A Long, Long Cruze

Sen. Ted Cruz is still talking as we write this, and might yet be talking as you read this. We’re still not clear on what he hopes to accomplish, other than expressing his full contempt for Obamacare, but we admire the effort nonetheless.
The rules of the Senate are so confoundingly arcane that nobody has offered an understandable explanation of what advantage, if any, Cruz will achieve by his night-long harangue against the hated health care law. He apparently will not delay a vote on a House bill to fund everything in the government except Obamacare, meaning that in the strictest sense it is not even a filibuster, and nothing he can say even in hours of oratory is liking to change enough minds to prevent the Democrat-controlled Senate from rejecting this sensible proposal. His lengthy speech has even annoyed some of his fellow Republicans, still skittish about the inevitable stalemate that could temporarily shut down much of the government and bring the public’s wrath onto the party, and much of the news coverage has been sneering.
Still, anyone who goes to such extraordinary lengths to express his full contempt for Obamacare deserves congratulations and support. No matter how long his voice and legs hold out Cruz will not speak long enough to mention everything that is wrong Obamacare, and even if it’s nothing more than a publicity gimmick it is bringing valuable attention to a worthy cause. Those Republicans who are trying to dent the Senator’s rising popularity with the party’s conservative base are unlikely to succeed, and will only undermine the unity required to ultimately repeal a law that they also claim to oppose.

— Bud Norman

Going to the Mattresses

The Republicans in House of Representatives have decided to go to the mattresses over Obamacare, to borrow yet another cliché from the “Godfather” movies, and will likely vote today to withhold funding for the hated health care law no matter what the consequences. We wish them well in the effort, and offer whatever support we can provide, but we can’t quite shake a certain nervousness about it.
Even such slight hesitation will no doubt incur the scorn of all the right-wing talk radio talkers who have been urging the GOP to fight this battle, with ample scoffing at anyone who balks as a squishy establishment “RINO” who secretly likes Obamacare. This sort of name-calling does not persuade us, as we are quite rock-ribbed in our Republicanism, instinctively anti-establishment by temperament, and take a back seat to no one in our loathing of Obamacare, and neither does it allay a suspicion that there might be some other way to do away with the law more permanently and with less political risk. There’s a chance the Republicans’ gambit might succeed spectacularly, and we’ll be ardently hoping that it will, but any cocksureness about it will only increase the chances it could prove a debacle.
After the Republican-controlled House passes a budget without funding for Obamacare it will surely be voted down in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and even in the highly unlikely event that the Senate went along the resulting bill would surely be voted by the president, so the resulting lack of a budget or continuing resolution or some other legislative sleight-of-hand would shut down much of the government for a prolonged period. Democrats cannot abandon Obamacare without admitting they were wrong, a fate far worse than anything the stupid law will wind up inflicting on the country, and they will not fear the public relations consequences of a government shutdown. This is fine by the flame-throwing conservatives who are insisting on this strategy, and it would be no bother and a nice respite from bureaucratic busybodies to us, but with crucial mid-term elections looming in the next year it is important to consider what the apolitical majority of the country might think. A partial government shutdown would only affect the average American to whatever extent the executive branch chooses, as the de-funding faction rightly argues, but somebody is bound to be inconvenienced and it is a sure bet that major media outlets will quickly interview them for a heartbreaking feature story. The stories will be bogged down with lots of blather about mandatory spending and parliamentary procedure and official government statistics, so millions of Americans will simply take note of the headline about evil Republicans sowing anarchy to punish the poor.
None of the numerous past government shutdowns have been the electoral disaster for Republicans that popular myth suggests, as the de-funders rightly argue, but neither have they ever proved popular. Former House Speaker and government shut-down enthusiast Newt Gingrich kept citing all the election results from his time with the gavel when running for president last time around, but he was forced to do so because so many people still remember him as the mean ol’ bastard who wanted to cut government spending while President Bill Clinton is still remembered as the economic genius who somehow delivered a balanced budget. The major news outlets aren’t as major as they were back then, and conservative media have since built up a large choir to preach to, but it is still too soon to dismiss the opinion-making power of the opposition.
This time could be different, the de-funders argue, and there are tempting reasons to believe they are right. Obamacare is hugely unpopular and becoming more unpopular as it creeps into effect, with important Democratic constituencies such as the labor unions now among the critics, and even the most partisan reporters will find it hard to explain a government shutdown without mentioning that it has something to do with the law. The law’s eponymous president is also unpopular, and comes across as churlish and defensive and disconnected from economic reality every time he speaks in defense of it, so even the unloved Republicans will have something close to equal standing with the standing with the public. Those Republicans will have the better argument, too, although that rarely matters in a war for public approval.
Still, there’s something in our rock-ribbed Republican souls that would prefer a more cautious — and dare we say conservative — approach. Obamacare has become more unpopular with every step of its haphazard and politically-motivated implementation, and it seems likely that full implementation would result in complete unpopularity, so letting the damn thing happen to point that everyone’s nose can be rubbed in it would make a complete repeal and utter repudiation possible. This course would do damage to the health care system, allow millions of Americans to start relying on subsidies they will be reluctant to relent, and incur other undeniable risks, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get a policy right. The people getting the subsidies will be out-numbered by those paying for them, at least in the beginning, and the former category is far less likely to vote than the latter, so opposition to Obamacare will be a good issue for Republicans in both the ’14 and ’16 elections. Should Obamacare be somehow stopped before its full implementation the Democrats will spend the rest of our lives waxing poetic about the glorious utopia that might have been, enough of the public will believe it to keep the dream alive, and a rare chance to definitively disprove the nonsense will be lost. This strategy would displease much of the Republican party’s increasingly restive base, many of whom have a distressing tendency to sit out elections even if it means empowering the craziest sorts of Democrats, but at least it would not provide any headlines that would disturb the slumber of the apolitical majority.
The Republicans in Congress have decided to spurn our wise counsel, however, and once they are set on their course we can only hope they will pursue to a satisfactory conclusion. Obamacare must be done away with, one way or another, and if this one works we will be glad of it. Winning the day will require a party unity that we are quite willing to uphold, and plenty of media savvy that we cannot provide, so we will endure our nervousness. We recommend plenty of what the pols call “message discipline,” and can count on the right-wing talk radio talkers for that. The Republicans’ congressional leadership already seems to have distilled this complicated matter down to a “Tweet”-sized message that Obama is willing to shut down the federal government for his hated Obamacare law, which is a fair and compelling summation, and despite our misgivings about the strategy we will try to help it along.

— Bud Norman

Shoot-Out at the GOP Corral

Pretty much every last Republican left in the country hates Obamacare with a red-hot passion, and wants to see it tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, but there is disagreement about how to go about this. The debate over the best tactic is quickly becoming quite vituperative, in fact, and to a point that it could cripple the party and leave all its members stuck with the law for the rest of their lives.
Misfortunes and miscalculations have the left the Republicans with control of only the House of the Representatives, so repeal is politically impossible, but some are urging that the party use that last bit of political clout to deny funding for the implementation of the hated law. This would effectively kill the law for a while, as the constitution gives the House power of the federal purse, thus delaying all of its harmful consequences save the economic uncertainty it has created, and it would also stave off the enticing entitlements that will be difficult to take away once a sizeable segment of the country has become used to them. Given how very harmful the law’s consequences will be, and how deeply entrenched entitlement programs tend to become, the argument for de-funding Obamacare is strong.
There’s a downside to every idea, though, and others in the party argue that in this case it will be worse than even a fully-funded Obamacare. Even in the unlikely case that enough Red State Democrats could be rounded up in the Senate to pass an appropriations bill without Obamacare the president would surely veto it, and the resulting impasse will almost surely end in at least a partial shut-down of the government. No true Republican believes that a partial shut-down of the government is a bad thing in and of itself, but it is feared that the Democrats and their allies in the media will be able to convince the typically oblivious voter that a bunch of radical anarchist Republicans are the cause of whatever problems they can find to exaggerate and convince the public that obstructionism is responsible for all of Obamacare’s failures to boot. The manufactured outrage could even result in Democratic control of the House as well as the Senate and the presidency, and any hopes for complete repeal would be forever gone. Given how powerful the media remains, and how very oblivious the average voter is, the fears seem quite well-founded.
There might be a more palatable alternative, but no one seems to have come up with one yet. The kind of discussion that might yield a better idea has been preempted by infantile name-calling and sneers, with those wanting to de-fund Obamacare no matter the political cost accusing anyone who balks at the idea of being squishy and unprincipled, while those urging caution have used language that is just slightly more polite than calling them radical anarchist Republicans. Much of the impetus for the de-funding effort is coming from conservative talk radio, an invaluable medium but one with an unfortunate tendency toward shrillness, while the arguments for a more careful plan are being laid in out the more influential conservative columns and publications, which have an unfortunate tendency toward excessive carefulness, but the ferocity of the debate is mainly due to a very troublesome divide in the party that runs deeper than just an argument over tactics.

On talk radio and in dinner conversations at the more conservative households, the division is usually described as the grassroots versus the establishment, but we suspect that in the halls of congress and around the more ivied think tanks and editorial boards it regarded as the amateurs versus the professionals. All of these descriptions are apt, and accurately convey an unfortunate class friction that underlies the conflict, but none are especially useful in deciding what to do about Obamacare. The grassroots sort of Republicans are quite rightly concerned with taking back their liberties from an ever-expanding leviathan of a government, understandably suspicious of anyone who is a longtime member of that establishment even if he does carry an “R” behind name, and can be easily forgiven their resentments of anything slightly elitist, but those who accuse the other side of being Republicans In Name Only should remember that a cautious pragmatism and patient acceptance of political realities is a longstanding and largely successful tradition of the party. The freshly-politicized members of “tea party” were amateurs in the very best sense of the word were was essential to win that House majority and the party’s only slight power, and it would be disastrous for the Republican incumbents to forget that, but an excess of that amateur enthusiasm also cost the party at least three Senates seats that would have been won if their only advice been heeded, and those activists would do well to consider that before running a primary challenge to a sure-fire winner and turning over another seat to a liberal Democrat.

Alas, this is not the only division in the Republican party. The GOP’s beloved Ronald Reagan won landslides with the famous “three-legged stool” of defense hawks, social conservatives, and free-market libertarians, but these days capitalist standard-bearers such as Sen. Rand Paul are at odds with the “neo-cons” who would continue to enforce a Pax Americana, the social conservatives are susceptible to any social engineering scheme that might further an anti-abortion agenda that seems to trump all other concerns, and those favoring a robust foreign policy tend to be intellectual or big-business types uncomfortable with the moral traditionalists. Each of these internecine squabbles is exacerbated by that perceived chasm between the so-called grassroots and the so-called establishment, however, and there is no Ronald Reagan on the horizon to bring the party together.
The Democrats are just as fissiparous, being little more than a coalition of interest groups defined by race, class, and sexual preference, but in recent years they have maintained a formidable party unity even when the interests of those groups are clearly at odds. African-Americans and the lowest rungs of the working class will face increased political and economic competition from the millions of immigrants that their party hopes to bring into the country, for instance, and homosexuals are unlikely to benefit from a massive infusion of Latin machismo into the culture, yet all seem willing to accept the plan for the sake of their party. It is a strength of the Republican party that its members are not prone to such blind obeisance, but it is a weakness that they cannot muster such party discipline when it is sorely needed. When its internal debates cannot even be conducted with civility and mutual respect, the Republican party is enfeebled, and both sides would do well to keep that in mind.
Obamacare should be the Republicans’ biggest advantage going into next year’s mid-term elections. The law is an atrocity, most Americans know that in spite of what they’ve been told by a billion-dollar advertising blitz and the best efforts of the media propagandists, and such key elements of the Democratic coalition as the labor unions and government workers are now forced to admit it. More bad news about the law will be arriving in million of Americans’ mailboxes over the coming year, even the most determined media will be unable to ignore it, and any candidate running on an anti-Obamacare platform should be a shoo-in. That opposition to this nonsense might well prove the Republicans’ fatal flaw is too infuriating a prospect to contemplate.
Letting the damned thing happen so every can find out what it is might well be best for the party’s long-term prospects, because in a rare moment of blessed unity every single Republican in Congress voted against it and the party will forever be able to say to the country that it told you so, but that satisfaction will be hollow when people are sick and dying from a thoroughly wrecked health care system. The law needs to be repealed and repudiated, then tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, not just delayed for an election cycle or two, but every last Republican seems to understand that well enough. Now the party just needs to figure out how best to get it done, and they need to do it with a mutually respectful discussion, and to somehow stick together on whatever they wind up with. The bad guys aren’t the ones who are quibbling about tactics, the bad guy is Obamacare.

— Bud Norman

Another Conspiracy Confirmed

All of the right-wing wackos, including ourselves, have long suspected Obamacare is intended to so thoroughly wreck the American health care system that the public will at last accept a Canadian-style single payer system. Several left-wing wackos of our acquaintance think so, too, but regard it as a delightful trick to be played on their fellow citizens. More sensible people have regarded this as a far-fetched conspiracy, reasonably believing that no one in government would ever attempt such an audacious and unlikely ploy, but now we see that Sen. Harry Reid has made a full confession.
The Senate’s majority leader, who did much to push the legislation into law despite widespread public opposition, even after voters in ultra-liberal Massachusetts went so far as to elect a Republican to stop him, gave up the game during a public television appearance in his home state of Nevada. “What we’ve done with Obamacare is have a step in the right direction, but we’re far from having something that’s going to work forever,” Reid said. When asked if the meant the country would have a system without private insurance, he answered “Yes, yes. Absolutely, yes.”
There will likely be more of this sort of talk as the failure of Obamacare becomes ever more apparent with its haphazard and selective implementation. The law was imposed on an unwitting public with plenty of grand promises that everyone would at last have health insurance, premiums would go down, the national debt wouldn’t go up, no one’s existing coverage would be effected, employment would flourish, and all that talk about rationing and “death panels” was just a lie told by hateful people, but that’s getting harder for likes of Reid to say with a straight face. Our government now concedes that tens of millions will remain uninsured and pay for the privilege, premiums are rising in most states and are forecast to further rise, Congressional Budget Office projections made after all the accounting gimmicks expired show a dramatic cost increase, millions are going to lose their employer-provided policies, a delay in the employer mandate until after the mid-term elections acknowledges that it is driving a trend toward part-time jobs, and even such Democratic heroes as John Dean are publicly fretting about the law’s rationing board. No longer able to deny the facts that are showing up monthly in people’s mailboxes, Obamacare’s defenders are forced to talk of what comes next.
There will be efforts to blame it all on the Republicans, of course, and Obamacare’s eponymous president has already declared that opposition to the bill is motivated solely by some sick desire to deny people health care, but as the poll numbers for the law worsen with each passing day this will be harder to sell. Even with a billion-dollar advertising budget it is difficult to convince a majority of Americans that they are mean people who want others to die. Better to argue that greedy corporations and their Republican puppets won’t simply won’t permit Obamacare’s miracles to occur, and start making grand promises about the day when the free market for health insurance is at long last vanquished. Like Pee Wee Herman falling off his bike and saying “I meant to do that,” the laws defenders can ultimately boast that socialized medicine was what they had intended all along.
It might even work. Many people prefer to blame some rich they don’t know rather than the politicians they have voted for when things go wrong, and insurance executives make for especially appealing scapegoats. A single-payer system can be more easily explained than the complexities of a free market system, too, and its inherent flaws more easily obscured. As strange as it might seem that the public would accept more government as the solution for problems caused by government, they do it all the time, and in recent memory responded to a government-engineered financial crisis by electing candidates promising ever more government control of the economy.

Still, there are hopeful signs that it might not work. Obamacare remains unpopular despite an unprecedented public relations campaign and the best efforts of the media to demonize opponents, and the same people so over-sold the law that even most apolitical types can’t help noticing how ridiculous they are. Whatever quarrels people have had with their insurance companies will soon pale in comparison to their complaints with the government’s heavy-handed role, and that “Flo” woman from the Progressive ads now seems a far more attractive spokeswoman for her industry than Obama is for his. One should never underestimate the Republicans’ ability to waste a good issue, but failing to take advantage of their opposition to Obamacare will take some doing.

Republicans are already making an effort, of course. An internecine battle is now underway in the party between those who want to de-fund Obamacare and those who would rather let its flaws become so tangible that more Democrats will join with the unions and the red state incumbents in rushing away from the law. De-funding Obamacare is a politically risky proposition, as it will allow the law’s die-hard to defenders to spend the rest of their lives insisting that it would have worked just as promised if not for those human-hating Republicans, and if a government shut-down is the result much of the media will revert to its usual role of writing sob stories and casting blame to the right, but letting it become fully implemented poses risks to the people whose lives are dependent on a functioning health care system. We’re inclined to side to with the de-funders, but hope they’ll go about it shrewdly enough to win the battle for public opinion despite the powerful forces arrayed against them.
Whatever happens in the upcoming budget fights, Reid is quite right to believe that Obamacare won’t last forever. The most important matter, then, is that he be proved wrong about what comes afterwards.

— Bud Norman