The Great Prevaricator spoke again on Wednesday, attempting to return us to tribal morality and tribal medicine. The speech was smoothly delivered, but extremely evasive and dishonest. For instance, just as one small thing, I came away from the speech thinking he was now proposing some modified plan, some new initiative that is to replace the 1000-page set of dictates that was shot down in August at the Town Hall meetings. But no, judging from what I’ve read in the press, it is the same mammoth bill.
His only message is to us opponents: Stop bickering. Yes “bickering” and “game-playing” are the terms he applied to the arguments against socialized medicine.
And he has a point: if you accept that you are born in debt to the needs of others, saddled with a moral “under-water mortgage” that no payment can release you from, then your reluctance to be sacrificed is indeed just foot-dragging.
You know your duty, Obama seemed to be saying, so stop grumbling and do it!
So it seems the speech had three assignments: 1. defuse the fears (“death-panels”? don’t make him laugh), 2. seem to stand above the fray, above partisanship and (gasp!) ideology, and 3. invoke altruism. Altruism ran, or slithered, throughout the speech, but the final minutes milked it for all it is worth.
“I received one of those letters a few days ago. It was from our beloved friend and colleague, Ted Kennedy. He had written it back in May, shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal. He asked that it be delivered upon his death.
“In it, he spoke about what a happy time his last months were, thanks to the love and support of family and friends, his wife, Vicki, his amazing children, who are all here tonight. And he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform–“that great unfinished business of our society,” he called it–would finally pass. He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that “it concerns more than material things.” “What we face,” he wrote, “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”
“That large-heartedness–that concern and regard for the plight of others–is not a partisan feeling. It’s not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character–our ability to stand in other people’s shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand . . . and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.”
Will the public see through the speech? Will Obama’s ratings continue to slide? I don’t know, we’ll have to see. But the stakes are huge: it’s a do or die moment for socialized medicine and for Obama’s whole presidency. A Wall St. Journal editorial rightly said that the speech meant Obama was “doubling down” on his bet. If he is stopped cold, it will mean he has lost his charisma, his intoxication. And that was all he ever had.
The altruist code gives Obama a huge advantage. What is the state of his opponents in regard to egoism vs. altruism? Note that the Tea Partyers, are not merely worried, they are angry; worry is a mild state of fear, fear of the possible loss of a value. But anger is a response to a moral judgment–to the conclusion one was done an injustice. The anger of Obama’s opponents at the grass roots shows they have at least some egoist convictions. Their egoist values have been only implicit, the altruism strictures explicit and “official.” But there are faint stirrings of a change. The influence of Ayn Rand is beginning to show up, first in the public statements of Objectivist speakers, notably Yaron Brook, but also I have been seeing a few non-Objectivist, grass-roots assertion of an individual’s right to his own wealth. There is more recognition that “free” health care actually means putting free-riders on your back.
At present, such assertion of egoistic values is a faint, pale tint washed over the motley colors of those at the Tea Parties and Town Halls. But on Saturday, Yaron Brook will be speaking to the 9/12 Tea Party from the steps of the nation’s Capitol.