Kathleen Sebelius sees Obamacare as “working.” It just suffers from “a very bad brand.”
The former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services told Politico, “Obamacare, no question, has a very bad brand that has been driven intentionally by a lot of misinformation and a lot of paid advertising.”
The translation into Gruberese reads: “The American people are too stupid.” The 58 percent that favor repealing the law have been manipulated into their opinions—and not, alas, by PajamaBoy or Magic Johnson public-service announcements.
“I think we may need to call it something in the future different,” Kathleen Sebelius-Gruber concludes, “but it is working.”
The proponents of change recalcitrantly clinging to discredited ideas remains a universal political paradox. Miserable people want to bring change to everything but the one thing that would bring happiness: themselves. Transform one-seventh of the economy? Do it yesterday. Change my mind? Never.
Liberalism is nothing if not a constant rebranding effort. The last century began with statists rechristening themselves “progressives.” But imposing an upward-creeping income tax, nationalizing the railroads, devaluing the currency through the Federal Reserve, and outlawing the liquor needed to cope with such colossal idiocy all damaged the label.
So, progressives regrouped after the Return to Normalcy as “liberals.” But top tax rates confiscating as much as 95 percent of income, a welfare state incentivizing shiftlessness, and a misdiagnosis of criminal behavior as the fault of society rather than the perpetrator made “liberal” a term of derision by the time Michael Dukakis donned a tanker’s helmet.
So, Democrats became “New Democrats” upon Bill Clinton’s run for the presidency. Barack Obama, to the left of his party’s recent standard bearers, shunned “liberal” for “progressive.” Statists began the new century embracing the label that they entered the old century under.
The new bottles perpetually offer old wine. The 21st-century progressives, like the 1990s New Democrats, the midcentury liberals, and the turn-of-the-century progressives, sought to move the delivery of medicine from the market to the state. The repeated failure to accomplish this (attaining incremental gains here and there) never persuaded proponents of socialized medicine of a problem with their idea. Instead, they imagined the public’s stubborn refusal to join their enthusiasm, much like Kathleen Sebelius does, as a marketing problem. As with Rolling Stone’s fictional frat brothers of UVA, “no” never quite means no for the American Left.
It makes one wonder, given the shift for Democrats from 60 votes in the Senate and 256 in the House pre-Obamacare to 46 in the Senate and 188 in the House in the new Congress, what nom de liberal leftists will settle upon as “progressive” wears out its welcome. I suggest “obstinate,” as it offers truth in advertising and follows the English practice of opponents picking the names of adversaries (e.g., tory, whig); its connotations, unfortunately, fail to flatter the way “progressive” does. I don’t see MSNBC hosts embracing my suggestion. “Conservative” remains spoken for. But “liberal” belonged to freedom-oriented thinkers before characteristically expropriated by statists. Who knows?
An amazing continuity of ideas and intellectual stasis ironically characterizes the party of change. The means of change, from demonstration communities to delusions of violent revolution to Fabian gradualism, certainly changes. But the ends remain largely the same.
In the aftermath of the disgrace brought upon the Old Left by confirmation of the fealty of so many in their ranks to a foreign power, a beleaguered radical plaintively penned ousted Communist Party USA leader Earl Browder, “A new left must be formed in America.”
Like Coke in the 1980s, the Left in the 1960s prefixed their name with “New.” They didn’t have the decency to change the formula, though.
Change for thee, not for me.