Responding to O-care: In defense of "rightwing Leninism"

In a post featured in the HotAir headlines (and headed by a music video clearly intended to devastate the souls of all foolish enough to click), blogger Instapunk has used my “Go Ahead, Make Our Decade” post (also at the Green Room here) as a prime example of “Polyanna Syndrome” among conservatives, characterized in particular by the belief that the ongoing “political suicide” of the Obamacrats, most vividly on display in the Health Care legislation working its way through the legislative intestinal tract, may provide an opportunity far more important than any damage they have done or will yet do.

I referred to this idea in passing as “‘the worse, the better’ rightwing Leninism.” Instapunk calls it “absolutely dead wrong… no ifs, ands, or buts about it”:

It’s sheer giddiness to think that it’s somehow better for conservatives if the Democrats succeed in passing this truly horrendous healthcare bill. Madness, in fact.  Yes, the Dems will experience huge losses at the polls in 2010, but even the rosiest of all possible electoral scenarios is nowhere near rosy enough to undo the damage the bill would cause. The Republicans could retake the House, but not by the majority the Democrats presently hold. It’s less likely, though remotely possible, that Republicans could retake the Senate.

Psychological diagnosis notwithstanding, Instapunk comes fairly close here to conceding my initial point – that (quoting myself and adding emphasis) “purely from a political standpoint, this should be a time for celebration.”

To be clear, we don’t differ much at all, as far as I can see, on the policy question.  I readily concede that Obamacare if enacted and implemented would be a disaster for conservatives, for Americans, and by extension for the world.  On this note, Instapunk rightly emphasizes that policy is in the end more important than politics, then adds a gloomy forecast regarding the latter ever turning sufficiently to overcome the former:

However, there’s no way on earth the Republicans could command the 60-40 majority that has made possible the currently imminent hijacking of one-sixth of the U.S. economy. Which means that there’s no way to get to the magic number that would be required for repeal.

To me, this logic suggests a fundamental misreading both of what we’ve seen transpire and of how American democracy works.

The history of Western democracy includes some truly stunning partisan wipe-outs, but we don’t need to dwell on what today seems a remote political possibility (as remote as, say, a ca. 60-Democrat Senate seemed in 2002).  Dismantling, impeding, nullifying, and, in the end, fully repealing this bill does not require 60 Republicans or 60 conservatives:  Greater legal, legislative, and historical minds than mine must already be studying the precedents and gaming the scenarios, but we can observe here that, if passing popular legislation in the Senate always required partisan super-majorities, we wouldn’t have had a major piece of legislation signed since 1979.  We don’t know yet how the final votes in the Senate or for final passage after a House-Senate conference may go, but reversing them down the road would merely require a popularly backed majority joined by a passel of fence-sitters, perhaps including Democratic senators who in the current session vote for cloture but against final passage, perhaps including a few changes of heart.  It could be as simple as that.

Looking further ahead, speculatively, the President himself would likely remain a roadblock to formal repeal, but, even prior to the election of 2012, the “damage control” that Instapunk describes, involving excision of particularly obnoxious elements of the bill, might effectively impede its implementation.  Moreover, it’s well worth keeping in mind that removing the budgetary heart of the bill can be  achieved via the Senate reconciliation process on a simple, unfilibusterable 51-vote majority (especially easy to justify if Obamacare finally passes on party line votes as narrow as Pelosicare’s in the House).  If virtual repeal on this basis looks achievable as early as, say, 2011, the President might veto an O-care-destroying budget, while hoping for a re-play of the Clinton-Gingrich government shutdown confrontation of 1995, but such a battle could unfold in many different ways.  After Obama is gone, a conservative president and conservative majority, at the crest of a continuing or revived conservative wave, could much more easily achieve effective or formal repeal.

The only reason to consider such outcomes impossible would be belief that the public will change its mind, that we do not face a looming fiscal and economic crunch, and that entitlement programs, once enacted, cannot ever be rescinded.

The first two propositions are at minimum debatable, and the tides of opinion and economic projection currently seem in conservatives’ political favor – a very well-evidenced observation that provided the basis for my “Make Our Decade” post and to varying degrees for the positions of my fellow Polyannist-Leninists.  As for the third point, on the supernatural immortality of entitlement programs, we hear and read variations on it frequently – sometimes offered with a knowing laugh, lately from conservatives who have been attempting to gin up opposition to O-care – but, if and when the bill passes and is signed, the embrace of this perspective would be defeatism pure and simple.

It would also remain an exaggeration, because entitlements or their equivalent have repeatedly been cut or eliminated around the world and throughout history – though frequently, it must be admitted, only as a result of economic or political breakdown. The modern European welfare state has indeed been extremely difficult to unravel, but it hasn’t been around for very long.  For most of the time that it has been in existence, progressivism, socialism, and their variants were historically new and on the rise, and were further supported by economic and political contingencies (including military and economic support from the US of A) that cannot last forever.

As for this specific entitlement, what makes anyone believe that any guarantee it entails or calculation it depends on will be sustainable for very long, much less become “permanent”?  We will soon have to make some difficult fiscal choices on an almost incomprehensible scale, or have them made for us via national bankruptcy – under which latter situation all such entitlements would merely entitle the citizen to go searching with devalued dollars or theoretical guarantees for scarce to non-existent goods and services. The crisis of debt-supported, obligation-deferred, risk-displaced welfare state capitalism that exploded last year is not over.  It’s hardly even in abeyance, and Obamacare promises to deepen and accelerate it.

Before the next reckoning is reached, a coherent political force can achieve things that previously seemed politically impossible. That sort of change, believed in or not, has happened before in history, several times in our own history, and sometimes far ahead of the schedule set by the change agents themselves.  Furthermore, as has been pointed out by many observers ever since the polls turned decisively against Obamacare, no legislation this sweeping, partisan, and unpopular has ever before been passed.  To use one of the Obama Administration’s favorite words, enactment of Obamacare would be truly unprecedented.  We should therefore consider that unprecedented events tend to imply unprecedented responses, and unprecedented political events require and ensure unprecedented political responses:  The only real question is how long the equal and opposite reaction can be denied and suppressed.

If Obamacare, on its own terms or as implicated in approaching fiscal catastrophe, remains anywhere near as unpopular over the coming years as it is now, there is no fundamental reason why it can’t be rescinded – piece by piece or all at once.  I therefore remain convinced that the proper response by conservatives to its passage cannot and must not be despair – certainly not yet, certainly not while a popular wave against the prime perpetrators is rising, and not while the tools of democratic self-government are still within reach.

I can see why Instapunk and others might feel justified in calling me or anyone else out for unwarranted optimism as we stand on the Obamic “precipice,” but in my opinion defeatism and pessimism are far worse responses.  This is a moment for sober judgment, and for confidence in one’s own beliefs and analysis, whichever best keeps you in the fight.  It’s a moment to decide whether our message to the Obamaist progressives is going to be:  “You win – we give up” or “We’re coming after you, and getting rid of your laughable, embarrassing, and repugnant health care bill (presuming you ever get around to passing it) will just be the beginning.”

cross-posted at Zombie Contentions