Owning Up to the Obamacare Lies

by Charles C. W. Cooke
Liberals are finally admitting, quietly, that conservative critiques were right all along.

Those who have elected to keep close tabs on the reactions to Obamacare’s blotchy rollout will presumably have noticed that it has been marked by admissions of guilt. The latest such confession comes from The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber, who bluntly conceded yesterday that “Obamacare actually paves the way toward single payer.” Pushing back against Michael Moore’s unsettling criticisms of the law, Schreiber tweeted:

This, Scheiber made sure to explain, was not an accident, and nor was it merely a dose of post hoc optimism. Obamacare, he claimed, is in fact “a deceptively sneaky way to get the health care system both of us really want” — that is, single payer. And “Republicans are in some sense playing into the trap Obamacare laid for them.”

I honestly do not know whether Scheiber’s prediction is correct. When government wishes to expand itself, it is tough for people to resist, and the instances are legion of people who wanted a little change but were subjected instead to a lot. Still, I suspect that this will not be the case with Obamacare. For a start, the rollicking disaster that has been the law’s launch will now be projected into every home each and every time an expansion of government is suggested. And, disappointingly for the movement that spawned the change, Americans appear to be reacting to it by concluding that government should henceforth have less — not more — to do with health care. Either way, whatever happens in the future, I do know this: When Republicans have written their own version of Scheiber’s column, complaining that Obamacare is but a “deceptively sneaky way to get” to single payer, they have been immediately denounced for hysteria and mendacity and invited to remove the tin foil.

Accusing its opponents of lying has been the Left’s modus operandi since the first shots of the health-care debate were fired. Insofar as there was any at all, the ostensible theory was that, unable to muster any serious criticisms, almost certainly motivated by money and by racism, and tainted forever for having supposedly endorsed the scheme in the 1990s, conservatives were reduced to fabrications and to hyperbole — in other words, into scaring the public by telling them things that weren’t true. In the meantime, the law’s architects tripped over themselves to bend the truth —  but that was fine because they were spreading “noble lies,” as the perpetually melting-down Brian Beutler now terms these tales.

Among the alleged falsehoods on which conservative opposition relied were that the scheme was effectively a “takeover” that would leave the president with capricious control over the nation’s health-care system; that insurance premiums would inevitably increase for some; that the president’s oft-repeated promise that all Americans could keep their health care if they liked it was obviously untrue; and that government was almost certainly unsuited to run a project of this magnitude and importance. Also claimed to be mendacious was the Right’s characterization of the measure as a severe departure from the status quo. Thus were we treated to a standard by which Joe Biden was able to call passage a “big f***ing deal” and the president was allowed to boast about his newest place in history with nary a squeak, but Republicans doing the same thing were accused of blowing a “moderate” and “modest” proposal out of all proportion.

Post-launch, however, these conservative “lies” are looking more and more like wisdom, historical literacy, and political foresight. The sheer number of canceled plans may have shocked “some on the Left,” but it certainly didn’t shock the law’s opponents — many of whom had been predicting it for years. Likewise, while the sheer audacity of the president’s unilateral changes have surprised nearly everyone, the fact that the law has dangerously conferred upon the executive branch an almost unlimited power to shape the regulations and the insurance market as it sees fit has not. This, as was observed ad nauseam during the debate, is not so much a law as it is an enabling act.

It has not simply been that time has vindicated many of the conservative complaints. On the contrary: The Left has started to admit that much of what Obamacare’s critics said was true all along — even going so far as to unashamedly incorporate the grievances into their apologies. Earlier in the year, Jonathan Chait, Jonathan Cohn, and Ezra Klein — the administration’s golden trio — all of a sudden switched tactics and came clean. As reports of increased premiums started to flood in from across the country, the group tutted impatiently, rolled its eyes, and, with a how-stupid-are-you tone, explained that obviously one couldn’t cover a whole host of new people without some premiums’ being raised. In other words, once Obamacare’s launch was imminent, the Left admitted that conservatives’ key critique — which the president and Nancy Pelosi had promised over and over and over again was but a lie — had been correct all along.

So habitually has the administration insisted that the troubles with Obamacare are the fault of wreckers and traitors that it has occasionally lost touch with reality. As Mediaite’s Noah Rothman noted, on the last day of last year a White House health-care adviser named Phil Schiliro took to MSNBC to claim that that the CBO enrollment projections that the White House and HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius had been touting as a target all year had nothing to do with the administration. George Orwell’s name is rather overused in modern political journalism, but this really was a deception worthy of IngSoc, and its shifting, mutating truths the sign of deep dysfunction. Over and over, Sebelius had made it abundantly clear that the government wanted 3 million sign-ups by January, and 7 million by the end of March. But when the government only got 2 by the New Year, it simply pretended that the target had never existed. Have we always been at war with Eastasia?

Nonsense on both sides has been rife from the outset. That’s politics. And around the edges, some conservatives did indeed scream bloody murder — weakening their case with frivolous allegations and careless language. But where it really mattered, the Right’s barbs hit their target. Whether Obamacare was a stalking horse for something much worse, and whether it will succeed in metastasizing into a nightmare for liberty, remains to be seen. Still, at this early stage, one thing seems certain: By the time we find out what happens in Chapter 2, an awful lot more of the “lies” that were told about the law will — as quietly as possible, without an apology in sight, and only when it is safe for them to do so — have somehow, magically come true.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.