Conor Kilpatrick has some angry words for people who think that Barack Obama is precisely comparable to Abraham Lincoln and the PPACA precisely comparable to the 13th Amendment. Granted, I don’t believe these people exist (and this includes, I’m guessing, Speilberg and Kushner.) But it’s important to know that this strawman can’t stand, because Obama is the kind of “empty suit” who believes that non-revolutionary reforms might be worth achieving:
Abraham Lincoln and the early Republicans (to say nothing of the Liberty Party or Free Soilers before them) shared a vision of a radically different society. Wiping out slavery — either through immediate abolition or through the “cordon of fire” policy of the Republican party — was hardly a technocratic reform.
Let’s stop here for a second. Lincoln wasn’t a radical or abolitionist. He just wasn’t. (Note also the fancy shuffling by which Lincoln is given retroactive credit for the positions held by the more radical minority within his party. By the same logic, contemporary Democrats favor single payer since the leftmost members of the House caucus do.) Had the South not seceded slavery would not have been abolished in any existing state during a Lincoln administration. A Lincoln administration and a Republican Congress would have presumably stopped the expansion of slavery in a way that would have made the gradual ending of slavery more likely — you know, the kind of thing that would get you denounced as an empty-suit technocrat by Kilpatrick if you were a 20th century Demcorat.
But, of course, secession did happen, and this created a context in which Lincoln was able to effect radical changes. Which is to his immense credit (although it is also true that emancipation was not the simple creation of political actors in Washington), but the relevance of this to contemporary politics is essentially non-existent. Which brings us to this:
Which part of this sounds anything at all like Barack Obama — the man who dives for cover whenever Ben Nelson sneezes? When did Obama ever promise to place the private health insurance industry “where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction”?
Ha ha ha! If Barack Obama were a real man, he would have just firebombed Ben Nelson’s house and held any survivors hostage until he agreed to vote for single payer. And then sent Charles Bronson or Denzel Washington to take care of Evan Bayh, and so on. No president worthy of the name would deal with with mere legislators. And let’s also not forget to denounce that pathetic sellout LBJ — when Harry Bird said “jump” he said “how high?” Real revolutionary presidents don’t make deals with venal senators, period.
I’m not sure when the litmus test for being a Real Leftist became having a view of American political institutions that makes the complacent pluralists of the 50s look like Gramsci. At any rate, it is indeed true that Obama did not make a revolutionary pledge to eliminate the American health insurance industry, for the obvious reason that the result of this would be holding the uninsured as hostages in exchange for nothing. Progressive reform in the veto-point-heavy framework of American political institutions involves buying off vested interests (and when it came to the New Deal, this involved compromises substantially more immoral than preserving insurance rentiers.) If your counterexample involves a war that resulted in the death of upwards of a million people, I think it’s pretty safe to call this the exception that proves the rule.