Beyond Politics

Harvey Mansfield makes his case against Obama and health care reform:

What every progressive wants is to put the particular issue he espouses beyond political dispute. Obama wanted, and as his first State of the Union address showed still wants, to put health care beyond politics so that he can be the last president to be concerned with it.

He did concede in that speech “philosophical differences” between the parties, “that will always cause us to part ways.” But he did not say what these differences are and seemed to assume that they would only infect “short-term politics” by serving the ambitions of party leaders. True leadership in Republicans would require them to cooperate in the reform despite their ambitions and their philosophy. Once the bill is enacted, health care need only be administered by experts whose main task will be to adjust (i.e., expand) its extent and to cover its costs. The principle will have been decided. It becomes an entitlement that is no longer open to political controversy; it is secure from second thoughts prompted by reactionaries.

William Galston replies:

[T]o say, as Mansfield does, that the president’s belief in the ability of government to improve our health care system reflects a preference for progress over liberty only obscures what is really at stake. The president’s stance threatens neither political liberty nor individual liberty. His argument does not removeand was not intended to removethe issue of health policy beyond the bounds of political argument. It seeks, rather, to ground his proposals in considerations that most citizens would regard as weighty if not dispositive. And his proposals reflect an understanding of individual liberty in the modern state that has far more to commend it than does the understanding to which Mansfield appeals.