Thursday, November 4, 2010

Obamacare: Still poison in 2012

by Patrick McIlheran

Repeal-minded though Republicans are, it'll be practically impossible for them to dismantle Obamacare, analysts were saying Wednesday. True enough: The coming mandates and micromanaging are now law, which takes two houses of Congress and a president's signature to undo.

But how much tougher is the road ahead for the president, who must sell the nation on gifts he has given and that voters Tuesday emphatically rejected.

Take Obamacare: The president and congressional Democrats all along said that you may not understand it yet but once you do, you'll love it.

This was belied by polls showing that as parts of the vast contraption were revealed, the public liked it less.

Then came Tuesday. Nothing was so fatal to House Democrats, especially newbies, than to have voted for Obamacare. Dozens fell, including Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Appleton). The one Republican who favored it lost.

Running against it saved the jobs of 11 out of 34 Democrats who had opposed the bill, and a popular Democratic governor won West Virginia's Senate seat only after he reversed to say he'd oppose Obamacare.

In Wisconsin, the Senate race became a referendum after incumbent Russ Feingold stood firm for Obamacare. Victorious challenger Ron Johnson spent the campaign telling how it was the bill's passage that goaded him into running. At every turn, he said he was convinced it is a government takeover that will kill innovation.

He pointed out repeatedly that fear of the plan's costs were depressing the economy.

Johnson won, 52% to 47%. For anyone tempted to say Obamacare's problem was that it didn't go far enough, Johnson beat a senator who'd become the darling of progressives nationally in part by advocating a more radical single-payer plan. Feingold said his doubt about Obamacare was that it was a halfway measure. He's now looking for work.

Obamacare, meanwhile, is law, its provisions over the next few years falling into place like the tumblers in fate's deadbolt.

The president and many more Democratic senators face election in two years having already made this electoral poison inevitable. No one will so wish it repealable as they.

But it's not just Obamacare. Another transformational gift from the president was high-speed rail, into which he wants to pour billions so that fewer of us drive or fly.

One of the biggest first dollops of aid went to Wisconsin to buy us a train from Milwaukee to Madison. Our gratitude was such that the president twice had to send his transportation secretary to boast that the train was unstoppable, and our outgoing governor had to frantically commit as much of the money as he could before election day.

Result: The candidate who swore repeatedly to stop this "gift" and its unending costs, Scott Walker, is governor-elect.

Do not say that Walker's victory was instead about jobs or the economy, since his Democratic opponent, Tom Barrett, said the train would create jobs and goose the economy.

Barrett and his side bound jobs, economy and the transformational train into a bundle that voters did not buy. Yet as of Wednesday, the president was committed to stuffing this gift into our hands. That's his strategy to win Wisconsin in 2012.

Walker on Wednesday said he was confident Wisconsin could reject the train. He noted a parallel: The supposedly inexorable and broadly insufferable giant blue-shirt sculpture that officials had committed to putting on an airport garage just before Walker became Milwaukee County executive. It was successfully canceled.

The train is a much bigger deal, but elements - free federal money, contracts already signed - match up. So does the underlying conflict.

Citizens are told of some scheme for their collective improvement. A majority says no. Officials hint that we're too moronic to grasp what's good for us and proceed to do what they think we ought to be grateful for.

Obamacare's the same thing, only far, far grander. This shouldn't surprise us. It all fits the progressive's understanding of America as a herd that insists on the forms of democracy but upon whom the wise must impose improvements anyhow.

Those forms of democracy walloped Democrats Tuesday. The next walloping may be exactly as unrepealable as Obamacare.


Patrick McIlheran is a Journal Sentinel editorial columnist. E-mail

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