The First Hustler Runs the Big Con
"Nothing is lost save honor." So said Jim Fisk after he and Jay Gould survived yet another scrape in their corrupt and storied careers in the Gilded Age.
Fisk's dismissal of honor came to mind while watching Barack Obama in Boston smugly explain how his vow — "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it!" — was now inoperative.
All along, it had been a bait-and-switch by the first hustler.
In Boston, Obama could no longer evade the truth. Hundreds of thousands of Americans who had purchased health insurance in the private market were getting notices their plans were being canceled.
That this revelation had blown a hole in his credibility did not seem to trouble Obama. Indeed, the president appeared impatient with the complaints. These were "substandard" plans anyhow, he said, the lousy offerings of "bad-apple insurers."
"So if you're getting one of those letters (canceling your insurance plan), just shop around in the new marketplace. ... You're going to get a better deal."
Behind the arrogance is the realty: Obama has the veto power. No alteration of Obamacare, except for changes he approves, can be made before the winter of 2017. And by then, Obamacare will be so deeply embedded in law and practice it will be beyond repeal.
We won, you lost, was written across Obama's face.
Yet, Obama's victory calls to mind that of King Pyrrhus of Epirus over the Romans at Asculum as described by Plutarch. Counting up his dead friends, dead commanders and dead soldiers, the king remarked, "One more such victory and we are undone."
The price Obama will be a long time paying for this victory is historic and huge.
First, there is the irreversible damage to his credibility and integrity. He conned the people into believing something he knew to be false — that all Americans would be allowed to keep the health care plans that they had and liked.
This assurance, repeated again and again, helped disarm the opposition. Americans who liked their doctors and insurance plans and were repeatedly told they could keep both were not only relieved; they became more receptive to the idea of helping the less fortunate.
Obama's assurances of keeping your insurance plan if you like it now enters presidential history alongside George H.W. Bush's "Read my lips! No new taxes," Bill Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," and George W. Bush's tales of yellow cake in Niger and hidden arsenals of WMDs.
As for the idealistic avatar of hope and change from 2008, who led the nation to believe that he was something new and different in politics, he has been revealed as the biggest cynic of them all.
Moreover, where his campaign against Hillary Clinton in the primaries and John McCain in 2008 seemed to hold out promise of a newly competent progressive crowd, those hopes have all but vanished in the legendary incompetence of the Obamacare rollout.
Here was the president's signature program — what Social Security was to FDR, Medicare to LBJ — and one month into launch, it is grist for the mills of Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central.
Observing the rollout, one begins to appreciate what George Wallace meant when he talked of Washington being a city of "pointy-headed bureaucrats who can't park a bicycle straight."
And though the Obamacare website will one day be repaired, and people may begin to sign up, the land mines in Obamacare are by no means all exploded. We will be walking right through them.
As Obamacare requires the cancellation of insurance plans and forces Americans to buy more expensive insurance than they want, this will inevitably raise the cost of health care for the nation.
And when the employer mandates cut in, many businesses will halt hiring at 49 employees to keep out of Obamacare, as others cut part-time workers to 29 hours a week to escape the mandates.
This cannot but adversely impact an economy whose growth in job creation under Obama has been anemic at best for five years.
Obama and cohorts are celebrating an historic achievement in passing Obamacare. But as one looks at Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Puerto Rico, Detroit and Illinois, the truth seems obvious.
The welfare state that began with Bismarck is reaching the end of the line, just as the private sector that generates the wealth to sustain that state is now, almost everywhere, buckling under its weight. The deficits stretch to the horizon. The debts rise inexorably.
Across the West, neo-socialism is out, the new austerity in.
And of all the great advances proclaimed by progressives over a century and a half, from free schooling to Social Security, Obamacare looks like it will eventually be ranked among the last — and the least.