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Paul Rahe: Obama to elderly: Drop dead!

Hillsdale College history professor Paul Rahe writes to comment on the current political scene:

Why are the Democrats in such trouble? I think that the answer is three-fold.
First, as I argued in my last Power Line post, the so-called “stimulus bill” was passed in both the House and the Senate in a manner suggestive of tyranny. It was written in camera with the help of a legion of lobbyists, and it was presented and shoved through before anyone in Congress even had a chance to read it, much less think about it, and the same argument could be made concerning the passage of the cap-and-trade bill in the House and the Obama administration’s handling of the bailout and the bankruptcy proceedings of Chrysler and General Motors.
Second, the first of these bills was an obvious scam – a massive pay-off to Democratic party constituencies at the expense of the American taxpayer on a scale that guarantees much higher taxes before long and that almost certainly will drive up interest rates. In the long run, it is not a stimulus bill in any shape or form. It is the sort of spending certain to retard growth.
Third – as I argued in some detail in “Obama’s tyrannical ambition,” rationing was the point of the Obamacare proposal.
By now, of course, everyone – apart from those so partisan that they believe every lie foisted upon them by the party apparat and those who flack for it at CNN, ABC, MSNBC, and the like – understands as much. They recognize that all of the talk, dripping with compassion, about the supposed health care crisis and the need to cover the uninsured was a cover for an attempt to do away with Medicare and replace it with something less costly. And this prospect they do not like it one bit.
Consider Lee Siegel. He prefaces his recent piece in the Daily Beast with the announcement that he considers “the absence of universal healthcare . . . America’s burning shame.” Then, however, he acknowledges that “on one point the plan’s critics are absolutely correct. One of the key ideas under consideration – which can be read as expressing sympathy for limitations on end-of-life care – is morally revolting.”

Make no mistake about it. Determining which treatments are “cost effective” at the end of a person’s life and which are not is one of Obama’s priorities. It’s one of the principal ways he counts on saving money and making universal healthcare affordable.
This reeks of the Big Brother nightmare of oppressive government that the shrewd propagandists on the right are always blathering on about. Except that this time, they could not be more right. . . .

Siegel is not an isolated figure. In Salon, Camille Paglia makes much the same point, praising Sarah Palin for her “shrewdly timed metaphor,” which “spoke directly to the electorate’s unease with the prospect of shadowy, unelected government figures controlling our lives. A death panel not only has the power of life and death but is itself a symptom of a Kafkaesque brave new world where authority has become remote, arbitrary and spectral.”
Even The New York Times is coming around. On August 13, Jim Rutenberg and Jackie Calmes, writing in the news pages, played the conspiracy card, charging that the concerns evidenced at the town-hall meetings were the product of a systematic attempt on the part of conservatives to mislead the gullible. Precisely one week later, however, the same newspaper published another news article by Robert Pear, acknowledging that “Medicare beneficiaries and insurance counselors say the concerns are not entirely irrational,” and adding that “the zeal for cutting health costs, combined with proposals to compare the effectiveness of various treatments and to counsel seniors on end-of-life care, may explain why some people think the legislation is about rationing, which could affect access to the most expensive services in the final months of life.”
Even more to the point, at the end of his article, Pear notes,

If a bill becomes law, no one can say for sure how it may be applied or extended. The 1965 law that created Medicare prohibited “any federal interference” in “the practice of medicine or the manner in which medical services are provided,” or in the operation of any institution providing health care. Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University, called this “a majestic message from Congress about how it expected the Medicare program to be run.” But the meaning of that guarantee has shrunk as Medicare officials and Congress have set more detailed standards for doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and others in Medicare.

If we are to understand fully what is going on when we see generally mild-mannered, older people showing up in coats and ties to shout at their Congressman, we must keep in mind that for 44 years working Americans in their generation have been paying in to Medicare. They expect, when they retire, to receive the level of medical care that they were promised, that they paid for, that was provided over the last 44 years to those who paid in for a shorter time or paid in not at all. Obama’s attempt to renege on the commitment to them has them hopping mad, for they know a broken promise when they see one.
This is all a portent of trouble to come. Medicare is on the verge of bankruptcy, and the same is true of Social Security. Virtually every state in the Union has promised retired teachers and civil servants pensions that were never properly funded. The bill will soon come due; taxes will be raised – but it is not clear that they can be raised high enough, for tax rates that stifle growth reduce receipts. The welfare state we had before Barack Obama became President was insupportable. Ours will soon be a regime of broken promises, and there will be hell to pay. The first installment will come due on the first Tuesday in November, 2010.

Paul A. Rahe holds the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage at Hillsdale College. He is the author, most recently, of Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty: War, Religion, Commerce, Climate, Terrain, Technology, Uneasiness of Mind, the Spirit of Political Vigilance, and the Foundations of the Modern Republic and Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect.

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