Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Part One: The Opportunity

The Political Cudgel--and the Embedded Nail
The Supreme Court’s Obamacare-affirming decision--which can be summed up as “Read John Roberts’ lips, it’s a tax”--has put a political cudgel in the hands of Republicans.  The cudgel, of course, is taxes.  But a huge nail is also embedded in the cudgel: the fundamental deceit of Obamacare.  Yet in the week since the Court’s decision, Republicans have yet to demonstrate that they truly grasp the significance of this weapon--or that they can effectively wield it.  

Why?  Some Republicans are worried that the fight over Obamacare distracts from the issue of the economy. What these Republicans fail to realize is that healthcare and the economy are inextricably linked; Americans now realize that Obamacare was a detour on the road to economic recovery, so to remind them of one is to remind them of the other.  And the two issues, compounded, are all the more powerful.
Other Republicans believe that the healthcare battle has been lost, that Obamacare is just another permanent ratcheting of the welfare state.  What these Republicans fail to see is that the “ObamaTax” issue provides an opportunity to reignite healthcare into the white-hot issue that it was in 2010.   And if the 2012 elections were to be a repeat of 2010, huge changes in the status quo would be not only possible, but inevitable.  
This November, if President Obama goes before the voters on the defensive--that is, on a rickety platform of defending Obamacare as a tax increase--it is he who has a huge problem.   After all, his healthcare program was sold as a boon to the middle class, with a few regulatory sticks included therein.  But if Obamacare can be exposed for what it is--a huge tax increase, the reality of which Obamacare proponents did their best to obscure--then the probability of his survival shrinks dramatically.  To be sure, such an exposing of Obamacare as the ObamaTax will not be easy; the White House and the Democrats, as well as their handmaidens in the Main Stream Media, will do their best to armor up against any attack on the tax issue.    
So Romney must wield that cudgel, and wield it hard.  And so must Republicans, because if the campaign against Obamacare--the ObamaTax--is to be truly effective, it must be a top-to-bottom message.  Indeed, as we shall see, the anti-ObamaTax message could be even stronger for down-ballot Republicans than for Romney himself.  
The challenge is to keep the focus on the tax--the ObamaTax.  Obamacare is many things, but the biggest single thing is the thing that they said it wasn’t--the ObamaTax.   
The American people have shown that they can tolerate incompetent policy.  But what they will not tolerate is being lied to.  As a Jesuit might say, incompetence is a venial sin, but deception is a mortal sin.  And so if troubling questions about Barack Obama’s incompetence turn into serious concerns about his character, the President will lose.
If the Supreme Court had struck down Obamacare, the question of Obama's competence--why he  wasted the first 15 months of this presidency on a legislative goose chase as opposed to helping the economy--would have been front-and-center this November.  
Now the issue is his character.  The President promised no new taxes on the middle class, specifically saying that the mandate was a penalty, not a tax.  Meanwhile, through the entire process of the legal challenge to Obamacare, Justice Department lawyers argued that the mandate was a tax.  Indeed, his own Solicitor Generalasserted before the Supreme Court in March that the mandate was a tax.    
It was a classic “bait and switch.”  So thus the inevitable question: Was the President trying to deceive us when he said that the mandate was not a tax?  Or were his aides deceiving him--telling him to say one thing while they said another?  Answering that question poses a Hobson’s Choice for Obama: On the one hand, he admits to deception, and on the other hand, he admits that he can’t detect deception within his circle--and furthermore, that he tolerates it after it is exposed.  No matter what the answer to that forked question, the President will have lost his 2008 glow; he is no longer the man who can transcend the blue-state/red-state division through the grace of his own noble character.  
These are the big stakes for the 2012 election: whether a deceptive president--and/or a deceptive presidential administration--should be rewarded with a second term.  
The Achilles Heels: Taxes and Trust
While many on the right are angry about Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision, the importance of that ruling--flawed as it might have been--in exposing the health-insurance mandate as a tax cannot be underestimated.
Why? For two reasons, both starting with “T.” The first reason is “taxes,” and the second is “trust.”  
Let’s start with the obvious: Does anybody think that Obamacare would have been enacted in 2010 if it had been honestly billed as the largest tax increase in American history?  No, of course not.  Indeed, does anybody believe that Barack Obama would have been elected president back in 2008 if he had campaigned honestly on a tax-increase-to-pay-for-healthcare platform?  Not bloody likely.  
And Obama knew that, too.  That’s why he felt compelled to make the no-tax promise on many occasions; on September 12, 2008, for example, he offered this very specific commitment in tax-phobic New Hampshire: “I can make a firm pledge. Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase.  Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”
Then after Obama was in the White House, in the midst of the Obamacare debate, he was equally stout in his declaration that Obamacare was not a tax.  In a September 20, 2009, interview, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos--not exactly a hostile interrogator--was nonetheless moved to observe about the mandate, “It’s still a tax increase.”  Whereupon Obama responded, “No.  That’s not true, George … For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase.”  To his credit, Stephanopoulos kept after Obama during the interview; he even pulled out a dictionary to underscore his point that being compelled by the government to give up money was a tax.  And he gave it one last try: “You reject that it’s a tax increase?” Obama answered, “I absolutely reject that notion.”  
So what is it, then?  What other terms are available?  In fact, how well is the bill really understood?   As then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Obamacare in March 2010, “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.”  That’s the sort of astonishing bravado and cynicism that has made her, today, the Minority Leader.  

Meanwhile, loyal media allies of the DC political elite, eager to preserve the status quo, do their best to fog up the situation.  TheNew York Times editorial page, for example, dismisses the whole tax-vs.-mandate wrangle as mere “hairsplitting.”  As the paperopined on Friday, “The tax-vs.-penalty debate is a legal and semantic issue that has no practical impact on the public.”  Nice try, MSM, but the facts speak for themselves.  Words matter: As Mark Twain said, there’s a lot of difference between lightning and a lightning bug.  Words have consequences, because the truth matters.  As the President himself said on July 6, attacking Romney, “One of the things that you learn as President is that what you say matters and your principles matter.”  One might think that someone caught in a deception is no position to be throwing stones, but wily politicians know that the best defense is a good offense; the more rocks that Obama can throw at his challenger, perhaps the fewer that Romney can hurl back at him.  
Still, facts are stubborn things.  And as now we know, thanks to Chief Justice Roberts, it’s a tax.  Moreover, thanks to the Court, we know that it was all a lie all along--Obamacare is, and always was, a tax increase.  So the “T” word of taxes is now joined by the “T” word of trust--as in lack of trust.  Even ABC News’ Jake Tapper had to admit that the breaking of that pledge makes for “a sticky situation” for the president.  Some might say that “sticky” is a polite way of saying “quicksand.”  
Indeed, Obamacare contains many tax increases, a point that Republicans have failed to seize on.  Taking note of the GOP’s lack of interest in contesting new payroll taxes in the legislation, The New Republic’s Tim Noah wrote, “As a liberal, I find this pleasing. As a journalist, I find it puzzling.”  
The Obama administration, indeed, is flailing, because its no-tax lie at the inception of Obamacare is now being further compounded by its continued insistence, even in the wake of the Roberts decision, that Obamacare is not a tax.  For days now, Obama officials, such as White House chief of staff Jack Lew, have been insisting that the tax is a “penalty,” not a tax.  Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jay Carney, going off-message a little,insists that “it is not a broad-based tax.”  If the MSM were doing its job, the Obama administration would be torn up over these inconsistencies, but as we know, the MSM feels that it has a different job.  
For their part, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, along with the rest of the Democrats in Congress, are equally determined to shy away from the “T” word--they will not admit that a duck is a duck.  It’s time to “move on,” they say, as if the American people are sheep to be herded along by their masters.
The Obamans and the Democrats are sticking to this line because they know that to be labeled as the dishonest purveyors of the largest tax increase in history is a killer for them.  And so, like vampires fleeing from sunlight, they are retreating back into the darkened recesses of their own deception.  But the problem is that the further they stand away from the glare of public opinion, the more it becomes obvious that they are indeed vampires.   
Not to put too fine a point on things, Obama has misled, or dissembled, a total of three times: First, he misled by insisting that the original legislation was not a tax increase.  Second, he continued to say that it was not a tax increase, even as his lawyers were saying it was.  And third, his people continue this misleading charade even after it has been exposed as false.   
So again, the “T” word is really two words: “taxes” and “trust.”  These are the twin Achilles Heels of Obamacare.
The Abomination of Obamacare
From the night that Obamacare passed more than two years ago, I said that the American people would reject this legislation as a Crime Against Democracy.  That is, it was conceived, gestated, birthed, and weaned in corruption.  It was enacted thanks to unsavory deals--with Big Pharma, with health insurers, with trial lawyers--as well as through the buying and selling of US Senators.  And since then, it has been corruptly administered by the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services; as we have discovered over the last two years, those with enough clout can get a “waiver” from Secretary Sebelius, finagling their way out of health taxes that other people have to pay.   

So far so good, one might say--from the point of view of the permanent political class.  I, like almost every American, believe that we desperately need real healthcare reform.  The problem is that this bill is not healthcare reform.  Such a monstrosity as this could never be accepted by the American people, who want real healthcare and real medical progress, not political machination and misdirection.  
Indeed, for more than two years now, since its passage, polls have consistently measured a majority of Americans favoring the repeal of Obamacare, in whole or in part.   This public contempt is seen, for example, in a June 29 poll from Newsweek/Daily Beast, not exactly hotbeds of Obama-skepticism, which asked if the Supreme Court’s affirmation of Obamacare would help or hurt the country, found solid rejection.  The results of the poll: the country is now better off, 24 percent; worse off, 47 percent (no impact, 14 percent; don’t know, 14 percent).  So even now, before much of the law has taken effect, the people have spoken: By 2:1, they fear the bill and its ill effects. 
Even so, some Republicans are fearful of taking on the ObamaTax.  They point to polls showing that certain provision of the bill are popular.  According to a March CBS News/New York Times Poll, for instance, a full 85 percent of Americans favor the requirement that insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions, while 77 percent support the fill-the-donut-hole provision for Medicare recipients’ prescription drugs, and nearly seven in ten support allowing children under 26 to stay on their parents’ health plan.
Yes, parts of the bill are popular, but the bill as a whole is most definitely not popular.  From the outset, voters have understood--despite the sophistries to the contrary--that this bill would raise government spending at a time when the country was on the edge of a fiscal abyss, that it would make their own healthcare worse, not better, and that in fact it would endanger the healthcare system of the nation as a whole.  Obamacare, Americans knew, would not bend the cost curve downward, it would raise it upward.   
So, given Obamacare’s clanky bureaucratic construction, as well its the corruptness of its inception, the bill suffers from profound negative synergy--the whole is much less than the sum of its parts.    
And yet of all its weaknesses the fastest way to defeat the bill is to label it as the ObamaTax.  By zeroing in on the ObamaTax message--the lethal combination of taxes and lack-of-trust--Romney and the rest of the Republican ticket can focus the voters on Obamacare’s greatest liabilities.  And do so with new energy in the wake of the Court ruling, like a laser.  Taxes and Trust.
And so we come to a larger issue with significance even beyond Obamacare: Who inflicted this legislation on the rest of us?  What sort of mindset creates such monstrosities?  And what can we do about that?   
The Corruption of the Political Class   
President Obama did not act alone.  He has enjoyed the deep complicity of the permanent political class in Washington that admires cleverness, even deviousness, in the pursuit of power and tax money.  So if the Democrats said that Obamacare was not a tax, and it wasn’t--what’s not to like?  Inside the Beltway, such fibbing is never a big deal.  The overlords owe nothing to the peasants.  
Indeed, even when the Obama administration’s Solicitor General, defending the bill before the Supreme Court, conceded that the Obamacare mandate could be construed as a “tax,” or “tax penalty”--that is, freely admitting the lie--the Beltway looked on with bemusement.  The New York Times headlined its March 26 story on the Supreme Court arguments: “Arguing That Health Mandate Is Not a Tax, Except When It Is.”  Ha ha.   
But indeed, it is not the Democrats by themselves; it is also the Republicans who show a disdain for the American people, and the need to always speak the truth.  And that disdain is the fundamental reason why Republicans are having such a problem grasping the centrality of taxes and trust.  
The voters are not dumb.  They expect pols to exaggerate, misdirect, obfuscate, and stretch the truth--but a bald-faced lie is too much for them. And it’s too much for our democracy.  A lie crystallizes; in one illuminating moment, even non-attentive voters see clearly what has been done to them.  And that’s the cudgel that Democrats should fear--not the hammering of opposition to some particular provision of Obamacare, but rather the hammering of aroused public anger and fury.   
It’s fury against the lie--an insulting lie.  And the insult of a Big Lie--a Big Lie exposed--has changed the nature of the 2012 elections.

Now Democratic Members of Congress who supported the bill are in a bind.  If they admit the mandate is a tax, they are revealed as either dupes or frauds, leaving themselves open to the famous Watergate question to suspected conspirators: “What did you know and when did you know it?”  And yet at the same time, Democrats cannot vote to repeal the mandate/tax, because to do so would bring down the whole edifice of Obamacare--and also bring down, on their heads, the formidable wrath of the Democratic left.   
Thus we see that DC’s chalice of manipulative cynicism, so freely passed around in Washington,  can actually be a chalice of political poison--poison for officeholders, that is.  Needless to say, the permanent class of politicos and pundits will not suffer, insulated as they are in their Georgetown townhouses and Great Falls estates.  Instead, it will be Democratic officeholders who will have to face the voters back home--because while the American people might be slow to anger, once their anger is aroused, there will be a showdown, and a reckoning.    
Those politicians who voted for Obamacare--including the Democratic Senators, each of whom were the crucial 60th vote needed to pass it--must answer some fundamental questions: Were they part of the deception?  And if not, will they vote to repeal the ObamaTax?  Will they vote to repeal the lie?
In the light of the mandate-is-really-a-tax-ruling, Obamacare is no longer about such policy abstractions as “access”; it is about such hearth-and-home virtues as confidence and character. Confidence in our institutions, and faith in the character of our leaders.   
And of course, the Obamacare debate is also about the economy, because, as we all know, it’s never a good idea to raise taxes on a weak economy.  
Pollster Scott Rasmussen is a national resource, in part because he asks his questions in unique ways that shed valuable light on basic questions of national mood.  In his latest national poll, for instance, he asks voters to list each issue that’s important to them, not just to pick among them.  And so we see, in his latest finding, that thetop three issues that rank highest are, in order, economy, healthcare, and corruption.  Bingo.  Thanks to Rasmussen’s poll, we see that the three all cluster together.  That’s the perfect storm threatening the Democrats: a lousy economy and a bad healthcare bill, all traceable to the permanent political class inside the Beltway, supported, of course, by an archipelago of funders and ideologues across the nation.  Sadly, these Beltway Democrats have forsaken their legacy as defenders of the common man--the folks who once looked to Jefferson, Jackson, FDR and JFK to defend them against the predatory powerful.  Now, sadly, that elite that controls my Democratic Party are the predatory powerful--and the voters are wising up.  
Obama Has Broken the Cord
Among the Democrats who should be afraid is the 44th President, who must face the voters in four months.  Obama knew that he would go into re-election with a soft economy, but now he could confront a bigger problem.  In 2010, the economy was by the far the biggest issue, but healthcare proved to be the decisive issue; fortunately for the President, he was not on the ballot.  
Now, in 2012, the economy is an even bigger issue--and because of the matter of trust, healthcare is an even bigger issue.  Some will argue, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  Well, if the only issue in 2012 is the economy, then Obama still has a chance to win, because most Americans still blame George W. Bush more than Obama for the current hard times.  Indeed, the Newsweek/Daily Beast poll found that on the economy, his disapproval was only two points worse than his approval.  But on healthcare, by contrast, he suffered a 21 percent net disapproval, 36 to 57.  
To win this November, Romney and the Republicans will have to walk and chew gum at the same time.  That is, they will have to talk about taxes--and the harm that the ObamaTax is doing to the economy--and they will also have to talk about trust.  Because Americans like to be able to trust their president.  And so again, the two issues, taxes and trust, are not, and should not be, severable.  
Some observers, reflecting DC’s habitual dismissal of truth as a mere detail, might ask: How important, really, is deceit?  Well, they might ask George H. W. Bush, President "Read My Lips."  Bush 41 deceived about the same T-word, taxes, and so, as a result, he summoned up the furies of the other T-word, trust.  His support for re-election collapsed; his 54 percent popular majority fell to just 37 percent four years later.  

Today, Obama has all of Bush 41’s problems--and more.  In his 2008 campaign, he set himself up to a higher standard; he would be, he pledged, a transformative president, doing everything differently.  Of course, in the back rooms and war rooms of his campaign, his top advisers were chuckling knowingly about the ridiculousness of the promise, but the voters didn’t know that.  And who knows, maybe even Obama believed his own lofty speechifying.  
Yet now, the grave danger to Obama is that if he is seen as untrustworthy on this issue, he could be seen as untrustworthy on other issues.  And if the door to even deeper concerns is opened, it must be asked: If Obama is untruthful on this, what else has he been untruthful to the American people about?  
Because now everyone is starting to sense the harsh truth.  As the only American leader elected by all the people, the president holds a special place in our hearts.  In school we memorize the Presidents, not the Presidents Pro Tem.  By the same token, when that bond of affection is severed, a moral disturbance erupts in the political cosmos; the process of good-naturedly celebrating the uniqueness of a president--all about his loved ones, and his personal life and history, all the way down to the family dog--is inverted into a sour ceremony of debunking and demystifying.  
So today, the sacred narrative that led to Obama’s improbable but inspiring election--our first African American president, the finest triumph yet of the civil rights movement--has been desacralized.  A majority of the electorate gave Obama their hopes four years ago, and now he has taught them a bitter lesson: The mandate was always a tax, and so the trust should always have been mistrust.  Thus President Transformational has become President Just Another Say-Anything Politician.  
There are some who say that Obamacare can be redeemed.  And yes, there are provisions that almost every American support.  And yes, American healthcare could be improved by opening it up to more competition and innovation, even while we close it off to trial-lawyer piracy.  But the stink of these 2700 pages of rottenness makes Obamacare irredeemable.  It can’t be rehabilitated.     
In the wilds of the outdoors, if we see a pool of stagnant, dirty water, we know that the pond cannot be cleaned by removing only some of the tainted water.  Nature doesn’t work that way.  And neither does political science.  A fundamental wrong was done, and the water has been polluted--and it can’t be purified by merely siphoning some of it away and leaving the rest.  Instead, the whole mess has to be filtered and cleaned up, and a new effort started afresh.  
Reject the lie.  Repeal the ObamaTax.