David Harsanyi / October 25, 2013

What’s Wrong With Rooting for Failure?

In a news conference expected to feature a mea culpa for the Obamacare website fiasco, President Barack Obama turned the tables on his political opponents, scolding them for using their supernatural ability to transform the mere hope of failure into a reality. “It’s time,” he implored, “for folks to stop rooting for its failure, because hardworking middle-class families are rooting for its success.”

In a news conference expected to feature a mea culpa for the Obamacare website fiasco, President Barack Obama turned the tables on his political opponents, scolding them for using their supernatural ability to transform the mere hope of failure into a reality.

“It’s time,” he implored, “for folks to stop rooting for its failure, because hardworking middle-class families are rooting for its success.”

There is a serious problem with that statement. Now, if you’re a libertarian, rooting for Washington to fail is probably one of your cherished hobbies. It’s certainly one of the most unappreciated sentiments a person embraces. And most often, there is nothing unpatriotic, immoral or unethical about it. Quite the opposite, really.

Sometimes we have no choice. Example: As the Red Sox (a team that, as a Yankees fan, I detest) and the Cardinals (a team for which I have no strong feelings either way) meet in the World Series, I am forced to enthusiastically cheer for a Boston flop – with any luck, an ugly and dramatic flop. When sweet failure arrives, I intend to fully embrace schadenfreude (the ugly cousin of “rooting for failure”), knowing full well that my wishes had absolutely no bearing on the outcome.

Not so in politics, evidently. Nowadays, rooting against the Democrats is tantamount to rooting against America. But it’s a fallacy that any failure has, by default, a negative consequence. Attaching a phony moral significance to the word “failure” is, as anyone who’s watched politics or witnessed what bad legislation can do, nothing more than a way to smear your opponent’s intentions. It’s a weak attempt to bully those who disagree with you into rhetorical submission.

When it comes to Obamacare, it’s likely that most failure boosters have no desire to see “hardworking middle-class families” or, for that matter, even lazy rich families suffer unnecessarily. When confronted by this false choice, plenty of middle-class families are, no doubt, rooting for failure, as well. If an American believes Obamacare is unhelpful, destructive or counterproductive, its failure is success.

There are other reasons to cheer failure, as well. As Ed Rogers at The Washington Post recently wrote, “the failure of Obamacare would discourage and hopefully deter those who think a bigger, more domineering U.S. government is the answer to our problems. And most important, the horrors of this debacle and the collapse of Obamacare would have a chilling effect on politicians who want to promote big government solutions.”

My hope is that Obamacare – not to mention numerous other initiatives supported by the president – fails for a whole host of reasons. And not only do I have my fingers crossed that Obamacare fails in the way that most policy fails us but I hope it fails so hard that any residual perception among voters that any part of it was prudent policy is completely eliminated. Anything less might mean that a substantial enough bloc of Americans would continue to operate under the false impression that top-down technocratic control of their decisions is a good idea. And that would be a genuine failure.

Wishful thinking, no doubt. And admittedly, there’s also a self-centered reason to root for your ideological opponents not to succeed. Their misfortune confirms your worldview – one that you’ve probably spent considerable time and effort cultivating. Anyone with a shred of intellectual honesty remains somewhat open to the possibility that he is wrong, but he is certainly under no obligation to root against his own beliefs. Not even if a president armed with a straw man demands it of him.

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