Michael Barone on the ObamaCare Meltdown

How does the president's signature disaster figure in the long-view of American politics?

obamacareEditor’s note: Below is the video and transcript of the keynote speech by Michael Barone given at the Freedom Center’s 2013 Restoration Weekend. The event was held November 14th-17th at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Michael Barone: How many of you have been enjoying wallowing in Obamacare?  Let's see the hands here.

We’re going through kind of, I think, an extraordinary period here in American politics.  And the widespread anticipation of the Obama Democrats have really not come to pass.  I mean, it's fascinating.

We'll go back five years, to the beginning of 2009.  And Obama and the Democratic supermajorities -- thanks to Arlen Specter and the vote counters in Minnesota, and so forth -- came to office with this basic assumption that in times of economic distress, Americans would be more supportive of or amenable to big-government programs.  And that was the lesson that was taught, after all, by the New Deal historians who wrote these very readable and widely read books about Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.  It's a lesson that's been widely believed among Democrats and so forth.

I tried to teach a somewhat different lesson in my historical account of American politics from 1930s to the 1980s called "Our Country: The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan."  The last time I looked on Amazon, there was a copy available for 11 cents.


So it's not clear that my version of this went very far.  But I basically took the view then, and take the view now, and have taken it for a long time, that Americans are basically not a big-government country.  On balance, we're a country that tends to favor markets and initiative over big government and bureaucracy, and qualify that in various ways, and different times and places.

But I think that we've had a pretty good demonstration project of testing these different and opposed propositions in the last several years.  And I think we see with Obamacare the result there.  You basically -- you know, this proposal was unpopular when it was first broached.  We were assured by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that we would find out what was in the bill after we passed it and that we would like it then.

We're still waiting.  It has become worse.  It has moved downward in the public opinion polls.

And I think in many ways the Democrats are paying a price for the way they passed this legislation.  They passed this legislation in the face of public opposition without any support from the other political party.  And after hearing pleas from the unlikely quarter of the voters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, saying please do not pass this bill, they passed it anyway.

I have an old saying that there is nothing free in politics; there is some question about when you pay the price.  And I think that Democrats thought that they were getting Obamacare for free for a long period of time, and they're not paying the price.

And we're seeing that lawyers and community organizers can put words down on paper.  And they can say -- okay, the IT guys will set this up so it'll do that.  And it turns out that it's not that easy, and that we have in particular a President who's not very good on follow-through implementation and getting things done.

If you go back to his career as a community organizer -- he never did get all the asbestos out of the Altgeld housing project in Chicago.  They're still waiting for the asbestos to come out.  He nevertheless got one promotion after another.  He got positive reinforcement for non-fulfillment of practical objectives.  And so, we're getting what we're seeing now.

But I think it has been fascinating to watch this program fall apart.  And to watch the information technology -- we have the President now basically admitting that he lied when he said you can keep your insurance policies.  We were supposed to get 500,000 people signed up for insurance and making payments.  Well, 106,000 signed up, but most of those didn't make any payments; we don't know how many -- and the IT jokes of people waiting before the frozen screen for hours and hours, when Obama said that it would be as easy as Expedia or Travelocity to use -- poses a real contrast between the public sector and the private sector.

And it also puts this in glaring partisan terms.  The Democrats passed Obamacare with no Republican votes.  If you want to go out and defeat the RINO Republicans who voted for Obamacare, you're going to have to look pretty hard, because there aren't any.  No Republicans voted for this.

And the polling numbers that have come in continue to get worse and worse.  We've got majorities now thinking that the President lied.  This is not a positive result for him.  And I think that you've got majorities, increasing majorities, saying this program is not working.  And I think that this is really a teachable moment.

I think particularly -- look, the Quinnipiac Poll came out last week.  And I'm hesitant to draw too many lessons from a single poll.  But I think that it's got some very significant numbers in it.  If these are corroborated in other surveys -- and I think they probably will be -- I think that they have a lot of significance, and they tell us some important things about going forward.  The Quinnipiac Poll showed that Obama's job rating was down to 39 percent positive, 56 percent negative; a low point for him.  This has been a survey -- a polling firm, by the way, that has tended to produce results that are a little more Democratic than the average poll coming out.  So I think these are significant.

What I look at with most interest is the results among millennials and Hispanics.  Millennials being people born -- you know, under-30 voters or people born after 1980.  You'll remember the millennials voted in 2008 66-32 for Obama.  I said that the Republicans missed their chance to win when they failed to pass a constitutional amendment raising the voting age to 35.


Too late now.  Or say you can never vote if you were born after 1980.  And 60-37 for Obama in 2012.  Hispanics -- that's a growing segment of the electorate, whether we like it or not -- they were 67-31 for Obama in 2008, and even more -- 71-27 -- against Mitt Romney in 2012.

You know, the general thought was among a lot of people -- and not just Democratic analysts -- that for the foreseeable future, we were going to see a basically Democratic country, because the millennials were going to be a larger part of our electorate.  And those of us who were born before 1980 were going to be a smaller part of it as time went on.  And Hispanics were going to be a larger percentage of the electorate.

So the Republican Party was doomed, and we were going to have Democratic majorities forever, and so forth.  This assumes that the parties would make no adjustments, that there would be no changes, and there will be no events changing some people's minds about opinions.

Well, there do seem to be some events changing their mind.  The job rating -- Obama's job rating among millennials and Hispanics is now negative in this poll -- 36-54, 41-47 -- try to confuse you by too many numbers.  And their feelings on Obamacare are similarly negative.  These were people that the 2012 polls told us thought Obamacare would be nice.  These young people, of course, were in the process of getting snookered.

One of the basic features of the architecture of the bill is that young people in their 20s subsidize older people age 55 to 64.  This is by people who say that they want progressive redistribution of economic wealth from the poor to the rich, except that young people, in their 20s, have negative net worths on the average.  In fact, they shouldn't have any wealth in their 20s; they don't know what to do with it.


And people in the 55-to-64 age group -- that's the peak wealth accumulation year of most years of most Americans.  They just start to spend down their wealth after age 65.

So this law is transferring wealth, money, from people with no net worth to people with peak net worth.  And the only justification for that is this idea that -- they're trying to create the idea that nobody should pay anything for medical care; it should just come to you free.  Because government knows how to deliver it.

Well, the young people are starting to see through that with sticker shock.  It seems pretty clear that they are not signing up for this program.  You've got these -- how many of you have seen that Colorado ad for Obamacare?  The guy standing upside-down on the beer keg?  I didn't realize people actually did that.


And this girl that's lusting after this sort of nice, rich-looking young man, saying that Obamacare provides her with free contraceptives, so now all she has to do is get the guy between the covers.  This is the level of political advertising that I didn't see in my earlier years.


But basically, they're turning against this.

Now, Hispanics tend to be -- among them, 2012, Obamacare was real popular -- hey, we're going to get free goods.  But they're learning a lesson that they may've learned in Mexico, or in the countries they came from, which is you actually can't trust government to deliver on its promises.  It turns out that it is a weak instrumentality.  As no less than the President taught us, it doesn't do IT good.  It's a -- in the words of the political scientist Steven Teles, it is a kludgeocracy.

And I think this is a teachable moment.  I think that people, particularly people tilted towards the young end of the age group -- and Hispanics, new immigrants, so forth -- people who have had the least experience with the American system of government and self-government are suddenly seeing what government does and what the advantages of self-government are.

And I think that they weren't aware of these things as much.  They drank the Kool-Aid -- we are the change we are seeking, it's so wonderful being in this hall with all these cheering people.  And they are now beginning to learn that when people construct a system that they say is failsafe, it turns out to be sure to fail, and that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

And I think there's other lessons that Republicans need to teach and to learn themselves, which is that in a vibrant economy, young people setting the course for their lives can choose their future.  They can find work and contributions that they can make to society by which they can achieve what AEI president Arthur Brooks calls earned success.  They can achieve -- and that can be measured in money, it can be measured in other economic measurements, it can be measured in service to family, to community, to people abroad, whatever.  There are many ways to earn success in this society.

And what a vibrant economy enables young people to do is find a way to earn success that is in line with their special talents, their particular interests, their uniqueness as an individual.  This is a generation that likes to be unique and have its own music playlist and its own Facebook page, and all that stuff.

A sluggish economy, a kludgeocracy economy, is one in which you better take the first job that comes down the pike.  And you aren't able to find fulfilling work, you aren't able to find not only a good income but a sense of fulfillment, a sense of satisfaction, from having accomplished and maximized your own potential.

And I think that Republicans need to make the point not only that this Obamacare system is failing and is less than about what big bureaucracy teaches -- produces, but that there are other alternatives available.  And this means coming forward in time with other healthcare plans, with market-oriented healthcare policy.  It means coming forward with policies that can plausibly address and strengthen the economy in various ways -- and, I would add, policies that encourage or strengthen family formation.  We've got to have policies that give incentives to entrepreneurs.

We also need to think about public policies that encourage two-parent families, that encourage stability in personal life, which -- you can see from the statistics that people who are raised in chaotic family situations achieve less in our society, they have greater handicaps.  We're talking about things that happened to them as children, so they're not responsible for these problems.  And we've got to think about public policies that strengthen this.

So looking forward, I think the political outlook for the Republicans is pretty good.  If you look at -- as we know, Barack Obama won the presidency but for reasons -- for demographic reasons, actually, which are reflected in my book, "Shaping Our Nation: How Surges in Migration Transformed America," which you can get later.


The Democrats have an advantage in the Electoral College, though I would not say anything like an [in-electable] advantage.  If you've got young voters and Hispanics who voted 60-plus percent for the Democrats now going 60 percent negative on their policies, you can turn a lot of those target states around.

But when you look at House of Representatives, when you look at equal population districts, Republicans have an advantage.  That's because heavily Democratic groups -- blacks, Hispanics, gentry liberals -- are clustered in a few central cities; Republicans are more spread around the rest of the country.

So when you look at congressional districts -- in 2012, Barack Obama carried 209 congressional districts.  Mitt Romney carried 226.  Most districts were Romney districts, and the Republicans won 234 of those districts, Republican candidates for Congress.

I think that means that -- it doesn't assure Republicans have a House majority, but it means it's very much uphill for the Democrats if Obama's job approval was at the 50 percent level it was in November 2012, and it ain't there anymore.

Senate seats -- we've got, as you know, a lot of -- seven Senate seats held by Democrats, up in states carried by Romney -- Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia.  I would like to echo some of what Ann Coulter said yesterday about not getting too involved in primaries and looking for the purest candidate, even though you nominate somebody that really isn't electable.  I think it's important to win those races.

I think Republicans have an outside chance as well, in Senate seats in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire.  Those were all target states, or Michigan was for awhile, in the general election.  So I think those things are possible.

But I think it's important.  And this is a slower process -- and it doesn't just happen in the campaign cycle -- to come up with alternative public policies that can help in particular tell young Americans, tell recently arrived Americans how they can choose their future and pursue their dreams, and pursue happiness in our country.

So now, let me conclude with that.

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