Government by faculty lounge subject
By MICHAEL BARONE
President Obama (/section/barack-obama) went up to Capitol Hill
Wednesday to counsel congressional Democrats on how to save
Obamacare. Or at least that's how his visit was billed.
But to judge from the responses of some of the Democrats, his advice
was typical of the approach he's taken to legislation in his eight years
as president. Which is to say, disengaged, above the fray, detached
from any detailed discussion of how legislation actually works.
He was "very nostalgic," said Louise Slaughter, ranking Democrat on
the House Rules Committee. But, she added, he left it up to Hill
Democrats to come up with a strategy to protect Obamacare.
This is in line with the standoffish relations Obama has had with
members of Congress, even with Democrats who are inclined to be and
capable of being helpful. Schmoozing with those he gives the
impression of regarding as his inferiors has not been his style.
Nor has he ever seemed interested in the content of laws, even his
trademark healthcare legislation. His February 2010 decision to move
forward on Obamacare despite the election of Republican Sen. Scott
Brown in Massachusetts meant accepting a bill with multiple flaws,
many of them glaringly visible after passage.
But policy just wasn't his thing. And isn't now. At the Hill meeting
Obama, according to Massachusetts Democrat Bill Keating, was
"basically saying let's not get down into policy language." The key word
there may be "down."
The problem with this approach has been apparent since the 9 o'clock
hour on the evening of election day when it became clear that Donald
Trump (/section/donald-trump) was going to be elected president. In
2010 Obama assumed there would always would be a Democratic
Congress to repair any glitches in Obamacare. In 2016 he assumed that
there would be a President Hillary Clinton (/section/hillary-clinton) to
keep his pen-and-phone regulations and "guidances" in place.
Now Obama is thrashing around trying to keep his policies in place.
But more than in any of the other eight changes of parties in the last
80 years, they're in danger of being overturned.
One reason is that they were never firmly established in the first place.
And not just because the Democrats' 60-vote Senate supermajority
existed for only eight months, from July 2009 to February 2010.
Rather, the Obama Democrats' policies, passed through slapdash
legislation or through questionably legal regulations, never really
captured the hearts and minds of the American people.
Obamacare was based on the shaky premise that mandating often
expensive and limited-choice health insurance would be seen as
guaranteeing good healthcare. As a result, as historian Walter Russell
a-hack-at-the-healthcare-gordian-knot/) writes, "it did not
generate enough public support to protect itself from its opponents."
Regulations imposed on coal and other fossil fuel production, imposed
after Democrats even with supermajorities failed to pass cap-and-trade
legislation, failed to impress a population that did not share liberal
elites' faith that climate change (/section/climate-change) was certain
to produce catastrophe.
And regulations legalizing literally millions of illegal immigrants have
failed to pass muster in federal courts, thanks to legal maneuverings as
sloppy as the legislative legerdemain that shoved through Obamacare.
Public policies prove to be enduring when they address what people
regard as genuine needs and thus create constituencies which
politicians do not dare to defy. Social Security's old age benefits are a
prime example. You can jigger the taxes and benefits, as a bipartisan
majority did in 1983, but voters who believe they paid for their benefits
will insist they not be taken away.
Policies that induce long-term reliance also tend to endure, a prime
example being the home mortgage interest deduction. There's a good
argument that this policy, like the Social Security benefit formula,
unduly benefits the affluent. But that argument doesn't move most
In my view, Obama owed his election and re-election to the feeling,
widely shared by Americans including many who didn't vote for him,
that it would be a good thing for Americans to elect a black president.
What they didn't expect, but got, was a president who governed
according to the playbook of campus liberals, imposing — or
attempting to impose — policies which he believed would be good for
people: government by the faculty lounge.
This was governance that was both inattentive to detail and law and
also out of touch with how policies affect people's lives. Which is why
so many of these policies seem headed for the ash heap of history.