Stephen, I think you’re right on to prefer your socialism straight up (or better yet, not at all) to the half-measures of a state in a corporate death embrace. One of the bizarre areas of convergence between the FDL-left and the right in this whole health-care debate — the belief that the absence of a public option made the individual mandate not less but more odious – stemmed from just such a preference. As you’ve said yourself, these ill-fated experiments in charging private enterprise with public goals do little more than provide well-meaing liberals with the dubious object-lesson that “we didn’t go far enough!” (See also: Student Loans, Government Takeover of).
I think it is also quite plausible that the Republicans who embraced planks of Obamacare at various times in the past twenty years were being not “crass” but — gasp — pragmatic. When Orrin Hatch writes in NRO that he supported an individual mandate in 1993 because his “number-one priority was the defeat of yet another big-government assault on health-care” in the form of Hillarycare, I’m inclined to believe him. Likewise on Medicare Part D, where the choice wasn’t between passing the Republican bill and passing nothing at all, but between passing the Republican bill and passing a Democratic alternative that was twice as expensive and far more meddlesome.
And Mitt Romney was the governor of Massachusetts for Pete’s sake!
Conservatism has a long and storied history of pragmatism. The Godfather, Edmund Burke, ended his Reflections by declaring himself a man who wanted to “preserve consistency, but who would preserve consistency by varying his means to secure the unity of his end, and, when the equipoise of the vessel in which he sails may be endangered by overloading it upon one side, is desirous of carrying the small weight of his reasons to that which may preserve its equipoise.”
I hope it isn’t too naive to wonder if the one-time Republican supporters of the legislative ancestors of Obamacare weren’t just trying to prevent the ship of state from tipping any farther to the left than it had to. In other words, if they were concerned primarily with not letting the abjectly terrible be the enemy of the merely bad.
The difference between then and now is that the most fired up group of people in this country are small government constitutionalists, who dare to hope for not just of a decceleration of our descent into social democracy, but of a real-live reversal. I think their passion might have something to do with the GOP finding religion on health care.