Critical Condition

Three Things We’ve Learned from Repeal

This wasn’t the way the Democrats saw things playing out.

After Obamacare was passed (so we could find out what was in it), people were supposed to learn to love it. The House of Representatives certainly wasn’t supposed to pass a bill to repeal it — especially not less than ten months after that glorious day in March when the Democrats effectively told the American people that, when they wanted their opinion, they’d ask for it. Yet all of this has now happened.

The repeal vote confirmed — if there was still any room for doubt — that Republicans and Democrats alike should stop believing the Democrats and their allies when they confidently assert that Obamacare is here to stay; that statism can only advance, not recede; that, regardless of what the people think they want, there’s nothing that anybody can do about this.

The vote also conveyed at least three other things:

1. Repeal is far more popular than Obamacare ever was. Obamacare barely squeaked through the legislative process. In the House, it passed by a margin of seven votes and two percentage points. Repeal passed with ease by 56 votes and twelve percentage points. Moreover, repeal was a reflection of popular will, not a circumvention of it.

2. Very few Democratic representatives genuinely oppose Obamacare. If you opposed Obamacare in March, as 13 current Democrats did, why would you now reverse course and support the legislation — especially after an intervening election that didn’t go so well for your party? It’s hard to imagine what motivation could lead to such a decision, yet ten of the 13 Democrats who had previously, somewhat bravely opposed Obamacare decided this time around to cast their votes in support of its continuation. American voters who had been on the fence about sending a Democrat, even one who had voted against Obamacare, back to Congress were surely taking notice.

Dan Boren (D., Okla.), Mike Ross (D., Ark.), and Mike McIntyre (D., N.C.) are the exceptions to this rule. These three, who voted for repeal, have shown themselves to be true opponents of Obamacare, and they deserve acclaim.

3. This will set up a battle royale in 2012. On March 21, 2010, the day that the House passed Obamacare, Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) declared, “This moment may mark a temporary conclusion of the health-care debate, but its place in history has not yet been decided. If this passes, the quest to reclaim the American idea is not over. The fight to reapply our founding principles is not finished. It is just a steeper hill to climb, and it is a climb that we will make!”

Several major steps in that climb have now been completed: promoting public knowledge of Obamacare’s almost endless shortcomings, winning the election of 2010, and passing a repeal bill through the House. Several more are still to come. But, in the end, as has been evident all along to anyone who’s been paying attention, this debate will not be settled by any entity other than the one that the Democrats were so determined to defy in the first place: the American citizenry.

Everything now points to the presidential election of 2012. Unlike President Clinton with HillaryCare, President Obama can’t escape Obamacare. Unless the Republicans are foolish enough to send him partial-repeal legislation that he can sign, he is stuck with a horribly unpopular partisan monstrosity that essentially bears his name. He can tack to the middle on everything else, but he cannot — without the Republicans’ help — tack to the middle on Obamacare. He cannot — unless the Republicans let him — make it merely somewhat less terrible and thereby attempt to save it. Apart from the prospect of Republicans playing right into his hands, only three possibilities remain: public opinion must shift; Obama must disavow Obamacare; or he must go down with it.

He wanted it this way. He wanted Obamacare to be “comprehensive legislation,” passed without compromise and without input from the minority party. The fate of his presidency is now tied to whether or not he can convince people that they want this; that they want a government takeover of health care, an unprecedented consolidation of power in Washington, and a colossally expensive new entitlement when we are already $14 trillion in debt. More than anything else, the 2012 presidential election will hinge on these questions.

Republicans have pushed repeal through the House. Now, to push repeal to its conclusion, they must win the presidency. It will be a lot easier to win with someone like Ryan at the top of the ticket, someone who’s been involved in the battles over Obamacare, who knows his stuff inside and out, and who can debate Obama and win. But whoever the nominee is, November 6, 2012, will decide the fate of Obama, the fate of Obamacare, and, to some significant degree, the fate of a nation that remains, as Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 1, “in many respects the most interesting in the world.”

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