Route 66, Tocqueville, and Obamacare

Social Fabric by from National Review, August 21, 2009

Obamacare will limit the very liberty that Main St. America values and the Founders fought to preserve.

Stretching across the 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, there’s an America that President Obama doesn’t know and wouldn’t recognize: the America along Route 66. When one travels along “America’s Main Street,” the most striking thing is the wonderful creativity on display. In this flourishing of creativity, we see the evidence of liberty. We see the result of people being free to start, run, and patronize establishments of their own choosing, exercising their rights to do so just as the American Founders intended and fought to allow.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the president is actively promoting, and Congress is seriously considering, a plan that would curtail liberty and exercise previously unthinkable levels of control over individual Americans, doctors, insurers, small businesses, and everyone else associated with health care. The contrast between the limitations being proposed in Washington and the freedom of Route 66 could hardly be starker.

On Route 66, nearly every motel, restaurant, and shop has a colorful theme and a unique identity. There’s Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St. Louis, where after 80 years people still line up ten-deep at a half-dozen windows after Cardinals games to get the best frozen custard known to mankind. There’s a hot-dog stand in Albuquerque where neon hot dogs light up one by one until they disappear into a neon wiener dog’s mouth. There’s the place that inspired the Cozy Cone Motel in Pixar’s Cars: the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona, with 15 teepees—each one its own room.

These gems were created by enterprising Americans to the great benefit of thousands who have freely frequented their premises. They are a reminder of what wonderful things can spring forth from a well-conceived government, one limited in its scope and designed to secure the fruits of human initiative.

Yet, if President Obama were to appear on Route 66, it’s easy to imagine him saying something like this: “We want to help these businesses succeed, but we also know that travelers can be taken advantage of, since they don’t know which motels and restaurants are good and won’t try to make excessive profits. So I’m proposing to create a federal board to regulate what kinds of rooms and meals they should offer, to reallocate resources, and to consider whether the Wigwam Motel should be redesigned to look like a Super 8 out of respect for Native Americans and their plight at the hands of American frontierspeople.”

Long before the Wigwam or Obama, the Corvette Sting Ray or government-run GM, Alexis de Tocqueville described a similar flourishing of liberty: “No sooner do you set foot upon American ground than you are stunned by a kind of tumult . . . Everything is in motion around you; here the people of one quarter of a town are met to decide upon the building of a church; there the election of a representative is going on . . . in another place, the laborers of a village quit their plows to deliberate upon the project of a road or a public school . . . It is impossible to spend more effort in the pursuit of happiness.”

But Tocqueville repeatedly and adamantly warned that this civic vibrancy could be destroyed if Americans let down their guard against the consolidation and centralization of power: “A democratic republic . . . in which . . . administrative centralization [was] accepted by custom and by law . . . would become more intolerable than in any of the absolute monarchies of Europe.”

True to Tocqueville’s warnings, nearly every page of the House health bill describes a new limitation on Americans’ freedoms to contract with one another, to function without cumbersome restraints, and to control the fruits of their labor.

The bill would raise taxes, deficits, and health costs. It would jeopardize the employer-provided insurance of millions and lead to a government monopoly and rationed care. It would be a financial and medical nightmare.

But the primary reason to oppose Obamacare can be summed up in just one word, a word that the Founders loved perhaps above all others but that President Obama seeks to suppress in the name of other goals: Liberty.


© 2009 by National Review, Inc. Reprinted by permission.