After seven years of campaigning nonstop to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, Republicans have finally introduced their long-overdue healthcare “replacement” plan. The plan, which maintains the worst of Obamacare’s actuarially insolvent regulations, pretends that there is a meaningful economic distinction between subsidies and tax credits (note to Republicans: there isn’t), inexcusably kicks the can down the road on reining in the 2010 law’s pernicious Medicaid expansion, and cowers at the almighty altar of no less arcane a figure than the Senate parliamentarian, makes for an overall less-inspiring performance than Mariah Carey’s Times Square meltdown this past New Year’s Eve.
By accepting the procedural premise that one-sixth of the entire U.S. economy can be thoroughly refashioned by a single piece of top-down, heavy-handed legislation, the GOP—the putatively more classical liberal and constitutionalist of our two major parties—has itself capitulated to the overarching framework of FDR’s New Deal: that massive, one-size-fits-all, all-encompassing pieces of regulatory legislation are within the proper aegis of the U.S. Congress.
Instead of systemically uprooting all of Obamacare via budget reconciliation — which, no matter what Speaker Paul Ryan or anyone else says about the big, bad Senate parliamentarian, is eminently doable — and then proceeding to pass small, piecemeal, consensus legislation such as incentivizing cross-state line insurance options, expanding health savings accounts, and equalizing tax treatment for employer-based and individually purchased plans, the GOP has merely regurgitated “Obamacare Lite.” As Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro accurately noted in his podcast last Friday, Republicans never, ever win when they merely try to be Democrats Lite. The party of slavery, Jim Crow, and state-sanctioned prenatal infanticide will always spend more and buy more votes with “free” stuff than will the GOP.
But the intellectual forfeiture that is the American Health Care Act (“AHCA”) actually cuts even deeper than FDR and the New Deal. Indeed, Republicans—as bad as this is—have not seen fit to merely accept the fatal conceit that one-sixth of the U.S. economy can be centrally managed and dictated by a single piece of all-encompassing legislation. By also assenting to the notion that the federal government has as outsized a role to play in the conferring of positive benefits as the AHCA envisions, Republicans have furthermore undermined the Founding Fathers’ classical liberal ideal of a negative rights-securing government of strictly limited powers and legitimized President Woodrow Wilson’s perversion of that Founding ideal toward a more power-hungry federal government revolved around the bestowing of positive rights.
Let’s start with first principles. The John Locke-inspired, negative rights-securing nature of American republicanism is evident from a cursory glance at the most preeminent words of Thomas Jefferson’s 1776 Declaration:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
Jefferson could not have been clearer. The entire basis of the American experiment is that a government is needed to secure preexisting natural rights: that is, that the citizenry would not have a positive right to receive positive benefits, but would instead have a right to be free from sundry forms of government abuse and coercion. As I have noted before, the strict limitations the Constitution places on governmental power are inextricably linked to the Declaration’s annunciation of its philosophical first precepts “to the end that individual liberty might be preserved.” This is not conservative/libertarian/classical liberal historical revisionism; it quite literally is why the United States of America was founded as a sovereign nation.
President Woodrow Wilson, the first true modern Leftist to occupy the White House, sought to uproot all of this. Wilson, a repugnant racist in his personal life and an unrelenting zealot for big government in his public life, pursued nothing less than the wholesale perversion and distortion of the republic’s original Lockean/Jeffersonian conception of liberty. Here was George Will, writing right before the 2012 Democratic National Convention, on how Barack Obama might be said to be the nation’s fourth “transformative progressive,” after Wilson, FDR, and Lyndon Johnson:
…[Wilson] said, “every means . . . by which society may be perfected through the instrumentality of government” should be used so that “individual rights can be fitly adjusted and harmonized with public duties.” Rights “adjusted and harmonized” by government necessarily are defined and apportioned by it. Wilson, the first transformative progressive, called this the “New Freedom.” The old kind was the Founders’ kind — government existing to “secure” natural rights (see the Declaration) that preexist government. Wilson thought this had become an impediment to progress. The pedigree of Obama’s thought runs straight to Wilson.
Many people today believe that FDR was the first true left-wing president, but much like Kylo Ren and the First Order attempting to finish what Palpatine, Vader, and the Empire started, there would have been no FDR had there been no Woodrow Wilson. Wilson laid the incipient legwork for everything that FDR eventually did.
Back in the days of Wilson and FDR, the Party of Lincoln could often be counted upon to mount a philosophical, first principles-based objection to this distortion of the Founders’ vision. As I wrote in 2014, “when Benjamin Franklin spoke of ‘a republic—if you can keep it,’ it was with folks precisely like contemporary Leftists in mind.” Wilson and FDR were the first two contemporary Leftists to occupy the White House; and conservatives, in fighting back at the time against such pernicious faux-constitutional doctrines as the engorgement of the then-nascent administrative state and the Commerce Clause-driven New Deal savaging of any semblance of limitations on Congress’s Article I Section 8 legislative powers, understood the high stakes.
Alas, in 2017, it is lamentably unclear just how much fight remains within the Republican Party to push back against recalcitrant, transformative Leftism. Presidential campaign ads from 2012 may have attempted to hit then-GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan for his “social Darwinism” and “throwing granny off the cliff” budget wonkery, but in 2017 Speaker Ryan has all but raised the white flag of surrender. Somewhere, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are smiling; Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, however, are weeping.
We conservatives are in this fight to defeat the Left, which indubitably represents an existential threat to all that we consider just about a society prizing individual freedom and human flourishing. But in defeating the Left, it is imperative that we stand for something—and, specifically, that that “something” not merely be “Leftism lite.” Only a genuine, first-principles based, constitutionally-derived conservatism can save the Republic from Leftist revanchism.
Only a genuine, first principles-based, constitutionally derived conservatism can save the republic from Leftist revanchism.
For congressional conservatives and conservative activists all across the country, then, the immediately pressing task is clear. First, kill this bill. Second, repeal Obamacare wholesale via budget reconciliation, no matter what the Senate parliamentarian says. Third, pass incremental, consensus-based legislation to move the ball forward in liberalizing healthcare access, freeing health insurance markets, and lowering healthcare costs for more consumers. Dare Chuck Schumer and the Democrats to oppose some of these aforementioned common-sense measures.
But the first task for congressional Republicans — and for President Trump and Vice President Pence — is to stop flirting with the AHCA’s one-size-fits-all legislative conferral of positive benefits. They are all merely evincing just how thoroughly Woodrow Wilson and FDR have posthumously won their long-term con.