Saturday, April 3, 2010

Health care debate post-mortem

By Rick Morris

The aftermath of the recent adoption of ObamaCare by the federal government brings up several different points, some related and some unrelated. As I noted during our debate on this subject during Episode #97 of THE FDH LOUNGE this past week (Wednesdays, 7-10 PM EDT on, because I am a paleocon and thus not tethered to inane partisanship -- the worst aspect of which being the infantile notion that one political party actually constitutes the "good guys" instead of the "slightly less evil screw-over guys" -- my perspectives are bound to be different than the norm on either side.

^ First of all, I differentiate among the talk-radio screamers. Rush Limbaugh, Mike Gallagher, Mark Levin, Hugh Hewitt and Sean Hannity are Republican toadies who spent eight years trying to convince America that George W. Bush was on a par with Lincoln and Washington. They're party-line hacks with no credibility when it comes to intellectual honesty. But there are some guys who have that intellectual honesty and come at this from interesting points of view, like Dennis Prager, Michael Savage (although he really is a loon!) and especially Glenn Beck. Mr. Beck is technically correct when he describes the entangling of Big Government and Big Business as being similar to what the National Socialists practiced on a much bigger and more sinister scale in the Germany of the '30s. Certainly, Big Insurance and Big Pharma were bought off by this crowd, which should only drive home once and for all the paleo point about how small business and not Big Business should be exalted. The great columnist Timothy Carney also writes about this with great regularity. But unlike Beck and some of the more panicked Tea Party members, I don't fear Barack Obama and his congressional Democrats. Left to their own devices, they'd have delivered a much more harmful bill and really throttled off free enterprise -- but they couldn't, and that's the point. With overwhelming majorities in both houses, they got a bill that falls short of what the biggest screaming liberals really wanted and that was at the height of their power (now, I do believe that it could set the stage for single-payer or at least the public option in another decade by collapsing key industries -- but that just makes a rational, cold-eyed approach to assessing the situation that much more important). The question of whether Republicans could have made it "less bad" through negotiation is a valid one even if it was raised by that weenie David Frum, but in the end it seems doubtful that the pluses would outweigh the minuses in terms of the Republicans having to co-sign onto a bill that would still make matters worse. The November pasting that is on the way assures that we have probably seen the worst of what this crowd can do, at least in a first Obama term (more about that later).

^ Do we still live in America? So now Henry Waxman is summoning CEOs who are talking about how much ObamaCare will cost their industries and lead to job loss to hearings where he will badger them and live out his fantasy of acting like a Third World junta leader. Remember when we actually still had free speech in this nation?

^ Elections have consequences. If anybody thought that Obama's election as president would mean avoiding at least one large negative being passed through, they were naive and unrealistic. Don't want the bad public policy? Then don't lose the elections. Grown-ups understand this basic principle. And that leads to the next point and the election of 2012.

^ Playing into Obama's hands at this point is worse than stupid, it is immoral. When Newt Gingrich, in his crowning moment of sheer babbling public incompetence, bungled the budget negotiations with Bill Clinton in 1995 and led the GOP to get blamed for the government shutdown, he ensured Bubba's second term. Now, nincompoops like Hewitt are calling on the GOP to promise to defund ObamaCare if they take control of both houses in '11. Given the complete inability of the Republican party to handle basic public relations even in a good climate, is there a political observer worth his salt who sees a fall showdown in 2011 ending any other way than the one 16 years earlier? If the Republicans don't wake up and realize that rollback cannot possibly occur before winning control of both the executive and legislative branches (by definition, no earlier than 2013), they are doomed. No wonder the Republicans are better off coming up just shy of winning control this year; they would only serve as the blame-deflecting target that President BO needs to win re-election. But then again, succeeding in spite of themselves has worked out really well for the GOP in the Obama era, as they have been able to rehabilitate themselves completely through the unrelated efforts of a fired-up grassroots element.

^ Good politics is good policy. In pandering to the Rush Limbaughs of the world, too many powerful Republicans outwardly embrace the label of obstructionist and "Party of No." I have actually even heard that "change" is a dirty word among many in Republican circles because of Obama's use of it. Frankly, this is insane. They cannot cede that ground to Obama; to do so is fatal. Do Republicans really want to act like the status quo is great, either in terms of health care or any other government functions? Not if they have any clue (which leaves the question completely open). They need to be pushing other-side alternatives, market-oriented solutions like the ones bravely submitted by Congressman Paul Ryan. On health care, there is much that can be pointed out in terms of the distortions in the market that were instigated by Medicare and Medicaid and how these disruptions are actually the enemy and not the free market. But then again, that would take guts and principle and this is a political party that unfortunately still values the shallow advice of the likes of Karl Rove. And they're also a political party that believes in stupidly bragging about trying to shut down all functions of the Congress, as McCain recently did. Going back over several decades, if Democrats had to win elections on their own merits instead of Republican bumbling, they'd really have been in trouble and the more things change, the more they stay the same.

^ In the long run, Republicans can only win by being intellectually honest. The Republican tendency to chastise Obama for squandering the "Garden of Eden" on January 20, 2009 is a huge insult to the intelligence of the American people. Nobody is going to forget just how bad the situation was that Obama inherited and polls continue to bear that out. But what's worse is that the lie is unnecessary because the truth would work much better if only the GOP could summon up the humility for it. It would go a little something like this: "OK, our bad. We spent like drunken sailors and didn't police corruption when we were in charge. But this crew is doubling down on all of our mistakes. They're taking everything we did poorly and going much further in that direction. If you vote for us, we will move matters back in the other direction, if for no other reason than we know that you won't trust us again if we don't." It's a compelling message that people will understand. John McCain tried to run on a similar message in 2008 (remember the whole "we lost our way" honesty, which was remarkable even though it came off as desperate because the GOP was trying to avoid the punishment that inevitably comes with losing your way) and only succeeded because the American people pretty much will not avoid delivering a harsh message to political parties who anger them. The Republican party has come a long way in 15 months, far more than anyone could have forecast, but they have reached the limits of where they can go as "Not Them." They cannot hold onto and consolidate any gains they make this fall, much less achieve a durable governing majority, without treating the American people as adults.

^ As part of being intellectually honest, be honest about what ObamaCare represents. Pretending that this bill represents a zero-to-sixty nationalization of the health care sector gets the grass roots fired up, but it doesn't pass the smell test. As previously mentioned, Medicare and Medicaid started us down this road almost a half-century ago and wacky crap like George W. Bush's prescription-drug boondoggle moved us further in that direction. The Republican party always underestimates the number of people who would be receptive to them if they quit the show-biz gaga and leveled with them. I know many such people, but they are turned off when they hear obviously phony buzzwords substituted for earnest analysis.

^ Call for people to stay within the bounds of the political process. Given the Saul Alinsky/ACORN playbook, I'm very dubious that those who were actually against ObamaCare were responsible for the alleged N-bombs and F-bombs directed at congressmen on the day of the vote. But the pinkos at MSNBC and elsewhere are clearly ready to lay everything at the feet of the Republicans. Rachel Maddow actually has the temerity to put a TV show on the air tying the spirit of Timothy McVeigh to today's anti-government protesters. Bill Clinton and his crew spent 18 months waving the bloody shirt of Oklahoma City in order to ensure their own reelection -- and it worked. In the climate that we are now in, where (and I'm choosing my words carefully) some people and institutions will stop at nothing to label opposition to the federal government as illegitimate, Republican leaders need to be on record as denouncing anything except lawful protest specifically tied to public policy at every occasion.

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