President Barack Obama’s self-congratulatory speech in the Rose Garden yesterday, in which he reported that 7.1 million people had signed up for Obamacare during the open enrollment period, repeated a theme he has often used against his critics: that they are on the wrong side of history. “In the end, history is not kind to those who would deny Americans their basic economic security. Nobody remembers well those who stand in the way of America’s progress or our people. And that’s what the Affordable Care Act represents,” Obama said.
Obama has a typically “progressive” view of history–a teleological one, in which all of human history is a slow march (a “long arc”) towards a greater good, as the oppressed peoples of the world are steadily liberated. That process is guided by, and expressed in, the particular ideology of the left and the parties that represent it. So Obama’s rebuke to his rivals, both foreign and domestic, is that they stand on the wrong side of history. That is his answer to Republicans on Obamacare, and his answer to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Crimea.
A funny thing happened to the progressive view of history in the twentieth century. Not only was the advance of humanity halted and reversed by Europe’s self-destructive wars, but millions of people were turned into slaves under totalitarian regimes. The most brutal regimes, in terms of mass murder and forced labor, were those that described themselves as the vanguard of historical progress–i.e. the communist regimes. The challenge that communism in particular poses to the “progressive” view of history is something few on the left have faced.
So they ignore history, as Obama ignored the history of socialized, state-run medicine. He sought to place the American health care system under public control–if not outright public management–at the very moment the socialist economies of Europe were abandoning such failed approaches. In terms of the results of Obamacare, which has resulted in millions losing their insurance, millions paying more for it than they would have, and millions of jobs being avoided or converted to part-time, Obama has stood in the way of progress–defiantly.
Obama has also stood in the way of progress in the old sense of that term, which connoted advances in science and industry. His foot-dragging on the Keystone XL pipeline, for example, has prevented the expansion of the energy industry and the thousands of jobs that project would create. He has also stood in the way of progress in the old liberal internationalist sense of advancing the freedom of humanity as a whole, cutting off funding for pro-democracy groups in the Middle East and rehabilitating the Iranian regime when it was in serious trouble.
And if we measure Obama by his own apparent standard–the advance of the most oppressed–he is also doing rather badly, as the income gap widens and black Americans in particular sink deeper into ruin. The Obama administration has stood in the way of America’s progress as Americans themselves might determine it, and instead imposed the state as progress’s only true conduit. It is a delusion that can only be sustained in willful ignorance of historical fact. When the history of this period is written, Obama will be firmly on the wrong side.