The conservative fury over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is disingenuous, at best, and outright fraudulent at worst. The American public seems to have a memory limited to only a few months; almost no one remembers that the ideas forming the foundation of the ACA began life as the Republican alternative to the Clinton attempts to reform the system in 1993. The alternative, introduced by John Chafee, and even the alternative to the alternative, submitted the following year by Don Nickles (that’s Nickles, not Rickles, although the confusion is understandable) contained most of the provisions of the bill that today is called Obamacare. Most notable were provisions that mandated individuals to buy insurance, and the formation of exchanges. Clinton’s efforts were, in any case, hounded out of contention by conservatives on both sides of the congressional aisle, and economic bombardment from the health insurance industry.
But because reforming health care was one of the major pillars of Obama’s campaign for the presidency, and because he won handily, Democrats began working on it soon after he was sworn in in 2009. Most favored a single payer plan: in a nutshell, nationalized health care, like every other industrialized nation in the world, and a few who are not industrialized, enjoys. It was immediately clear, however, that conservatives in Congress, Democrats as well as Republicans, would never go for it, due to their paranoia about socialism (which they don’t seem to understand, but we’ll set that aside).
Because most of the provisions of the earlier Republican alternative plans had been passed into law in Massachusetts in 2006, and because this law was not only very successful, but wildly popular among conservatives, who were beside themselves with praise for it, it was decided that this would form the basis of the new Democratic reform proposal, in order to ensure bipartisan support.
Unfirtunately, they forgot one small detail: soon after the election, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell stated on the Senate floor that the number one priority of his party was to limit Obama to one term. So much for bipartisanship. It was clear that Republicans would do whatever they deemed necessary to achieve that goal, even to the point of directly contradicting their own position on the provisions of the health care reform they themselves had put forward a few years earlier. In 1993, not one single Republican made the slightest whimper concerning the constitutionality of the insurance mandate. In 2009, it suddenly became a constitutional crisis. What had changed? Certainly not the constitution; it was the matter of who would benefit politically if the bill passed.
It is often pointed out that no Republican in Congress voted for the final version of ACA. That is certainly true. Hardly anyone points out that it passed anyway, because voters had elected more Democrats than Republicans. Remember majority rule? Republicans don’t, except when they’re the majority. GW and his congressional cronies lost no time gutting every Clinton program they legally could, many by executive decree, when it seemed unlikely it could pass Congress. Now that Democrats control the Senate, Republicans moan about being left out, by which they mean the majority won’t immediately cave in to their demands.
All of this could be dismissed, with a lot of eye rolling, as business as usual, but for two things:
First, the conservative Supreme Court has decided that corporations can spend as much as they please on political advertising. Virtually all of political advertising these days is negative. The end result is that people are daily bombarded with negativity about not only programs that corporations fear will affect their profits, but also about the government in general. The strategy seems to be obstructionism from the political side, mitigated by a stream of “a-pox-on-both-their-houses” advertising from the corporate side. Keep pounding that stuff, and people start to believe it. Amazingly, in spite of this, Obama was reelected with a larger majority that his first term, in an election that was characterized in no uncertain terms by conservatives as a referendum on Obamacare. They not only lost the presidential race, but also lost seats in both houses of Congress. Suddenly, mysteriously, it turned out not to have been a referendum after all.
Second, since many state legislatures are controlled by conservatives, widespread gerrymandering all but guaranteed safe seats for conservative Republicans, effectively insulating them from blowback for their obstructionism. We see the result every day. Conservatives say the most outlandish things, and suffer no consequences.
What to do? First of all, gerrymandering must be made illegal. I am fully aware that Democrats are just as guilty of this, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Unfortunately, nothing will help much without reversal of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates of corporate political money, much, if not most of it from multinationals with no particular loyalty to the United States. You’d think that that, at least, would be unconstitutional.
At the very least, I hope I have set the record straight, although, to be honest, I know this little posting has about the effect of a blow dart in a hurricane.