In yesterday morning's post, I observed that sheer determination should be factored into Republicans' likelihood of success in their Obamacare repeal efforts. Public opinion is against them, but a committed minority tends to beat an apathetic majority, and Republicans are really really really committed here. With majorities in both chambers of Congress and a willing president (who, let's face it, doesn't know jack shit except that Obama's name is informally attached to existing law), that really might be enough to overcome anything. I find myself thinking, then, about the astonishing level of hatred Republicans have for Obamacare.
The irony, as plenty of others have noted before, is that Obamacare is a fundamentally Republican policy, having been enacted in Massachusetts by a Republican governor (Obama's 2012 opponent, no less), after having been developed by the Heritage Foundation as the Republican counter-proposal to the Clintons' proposal in 1993-4, then called "Hillarycare." How much of this is the rightward movement of the GOP, and how much of it is attaching Obama's name to it? Six of one, half a dozen of the other, to make an unmutual reference... Regardless, Republican opposition to Obamacare has not followed normal historical patterns. They never accepted the loss.
Here's a famous clip of Saint Ronnie, peace and blessings be upon him (would Trump be smart enough to be offended by the phrasing? nah...), warning about what would happen if Medicare were enacted:
Yeah, so, um... Medicare is still around. Republicans have periodically fought to curtail it (the 1995-6 shutdowns were actually about Medicare cuts!), but they didn't really maintain the kind of eternal, frothing-at-the-mouth opposition that one might have suspected given Ronnie's famous line. In fact, one of Republicans' more prominent attacks on Obamacare was that some of the money it spent on healthcare for poor people came from cuts to Medicare. Suddenly, Republicans are defenders of Medicare! They may occasionally talk about turning it into a voucher program (and then run scared from the idea when they see the polls), but they aren't doing the Ronnie thing on Medicare, nor have they spent the last half-century fighting a constant war against it.
So, I've been thinking about Republican opposition to Obamacare in historical context, and the never-give-up attitude. Right now, it looks like the party might even be willing to take on major electoral losses to keep fighting a battle that they just refuse to stop fighting. This... isn't normal for a party. Sometimes a law passes that you don't like. That doesn't mean you devote yourself to an eternal, all-consuming battle against it. Democracy requires accepting that sometimes you will lose, and part of what is going on here is that Republicans have never accepted the legitimacy of the law, but the abnormality of Republican opposition here has me struggling for context.
Keep in mind the level of opposition here. At the federal level, the opposition has been total, but largely symbolic. Candidates for federal office have uniformly spouted empty platitudes about how much they hate "Obamacare," and while it is easy to make fun of how idiotic Trump sounded when he talked about replacing Obamacare with "something terrific," while clearly having no fucking clue what, it was obvious all along that nobody else in the party had any more of a clue either. The reason they are struggling now is that nobody ever bothered to construct any alternative to Obamacare in the last seven years. That's a lack of serious policy thought, and it should be ridiculed. Trump is a symptom of a greater problem within the GOP. The ritualistic "Obamacare repeal" votes that Congress used to hold, back when Obama was President and the votes incurred no risk, were a fucking joke, and everyone knew it. They implied a kind of mindless opposition without any real thought behind it. Yet, when we dug deeper, we saw something more interesting...
At the state level, there was more variation. The Supreme Court struck down part of the ACA, requiring states to expand Medicaid in order to maintain funding, so a bunch of states under Republican control blocked the Medicaid expansion. Why? What do I keep telling you? Conservatism is an opposition to welfare. Medicaid is welfare. Why would they expand the welfare state if they don't have to? But, a bunch of Republican governors did expand Medicaid. Why? Well, principles be damned, it was a good financial deal, and at the end of the day, pragmatism beat out principle for a bunch of them. And so we begin to wonder how deep the opposition to Obamacare really is as we start to dig deeper...
Now we find ourselves with a Republican legislative caucus trying to figure out how to manage the divisions. Most of them really do seem to want to gut a lot of the law. Not all, but a lot of the law, and therein lies the challenge. Somehow, that hatred of Obamacare has persisted at the federal level to a fascinating degree.
And I'll make a couple of references. After Roe v. Wade, it took a few years for the parties to sort out their positions, but the GOP became the party of social conservatism, and social conservatives-- and hence, the GOP-- never accepted the legitimacy of Roe v. Wade. More than 40 years later, they are still looking for ways to undercut it at every opportunity, and ultimately change the balance of the Court to overturn it. Why? Well, if you accept the premise that a fetus is a human life, then an abortion is the murder of a human life, and legalized abortion is legalized murder. That follows logically from a belief about when human life begins. When does human life begin? That is not a question that can be answered through logical deduction. That is a definitional issue.
In terms of the politics, then, social conservatives never gave up because they viewed the issue as one of legalized murder. That's not the kind of thing where you just say, "oh well, I guess we lost, let's move on." And, of course, this brings us to Obamacare. Remember that death panel bullshit? Yes, it was total fucking bullshit, and it would be nice to think that it plays no part in GOP opposition to Obamacare, but... if anyone remembers the debates over the passage of Obamacare, "death panels" were a thing. Or, rather, the lie about death panels was a big thing. Fuck you, Sarah Palin, and fuck you, John McCain, for putting that proto-Trump on the national stage. There are no death panels, and we don't hear much about them anymore, but there's stuff like this...
Yes, some GOP Members of Congress still believe in this idiotic fucking bullshit, thanks to Sarah Fucking Palin. If you believe that there are death panels, do you give up? No. No, you don't. Same as with Roe v. Wade.
But, there's another historical analogy here. The GOP once thought that they were fighting on the side of majority opinion. Obamacare was originally unpopular, but the winds have shifted, as the winds of public opinion are wont to do. More importantly, the GOP bills, in various forms, are really really really unpopular. Now, some of the Republicans in Congress may live so secluded in the Fox News/talk radio/conservative blogosphere bubble that they may not understand this. They may actually think that their bills are really popular. After all, that asshole above believes in death panels. He probably believes in the fuckin' tooth fairy too. McConnell? He knows what's real. Paul Ryan too. The guys at the top understand reality. They have to. I suspect that most in Congress actually know the polls because McConnell and Ryan have brought them into the caucus meetings anyway.
Yet, they are continuing to push the legislation, against public opinion. And this has me thinking of an analogy that many conservatives themselves make. The civil rights movement.
In the 1950's, the idea of desegregation was not popular. It was a struggle on behalf of a minority population, against the will of the majority, undertaken at great personal risk by true believers.
The opposition to Obamacare right now is a fight on behalf of a minority, against a majority. The minority who would benefit from the Republicans' plans is an economic minority, and the risks are political rather than physical, but given the clarity of the risks and the devotion being demonstrated over the years, this is starting to look apt, and it is certainly how Obamacare opponents see themselves.
There is also political/economic theory here, which most lefties won't like. James Buchanan & Gordon Tullock's The Calculus of Consent. It is the foundational work in what we call "public choice" economics, which is central to libertarian thought. The central challenge for democracy is as follows: if you create an electoral rule, like say, majority rules (50%+1 wins), then how do you prevent "the tyranny of the majority?" You should recognize that phrase. In terms of the civil rights movement, if you had left civil rights up to a majority rule decision, desegregation wouldn't have happened. Why? Racist whites didn't want it, and they were the majority.
Time to poke at liberals and their bullshit. Big majorities want background checks on guns and we don't have them! Unjust! Unjust! Yeah, remember when big majorities opposed desegregation? Remember back just 20 years ago when gay marriage was such a radical fringe position that it was a horrendous slur to accuse your political opponent of supporting it, and Bill Clinton signed DOMA to bipartisan acclaim? To say that majority rule is correct is to say that you should lose when you are in the minority. Do you really accept that? No, you probably don't.
So, here's the thing. If you have a system of majority rule, then 50%+1 can decide to confiscate everything from, then torture and murder 49%, just for the hell of it. Don't like that? How about making the electoral threshold 99%? Now we're talking about "the %1." Get it? The 99% can decide, just for the fuckin' hell of it, to confiscate everything, torture and murder the 1%. Call it a revolution. Do it with a French accent.
OK, so you're thinking, "nobody is saying we want to take everything. Just enough to cover healthcare." But, the principle is there. Once you accept the justification for confiscation, where does it end? That's the Buchanan & Tullock problem, and that's were libertarian economic thought goes.
Of course, it is a lot harder to have sympathy for some whiny billionaire who tries to invoke kristallnacht every time his taxes go up a bit than for those enslaved and laboring under Jim Crow, but again, you begin to see the mentality of opposition.
Yet, all elements of the welfare state violate that principle. Why fight Obamacare to this extent, and not, say, Social Security? Well...
I'm just writin' here. All I have to say is that it is fascinating how frothing-at-the-mouth Republican opposition to Obamacare continues to be.