“[G]overnmentalized health care fundamentally transforms the relationship between citizen and state in ways that make it all but impossible to have genuinely conservative government ever again.”
— Mark Steyn, 2012.01.25
From Daniel Henninger:
Few are going to forget Sen. Santorum in the early debates, stuck in the left-field bleachers, begging to be heard over such center-ring heavyweights as Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain. In August, no one thought this guy would be toe-to-toe with the Romney machine in March. What happened?
I went to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Monday to find out. Out of 1,189,530 votes cast the next day in bellwether Ohio, Mr. Santorum lost to Mitt Romney by only 10,288, at last count. He’s doing something right, and what one learned in Cuyahoga Falls, an Akron suburb, is that it doesn’t have much to do with the famous Santorum controversies over social issues. It’s about ObamaCare. And it’s about the idea of freedom.
What Mr. Santorum has discovered in this campaign is that for a large number of voters, a connection has surfaced between Barack Obama’s economic policies and the issue of personal freedom. The potency of the latter is what’s new, and a vulnerability for this presidency.
Rick Santorum has linked these concerns about the status of personal freedom directly to ObamaCare and beyond that to the broader policy legacy of Obama administration.
His 35-minute speech in Cuyahoga Falls touched an array of subjects that drew applause. But at the halfway point, when he tore into ObamaCare, his mostly working-class audience exploded into applause and cries of “Rick! Rick! Rick!”
Mr. Santorum didn’t get this response by discussing health-insurance exchanges and guaranteed issue. He told these people that ObamaCare “is usurping your rights. It is creating a culture of dependency. Every single American will be dependent on government, thanks to ObamaCare. There is no more important issue in this race. It magnifies all that is wrong with what this president is trying to do.” His call for repeal produced the explosion.
He followed with an tight description of how he understands the terms of the election: “This race is coming down to the economy, the deficit and control of your life, which is ObamaCare.” (There was no mention of contraception, gays or the role of women.)
In any other election, complaining about the size of government might be GOP boilerplate. Not now. Mr. Santorum put the current moment’s elevated concern about government in broader context. Of regulation, he said: “There’s been this huge explosion of the federal government. . . . I’ve talked to so many business people who say, ‘I could live with Clinton, Bush, it was a little better, but I’m spending all my time trying to figure out what this president is doing next to me.'”
People could live with big. It’s too big that’s getting to them. Under the Obama presidency, something outside the norm happened. Amid ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank, the $800 billion stimulus injection and a federal spending boom, something snapped in the steady-state relationship between many citizens and Washington. A lot of people feel the government, finally, is really starting to crowd them. It has made them uneasy. For the Santorum audience, the call-and-response word to push back against the unease is “freedom.”
One can also describe this sense of dread in dry numbers. In the postwar period, spending as a percentage of GDP has been about 20%. The four-year Obama average is 24% of GDP, without ObamaCare’s costs. In a $15 trillion economy, this is a phenomenal increase in the government’s piece of American life.
Rick Santorum should stay in the race, repeating from now till summer the perverse link between the ObamaCare mandate and the American idea of freedom. It looks like the best argument the GOP nominee will have for a win in November.