If nothing else, the Obama eruption in American politics is steadily revealing the stark reality behind the progressive movement — the totalitarian temptation is always there and, for more than a few, possessing the official power to compel sooner or later becomes irresistible.
This doesn’t apply to everybody on the left, of course. Some of the folks I most admire in this town are liberals whose work on behalf of values like transparency in government and protecting civil liberties is remarkable and essential.
Still, that this danger is real and growing becomes more obvious as public opposition grows to the president’s across-the-board campaign to turn Washington into the all-powerful, centralized behemoth that Woodrow Wilson and FDR could only dream about.
Consider: Nowhere does the Constitution grant Congress authority to require every American to buy a particular private service or product on pain of forfeiture of a significant portion of their wealth. Yet, every version of Obamacare currently being discussed in Congress requires just that.
Forcing all of us to buy officially approved health insurance is essential to a government-run system. As Obama told Congress, “many of insurance reforms we seek — especially requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions — cannot be achieved” without the individual mandate.
Why? Because the politicians and bureaucrats who will manage the government-run health care program know that, without the force of government behind them, they won’t be able to make the rest of us to do what they tell us to do.
Once the power is granted, the question becomes how severe will the enforcement be. Fines will suffice for Obamacare, for now. For Stalin, the first choice was the Gulag, or a bullet. It’s just a matter of degree.
But that is what government always does as it becomes more costly, intrusive and intolerant of dissent. As if to drive the point home, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a gag-order this week telling all private companies participating in the Medicare Advantage program to shut up. Violators would face fines and jail time. Forget the First Amendment.
The gag-order was issued after Humana Corp. sent a letter to its policy holders who participate in Medicare Advantage telling them the facts about Obamacare’s impact on the program. The companies were ordered “to end immediately all such mailings to beneficiaries and to remove any related materials directed to Medicare enrollees from your Web site.”
The bureaucrats added this blunt threat: “Please be advised that we take this matter very seriously and, based upon the findings of our investigation, will pursue compliance and enforcement actions.”
Those, my friends, are the words of soft tyranny. How much longer before it becomes a hard tyranny?
History — and the words of progressives themselves — suggest not long. Consider New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s telling admiration for the communist thugs who run the Chinese government:
“One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.”
That, in a nutshell, is the totalitarian temptation that plagues all who would use the power of the state to impose their vision of good society on the rest of us.
It’s the ever-present Stalin whispering in the progressive ear: “Ignore those reactionary, loud-mouthed, ignorant Tea Party Protestors and decree Obamacare, Waxman-Markey and all the rest of it. Do it now while you have the power!”
And if the dissenters won’t be quiet, Bill Ayers — Obama’s once-and-future colleague — can always dust off his copy of that old Weather Underground plan for FEMA re-education camps in the desert southwest.
You think I exaggerate? Read National Review editor Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” or historian Paul Johnson’s “Modern Times” — two books without which you cannot understand where we’ve been or where we are headed.
We may have only two more chances to turn things around, in 2010 and 2012.
Mark Tapscott is the editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner and proprietor of Tapscott’s Copy Desk blog on washingtonexaminer.com.