When Vice President George H.W. Bush accepted the GOP nomination for president in New Orleans in 1988, he memorably said: "Read my lips, no new taxes." Too memorably, as things turned out. He won that election handily, carrying 40 states against the hapless Michael Dukakis and 53 percent of the vote. It was the last comfortable victory the Republicans have seen.
By 1990, however, President Bush was in a bind. He had an army in Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield and he had a solidly Democratic Congress determined to force him to break his tax pledge. His OMB Director, the late Dick Darman, urged him to make a deal with the Hill and get on with the business of governing. When more savvy political advisers protested, citing the "Read my Lips, no new taxes" pledge to the American people, Darman reportedly replied that those were just words some speechwriter put in front of the president.
That may be. But the president's lips pronounced those words. And his breaking of his over-the-top promise to Americans doomed the Bush presidency. Arguably, the Bush fracturing splintered Ronald Reagan's winning coalition, a solid majority that Republicans have not been able to reassemble since. Despite a stratospheric 91 percent approval rating following his lightning victory over Saddam Hussein's forces in the first Gulf War, Bush's standing sagged for two years. His broken promise fueled grassroots rage and the Perot challenge. Bush 41 fell to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election, gaining an abysmal 37 percent of the popular vote. Columnist George Will said he had made a sow's ear of the Reagan silk purse. Even Barbara Bush piled on. Commenting on his retirement sport of skydiving, she puckishly said she hadn't seen her George take such a plunge since the '92 campaign.
Today, we see millions, yes, millions of Americans, losing their health care coverage. These are the folks who were promised over and over by President Obama "if you like your doctor, you can keep him or her; if you like your health care plan, you can keep it." Well, it turns out that millions of Americans cannot keep their doctors or their plans. They have been betrayed. They are outraged. They should be.
Many of these rejected and dejected millions are Obama voters. As the New York Times' Ross Douthat has noted, these are folks whose household incomes -- in the $50-80,000 range -- are too high for subsidies but are too low to easily absorb a doubling of their health care premiums. Moreover, as Douthat wisely points out, these are the folks who chose policies with high deductibles, who were in truth doing the most to keep health care costs down.
These are the folks who work hard and play by the rules. These are the new victims of ObamaCare. These are people whom any administration can ill afford to lose. They are the middle of Middle America.
Now comes news that the entire HealthCare.gov website may have to be rebuilt. Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) says "the way the system is designed, it is not secure." For those few Americans who have succeeded in getting through the thicket of HealthCare.gov's intrusive questions and actually registered, Mike Rogers' words must be chilling. They are probably feeling like German Chancellor Angela Merkel texting her husband: "I wonder if the Obama people reading this text?"
Not to worry, we are assured. Just as Chancellor Merkel is a good friend and ally, the Obama people would never abuse the information that comes into HealthCare.gov, right? That's why they chose the simon-pure IRS to be the enforcers of ObamaCare. No one could imagine the IRS abusing its authority, right?
The catastrophic rollout of ObamaCare on October 1 has been lampooned left and right. President Obama has good cause for concern when even Jon Stewart shows his contempt for such incompetence. Legend has it Lyndon Johnson knew his Vietnam War strategy had failed when CBS Anchor Walter Cronkite came out against it. "If I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost Middle America," he said glumly.
Jon Stewart holds a different status in today's fragmented media marketplace. Jon Stewart doesn't tell the nation "that's the way it is," as Cronkite pompously pronounced each evening. Instead, Stewart is the King of what's Cool. His audience is heavily weighted toward the 18-34 demographic. These are not the folks who contribute to political campaigns, perhaps, and even their voting record is spotty. But these are very much the young bloods whom Mr. Obama needs desperately to sign up and sign on. He needs them to rush the website like shoppers at Walmart on Black Friday. He needs them to sign up for ObamaCare so he can afford to pay out the generous subsidies that his health care plan will require. That's why the defection of Jon Stewart and the raspberries the president's signature achievement has gotten from the crew at Saturday Night Live are so important.
We don't share the view of the cynical Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken. He famously said that democracy is the idea the people should get what they want -- and get it good and hard. Nonetheless, the people are getting what they voted for good and hard.
But they voted for Barack Obama based on his pledged word: If you like your plan, you can keep it. As the rollout proceeds -- as the November 30 "fix-it" deadline approaches menacingly -- millions more will learn to their sorrow that they cannot keep their plans. And they will be bitter about being deceived.
President Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize in October, 2009, five months before passage of ObamaCare. He won it for his efforts to bring peace to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, and Syria and other global hotspots. President George H.W. Bush guided U.S. policy through the peaceful reunification of Germany, the mostly non-violent breakup of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe, and the bloodless collapse of the Soviet Union. Bush 41, of course, did not win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Unlike President Bush's breaking of his "No new taxes" pledge, President Obama never has to face the voters again. As he told Vladimir Putin, he would have "more flexibility" after he was re-elected. He will need a lot more flexibility to recover from Americans' outrage at having been deceived about keeping their health plans.