We keep hearing that the passage of HCR was historical—or, in the immortal words of the great Joe Biden, “A big F-ing deal.”
But “historical”—or even “big F-ing deal”—has no moral valence. It doesn’t mean “good” or “bad.” It just means “big and memorable” and perhaps even “unprecedented.”
World War I was historical, for example. World War II was exceedingly historical. The Great Depression likewise. But no one would call these events good.
We don’t yet know what the ultimate effects of HCR will be, although we can guess. But we do know what’s been historical about it so far.
For starters, it represents the culmination of nearly a century of liberal/progressive/leftist (take your pick) longing (I wrote about this phenomenon here). Now Noemie Emery offers a fine summary of some of the other characteristics that have made HCR so historical:
The bill passed is a historical change, and a massive expansion of government. It was also the first major bill to be passed against the will of the country, to be passed by only one part of one party, and in the face of a wave of public revulsion, expressed over 10 months in such different outlets as mass demonstrations, three big elections, and polls.
It was not only not bipartisan, but it was less than one party, in the sense that the great war of passage was the attempt by the leaders to force their members to vote in a way that outraged their constituents, by way of threats, ultimatums and bribes.
It is the first bill whose supporters say they have to sell it now after passage, as they failed so spectacularly to sell it the first time. It is the first whose passage was greeted with cries for repeal by so many mainstream and respected political leaders, the first to be challenged in court right off the bat by two different state governments, with thirty-plus more in the wings.
I would add to that list the fact that this bill affects people’s lives in the most intimate way possible—their access to health care—and (despite promises to the contrary) the majority of them are concluding that it will ultimately take away from them more than it will give. They judge that it will take not only more money from them, but their present access to medical choice, something most are quite satisfied with now. They calculate that it will take away the high standards of medicine and particularly medical innovation they have come to expect in this country. And it may even take away the country’s solvency, already highly compromised.
All this has been done by the government without their consent—unless you believe that, once an election has occurred, anything that government chooses to do is by definition done with the people’s consent, even if the government’s plans had been misrepresented before the election.
Arguments that Obama campaigned and was elected on this particular bill are ludicrous (worse than ludicrous: transparently duplicitous). The centerpiece of his campaign was a new bipartisanship and transparency, and some general sort of health care reform was going to be part of it. But the specific provisions of this bill (including, for example, the individual mandate, which he had explicitly disavowed) most certainly were not, nor was this process of bill passage. His most oft-stated promise—that you could keep your current health plan if you like it—has become another joke (unless you understood that the promise came with an expiration date of a year or two).
No, there has never been another bill like it. Historical. The comparisons to Social Security or Medicare are laughable as well. Yes, there was some opposition to both among conservatives of the time. But they were very much minority voices and did not carry the day even within the Republican Party. Both bills were hugely popular with large majorities of Americans, and passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress. No one had to go out afterwards to “sell” them like a snake-oil pitchman; they had already sold themselves.
The process by which the bills passed was the normal one, as well. And, more importantly (even though we see the enormous fiscal costs now), they were mostly seen at the time as “win-win” situations by the American public. Nearly everyone paid into them and everyone would be getting something out of them, and for the vast majority of Americans they did not replace better benefits that were already in place.
In contrast, the current bill is seen as taking from the many to benefit (theoretically, at least) the few, as threatening mightily to endanger the economy of the entire country, and was rammed through against the will of the American people. That’s the sort of “historical” we could have done without.
Big F-ing deal, indeed.