Monday, September 23, 2013

The GOP Wants To Fix Our Wagon

The GOP Wants To Fix Our Wagon

My mother, who was an exceptionally kind person, had a couple of forms of discipline in her arsenal when we kids offended beyond the small and insignificant. 

The first was the fearsome “Wait until I’ll tell your father.”  This was very bad, because while he never hit anyone, he did have a gift for the Wagnerian opera-length lecture followed by the lightening, thunder and whole wrath-of-the-Gods thing.

The second was the more subtle “I’ll fix your wagon.”  My sister and I didn’t exactly know what wagon-repair entailed, but we understood it to be a very unhappy experience, usually preceded by a declaratory sentence “you’re going to ________” and backed up by the whole Dad thing in reserve if the desired results were not achieved.

It was a pretty effective way of doing things.  Not always fun, but Mom kept down the peevishness and never burned the village in order to save it.

Of course, we were kids, and they were our parents, and they had our best interests in mind. Not adults and co-equals as citizens. Yet some in the GOP have decided that it is best to treat us as errant children who need to brought into line.  Goaded by Ted Cruz in the Senate, urged on by op-ed pieces that pretend to put an intellectual gloss on strong-arm tactics, and liquored up by right-wing talk-show hosts, the House has decided to punish the American people. For our own good, of course.  Last week they passed a continuing resolution that keeps the government funding (for a short time) on the express condition that Obamacare be defunded.

This is not a post to defend Obamacare.  I don’t know if I like it or not, because I haven’t seen it fully rolled out yet.  There are a couple of things I find appealing (coverage despite preexisting conditions and the ability to keep possibly not fully employed children covered until they are 26) and at least one I don’t like (a lower cap on health care reimbursement accounts.) 

In calmer times, wise people from both sides of the aisle, with their respective legislative aides who specialize in healthcare, might, together, look at what works and what is problematic, and amend Obamacare to make it better.  I would go further and say, that given the controversial nature of the legislation, if the GOP authored 75% of those changes to make it more palatable to them, they would get overwhelming bipartisan support.  And they could even rub Obama’s nose in it for sport.

But I know they can’t do that.  Like everyone else who turns on a radio or TV, looks on line, or reads a newspaper, I know that the GOP simply cannot cope either emotionally or intellectually. Just as importantly, even if the GOP leadership were willing to deal, the Tea Party, founded on an amalgam of animus towards anything Obama, would never let them.

In short, for a loud minority of this country, for whatever reason; personal, philosophical, ideological, political or hormonal, Obamcare must go.  At whatever cost, with whatever tactics.  And, in the words of Ted Cruz, it has to go now, because once Americans see it working, they might like it, and that would be unacceptable.

And so, we are about to enter unchartered waters. One chamber of one of the three arms of government is going to impose its will on the entire country by sending us either to default, or a shutdown of the government, or both, until they win a policy point.

But here’s a dirty little secret that John Boehner and even Eric Cantor, for all their bold words and smirks, are aware of. They need Obama to draw the line and not move, even if we expose ourselves to everyone as a bunch of narrow-minded idiots determined to run into the ground the greatest democracy the world has ever known to make that point.

A lot of Republicans know it as well. The US Chamber of Commerce knows.  Even Karl Rove knows it.  Obama has to stand firm.  He cannot give in and let this genie out of the bottle.

Why?  What’s so good or important about Obamacare?  Certainly debatable.  What is important is a core principle.  This is fundamentally different than having the 42nd, or 4,342nd staged vote to repeal Obamacare.  By using this tactic, House Republicans and some of their uber-ambitious colleagues in the Senate are saying, in effect, that they run the government.  All policy decisions, all legislation, are subject to the whims of the Republican caucus in the House.  Because they can simply shut down the government and default on the national debt when they don’t get their way.  

Sounds like an overstatement?  Not really, because the same folks who are using this tactic are also pushing it to get approval of the Keystone Pipeline project.  Default and shutdown unless Obama signs off on Keystone.  

Again, I am not arguing for or against Keystone.  It is the same principle.  The Founders left us with a process that involves all three branches of government.  Part of what makes it work is that the balance of power between the three induces compromise.  Another part is accepting the results of elections and Supreme Court rulings and not coming up with creative and nihilistic ways of blowing everything up unless you get your way. 

The high fives and whoops that characterized Boehner’s press conference should have been noted by every single politician who cares about a rational process, and particularly those who want to be President.  They should be running from this as fast as they can.  But Cruz, Paul and Rubio embrace the idea.  Maybe, in their arrogance, they think that if (or, more likely, when) they are King no one will dare oppose them.  Or that they can use this to push even more fundamental changes: today Obamacare and Keystone, tomorrow Social Security and Medicare, and then, who knows, skies’ the limit.  There has already been talk among Republicans—led by Boehner, that a continuing resolution is only good for a few months, and they can play this game again in December on a host of issues. This is the weapon that will allow them to create a permanent conservative utopia.

They are wrong, all of them, because once this is used, this tool can be used by anyone, at virtually any time, including the Democrats when they are similarly situated.  What will a President Rubio do when a midterm election puts the Democrats in charge of the House and they want to cut military spending by 30%? Declare martial law?  Or raise taxes on the wealthy, or cut subsidies to business, or change the immigration laws, or push gun control, or anything else potentially on their ideological agenda? 

The point is that, whatever you feel about Obamacare, this is the wrong tactic to use.  Negotiation by extortion always is. It teaches the abused to be an abuser.  As is presuming you have the right to punish us for our own good.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think I’m a little old to be talked to that way.

I don’t need my wagon fixed.