Commenter Simon Weaver, transplanted Brit, writes:
Not everyone believes Obama is a Marxist. Coming from England he seems pretty right wing to me. The most radical left wing thing he has done since coming into office was merely suggesting a public option during the healthcare debate, and he quickly caved when he saw he was never going to get it through. My dad is a life-long conservative, but if the conservative party said they would abolish the national health service he would not vote for them. I’d like to think that not all conservatives are such trenchant ideologs.
Simon’s comment reflects a basic truth, which is this: the American revolution didn’t end when the peace treaties were signed. Despite their continuing ties of history, language, tradition, culture, and law, Britain and the USA have been diverging even in recent years, particularly since World War II, when war-weary Britain took a sharp turn left and America did not.
Despite a short-lived revival of conservatism—of the Thatcher variety—during the Reagan era, Britain’s right remains way to the left of this country’s. So in that sense Simon is absolutely correct in his second sentence (although not grammatically: dangling participle, man!), “Coming from England [Obama] seems pretty right-wing to me.” But the left-right continuum is scaled quite differently here.
As for Obama’s “merely suggesting” a public option and then caving, that is technically the case, as well. But that’s Obama’s very clever modus operandi: to make sure his fingerprints are not on the HCR bill by offering “suggestions” and leaving it up to Congress to do whatever it can manage to get away with, the lefter the better. Anyone who really studies the bill can see that its long-term goal (and, by extension, Obama’s) is to force down other forms of health insurance and to ultimately drive everyone into the exchanges.
But let’s leave the public option aside for a moment and deal with another question: is his stance on the public option really the most left-wing thing Obama has done as president? No. There is almost nothing the man has done since coming to office that hasn’t been remarkably left wing, despite the fact that the left isn’t happy with him and wants more.
Some of Obama’s most consistently left-wing positions have not been policies per se but rather attitudes expressed repeatedly in speeches. He has adopted a consistently anti-business, anti-capitalist position, fomenting class warfare (common in Britain, I would imagine, but less widespread here in the past) and hatred of the rich. He has come perilously close to nationalizing industries. He is a union man extraordinaire. One of the most astoundingly leftist acts he has performed was his running roughshod over the first creditors’ rights in the Chrysler bailout and putting his favored unions before them, in abrogation of contract law.
His foreign policy has been an interesting amalgam of leftist positions (come down hard on Israel; Bush administration practiced torture; will talk with anyone, even Ahmadinejad) and seemingly more conservative stances such as fighting in Afghanistan. But even when taking the latter position he gives it a twist from the left that betrays his true feelings: he announces a troop building and at the same time announces the withdrawal, and in so doing practically negates the former. His attitude towards leftist Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and his henchman in Honduras was one of Obama’s most shameful and transparently leftist acts, although few remember it at this point because so much has happened to spin our heads since (see this for background).
But let us return to Simon—in this case Simon’s dad. Simon writes:
My dad is a life-long conservative, but if the conservative party said they would abolish the national health service he would not vote for them.
This points out, once again, the difference between what passes for “conservative” in Britain and what the term means here. It also illustrates how entitlements, once ingrained in a population, are very difficult if not impossible to eradicate, because people become dependent on them—and don’t think for a moment that Obama and Pelosi and Reid are not well aware of that. In fact, they bank on it, and it was part of their calculation for extreme haste in passing HCR.
But there’s another point that Simon doesn’t mention but that is vital, and this concerns the different histories of health insurance in this country and in Britain. The latter’s national health service was established after World War II (and designed even before that) as part of a planned cradle-to-grave postwar welfare state. That’s well over sixty years ago, long enough for many generations to have grown very accustomed to it. What’s more, the system was preceded by one that was very piecemeal and highly inadequate, in contrast to ours, which is somewhat flawed but mostly liked by the majority of Americans:
[T]here were no real losers in the Britain of 1948 [when their system was first set up]. Only a tiny handful of very rich people had any experience of great medical care—and they were rich enough to pay higher taxes AND private insurance premiums. Everyone else got roughly the same medical care; but now the middle class got it for nothing as most of the poor had done before. Nobody lost—not for another fifteen years when the quality of medical care began to decline noticeably. And by then they were hooked. By contrast almost every insured American is a potential loser under Obamacare. And some of those considered to be winners—i.e., the currently non-insured—will feel like losers if they are forced to insure and then remain inconveniently healthy.
So comparing the British public’s response to national health care to our own attitude to Obamacare is comparing apples to oranges.
Simon closes with the idea that he hopes not all conservatives are ideologues. But what is conservativism if not an ideology? If a person—conservative or libertarian, socialist or communist—compromises his/her positions because a particular bill happens to be of personal benefit in a particular instance, I can’t say I’d applaud or admire that person. If, on the other hand, that person is voting against his/her own belief system because he/she believes the vote will benefit society as a whole, then it may be time to revisit the underpinnings of that belief system and even to change it.
I don’t praise rigid, unthinking ideologues. But I have no respect for those who compromise their principles in order to get a personal benefit. Political ideology is not—or at least, it should not be—a belief system founded on faith. It should be based on reasoning and logic, and ought to be able to stand up to the facts and empirical evidence of life and history.