Unpleasant necessities will be someone else’s problem

In Bait-and-Switch Liberalism William Voegeli uses the essential dishonesty employed to pass Obamacare to make a broader point about the growth of government in general:

In order to get Americans to institute — little by little, but ultimately in its entirety — a Scandinavian safety net, one must assure them every step of the way that its benefits won’t require anything resembling Scandinavian taxes or regulations

The hope is that civil and respectful policy debates, ones that tell Americans what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear, will leave voters ever more favorably disposed to assigning new responsibilities to government, confining the arguments to technical details about delivery and financing. But the category of what people need to hear seems to include nothing that would alert them to the prospect that implementing the liberal agenda might incur significant difficulties, costs, and dangers. Rather, what people need to hear includes everything — but only as much as — liberal politicians and publicists want to tell them.

So, throughout the 2008 campaign, Obama made a “firm pledge”: “No family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital-gains taxes, not any of your taxes.” The problem with exempting 97 percent of American households from any federal tax increase is that it makes it impossible to pay for: 1) the expensive obligations baked in the cake when Obama took office in 2009; 2) the expensive obligations government has taken on since then, Obamacare chief among them; and 3) the expensive obligations sure to be added to existing ones the next time Democrats have the power to enact them…

Liberals rely on bait-and-switch tactics because they fear the results of describing their agenda clearly and candidly to voters, who can’t handle the truth. Even an elementary truth, such as the proposition that improving health care will cost money rather than save money, must be denied over and over, lest don’t-tread-on-me rubes start asking awkward questions about how much improving health care is going to cost and where the money will come from. Once a policy such as Obamacare is enacted and implemented, making the switch means admitting the obvious, and then claiming it’s so obvious — “everyone always knew” it would cost money and disrupt existing health-care arrangements — that it doesn’t really qualify as a switch. The villains in this story are not the liberals who spoke incontestable untruths when political circumstances called for telling people what they wanted to hear. The villains are conservatives who complain about the deceits by commission and omission

This is the basis for New Republic editor Noam Scheiber’s defense of Obamacare against liberals who complain America really needs a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system. Obamacare’s virtue is that it’s a “deceptively sneaky way” to hasten the arrival of single-payer, he says, since its shortcomings will create an “organized constituency” with “a whole set of grievances to get exercised about.” The hysterical, prevaricating tea-party zealots who denounced Obamacare as a step to something much bigger were basically right, in other words.  People can be relied on to demand more government benefits without prodding, but not to demand the taxes those benefits will require. What the people most need to hear is also what liberal opinion- and lawmakers need to avoid telling them: Benefits correspond to burdens, so higher benefits will require heavier burdens…

The keys to bait-and-switch liberalism are: a) serial responsibility, so that the people who do the baiting are not the ones who do the switching; and b) plausible deniability, so that those still on the scene who did the baiting can claim, if anyone asks, that they never anticipated or intended the subsequent switching. Either the welfare state will need to be scaled back, or taxes will need to be raised on Americans making less — much less — than $250,000, but those unpleasant necessities will be confronted on some future president’s watch.

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