medicare program would cost $12 billion in 1990. The actual cost in 1990 was $98 billion.

In 1987, Congress projected that Medicaid — the joint federal-state health care program for the poor — would make special relief payments to hospitals of less than $1 billion in 1992. Actual cost: $17 billion.

Nick Gillespie at Reason.com, quoting from a study done by the Joint Economic Committee,

It seems there is a kind of Murphy’s Law of health care legislation: “If it can cost more than the highest available official estimate, it probably will.”

All of this begs the question; aren’t liberals being a little premature in granting President Obama mythic hero status among presidents? If Obamacare bankrupts us 10 or 15 years down the road, or sooner, will that take the sheen off of his reputation?

Probably not. They’ll just blame it all on Bush.

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18 Comments so far ↓

  • ottovbvs

    …….a new memo from the Sour Grapes and In the Long Run We’re All Dead departments

  • ottovbvs

    …….And as another thought……. the fact that Reagan tripled the national debt and Bush doubled it while bringing on the worst economic crisis since Hoover doesn’t seem to have halted the Republican enthusiasm to carve their mugs on Rushmore or put their faces on dollar bills

  • TerryF98

    St Ronny of the big Deficit is lauded by Republicans even though he presided over a criminal administration.

  • MSheridan

    Had President George W. Bush succeeded in eviscerating Social Security, despite the united opposition of the Democrats in Congress, then you could have celebrated him as a historic figure. In the teeth of every single Republican in the Senate or the House, all of whom said “No” and some of whom were open about their determination to destroy his presidency in so doing, this President was successful in granting tens of millions of Americans access to health care. Damn straight we consider it a historic achievement. So yes, he’s a historic figure. You don’t have to like what he did, but good luck trying to pass it off as just another garden variety political success. Everyone knows better.

  • balconesfault

    I don’t canonize people for politics. But after the years of worship at the alter of St. Ronnie, I can see how Republicans find praise for a politician to be equivalent for canonization. Fact is, most Democrats will quickly provide you a list of things about Obama that they don’t like, even if they believe he’s doing a great job.

    Yglesias: But fundamentally, he’s reshaped the policy landscape in a way that no progressive politician has done in decades.

    This is demonstrably true. From the moment that Obama said during his inauguration speech:

    The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

    He staked out a reversal of the Reaganesque position that even the Clinton Administration accepted, that government must shrink. And the Stimulus Bill and now Healthcare Reform have entrenched that reversal. That it’s only 14 months into his Presidency is a facile argument against the obvious.

    Chait: But we do know that he has put his imprint on the structure of American government in a way that no Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has.

    What will be remembered as an accomplishment of the Carter Administration? The boycott of the 1980 Olympics? Of the Clinton Administration – reversing the tide of debt growth, just so Bush could come in and wash away virtually all his accomplishment like a tide washing away a sand castle? Chait’s remark is clearly true.

    It’s like consecrating a baseball rookie as a Hall of Fame candidate in April when he’s hitting over .300.

    This is a false analogy – because even the articles you cite provide the refutation of that conclusion: It’s always possible of course that, like LBJ, he’ll get involved in some unrelated fiasco that mars his reputation. … We don’t know what will follow in his presidency, and it’s quite possible that some future event–a war, a scandal–will define his presidency.

    But there certainly have been players who rapidly changed the game they played in.

    Consider George Mikan. So dominant that in his second year as a pro, when the Ft. Wayne Pistons got a one point lead on his team, they stalled the entire rest of the game, leading the NBA to adopt the shot clock. So dominant that in his second year in the NBA the league doubled the width of the foul lane to force him further from the basket.

    Consider Kareem Abdul Jabbar. One year after he entered college basketball, the dunk was outlawed to slow his dominance down.

    Consider Babe Ruth. Even if he never had another AB after 1920, his second year as a full time hitter, his display of power would have changed the game of baseball forever.

    Consider Dan Marino. Before he tossed 48 TDs as a 2nd year player, the NFL record was 36 by YA Tittle back in 1963. Since then, another 8 QBs have eclipsed Tittle’s mark, including such immortals as Steve Beurlein, Tony Romo, and Daunte Culpepper.

  • rbottoms

    Man, Obama sure has you guys spooked.

    So to speak.

  • mlindroo

    > It’s been so long since they could claim a world-historical figure as their very own

    And how many world-historical great Republican Presidents have there been in recent memory? Apart from Reagan, I see one crook (Nixon), a brief footnote (Ford), a single-term bush and another shrub who is widely regarded as having had a very negative impact on his country in general and his own political party in particular. Did I forget anybody?

    Having said this, I agree it’s too early to declare Obama a great president after just 14 months. GW Bush was highly popular and successful until about 2004 too, after all. But you can’t deny Obama’s track record so far is quite impressive.

    MARCU$

  • sinz54

    Nothing succeeds like success.

    The same liberals who, only a month or two ago were starting to describe Obama as a loser, now see him as a winner. A clear victory will do that.

    Obama/Reid/Pelosi managed to pull off what Truman, Nixon, and Clinton all could not. That’s saying something.

    That a Presidential initiative can have unintended consequences does not detract from the achievement at the time, with the information available at the time. (No President is omniscient.)

    I’m not a liberal, so I’m not that thrilled with what Obama/Reid/Pelosi have wrought.

    But I can recognize a legislative accomplishment, even if it’s one I have some problems with.

    Now we’ll see if the voters like what they’ve been presented with.

  • agentprovocateur

    “You have to feel a little sorry for liberals today. It’s been so long since they could claim a world-historical figure as their very own…”

    Oh my, that’s quite humorous. Who really wrote this, Independent? I’m curious as to what is the standard for “world-historical figure”. George W. Bush? Dick Cheney? Newt Gingrich? Yes, Ronald Reagan had a strong impact, but it seems like many conservatives seem to forget a lot of what he did and focus only on the parts that will satisfy their hagiography of him. While you are shedding a few tears for liberals, try to remember the greeting that Bill Clinton gets in most of the world when he visits. Also, consider polling around the world after the president was elected. Such polling showed an improved opinion of our country. Funny thing, though, I thought many conservatives supposedly didn’t give a damn what the rest of the world thought? But now we see this concern trollish talk about a “world historical figure.” Like I wrote, quite humorous. As for blaming anything on Bush, anyone who would use that tactic must have learned it from certain conservatives who blamed 9/11 on Clinton. What a merry-go-round.

  • ottovbvs

    sinz54 // Mar 23, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    …..Broadly I agree with you Sinz and I even agree it’s bit early to canonize the big guy…..I even agree with your contention that he’s Machiavellian…..but in my book that’s a good thing in a president providing he’s not an out and out crook like Nixon……far better a Machiavelli operating in the public and national interest than St Francis of Assisi (Carter) or a lightweight buffoon(Bush)……Lot’s could go wrong by accident but the kingdom is never going to be lost for want of a nail with this guy…..He’s decent, completely on top of the job, never flaps, has a good strategic sense and is devious when necessary……..we should all be hoping for his success because his success is ultimately our success.

  • rbottoms

    All just whistling past the graveyard.

    Come 2012 when seniors have had the donut hole closed and thousands of people with pre-existing conditions have health insurance for the first time in forever no one will gave a damn about the crybaby Republicans, the boys who cried wolf once too often.

  • athensboy

    Rick, me thinks you protest a little too much. You know this was a historic achievement and all the spinning in the world won’t lessen it.Your side threw everything including the kitchen sink at this bill, your talk radio allies poisoned it 24/7, and special interests spent one million dollars PER DAY to try and kill it. Families were being bankrupted by lack of healthcare, does that mean anything to you? Historic, you betcha!

  • Right Wing Nut House » DON’T CANONIZE OBAMA JUST YET

    [...] This post originally appears at Frum Forum. [...]

  • sinz54

    ottovbs:

    The “Machiavellianism” is illusory.
    But it’s a good illusion to keep around.

    This was a close vote. A dozen or so votes in the House could have voted “no” and killed the bill.

    And if that had happened, we would all be discussing Obama’s failings: His incompetence, his unrealistic dreams of what he could accomplish, his stubbornness and refusal to change course, blah-blah-blah.

    If you win, the pundits find “reasons” why you won.

    If you lose, the pundits find “reasons” why you lost.

    And in this case, the vote could have gone either way.

    Or in this case:
    In 1776, a group of traitors in the Colonies took up arms against the British Crown. One of them, named Thomas Jefferson, even published a manifesto, called the “Declaration of Independence,” describing the aims of these traitors. No copies of this manifesto have survived, and Jefferson was hanged as a traitor in 1779. Historians agree that there was no way that these traitors could have succeeded; they were doomed from the start. British America has remained a loyal and valued domain of the British Empire ever since.

  • LFC

    Pre-sanctifying Obama before the president has even started his second season on the golf course is sort of pathetic.

    I think it has a lot to do with the current news cycle. What Obama pulled off was big news. It should be treated as such, but some feel they have to jump up and down now, making big broad statements of what history will say while the topic is hot.

  • WillyP

    Yup, the liberals won all right.

    No more 51st state to our north… we’re now the 11th province.

    Repeal/Replace, or else.

  • WillyP

    WillyP // Mar 24, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Yup, the liberals won all right.

    No more 51st state to our north… we’re now the 11th province.

    Repeal/Replace, or else.

    ah, so: Welcome home, David Frum!

  • jakester

    Maybe what’s his name is right, Obama-zombies?