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ObamaCare: Defeat or Repeal? In Defeat, Defiance

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ObamaCare: Why the Rules Matter

by Christopher Chantrill
March 18, 2010 at 12:34 pm


BACK IN Bush era it was Republicans that got fed up with the rules. Democrats in the US Senate were filibustering conservative judge nominees and Republicans had had enough of it. So they planned to change the rules in the Senate with the “nuclear option” that would allow an up or down vote on their judges with a bare 51 vote majority. Democrats like then-Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) were outraged at this chicanery, but the bipartisan Gang of 14 defused an explosive situation so that the judge nominations could go forward.

Now the Democrats are in power and they are frustrated with the rules. After a year of trying they’ve produced a genius ObamaCare bill that has passed the Senate but that can’t pass the House. Or is it vice versa? They want to change the rules so that they can avoid a filibuster in the Senate. This time it is Republicans that are outraged.

The idea of “rules” is central to the modern moral order and its contract idea of government. In A Secular Age Charles Taylor writes that today, “Political authority itself is legitimate only because it was consented to by individuals... and this contract creates binding obligations in view of the pre-existing principle that promises ought to be kept.” When you change the rules you break the promise, and you invalidate the legitimacy of your political authority.

Here’s how this theory proves itself in practice. It was explained to me years ago by my Greek friend George in the 1970s immediately after the end of military rule in Greece. The conservative party had been elected after the end of military rule. The key thing, George told me in the late 1970s, was that the rising socialist party, PASOK, should get elected to power and the that ruling conservative party actually turn over the government to their hated rivals. Then, in due course, PASOK should be defeated, the conservatives elected to office, and PASOK should turn back the government to the conservatives. Only then, George said, would each party believe that the other guys would play by the rules.

It’s the same here in the United States. Political partisans are always yielding to dark thoughts about the opposition. Watergate confirmed Democrats in all their fears about “Tricky Dick” Nixon. Conservative conspiracy theorists constantly worried about Bill Clinton breaking the rules, and even feared that he’d find a way to circumvent the Twenty-second Amendment’s limit on presidential terms.

More recently Democrats spent eight years questioning President Bush’s legitimacy, and Republicans constantly obsess over ACORN, which seems to be designed by Democrats to steal close elections for Democrats.

The way to cool the fever swamps in the other party is to follow the rules and to be seen to follow the rules. When you don’t then you rile up the opposition. You’d think that the Democrats would be careful, now that they are in power, to avoid riling up the opposition, especially since they made such a big deal about transparency and post-partisanship in 2008.

But you would be wrong.

Instead Democrats spent 2009 failing to execute on a partisan program that has failed, again and again, to win any support from Republicans. And now that the president’s signature health care proposal is badly winged by its unpopularity and by Republican election victories, they are changing the rules to drag their wounded bird over the finish line before it dies.

Government is force. We humans prefer not to think about that, but we should. Especially when our party is in power, we should never forget that every government program that spends taxpayers’ money, no matter how wonderful, is still all about force. Wise governments fashion bipartisan legislation whenever possible to create the impression that everyone except a few cranks is in favor of their program.

The best way to remind the opposition partisans of the truth about government and get them to fear for their lives and their freedom is by doing what the Democrats are doing. You push an unpopular program through on a party-line basis and you change the rules and broker corrupt back-room deals when the going gets tough.

The modern moral order, as we saw above, is founded upon the idea of a social contract, a set of rules that everyone must follow. But our liberal friends have often been tempted by the idea that rules are not for them. It’s OK for the poor to break the rules because the rules are unjust and favor the powerful; it’s OK for liberals to break the rules because they are creative artists challenging the status quo.

Liberals are wrong to think that they and their clients are exempt from the rules. Luckily for them, the Tea Party movement will shortly set them right.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990

Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures

German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh

Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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