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The End of Entitlements? By: Vasko Kohlmayer
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, June 22, 2009

In his recent speech to the American Medical Association in Chicago, President Obama stated that the rising cost of healthcare is “a threat to our economy. It's an escalating burden on our families and businesses. It's a ticking time bomb for the federal budget. And it is unsustainable for the United States of America.” He then added,


When it comes to the cost of our health care, then, the status quo is unsustainable. So reform is not a luxury; it is a necessity… I'd love to be able to defer these issues, but we can't.


The president’s words are part of a rhetorical stratagem that has become the staple of his modus operandi. It works like this: Obama zeroes in on a troubled economic sector and describes in vivid terms the dire situation that prevails there. He then announces he has a plan to fix it and raises the stakes by declaring that things are so bad – “unsustainable” is his favorite term – that if we do not act quickly a great calamity will take place. In his Chicago speech he suggested “a scenario that will swamp our federal and state budgets, and impose a vicious choice of either unprecedented tax hikes, or overwhelming deficits, or drastic cuts in our federal and state budgets.” In the case of the banks and auto companies, the “scenario” was the eventual disintegration of the American economy.


Obama thus presents his hearers with this choice: Either we act quickly and save the sector in question by implementing his plan, or we do nothing and allow the whole economy to go down.


But this is a false dilemma, since the real question is not whether we should act, but what kind of action would be best under the circumstances. The president, however, never allows discussion on the nature of the action, but only presents the problem as a choice of whether or not to adopt his fix. The content of the “fix” is not debatable, but its tenor is always the same: the imposition of close federal control or an outright government takeover of a portion of the private sector. Whether it will work, or whether it is even constitutional is not to be asked.


So far Obama has been able to exploit this ploy with much effect, because people have for the most part failed to perceive the fallaciousness of the dilemma they are presented with. It is in large part thanks to this that he has been able to take over important segments of the private sector with very little opposition. There are three main reasons for why this ploy has worked so effectively.


To begin with, Obama starts with statements that are obviously true. There are, indeed, serious problems in various sectors of our economy. When people hear their president accurately describing the hardships and uncertainties they experience, they instinctively begin to trust him. They also agree that something should be done. But having granted him their trust, they do not notice that Obama then offers up false alternatives – either we do nothing and reap the harrowing consequences of inaction or we implement his solution. Once people believe that this is the only choice, they naturally opt for the latter.


Secondly, Obama blunts people’s capacity for judgment by inciting a sense of panic and fear. He does this by claiming that the situation is critical and that things are on the verge of collapse. When people personally experience economic pinch – as most have to one extent or another – they are more prone to believe that the whole system may be crumbling. President Obama plucks on this psychological string by continuously emphasizing the dire nature of the situation. This in turn makes people more open to accepting his solutions. Once he has them in this position, he emphasizes the necessity of immediate action with carefully crafted phrases designed to whip up a sense of urgency in the minds of his hearers. In the speech to the American Medical Association, the president said that reforming the system is “what we must do with this moment.” When pushing for the passage of the stimulus bill, he warned, “It's not too late to change course, but only if we take immediate and dramatic action.”


In both instances the president implied that a calamity would ensue unless his measures were enacted. This is demonstrably false. Five months after the passage of the stimulus bill less than ten percent of the money has been disbursed. One must wonder why there was such a rush at the time. Could we not spend a couple of weeks debating the wisdom and merits of the enormous bill? In the case of healthcare, the suggestion that we can get out of the recession by adopting Obama’s healthcare fix is patently absurd. The ongoing economic crisis did not originate in that sector. It began in the housing market and then spilled into other areas such as banks and the financial institutions. Healthcare has not played an appreciable role in the formation or the unfolding of this recession. Even if we were somehow able to fix all the problems of American healthcare tomorrow, it would not have much impact on how this crisis plays out. Obama is simply using the recession as a cover to impose his agenda with the help of his false dilemma stratagem: Either we remake the healthcare industry or our economy will crumble.


Obama’s reforms are clearly not about saving the country or fixing its real problems. If they were, he would not be seeking to strangle the private sector, the source of America’s wealth and prosperity. Instead he would try to reform those government programs that are headed for bankruptcy and that will drag down the whole economy when they crash. Social Security and Medicare are a case in point. Consuming an ever-larger share of our resources, they are on the path to bankrupt this nation within the next few decades. This is what Tait Trussell of the Acton Institute wrote in an article just last week:


“[I]n just three years from now, Social Security and Medicare will need one out of ten tax dollars, John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis points out. And just 11 years in the future—by 2020—Uncle Sam will need one out of every four income tax dollars to fund these programs for seniors. If we continue with all other government programs in operation today and raise the taxes to pay for Medicare, plus Medicaid—the health program for low-income folks—the Congressional Budget Office estimates a middle-income family by the middle of this century will have to pay two-thirds of its total income in federal taxes.”


This situation defines the term “unsustainable.” Why is not President Obama proposing a “fix” to avert this approaching catastrophe? Curiously enough, not only he is unconcerned, but he seems to think that the unviable entitlements constitute some sort of achievement. This is what he said about them in Chicago:


Presidents have called for health care reform for nearly a century…But while significant individual reforms have been made – such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program – efforts at comprehensive reform that covers everyone and brings down costs have largely failed.


The president apparently believes that these failing federal programs already represent reform and that all that is needed now is to create something that would quickly become the mother of all entitlements – governmentally guaranteed universal healthcare.


Americans should really worry when their president fails to recognize the real dilemma we face as a nation: Either we reform entitlements or we let them drag us down the dark pit of insolvency. 

Born and raised in former communist Czechoslovakia. the author is a naturalized American citizen. He is a regular columnist for Frontpagemag.com and his work has also appeared in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Times, The American Thinker, The Jewish Press, RealClearPolitics, and other publications.

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