The American people may not have liked it, but forcing Obamacare on us was necessary for our own good. After all, our liberal technocratic overlords know bestor at least better than we individualswhat is necessary for the pursuit of our happiness. Sure, the measure was unpopular and will costs the Democrats few congressional seats this fall. No war is won without losses, though, and if Stupak and a few others have to be sacrificed, what is that in the grand scheme of History?
But now that they’ve won, will liberals, like Alexander the Great, weep because they have not more worlds to conquer? Many liberals are surveying the landscape and, like Matthew Yglesias , claiming that the construction of the welfare state is now complete:
For the past 65-70 yearsand especially for the past 30 years since the end of the civil rights argumentAmerican politics has been dominated by controversy over the size and scope of the welfare state. Today, that argument is largely over with liberals having largely won. The size of the US public sector is still going to look low by international standards, but this will be a bit misleading since the way the structure of the Affordable Care Act works is to use public money and public regulation to leverage a lot of formally private money.
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The crux of the matter is that progressive efforts to expand the size of the welfare state are basically done. There are big items still on the progressive agenda. But they dont really involve substantial new expenditures. Instead, youre looking at carbon pricing, financial regulatory reform, and immigration reform as the medium-term agenda. Most broadly, questions about how to boost growth, how to deliver public services effectively, and about the appropriate balance of social investment between children and the elderly will take center stage.
David Brooks , who has been promoting Obama as a “pragmatist” rather than a big government liberal, seems to agrees:
Nobody knows how this bill will work out. It is an undertaking exponentially more complex than the Iraq war, for example. But to me, it feels like the end of something, not the beginning of something. It feels like the noble completion of the great liberal project to build a comprehensive welfare system.
I know that some conservatives think the real goal of progressives is socialism. But socialism requires both the public ownership of the means of production and the public allocation of resources. For the most part, American liberals want the latter without the burden of the former. (If the caricature is true and liberals love Big Government and hate Big Business, then why would they want to sully their beloved bureacracy by wedding it to corporatism?)
I don’t for a minute buy Yglesias’ claim that the welfare state is finished growing. Obamacare is proof that the government now has the power to redirect and allocate resources in any way they choose. Leviathan will continue to grow, largely unimpeded. So what comes next? What is the next great project of big government liberalism?
*UPDATE: Originally I wrote that Brooks was experiencing “buyer’s remorse.” As someone pointed out to me, this seemed to imply that Brooks voted for Obama (I have no idea who he voted for). The “buyer’s remorse” remark referred to Brooks buying into (and promoting) the image of Obama as some sort of high-minded pragmatist rather than a garden-variety partisan liberal.