The (Real) Death of Conservatism?

In this week’s US News and World Report, Grover Norquist babbles on under the title “Conservatives Will Rise Again” about how this has all been seen before (after Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush). After each defeat, conservatism was declared dead. Norquist believes it is only a matter of time before Americans again tire of big-government Democrats and their collectivist schemes and conservatism begins to rise again.

James Pethokoukis, on the other hand, thinks that if certain things come to pass, conservatism may indeed be dead. Interestingly he thinks that a particular Obama nomination may be the harbinger of that death – Tom Daschle:

He’ll be the guy shepherding President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan through Congress via his probable role as secretary of health and human services. At the core of Daschle’s thinking on the subject is the creation of a “Federal Health Board that would resemble our current Federal Reserve Board” and ensure “harmonization across public programs of health-care protocols, benefits, and transparency.” … And the subject of that “harmonization” would be a $100 billion to $150 billion a year plan that would let individuals (and small businesses) buy insurance from private companies or from a government plan.

The upcoming recession ends up being an opportunity instead of a problem for the targeting of health care reform under government auspices. That’s because, as Pethakoukus opines, shaken Americans are going to be looking toward any program that will give them some modicum of economic security. And it isn’t like struggling businesses wouldn’t love to shed the cost of paying for and administering health care as well. Apparently, the insurance companies are seeing the handwriting on the wall too:

The industry’s trade organization now says it would accept new rules requiring them to cover pre-existing conditions as long as there was a universal mandate for all Americans to have health insurance. On top of all that, Obama clearly wants to make healthcare reform a priority in his first term, as evidenced by the selection of a heavy hitter like Daschle. And even if he wasn’t interested, Congress sure is, with Max Baucus and Ted Kennedy readying a plan in the Senate.

The result of such a shift in the health care world as it pertains to government involvement? Two almost irreversable things would happen:

1) Passage would be a political gamechanger.

2) Shrinking government would get exponentially tougher.

Addressing the first bullet, it would be the tipping point.

Again, even after seeing the results elsewhere, conservatives (and Republicans) were unable to articulate a compelling narrative to point out why allowing government to involve itself in healthcare was both dangerous and not in the best interests of the public at large.

So if Democrats are able to actually pass their plan into law, the resulting sea-change will be such that, as Pethokoukis says, it is a “gamechanger”. Norman Markowitz describes how passage of National Health Care changed the UK forever – and few will argue, for the better:

“After the Labor Party established the National Health Service after World War II, supposedly conservative workers and low-income people under religious and other influences who tended to support the Conservatives were much more likely to vote for the Labor Party when health care, social welfare, education and pro-working class policies were enacted by labor-supported governments.”

The obvious point is that once the change is made, you’re staring bullet number two right in the face. The chance of ever shrinking government again, is mostly right out of the window (and the Republicans chance as a party, to ever get the opportunity, may be as well).

Republicans would face the same problem with healthcare that they currently do with Social Security, persuading people to trade one in the hand (the current system) for two in the bush (a reformed system) … And remember that fewer and fewer people are paying the incomes taxes that would help pay for increased government services. That breakage of the linkage between taxes and government “benefits” creates toxic incentives for more of both — and an economy more shackled than ever by taxes, debt, and regulation.

It seems a bit silly to argue we can overcome this lurch to the left, given the experience of the rest of the world in this regard. As Pethokoukis points out, Social Security is an abysmal savings/retirement system, is technically a Ponzi scheme and is insolvent to boot but the chances of ‘reforming’ it are slim and none. Just as we’ve learned from the financial crisis we’re now undergoing, government rarely reacts to such things until the problem has collapsed around its ears, and it then rides to the rescue claiming everything and everyone not connected with government are at fault for the failure.

There is an answer to the health care insurance problem which I’ve talked about for years and the McCain campaign tried but failed to successfully put forward during the presidential campaign:

… [H]is plan would have smartly reduced healthcare costs by getting companies out of the healthcare benefits business and empowering individuals to buy insurance on their own. This would have helped fix what economist Arnold Kling calls the insurance vs. insulation problem: “Insulation relieves the patient of the stress of making decisions about treatment. The patient also does not have to worry about shopping around for the best price. The problem with insulation is that it is not a sustainable form of healthcare finance.”

In other words, just like every other insurance instrument in the world, you’d buy it, tailored to your needs, on a national market (and within a national pool) and forever eliminate portability as a problem.

But that is a more free market approach which helps preserve your liberty – and that is decidedly not where we are headed.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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