The message for Israel is simple: Enjoy your Obamacare!
The past week’s presidential aggression-and-retreat two-step — amid indignant protestations that there had ever been any aggression in the first place — perfectly fit Obama’s pattern, which is already shopworn less than three years into his term. To cite the classic case, who could forget the single-payer shuffle?
“I have not said that I am a supporter of a single-payer system,” declaimed Mr. Obama in 2009, as reported by National Review’s Jim Geraghty. The president’s assertion was an insult to the public intelligence, no matter how credulously the Obamedia repeated it. Out here in YouTube world, it was readily demonstrated that Obama had long been a dogmatic adherent of socialized medicine — meaning a complete government takeover of the health sector, destroying the private insurance industry and rationing care as if it were a corporate asset to be doled out by bureaucrats rather than a matter of personal choice in a free market.
“I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health-care program,” Obama said in 2003, before denying that he’d said any such thing a few years later. He was a state senator then, reelected in one of the country’s most left-wing districts and speaking comfortably in his element — activists for socialized medicine. Those who heard him speak his mind found his sentiments pedestrian, the sort of thing he said all the time. “A single-payer health-care plan, a universal health-care plan,” he’d elaborated, “that’s what I’d like to see.”
It was no surprise to people who actually knew Obama, such as Dr. Quentin Young, an Obama supporter from their Hyde Park neighborhood and the head of a socialized medicine lobby, Physicians for a National Health Program. Dr. Young argued that the dastardly private insurers were swimming in “profits that are breathtaking and obscene.” As Dr. Young recalled, Obama’s comments were “his categorical response,” something the state senator often repeated among constituents.
Obama is an Alinskyite, though, a practical radical. Ineffective radicals are so blinded by ideology, so intoxicated by their own sense of righteousness, that they refuse to gauge the public sensibilities. Alinskyites are no less committed to their ideology; indeed, only a person who has completely bought into his ideology can maintain the patient discipline necessary to implement his utopia incrementally. That discipline is what makes the Alinskyite effective. Such an operator understands that you must always check the public pulse: Figure out how far you can push people, but never push so far that you lose political viability. Without power, radicalism is a dead end. The race is not to the swift but to the electable.
So Obama tweaked his health-care positions, pretending he’d never said the things he’d said, massaging his message depending on the sensibilities of his audience. He shrewdly banked on a press corps willing to be enlisted to his purposes, and on the natural tendency of decent people to give likeable politicians the benefit of the doubt, to assume they are not being lied to.
The public did not want an all-out government takeover, so Obama claimed that wasn’t where he was coming from. The public does not want to underwrite insurance for illegal aliens, so the number of uninsured Americans described in Obama speeches suddenly shrank by 10 or 20 million when people started to catch on to his ambitious intentions. The public is far more worried about costs than about the uninsured, so Obama couched his plan’s astronomical spending in the rhetoric of fiscal discipline — presto, tens of millions of people would get a new entitlement that would somehow cost Americans less money. The public was promised a workable, affordable system, so the administration now issues thousands of waivers from Obamacare’s onerous terms, lest the dreaded emperor-has-no-clothes moment come before the 2012 election.
All of these were tactical maneuvers, not strategic ones. This is the thing to understand about Obama’s vaunted pragmatism. The president is not pragmatic in a free-wheeling sense, but pragmatic within the framework of leftist ideology. In the case of health care, the goal — unmistakable to anyone willing to gaze at the horizon instead of today’s talking points — is fully socialized medicine, the most practical route to a socialist economy in the United States. Each tactical adjustment is made with the ultimate goal in mind. Whether the moment’s politics call for galloping or inching along, the end is always in sight.