We’re about to find out if democracy in America has a future. Republicans won in a broad national sweep at all levels of government in 2016 at least partly (in significant part!) because of the public’s disaffection with the way Democrats had been running things for eight years. A big part of that disaffection grew out of the dislocations and dysfunctions of the Democrats’ healthcare legislation, so-called Obamacare. It was about government mandates, redistributionism, complex rules affecting individuals, insurance companies and providers, and it was about the hubris of having been effected by brute legislative power. Now Republicans are in a position to address this giant irritant to the American body politic but, as with all benefits programs, once in place it’s hard to eliminate.
Hard right conservative Republicans in Congress apparently want Obamacare’s complete destruction and are sending the message that nothing else will do. But if they do just end this program cold turkey, millions of Americans who have benefitted from its expansion of health insurance access through subsidies, mandates and Medicare expansion will certainly be hurt. More, the disruption to the system will be monumental as insurers scramble to readjust yet again to the shock of another massive industry wide readjustment. The problems will be legion and the Republican Party will own them, just as the Democrats took continued fire for years over every Obamacare failure. Reversion to the status quo ante at this juncture looks to be politically infeasible because massive disruptions will lead to a political firestorm. Within two years and another Congressional election (coming up in 2018), Republicans, in the ascendant today, will likely find themselves on the outs again as they reap the whirlwind of adverse publicity and public anger for messing up a “good thing.”
The media will certainly amplify that message and once Congress falls, the Trump White House will lose the opportunity to govern effectively because a hostile Congress will stymie them at every turn. Trump, himself a major national irritant to at least half and maybe more of the American population, and someone who lacks the discipline to operate within presidential norms, would soon find himself dealing with more than just a hostile Congress. It will be one that wants his head and impeachment will follow hard on the loss of Congress to Democrats.
Yet hardline conservative diehards in the GOP caucus seem dead set on blocking the new health care bill constructed by Republican leaders in Congress to begin a gradual wind down of Obamacare and develop a free market based alternative. What the hell are these hardline Republicans thinking?
Are they so obdurate that they would bring everything Republicans have sought for and won down just to get the purist repeal bill they want? This reminds me of the anger that drove 40% of the Republicans in the primaries to nominate Donald Trump for president. That 40% were mad as hell, as many of them put it, angry that Republican leaders in Congress had shown willingness to compromise and delay getting their way in the face of a strong willed Democratic president who had the support of Democratic Senators able to block Congress and a media that protected and insulated the Democrats. That those Republican leaders took the long view in matters struck many GOP base voters as unconscionable and feckless and so they chose someone who, they believed, could bull his way through government, who wouldn’t be deterred by the niceties of things like compromise. They turned to Donald Trump who promised to blow it all up if elected and whose rhetoric effectively did that in the primaries.
Grassroots anger and frustration plus a weak Democratic candidate finally led to a Trump victory and an across-the-board Republican sweep. Now comes the time to turn those victories into action, to govern according to the principles and beliefs Republicans say they espouse. But GOP hardliners still haven’t figured out that governing isn’t the same as raging at the gates. For a hardcore bunch of Republican conservatives, even a broad Republican victory isn’t enough. They want it all. They don’t want to wait, don’t want to have to plan or think ahead to future elections. That’s for wusses, they seem to think, for the RINOs the Trump victory destroyed. Theirs is the mindset that drove the GOP into Donald Trump’s hands and now they would continue in this vein.
Take-no-prisoners politics is their game and the Democrats’ healthcare law, Obamacare, is in their sights — and they don’t want to let it get away. But in taking down this particular buck, these hardline hunters are as likely to be shooting themselves, and the rest of the Republican Party, in the collective foot as they are to be bringing home the ultimate trophy for Obamacare is too deeply entrenched. The Republican majority is big but thin, with Americans self-identifying as Republicans never breaking the 30% mark. Republican opportunity to show its stuff and grow in national esteem is time-limited. Republicans in power now need to show Americans what they can do by demonstrating their capacity to govern. You can’t do that by just blowing things up, as even Donald Trump is starting to learn (albeit painfully slowly) — or by fighting with your own.
If democracy is to work, its people have to work together, both within the different political parties and in the nation as a whole. Contrary to what the hardliners in the GOP believe, and whose blind rage at the polling booths gave us a president who can’t control his thumbs or his mouth, compromise and long term thinking are not dirty words. If Republican holdouts succeed now in killing this effort by Congressional leadership to reform Obamacare, they might as well just cash it in and go back home because a short term victory that destroys what they hate the most will only prove to be a harbinger of the long term collapse of all their political hopes and dreams. If we fail to act with forethought and wisdom now we will have shown ourselves unworthy to govern hereafter.