The Corner

The Reason for the Fight: Even Failed Programs Create Dependency

With an imminent deal ending the so-called “shutdown” — and with that deal leaving Obamacare entirely untouched and the Republican “brand” in short-term decline yet again — it’s easy to second-guess the decision to challenge Obamacare. After all, those claiming the strategy ultimately wouldn’t work are about to be proven right, and the deal obtained after weeks of strife is little more than a short extension of the status quo.

So, was it a mistake to fight?

I’m not convinced. A popular Republican argument opposing the shutdown strategy goes something like this: Absent the shutdown, the media would have been all over the failed exchanges and dramatic rate hikes, Obamacare would start to implode on itself, and the Republicans would be free to pound away, untainted by the messiness of the present fight. Byron York has ably presented an alternative history making this case. And history certainly suggests that Democratic overreach and governmental incompetence can result in Republican electoral success.

Critically, however, there’s not much evidence to suggest that Democratic overreach and governmental incompetence results in either the repeal or fundamental reform of failed social programs and entitlements. In other words, Republicans win the temporary right to manage bloat, failure, and fiscal decline. Of course that’s not meaningless, but it’s almost meaningless over the long term.

Even failed programs create dependency. Spend time in any poverty-stricken community in the United States — or any failing public school — and witness for yourself the coexistence of failure and dependency. People in inner cities or in rural poverty are not “welfare queens.” They get by on very small sums of money and live in crime-ridden neighborhoods – where you can go entire blocks without finding a single intact nuclear family. This is the tragic, dehumanizing failure of a massive social experiment: the War on Poverty and its associated state and local programs, which haven’t succeeded in lowering the poverty rate but have succeeded in creating a socially immobile underclass. In those communities there exists misery the miserable are afraid to change.

There is an extraordinarily short window for truly blocking Obamacare’s pernicious effects, and it’s mistaken to believe that even resounding Republican electoral success will enable repeal after that window closes. With each passing month and year of subsidized insurance and health-care-industry adjustments, more Americans will hate their healthcare and yet fear any changes. Oh, they might punish Democrats for a season or two, but will they embrace true reform? Will they give up subsidies or other new entitlements when Democrats will repeatedly assure them that all would be well if only they were better funded?

Bismarck famously declared that “politics is the art of the possible.” But to know what’s possible, one has to on occasion test the limits. Since October 1, congressional conservatives have pushed those limits, yet they did not succeed. Our nation would be better off had they prevailed.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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