Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Many years ago, when I was living in Pine Bluff, I lived across the street from a fellow that some of you may have heard of.  He was a preacher with a pretty large congregation and a television ministry, which was something of a novelty in those days.  I won't say he was all that well liked in the neighborhood, and I have some stories I could tell--but I won't, not today, because they aren't the focus of this post and would just distract you from my point.

Back then, he was a young man on the make, with big aspirations that would lead him to a much bigger church in another city, then into politics, and finally into media and punditry, where he sits today. I am nearly certain that this was all part of his plan, even back in those days, although his plan probably ended with him residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a couple of terms.

Mike Huckabee is well known to most Arkansans as a former governor, and he's fairly well known outside this state because of his presidential campaign and his position as a contributor and host on Fox News.  I don't pretend to know him any better than anyone else, but I did know him before he was famous.

I was interested in something he said today about the government shutdown.  Huckabee is, of course, a Republican.  And he's a pretty smart guy politically, even though he sometimes gets the party-line stuff wrong.  He does think that the ACA will be an unmitigated disaster for the country, which is at least nominally the GOP line (albeit the same line they gave about Social Security and Medicare, which turned out to be spectacularly wrong).  But he made an interesting point today:

The Republicans need to stop fighting among themselves about who dislikes Obamacare the most. Every single Republican in both the House and Senate voted against it. Every one. Not one Republican is on the hook for Obamacare. The Democrats own it--totally and completely. And if the Republicans in the House and Senate feel as I do that it really is a job-killing, economy-busting disaster that will increase costs, raise taxes, limit medical choices, and leave people in the lurches, then I want to suggest a way to fight it more effectively. ... Give the Democrats what they want for one year. Make it clear to the American public that it belongs to the Democrats. If it works like President Obama, Harry Reid, Hillary and Nancy Pelosi claim, then America will be better off and I will take to any platform or stage to apologize and acknowledge they were right and we were wrong. 
Now, I'm usually the last person to agree with Huckabee on anything, but even I have to admit that he is quite a bit more sincere about things that most politicians of both parties.  True, the full proposal he makes is more than a little misinformed about what Obamacare does,* but he's onto something with the central point.  If Obamacare is going to be the disaster the GOP claims it will be, why wouldn't they let it happen, eager as all-get-out to see the Democrats fall flat?

* - For example, he says that everyone should be subject to Obamacare's provisions, with no exemptions or delays, "not members of Congress or their staff."  This is a popular talking point, but it's just ridiculous.  There is no "Obamacare plan" that anyone has to purchase, or even can purchase.  If you have employer-based health coverage--which describes all of the federal government's employees, up to and including the President--then you keep it.  The federal plans have to meet the minimum requirements of the ACA, just like any other health plan.  If you don't have coverage from your employer, you can buy a private insurance policy through an exchange, or you can buy a private insurance policy directly from the company, or if you meet age or income requirements, you're covered by Medicare and/or Medicaid.  Or you can pay a penalty for not having coverage.  The law already provides that nobody's exempt.

"But, wait a minute, Jim," I can hear you thinking.  "Aren't the Republicans just doing everything they can to prevent this disaster from happening, out of genuine concern for the protection of the American people?  Isn't it possible that they view this as something that will wreck the economy, and are doing what they can to stop that from happening?"

And I might be willing to concede the point, but for a tiny problem:  The GOP is causing the government to shut down--which nearly everyone agrees is currently and will in the future be horrible for the economy--and is threatening a default on the national debt, which is such a horrible thing to have happen that the Constitution itself forbids it and will almost certainly cause lasting, maybe irreparable damage.  They are willing to cause actual harm and real suffering, all to prevent the potential harm that Obamacare might eventually cause.

That tells me that this is no principled stand for the American people.

Republicans have never been very good at governing--and, really, how can you expect a government to do anything right when it's run by people who believe government can't do anything right?--but they have always been excellent at politics.  That requires a deep understanding of how to read public opinion.  If you read only the headlines about public opinion of Obamacare, you'll see that a pretty strong majority (I've seen 57%) oppose it.  But if you delve deeper into those polls, and you look at specific provisions of the law--you know, the actual things that the law does, and not just the generic "Obamacare" banner--then you find that wide, wide majorities of people actually support the individual provisions of the law.

That dichotomy is not lost on the Republicans.  They've done a really good job of raising doubts about the plan--the wholly fictitious "death panels" ruse comes to mind--and tagging it with the Obamacare label to tap into some pretty deep hatred that many people have for the President.  But now that it's starting to get implemented, and the big features we've been waiting on are almost here, they realize that messaging on this subject isn't going to be enough.  It turns out, people actually like to be able to buy insurance for reasonable rates.  They like being able to go to the doctor when they're sick--or when their kids are.  They like being able to change jobs without worrying about whether they can get health insurance.  They like that their health insurance is covering them at least 10 ways, for all the things that could go wrong.  And while they may not like having to buy insurance or pay a penalty, they realize that penalty is going to hit so few people that it's almost not even worth talking about.

So, if you were faced with a program that was passed entirely by the other side, with no Republican votes, that makes a bunch of changes that most people, on balance, are going to like, and that was moving forward despite more than three years of you trying to undermine it, what would you do?

Do you really think you wouldn't fight it tooth and nail, to the last man, doing as much damage as you could to prevent it?

Or, if you genuinely thought this program was going to be a disaster that you could tag the other side with, in a way that would lead to electoral landslides for you and your party on the basis of your opposition, what would you do?

Do you really think you wouldn't welcome that scenario with open arms?

In politics, there are so few moments of genuine clarity.  But this is one of them.

And if it takes a government shutdown for people to see exactly what the GOP's gambit is, that's unfortunate.  But if I were Barack Obama and Harry Reid, I wouldn't give an inch, not one inch, no matter how long it takes.  We will survive, and as long as we don't give in to the GOP's thuggery, their destructive, selfish, cynical ideals will be gone for a long time.

It's time for the GOP's Elijah moment.  It's time, as Huckabee says, for the GOP to have the courage of its convictions.  If Obamacare is going to be so bad for us, let us have it.  If they're right, they win forever.

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