Streetwise Professor

December 17, 2009

The Ghost of Stephen Douglas

Filed under: Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 6:55 am

The health care “reform” bill now slouching through the Senate is the greatest legislative monstrosity in American history.  Which is saying something.  It is massive, complex, and utterly incoherent.  It will sharply curtail freedom and inject the state even more intrusively into the most intimate and important decisions that we all face.  It will be ruinously expensive.  It is incapable of achieving its putative objectives: indeed, it will almost certainly lead to outcomes diametrically opposed to its supposed goals.  Unless, of course, the true goal is to turn citizens into subjects.

If anything, procedurally it is even more monstrous than it is substantively.  It advances by a combination of bribery (e.g., the Louisiana Purchase) and thuggery (even at the expense of national security, e.g., the threat to the Offutt Air Force base in Nebraska).  It proceeds in the face of deep misgivings by broad swathes of the American public, and strident opposition by a very large number of Americans.  It is difficult to imagine how anyone could make the Clinton health care initiative and the associated political process look sober, considered, and dignified, but Harry Reid et al have succeeded in doing just that.

I struggle to find a historical parallel.  The closest thing that comes to mind is the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.  Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas was fixated on the creation of a transcontinental railroad.  Southern senators blocked the advancement of Douglas’s dream, so he proposed a bill that, to gain Southern support, completely undermined the careful (and yes, imperfect) compromises over slavery and the territories that had been crafted in the previous two generations (extending back to the Missouri Compromise of 1820).  In so doing, he set in motion a train of events (no pun intended) that culminated in the Civil War.

Perhaps you consider the parallel hyperbolic.  And no, I am not forecasting civil war.  But if this bill, or anything close to it, passes, the results will convulse the country.  The fault lines will not be sectional, as they were in the 1850s, but generational and socio-economic.  And perhaps the most important fault line will be between citizen and state as it will completely revolutionize the relationship between the government and the governed.

And the convulsions will be, first and foremost, political.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act catalyzed a fundamental political realignment in America, splitting the Democrat party and giving birth to the Republican.  Passage of major health care legislation will have seismic political consequences as well.  I do not know exactly what they will be, but they will be historic and enduring.

The execrable Harry Reid is of course the most visible villain here.  But he is only Igor to Obama’s Dr. Frankenstein.  The former Illinois senator, heir to the seat of Stephen Douglas, who achieved the presidential ambition that slipped through Douglas’s fingers as the very consequence of Kansas-Nebraska, is ultimately responsible.  He has made it clear that he is willing to accept anything–anything–that will effectively give government control over the health care system.  Douglas was fixated on a transcontinental railroad and was willing to do anything to get it.  Obama is fixated on a root-and-branch restructuring of health care, and is willing to do anything to get it.  Douglas’s fixation tore the country apart.  Obama’s threatens to do the same.

Is it too late to stop it?  I pray not, and I am not usually a praying man.

Douglas’s Tomb is a mere couple of miles from Obama’s Chicago home.  The 96 foot tall Tomb with Douglas’s statute is visible from Lake Shore Drive.  I wonder how many times Obama passed it.  I wonder if he ever even thought about Douglas, or the lessons of his brilliant but ultimately tragic and destructive political career.

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  1. Hmm… I would like something thats more like your analysis of the clearing legislation.

    Comment by Surya — December 17, 2009 @ 8:35 am

  2. Surya–have to mix it up. By “like your analysis,” what do you mean exactly? Sarcastic and snarky? Geeky?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 17, 2009 @ 8:52 am

  3. I meant the thoughtful academic analysis part – but a peppering with sarcastic and snarky is fine too 🙂

    Comment by Surya — December 17, 2009 @ 9:43 am

  4. One issue regarding the health care reform debate not being discussed is that the measures currently being discussed do nothing to reign in costs. The proposals being discussed almost entirely deal with expanding coverage. This means that the health care bill being discussed today cannot be considered anything other than a first bite of the apple.

    What will be significant will be the template created by this first round of health care “reform.” The methods used to pass this piece of legislation (if this piece gets passed) will unquestionably be used when cost containment is addressed in the following years. This is what disturbs me greatly about the current round of “health reform.” The process has hardly been transparent, has not been bipartisan and has been extremely self serving with respect to the Democratic political establishment at the expense of the interests of the American people. Congress and the administration haven’t even set forth a clear and concise set of objectives to determine whether the piece of legislation being crafted is even worthy of passage.

    If this bill is passed, Reid, Pelosi and Obama will herald the measure as a significant victory. Disturbingly, the “success” of the current health care measure will lead the tactics used to become the template for further changes in our health care system. My sense is that the American people not only don’t like the provisions of the current measure. I believe the American people are extremely uncomfortable with the “Chicago Machine” using closed door deals, political thuggery and outright deceit to force major social change.

    Comment by Charles — December 17, 2009 @ 11:28 am

  5. […] managing of this disastrous legislation. But fewer of our ideas are original than we suppose. Blogger Streetwise Professor, who in non-blog life is Craig Pirrong, a professor at the University of Houston’s Bauer College […]

    Pingback by Streetwise Professor » Barone on SWP on the Kansas-Nebraska-Obamacare Analogy — December 23, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

  6. […] floor managing of this disastrous legislation. But fewer of our ideas are original than we suppose. Blogger Streetwise Professor, who in non-blog life is Craig Pirrong, a professor at the University of Houston’s Bauer College […]

    Pingback by Pickerhead :: Pickings from the Webvine ::December 28, 2009 — December 4, 2011 @ 6:08 am

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