Garry Wills: Opposing Obamacare a 'Sacred' Cause for a Hateful 'Cult'

The scholar and author Garry Wills, a onetime idiosyncratic conservative (he wrote regularly for National Review in its early years) who in the 1960s and '70s turned into an idiosyncratic liberal, blogged this past Tuesday on the New York Review of Books website that many opponents of Obamacare constitute an irrational "cult" that has "a religious commitment" to "certitude about [the law's] essential evil." For such persons, wrote Wills, Obamacare is "haloed with hate."

From Wills's post (emphasis added):

I fear that the president declared a premature victory for the Affordable Care Act when he said that its initial goals were met, it was time to move on to other matters, and the idea of repealing it is no longer feasible. He made the mistake of thinking that facts matter when a cult is involved. Obamacare is now, for many, haloed with hate, to be fought against with all one’s life. Retaining certitude about its essential evil is a matter of self-respect, honor for one’s allies in the cause, and loathing for one’s opponents. It is a religious commitment...

...In the mid-term elections this fall, evidence will matter little to the opponents of Obamacare...Such people understandably think their own best self was given over to defeating the hated thing...

That kind of commitment looks all the nobler to those preserving it as they resist attacks. I presume that Obamacare will become just successful enough to endure after adjustments and repair; but that will not make it any less hated by the people who have spent years encouraging each other to inveigh against it in extreme exercises of vilification (death panels, socialism, destruction of the Constitution, etc.). We have to remember that Social Security remained hated long after its success made it undislodgeable. As a symbol of the New Deal, Republicans have tried to defeat it down through the decades. Paul Ryan is still at it. George W. Bush tried to use his re-election mandate to privatize it. Once such a cause is made sacred by sacrificing for it, it will remain a cult object forever.

The irrelevance of evidence in the face of sacred causes explains the dogged denial of global warming, the deep belief that the Obama Administration was responsible for the killing of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Benghazi and that Obama is not a legitimate American...

Repealing Obamacare will eventually go the way of repealing the New Deal. But the opposition will never fade entirely away—and it may well be strong enough in this year’s elections to determine the outcome. It is something people are willing to sacrifice for and feel noble about. Creeds are not built up out of facts. They are what make people reject all evidence that guns are more the cause of crime than the cure for it. The best preservative for unreason is to make a religion of it.

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters