The late Milton Berle loved the story of the Senator who took to the Senate floor to deliver a long pompous presentation about something or other. Later he met a constituent and asked: "Did you hear my last speech?"
"I certainly hope so."
Much the same sentiment extends to the most recent effort by Barack Obama. His address to a joint, i.e. to a session of Congress, got plenty of attendance and very little attention. He was trying to explain how he could insure the health of all without impacting their wealth, unlike the thousands of highly trained executives and actuaries in the private field of medical coverage. At that point, Joe Wilson called him a liar, which is no surprise, since Joe Wilson also called President Bush a liar, and can Valerie Plame be far behind?
Realistically, however, it occurs to me that most of the analysis of this and other speeches by Obama about health care misses the point. They proceed from the premise that there is a goal in the medical or health realm Obama is pursuing, and the question is how much tax money will be required. The liberal commentators assume -- at least in their public rhetoric -- his medical goal to be in good faith, while conservatives assign more ominous considerations: control over the economy, over life and death, over the behavior of individuals.
Indeed the opposite is more accurately the case. Taxes will not be raised to support health care, but health care must be raised to support taxes. The larger vision of Obama's approach to each separate issue is to see how government can manage the solution. To establish government in this position of power taxes must fill the coffers and empty the wallets.
In the wake of the Reagan revolution, the Feds only get four of every ten dollars earned by the most productive Americans. That figure was seven of ten as recently as 1982, before Kemp, Roth and Reagan succeeded in changing the law. Since then the culture has changed to match their handiwork. Young Americans cannot conceive of a 70 percent tax and are shocked to hear it was the norm so recently.
The idea of instituting this huge overhaul of the medical system is a fig leaf for the broader idea of taxing much more and spending much more. Remember, Obama not only offered a record 1.8 trillion deficit for 2009, he has asked for no deficit less than a trillion in each of the next eight years -- the two terms he hopes to serve. This despite the fact no prior deficit ever exceeded 450 billion!
If Obama cannot pass health care legislation, he is left without an excuse for the vast buildup in taxation, appropriation and government hiring he envisions. He needs to sell the image of the great national transformation, the new contract between the government and the citizenry. You should excuse the expression… a New Deal. If he has no big deal to show for all his bluster, his new deal is too obviously a rip-off.
So we need big noise about seemingly big projects to spawn big money for big government so Obama and Biden and Pelosi et al. can feel like big people doing big things. As for us small fry with our small lives and small ideas, we can spend what money we have left on getting a good shrink. At least until Tipper Gore gets mental health into the hands of government.
Is this history repeating itself? No, it is copycat history, a self-conscious attempt to prove after all that Roosevelt was the champ and Reagan was the chump (with the chimp -- remember Bedtime for Bonzo?). Somehow all this hindsight is terribly meaningful to the Democrat psyche. It is more poignant in Obama's eyes for him to be the second coming of Roosevelt than to be something original, creative and individualistic.
Which leaves us with another relevant political gag from Uncle Miltie. The fellow calls his Congressman's local office and yells at the young staffer who picks up the phone: "How quickly can you guys spend a billion dollars?"
"Just a moment, sir."
"Ah, just as I thought…"
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