This column was originally posted at The D.C. Writeup. Wednesday night’s Very Special Episode of the Barack Obama Show has come and gone, and the most memorable thing about it was an interruption by an unruly member of the audience. The President’s Historic Game-Changing Speech is beginning to look like just another in a long line of pointless rhetorical exercises.
And yet the left has predictably responded by showering the President with gratuitous amounts of praise. If Obama has proven himself adept at one thing, it’s energizing his base, often at the expense of others. But rather than use this column to criticize the speech, praise/damn Joe Wilson, or talk about the Republican Party’s alternative health reform plan (The Patients Choice Act, H.R. 2520), I think it’s high time we come to the realization that the cause of this health care battle is not a lack of persuasive rhetoric. It’s that there is a fundamental ideological divide between the left and the right in this country over the role that government should play in citizens’ everyday lives.
This wasn’t always the case. If President Kennedy, for example, had made a strong push for universal health care, he may well have received it, because at that time much of the Republican Party was little more than a coalition of aspiring moderate Democrats. We sometimes refer to them now as the Rockefeller Republicans – progressively minded individuals who, for one reason or another, chose to put an “R” in front of their name instead of a “D.” (We once also called them Specter Republicans, but… well, you know…)
But beginning with Goldwater and then carrying on through Reagan and the two Bushes, differences in ideology have destroyed this country’s once-secure left-on-center base. Whereas we once stood on opposite sides of a creek from our liberal friends, we now are separated by a raging river, nigh impassable. It’s not just that our political positions have changed; rather, conservatives’ and liberals’ core beliefs have undergone radical transformations over the last forty years and are now diametrically opposed.
Conservatives are not opposed to health care because we think it will cost too much. We use that as an argument against it, but what is really at the core of our beliefs is the notion that the government should not be able to have the level of control over our personal lives that a universal health care system will provide it. Nor do we believe that such an invasion of privacy is authorized by the Constitution. We revere the document, and we attempt to shape our country to its principles.
Liberals, on the other hand, support universal health care not because they believe it will solve financial problems, but because they believe that it is the responsibility of the government to take care of its citizens in every way it’s able and to ensure them a comfortable quality of living. To justify this, they probe the Constitution and expand upon its meaning, regardless of the original text. They attempt to shape the Constitution to our country.
And because of this sharp ideological divide, the only way to move controversial legislation forward is compromise. And this is where it’s all falling apart. Because each side is convinced that it is right in principle, a mutually satisfying compromise is that much harder to reach. Moderate and liberal Democrats won’t compromise with each other. Democrats won’t compromise with Republicans. And Republicans – well, we’d just like to be invited to the negotiating table at this point.
This is the reason why President Obama’s campaign promise to heal the nation’s political divide was destined to fail and why his health care reform has run into trouble – because we are being asked to compromise on our principles, not our politics. And so government has slowed to a crawl and legislation pushed forward by eager reforms has stalled. As conservatives, we must ask ourselves what the Founding Fathers would think of this development. We can find solace in the words of Thomas Jefferson: “I own that I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.”
The two major political forces in our country today have sharply differing views on the fundamental nature of the U.S. Constitution. Until those views are reconciled, there will be no real health care reform.