The most curious aspect of our current situation in federal politics is one that’s hardly been discussed, much less explored in depth. The issue in controversy is the Republican Party’s stated intention to “repeal and replace ObamaCare,” the 2700 page legislative monstrosity that’s hashed medical insurance in these United States into an unpalatable mess.
It’s been opined by many a pundit that among the reasons Mitt Romney was defeated in 2012 was his inability to campaign against ObamaCare, since he’d imposed a similar sort of medical-insurance fascism on Massachusetts during his term as governor. This, of course, is unfalsifiable, as the “experiment” can’t be repeated in a controlled fashion. However, it’s plausible, especially in light of the smashing victory of a presidential candidate who did campaign against ObamaCare: Donald Trump. At any rate, Trump made the repeal of ObamaCare a major platform plank. As he’s a man who expects to keep his promises, and who believes the public expects the same, Trump has made that outcome an early-first-term goal.
Enter the Republican caucus in Congress. When we’ve spoken with disdain of “Establishment Republicans” these past few years, these are the specimens we’ve had in mind. The repeal-and-replace mission has caused them no small amount of agony. At this point it’s doubtful that any bill that reaches the floor of the House of Representatives or the Senate will much resemble what the millions who elected Trump had hoped for.
Why? The GOP now controls both the White House and Capitol Hill. With Trump in the Oval Office they no longer need to fear a veto. Senatorial filibusters have already been largely eliminated; the vestiges of that procedural rule are likely to fall very soon. The Supreme Court is unlikely to obstruct the process. So what’s the problem?
This deserves careful treatment, so grab a fresh cup of coffee while I limber up.
Any watcher of American politics will be aware that neither Republicans nor Democrats exhibit much fidelity to their campaign rhetoric. Both camps are aware of the general tenor of the electorate at any moment; they spend huge sums striving to make sure of it. And both camps will tell the voters what they think the voters want to hear, regardless of what they really intend once safely ensconced in office.
Donald Trump has upset the applecart by making it plain through his actions that he intends to keep his campaign promises. This has upset many of Capitol Hill’s veterans, to say nothing of the political strategists and kingmakers in the GOP. The major point here is one that is taken as axiomatic by those persons: that once an entitlement is created, it cannot be taken away.
That was the defensive redoubt of Social Security for many years. “They paid into it. They expect it. If we take it away, they’ll crucify us!” And indeed, there was some logic to it, as Social Security is nominally funded by a specific payroll tax. An American who believes he’s paid for something will not look favorably upon a politician who proposes to take it away. The same is true of Medicare, albeit to a weaker degree.
I have no doubt that some voters would be displeased by the repeal of ObamaCare...but who are they? Did they vote for Trump or any other Republican now in a federal office? Would they be likely to do so in some future election? Is there some prospect of a benefit from pleasing such voters that would outweigh the displeasure of those who did support Trump and the Republicans in Congress?
I can’t see it, myself. Moreover, we normally expect those we send to Congress to be reasonably intelligent. Granted that there are no Certified Galactic Intellects there, it’s not excessive to expect them to see what’s visible to the rest of us, and to answer easily answered questions...easily.
But perhaps the political context isn’t as clear to those federal Republicans as it seems to me.
In Robert Pirsig’s landmark Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, his alter ego Phaedrus is both inspired and confounded by a simple mantra: The more you look, the more you see. Rather than go into detail about how this was at first a stumbling block for Phaedrus, I’ll simply commend the book to those who haven’t yet read it. (For “extra credit,” determine why Phaedrus need not have been intellectually stymied, and what fault of logic led to his early troubles.)
What I have in mind this morning is the inverse of that mantra, to wit: The less you look, the less you see. He who refuses to look past a certain predetermined horizon simply won’t see what lies beyond it. That can sometimes be fatal. One such case, sadly, is the reliance of politicians on the reports of pollsters and other public-opinion flacksters.
The public-opinion “expert” has an agenda of his own. As with all of us, fulfilling that agenda will be higher in priority than anything else he might consider doing, including accurately and completely informing those who purchase his services. Indeed, the “expert’s” need to retain his clientele practically demands that he inculcate in them the assumption that his “expertise” is all they need – that they need not look beyond his reports.
There is, of course, a spot of negative feedback available here. Ask Alf Landon. But in the near term, if the “expert” can persuade his politician client that the “expert’s” surveys and reports are all the politician needs to formulate his posture, it will serve the “expert’s” agenda.
I have no doubt that many an “expert” has told his clients that his surveys indicate that the ObamaCare entitlement – i.e., the subsidies that go to some for the purchase of the insurance it mandates – is as untouchable as Social Security ever was. After all, no one has ever succeeded in repealing an entitlement. But then, no Congress has ever tried.
Finally, among the major inhibitors of conservative action by Congress we must never neglect the baleful power of the media. The major media are completely and irretrievably “in the tank” for the Democrats and their version of social fascism. They will never, ever approve of a Republican initiative that reduces to any degree the power or the intrusiveness of the federal government. They put their considerable megaphones to the denigration of Republicans and the ideas of limited government with absolute predictability.
The media get too much credit for just about everything. In particular, Republicans give the media too much credit for knowing the pulse of the American electorate. Every newspaper in America predicted the victory of Hillary Clinton. Despite her barely veiled promises to be a “third Obama term,” Republicans standing for office were virtually unanimous about their willingness to work with her and their uneasiness about Trump. They believed that the media and the pollsters it hired could see something they could not.
This is not a complete picture, of course. There are some Republicans who live for good press. John McCain comes to mind. That habit cost McCain heavily in 2008, yet it seems not to have taught him anything. Perhaps some old dogs can’t learn, after all. However, he’s an exceptional case. Most Republicans are aware that the press – especially its most powerful barons –would prefer to see them reduced to the status of the Whigs. Yet they accept the accuracy of what the press writes about them and the popular opinion of them even so.
Anyone can be wrong. Indeed, only by being wrong does anyone ever learn something new. But through this particular species of wrongness, the craven Republican caucuses on Capitol Hill are treading dangerously close to stamping a repealable entitlement with a Republican Seal of Approval. Perhaps the following graphic, shamelessly stolen from A Nod To The Gods, would enlighten them somewhat:
“There are none so blind as those that will not see.” And of course, “The less you look, the less you see.” Verbum sat sapienti.