“The debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”
I hate it when he does that. But the president isn’t the only one to bluff his way through a controversial issue and then, at a key point in the struggle, declare victory—as if all arguments have been fully aired, all sides duly heard, and a reasonable conclusion reached. Nothing of the sort has happened, but pronouncing the debate “over” has been a favored tactic at least since 1973, when the argument about legal abortion was supposedly settled by seven men in black robes. As Clarke Forsythe showed in his painstakingly researched book Abuse of Discretion, the Roe v. Wade case was decided on the basis of incomplete evidence and false reasoning. Thus the title; “abuse of discretion” means “a failure to take into proper consideration the facts and law relating to a particular matter.”
Roe v. Wade was supposed to settle the matter of legal abortion but, largely because of the way it was settled, the debate never ended. Today, advocates of climate change or same-sex marriage insist there can be no more argument—the science is settled, the people have spoken, the results are in. Now shut up.
The president’s post-Obamacare-sign-up remarks in the Rose Garden last month echoed the strategy he has used all along. (1) Use big numbers (40 million uninsured before the passage of the law, 7.1 million Americans signed up after). (2) Substitute hopeful predictions for statistical results, and repeat for emphasis (“this law has made our health care system a lot better—a lot better”). (3) Cite anecdotal evidence from individuals and extrapolate over the entire population (“this law is doing what it’s supposed to do … helping people coast to coast”). (4) Reduce the opposition to cartoonish villainy (“Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance? Why are they so mad about the idea of folks having health insurance?”). (5) And finally, finish them off with a warning (“History is not kind to those who would deny Americans their basic economic security”).
As confirmation hearings for the new HHS secretary approach, Sen. Mitch McConnell remarked that he would like to see “a candid conversation about Obamacare’s shortcomings.” Whatever he says, McConnell is savvy enough to know the candid-conversation bus left the station long ago, if it ever arrived. What Obama means by “debate” is this: We disagreed; I called you an unfeeling monster and you called me an imperialist bully, but the forces I marshalled proved superior to yours. To some modern Democrats, that’s democracy.
But not so fast. Obama’s Rose Garden speech was called a victory lap, but the Affordable Care Act is a Pandora’s box—no, Pandora’s swamp—of legal, financial, and medical tangles that will take decades to ooze out. The debate has just begun, and discouraging as that may seem, it’s a good thing.
Talking heads on the left don’t understand why Americans can’t just get with the program. A few years ago, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman daydreamed in print about the United States becoming “China for a day,” so all the latest progressive ideas could be imposed with no messy democratic process. Or why can’t we be like Europe? wonders TV gadfly Bill Maher. Europeans are so much more efficient; they don’t waste time with endless palaver.
The efficiency experts could use a history lesson. The nation that began with shouting and guns has—with one notable exception—developed a talent for settling disputes without guns, though always with shouting. Violent argument in pursuit of reasonable law is what we’re all about. But as dead set as we are on our own opinions, we must make room for listening and responding to what the other side actually says. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). In this country, debate is seldom over. If and when that day comes, what will really be over is the United States.