Will our debate over healthcare extend or end a golden age?

by Ryan Streeter on April 6, 2014. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

[T]here’s a reason that golden ages can diminish into twilight — because the demands of the present can crowd out the needs of the future, and because what’s required to preserve and sustain is often different, in the end, from what’s required to grow.

That’s an apt summary of several thousand years of history. You might not think it comes at the end of an opinion piece on how we’ll be debating Obamacare for decades to come. In his latest column Ross Douthat explains why the debate over Obamacare is only just beginning and what it means for the future. Immediately preceding the quote above, he writes:

[T]he political salience of this debate will rise for the same reason that the costs of Medicare will be rising: because the country will be older over all, and health policy inevitably matters more to the old than to the young.

Which means that the future almost certainly holds more cries of “death panels,” more ads featuring Paul Ryan clones pushing seniors over a cliff,and no doubt as-yet-undreamt-of forms of demagogy. And it means, as well, that if it’s hard to get Washington to focus on other issues now — tax reform, education, family policy, you name it — just wait awhile: It will get much worse.

It’s important to note, of course, that this “worse” will be the result of betterment: our political debates will be consumed by health care because of all that medicine can do for us, and we’ll be arguing about how to sustain what earlier generations would have regarded as a golden age.

Much of the future of this debate will turn on how actively and successfully the millennial generation, which is presently skeptical of institutions, decides to take it on and change the course of future policy options.