Medicare now faces a more uncertain future than at any time in its history. That’s not because it has lost popularity or failed to control costs as effectively as private insurance has. On the contrary, the program continues to enjoy overwhelming public support, and since the late 1990s, its costs per beneficiary have grown more slowly than those of private insurers. Nor does Medicare confront an imminent crisis; in fact, its costs have decelerated in the past year.
Will he go down in history as a Jimmy Carter or a Harry Truman? As a weak and indecisive Democratic president who ushered in a conservative era or as a strong leader who proved his critics wrong and won re-election? The next year will resolve that question about Barack Obama, but the answer may no longer depend on forces that he can control, if it ever did.
It is one of the anomalies of today's politics: The party that professes absolute fealty to the Constitution in its original form is also the most eager to change it. Exhibit A is the amendment pushed by Republicans to require a balanced budget every year, cap federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product, and bar any increase in taxes without a supermajority of two-thirds of Congress or any increase in the national debt without a supermajority of three-fifths.
For the past dozen years, several distinguished thinkers about law and technology have warned that a golden age of Internet freedom may be about to close. The most influential alarm-ringer has been Lawrence Lessig, who argued in his 1999 book, Code, that under corporate and governmental pressures, the Net could be flipped to serve top-down control instead of individual freedom. In The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (2008), Jonathan Zittrain showed why this reversal might come about as a result of popular demand. Both the personal computer and the Internet are what Zittrain calls "generative" technologies, free to be built on without corporate or governmental permission.
Though commentators often portray the Democrats and Republicans as mirror images of each other, American politics is not symmetrical. We do not have one party that represents the left in just the way that the other party represents the right. Among congressional Democrats, moderates and conservatives sharply circumscribed what Barack Obama could do on the economy, health care, climate, and other issues even when his party had majorities in both the House and Senate.