Wednesday, February 24, 2010

This is not Obama's Rubicon

In this curious moment of history, the political world seems to be holding its breath.

That's because we can't be sure if we are watching tragedy or farce as the Democrats try to push their signature health reform over the finish line.

Michael Gerson is talking about Caesar crossing the Rubicon. He sees President Obama is throwing the dice in one more effort to win the big one. But Gerson doesn't really mean it. Caesar's action was an act of war against the Roman Republic, and Caesar was a powerful player in Roman politics in the way that President Obama is not. He doesn't see Obama about to take over the Roman Empire, but on the cusp of a strategic mistake.

If Democrats try to ambush Republicans in the "health care summit" on February 25th, surely it will just inflame partisan Republicans. If Democrats pass the health reform on a strict party-line vote using "reconciliation" it will be an act of provocation. You can't pass a gigantic takeover of the health care industry on a party-line vote. You must, in the immortal words of Noam Chomsky, "manufacture consent."

No, the correct classical allusion is King Pyrrhus, of whose victory over the Romans, the king said that one more such victory and he would be undone. That's what Rich Galen thinks. You don't want to win close fought victories that leave your opponent enraged. You want to win overwhelming victories that leave your opponents defeated and discouraged.

You can't help wondering, as we head forth into the second year of Obama, whether the Obama chaps are really ready for prime time. The Obama administration doesn't seem to understand the idea of strategic concentration, of the German concept of the Schwerpunkt. You get the feeling that the Obamis believe the liberal notion that government is a facilitated meeting where we get all the stakeholders together and they all agree, after a little coaching, that the liberal way is best.

You can do that in the liberal school system and in the liberal university. That's because the students need the grades so they can get their credentials and get the hell out. But politics is civil war by other means. It is a dance of power, and power is a wasting asset.

Has any American president wasted his power like Obama?

Maybe the Obamis are about to come up with a secret weapon to win the battle over ObamaCare. But somehow I doubt it.

Some weeks ago Michael Barone compared ObamaCare to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Back then Senator Stephen Douglas (D-IL) thought he had a brilliant plan to solve the slavery issue. Instead, he inflamed the issue, led the Democratic Party into a catastrophic mid-term election, and brought on the civil war.

Democrats think that their ObamaCare will finish their decades-long work to provide health care for all. President Obama apparently thinks that once ObamaCare passes then we'll never have to come back to the health care question again.

This shows a startling misunderstanding of politics. Nothing that the government does is settled. That's because everything the government does is force. And the people on the receiving end of force don't like it.

Politics is civil war by other means. The whole purpose of politics is to get your way without provoking the other side into taking up arms against you. That is why it is best to try to govern by consent rather than by pitched battle, to keep the opposition divided and demoralized rather than energized and enraged.

But it looks like our Democratic friends are going to have to learn this the hard way.

No comments:

Post a Comment