Is America a Banana Republic?

I was thinking this week about a conversation from George Orwell’s 1984, in a scene you may remember, where Winston Smith is being tortured by government officials. They promise him they will stop if only he will say that two plus two equals five. And he realizes, in that moment, that “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.”

I have written and spoken repeatedly regarding President Obama’s health care law not as an instrument of reform, but an instrument of authority. It is a law designed to take authority from the people, the providers, the insurers and the states and vest it centrally in Washington, D.C. in those houses of ill-repute – the cubicle farms of bureaucracy.

While there are many good people within those halls, there are also others who are not so good. Bent only on expanding their own authority and budget, maximizing the scope of their offices, these bureaucrats seek power for power’s sake. The president and his allies have strengthened these people enormously through their vague mishmash of a health control law.

Now, however, these bureaucrats face a major problem – particularly their current leader, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The storyline that is taking shape is obvious to us all: companies who are currently in the insurance business, such as Principal Financial, are doing the math and discovering it no longer makes sense for them to be in this game – even as other companies do the math and find that why, it makes so much more sense to shift retirees and current employees off our books and onto the taxpayer dole.

This would not be a major problem, of course, except that the whole of the Reid-Pelosi-Sebelius-Obama solution to health care reform was based on the idea that two plus two equals five – that if we believe it hard enough and shame people into agreeing that it does, it will make it so.

Yet this is not the way policy works. It is not the way the real world works. So this week Sebelius announced, in the aftermath of awful news stories about 3M and McDonalds, that she would grant a waiver to thirty different companies to avoid compliance with the new law. With the wave of a hand, the P.R. problem vanishes – at least, for the moment.

This is hardly the only example of banana republic-style governance. The volunteer bureaucrats within the the U.S. preventive task force learned this week of the new unprecedented range of their powers thanks to a report from the Congressional Research Service. You recall the controversy earlier this year in reaction to their recommendations that insurers not pay for certain mammograms as needless and unnecessary? Thanks to Obama’s law, these recommendations are now edicts that must be carried out by insurers, and require an act of Congress to be overruled.

These stories raise the real question of whether we are to be a nation of laws, or a nation of bureaus — one run by the people, or one run by unelected faceless agencies, equipped with unprecedented power. It’s something Obama and his ever-shrinking brain trust have answered unequivocally — it’s the change they intended, after all. And at this moment, their word is law.

But this isn’t over. We still can fight back. We still can speak out. And the bureaucratic true believers in Washington are stuck with a hard, unavoidable truth: we still live in a nation free enough for people to say out loud that two plus two does not equal five.

Benjamin Domenech is a research fellow at the Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News.

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