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Et tu, AEI?
First, the "conservative" Heritage Foundation gave us RomneyCare, the "conservative" approach to achieving universal coverage which, in the hands of Democrats, provided the template for ObamaCare.
Now comes the "conservative" AEI, presenting "The Conservative Case for ObamaCare."
If I were the word "conservative," I'd file a lawsuit for defamatory impersonation.
Generally viewed as the most respectable and prestigious of the right-of-center think tanks in Washington, the nearly 70-year-old American Enterprise Institute has allowed its good name to be used by a gushing cheerleader for ObamaCare in the pages of the New York Times, five weeks before a national referendum on the government takeover of health care.
The good news is that "The Conservative Case for Obamacare," penned by Mr. J. D. Kleinke, a resident fellow at AEI, is weak -- so weak, indeed, as to appear at first to be some sort of spoof.
Neither conservative nor persuasive, the article opens with a series of swipes at conservatives for being unprincipled hypocrites for opposing the 2,801-page health care law, which, as every regular Times reader knows, is a moderate and happy medium between the extremes of socialism and uncaring markets. The piece ends with an unexpected and bitter lashing out at religious and social conservatives for waging an imagined war on women.
In other words, Mr. Kleinke -- a man who, despite my nearly two decades as a health policy analyst, has never appeared upon my radar even once -- might as well be an operative of the Democratic National Committee.
In a sense, this article makes him one.
The problem with this politically timed screed is not its defense of top-down health care run by bureaucratic "experts." No, with its off-putting venom and revealing factual errors -- confusing, for example, Obama's government-run "exchanges" with Republican proposals for voluntary small-business purchasing associations -- the article is likely to have very little impact on either the election or the debate. My guess is that no one but an already mostly convinced technocrat will be moved by such a poorly executed defense of "managed competition."
The real problem here is the actions of AEI, a think tank created in the midst of World War II to make the then-unfashionable case for free enterprise against big government and centralized, bureaucratic management of the economy.
This past week, AEI staff began reaching out to the right-of-center advocacy community to give us a heads up about its scholar's forthcoming "case for Obamacare." They urged us to go easy on the institution, which, they claim, doesn't agree with its rogue employee. The think tank claims its commitment to academic freedom prevents it from exercising prior restraint.*
Now, academic freedom is an important value. But so is truth in labeling. AEI could have required Kleinke not to mention his AEI affiliation in the piece, or to add a disclaimer that he speaks for himself, not AEI. It did neither.
This is no minor oversight. It's a major betrayal in what is arguably the most important domestic policy debate of our generation. The fate of ObamaCare will, to a large extent, determine the fate of American freedom. AEI has until now seemed to be on the right side of this historic debate -- the "conservative" side -- the side of freedom.
Has AEI decided to hedge its bets at the last minute?
Even if we charitably assume that it has not, Mr. Kleinke's contention that ObamaCare is "conservative" is, as I say, unpersuasive.
How "conservative" is a law that creates 159 new burreaucratic entities, imposes hundreds of billions in new taxes, grants 1,968 new powers to the HHS Secretary, and generates 12,000 pages of new regulations (to date)?
How conservative is a law that, via regulation, abolishes Health Savings Accounts and consumer-driven health care plans -- key building blocks for patient-centered care?
How conservative is a law that subjects people of faith to a Chicago-style, brass-knuckle attack on freedom of conscience?
How "conservative" is it to force everyone to buy health insurance? (Well, everyone except certain constituencies likely to lean Democratic.)
How "conservative" is it to make people pay for other people's abortions?
For goodness sake, there is nothing "conservative" about ObamaCare!
All that conservativess and libertarians have fought for, for nearly a century, finds itself at stake in this massive, meretricious mess of a law. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- the title itself is Orwellian -- represents all that's wrong with Big Government, and with the K Street lobbies and corporate-funded think tanks that truckle to Big Government. It is Exhibit A in the Tea Party's case for a Hostile Takeover of Washington.
This country isn't big enough for both progressivism and the Tea Party. Progressivism seeks to establish the good life through unlimited, centralized, top-down bureaucratic management. As Dick Armey likes to joke, "The liberals don't care what we do, as long as it's mandatory."
By contrast, the spontaneous, leaderless Tea Party movement seeks to restore the Founders' vision of individual liberty and national prosperity through economic freedom, fiscal common sense, and smaller, constitutionally limited government.
Progressives tend to believe that History moves in only one direction: leftward, toward ever-bigger government.
Tea Party supporters assume history is ultimately whatever we do with our freedom and talents -- for good or ill -- and that the Founders' Constitution is worth restoring and defending because ultimately we can't be truly happy unless we are truly free and self-governing.
ObamaCare, with its coercion and top-down approach, forces the voters to choose between these two fundamentally opposed visions. Whoever wins this battle wins a major victory in the larger war for the future of American liberty. Whoever loses this battle suffers what may prove a permanent psychological blow and political setback.
The stakes really don't get much higher than this.
At a time when the entire conservative movement, the entire Republican Party, and a solid majority of the American people favor repeal, it is hard to fathom why a "conservative" think tank would let some previously unheard-of academic publish in the "Newspaper of Record," in the think tank's name, a case against repeal. And it's even harder to fathom why they would do so five weeks before what may fairly be described as the ObamaCare Election.
Our entire coalition is about to win the most important domestic policy victory of our lifetimes, and they let some third stringer run out there to stand athwart Freedom yelling "Stop!"?
It would be hilarious if the stakes weren't so high.
As AEI's president, Arthur Brooks, put it in his 2010 book, The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future:
[We are witnessing a great] struggle between two competing visions of America. In one, America will continue to be a unique and exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise. In the other, America will move toward a European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, increasing income redistribution, and government-controlled corporations.
Our choice between these competing visions, Mr. Brooks argues, will determine the future of the nation.
And so it will.
But now we are forced to wonder: In this epic battle, is the "conservative" AEI fully committed to the side of freedom?
Dean Clancy is FreedomWorks' Legislative Counsel and Vice President, Health Care Policy. He leads our efforts to reverse the government takeover of health care and adopt a patient-centered approach.
* The person who contacted FreedomWorks was neither Mr. Kleinke nor a member of the AEI health policy team.
Update: Friday, October 5, 2012: Since Kleinke's pro-ObamaCare op-ed appeared on Sunday, September 30, AEI has been officially silent about it, except to post it on the think tank's website without comment. Pieces criticizing Kleinke's article have also appeared, on other sites, by some of Kleinke's AEI colleagues, including Jim Capretta and Tom Miller. Thus it appears, AEI's approach is to hold the coats of its own scholars as they debate among themselves about whether ObamaCare is "conservative." Meanwhile, Forbes has published a summary of the general reaction so far on the right, penned by the Galen Institute's Grace-Marie Turner.