by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
March 26, 2010
GOP GAMBLED ON THE TEA PARTY, AND LOST
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It's a sign of how totally insane this nation has become when the passage of a health care bill that has so many conservative elements within it is labeled as socialist.
It's a sign of how totally insane this nation has become when the only ones who voted for a fundamentally conservative bill are Democrats, and those Democrats are receiving death threats for doing so.
It's a sign of how totally insane this nation has become when the idea of expanding access to health insurance is seen as the first step in the collapse of America.
But that's where we are today.
The health care reform bill passed by the House Sunday night was by no means the best bill that could have been written. However, given the circumstances of trying to pass meaningful legislation over the opposition of a party that has no interest in governing, this was a good start.
After a century of attempts, we now have enshrined into law the notion that everybody ought to have health insurance. That alone is a major accomplishment. It is legislation that expands coverage to most of the uninsured and protects those who already have insurance. It expands health insurance coverage to 32 million Americans and helps guarantee that 95 percent of Americans will be covered.
Are there flaws in this bill? Certainly.
Mandating health insurance without a public option to keep the insurance companies honest is a huge flaw. Universal access to health insurance is good, but the bill fails to provide universal care. It offers subsidies for people who can't afford to buy health care insurance. Unfortunately, outside of Medicare, the middle class will remain entirely dependent on a system of for-profit medicine.
The rollback of reproductive rights for women remains one of this bill's most troubling flaws. It not only restricts abortion coverage, but allows insurance companies to discriminate in their pricing against women.
There are no effective cost controls on pharmaceutical companies. As a result, we will spend about $2 trillion more than necessary on prescription drugs over the next decade.
And millions of undocumented workers won't even be able to spend their own money on insurance, for they have been completely cut out of this bill.
These flaws are balanced by some good elements, such as increased funding for community health centers, the end discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, and more money to help states pay for an expansion of Medicaid for poor people and those with disabilities.
David Frum, a staunch conservative pundit and strategist, is best known for being the speechwriter for President George W. Bush who coined the phrase "Axis of Evil" to describe Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Writing on his blog, frumforum.com, he described Sunday's vote as the "most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s," and further states that "a huge part of the blame for (Sunday's) disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves."
Criticism like this coming from within the conservative movement is worth taking notice.
Frum pulled absolutely no punches. He wrote that the biggest strategic mistake made by conservatives was to throw in their lot with the "tea party" movement. "We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat," he wrote.
Frum correctly pointed out that "the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama Administration's plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney's Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994."
If that was the case, why didn't Republicans work with President Obama to come up with a more palatable health reform plan - especially since Mr. Obama was going out of his way to compromise with Republicans?
"At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision," wrote Frum. "Unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the Administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama's Waterloo - just as health care was Clinton's in 1994."
The problem, of course, was that President Obama was elected with 53 percent of the vote in 2008, compared to Bill Clinton's 42 percent. The Democrats have larger majorities in Congress today than they did during the 1993-94 health care fight. Even though it took some time, while Republicans still thought it was 1994, Democrats had learned from Clinton's debacle and were determined it wouldn't happen again.
"There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal," wrote Frum. "But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or - more exactly - with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?"
The problem is that Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the rest of the conservative barking heads don't care about good government or civilized debate. They care about ratings and advertising and money.
"Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination," wrote Frum. "When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say - but what is equally true - is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed - if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office - Rush's listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less...
"(Sunday's) defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it's mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it's Waterloo all right: ours."
For all of the right's bluster, there is little chance the health care bill will be repealed. As Frum put it, "Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the "doughnut hole" and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents' insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there - would President Obama sign such a repeal?"
The GOP has committed itself to opposing any steps that would change our health care system, in keeping with its long tradition of being on the wrong side of history. They opposed Social Security. They opposed Medicare. And they think they can win back Congress in 2010 by trying to repeal this bill. But until the day comes when grown-ups take control back from the tea party people, the GOP will continue to dig its own grave.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.