Let us try to understand clearly what is happening now with the Obama presidency. On display to everyone watching this week is not merely the failure of a federal website or a software program or Ms. Sebelius’s management skills. This is the failure of the very idea of progressive government. Not liberal government. Progressive government.
That battle a few weeks ago over the government shutdown was a familiar Beltway spectacle. But what is happening this week to ObamaCare and the political class that created it is historic. Forty years from now, the millennials who in 2008 and 2012 believed in and voted for the progressive ideal—limitless, mandated, state-led goodness—can tell their grandchildren they watched it fall apart in 2013. This is the glitch that failed.
In the 1990s, the American left, burdened with 90 years of unfortunate left-wing metaphors, rebranded itself in the U.S. as the “progressive movement.” Teddy Roosevelt invokes cheerier memories than Leon Trotsky. In the 2008 U.S. presidential election, the left rode to power with Barack Obama.
Mr. Obama is, without embarrassment, a man of the left. American progressives saw their win with Mr. Obama as the overthrowing of the postwar Democratic liberalism that culminated with the Clintons, a liberalism willing most of the time to coexist with markets, property and private enterprise. Progressives hated these accommodations. They were purer than that. He was purer than that. Together, they created ObamaCare.
What made ObamaCare an exemplar of progressive politics and policy is precisely what has been on view this week in news stories and the Sebelius hearing. It’s not that the health program was to be administered by the state or that it promised benefits to all. Liberalism did that for decades. What made it peculiarly progressive were the mandates. And not just the law’s individual and business mandates to purchase their insurance. The essence of modern Democratic progressivism is: “You will participate in what we have created for you, and you will comply with the law’s demands.”