Now, at one level the intimation that anyone who questions the president must be a liar probably reflects frustration with the legislative outlook for health-care reform. Nevertheless, it is highly unpresidential. And it suggests that the president and his allies see disagreement over health care as less a political dispute than the trampling of sacred doctrine…

Of course, when fundamental human rights are at stake, it seems churlish to worry about little things such as the price tag. Or higher taxes. When it comes to the Holy Grail of universality, liberal intentions are far more important than actual outcomes.

“Think of public education,” says James Capretta, a health-care expert at the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center. “They want to do for health care what they’ve done for education—establish a government-run, universal system. Once in place, they will defend such a system whether or not it delivers the results it promised.”