have to adjust to get out message

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” Barry Goldwater famously declared, when he accepted the presidential nomination in 1964. But it is bad politics, he ought to have added, after losing general election in a landslide.

Enough Republicans in Congress today shared Goldwater’s sentiment that they refused for more than two weeks to yield to the Democrats’ demand that they approve new spending to implement the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) for the new fiscal year. The Democrats held firm, refusing to fund any governmental operations unless the Republicans also agreed to fund Obamacare.

That today’s Congress has no legal or constitutional obligation to approve such spending was true but irrelevant. That the Constitution deliberately creates a bias against spending, by making the approval of the House, Senate and president all necessary to the expenditure of any money was also irrelevant. That it was the Democratic Senate who used the shutdown to extort money from the Republican House was yet another true but irrelevant fact.

As was apparent before the standoff, the American people overwhelmingly saw things very differently. They felt that, since President Obama won re-election, the Congress had a moral obligation to implement the law. They overwhelmingly accepted the president’s argument that Republicans were doing something unfair and extreme, trying to repeal a law with the votes of only one house of Congress.

The resulting government shutdown confirmed that the American people don’t like what they perceive as extremism, even in the defense of their own liberty. By acting to make people view them as extreme, conservatives have made it much harder — unnecessarily harder — to get those same people to hear their core message: that Republicans stand for freedom, because we believe in the greatness of ordinary people.

Had conservatives not stepped on their own message, we would be making much better headway towards proving that the “progressive” ideology of President Obama and the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” is based on a fundamental distrust of ordinary people that slides easily into dismissive contempt.

Such contempt for the people was evident in the process leading to the passage of Obamacare, in the sheer incompetence of its implementation, and in Obama’s bewilderingly passive response to that incompetence. To win passage of Obamacare, the president promised repeatedly, earnestly: “If you like your current health care plan, you can keep it.” As has been widely reported, that turns out not to be true. You can only keep your plan if the Obama administration likes it. There was a “grandfather” provision designed to make good on the president’s oft-repeated promise but the administration deliberately drew it very narrowly. Why? Because they know what kind of health plan is good for you.

Once the Affordable Care Act became law, one might expect that the president would have taken care to see that the law was faithfully executed, if not out of an impartial determination to live up to his Constitutional duty then out of the ordinary human pride one would expect when the most powerful man in the world has the opportunity to implement a law that was so central to his ambitions that we know it by his name — Obamacare.

But the opposite has happened. The long-term care insurance was quietly scrapped as unaffordable. The employer mandate was deferred for a year, because the Obama administration couldn’t make it work. Some income verification procedures have been deferred, also because the administration couldn’t make them work.

This month, the news has been full of stories about the disastrous rollout of the federal healthcare exchange website. And the president had the audacity to say he was surprised by how badly the website worked at its launch!

He didn’t care enough to make sure the law was implemented on time and successfully, because he knows it doesn’t matter. If you’re looking for individual coverage, you have to use a government website, no matter how bad it is.

Even now, he can’t be bothered to hold anyone in his administration accountable for these serial failures.

Why? Because the whole point of Obamacare is to give you — that is, to make you buy — what the government thinks you ought to have, when it tells you, and on its terms. So what if you have to wait?

This is the truly dangerous and extreme force at work in our politics today, and if the conservatives most aware of the danger would stop alienating the American people, they would do a much better job of actually resisting it.

Joseph R. Reisert is associate professor of American constitutional law and chairman of the department of government at Colby College in Waterville.