Tag Archives: Tea Party

The Morning After (Part 1)

9 March 2015

Credit where Credit is Due: Senator Ted Cruz Saved Obamacare

By J. S. Chavez

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. Obamacare, website was in shambles in November of 2013 as technicians worked 24/7 to fix the hardware and spinmeisters in the West wing worked 24/7 to shore up its image. Millions of dollars intended to fund an advertising blitz to drive people to the Healthcare.gov website were (understandably) on hold.  Secretary of Health and Human Services,  Kathleen Sebelius, took a well deserved drubbing from Congress for her part in the debacle and the site continued to limp along, harassed by higher-than-expected traffic and inadequate administrative and technical support. It was ugly, but they muddled through, and somewhere along the way Obamacare arrived. Still, this is not how you treat the signature legislation of a two-term presidency. You don’t leave your first new car, the one you bought with the money you scrimped and saved by working three part time jobs, forgoing parties, forsaking friends, and denying yourself a single new outfit for a whole year, parked in the street next to the crack den on Saturday night with the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition. You wouldn’t do that, right? You’d pamper that car.  You’d drive five miles per hour under the speed limit, avoiding potholed streets and fresh asphalt. You’d lovingly scratch the squashed bugs off the windshield with your own self-manicured fingernails. You’d wash it everyday, with warm water and mild soap and carefully chamois the water off. You’d be sure to keep the tires properly inflated and you’d park it in the shade so as not to fade the interior or age the paint.   

YOU WOULDN’T TAKE ANY CHANCES THAT SOMETHING BAD WOULD HAPPEN TO RUIN WHAT YOU WORKED SO LONG AND HARD FOR! Right?

President Obama, Kathleen Sebelius, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the rest of the hapless hacks whose job it was to launch the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should be lining up to give Senator Ted Cruz a big, sloppy wet kiss. That the Obamacare team should find itself in bed with Cruz after the collapse of the Obamacare site is one thing but that they should be grateful for his company would have been impossible to predict when they hooked up in October of 20113. They should take pictures of themselves screwing the ACA pooch while Cruz looks on. I’m not sure this would rise to the definition of bestiality but it works as evidence. Ponder the alternate political reality we would all be living had Cruz not put his own self interest ahead of that of his party and his country, and had Speaker John Boehner actually led the House rather that pandering to it’s basest elements. Right, too far-fetched but, suppose, just suppose, that Republican House members had agreed to a reasonable budget in time to avoid a shutdown. The Healthcare.gov site would have imploded anyway and Republicans, instead of doing the walk of shame, would look like the reasonable, responsible legislators they so often pretend to be. Given how difficult it is for them to “effectively connect with voters” (see 16 Days in October, Part 4) they are not likely to get another opportunity like that for, well, ever.  I mean, what the hell was the administration thinking? The White House spent weeks dodging, weaving, spinning, vacillating between mea culpas and passing the buck, but generally having to acknowledge that they screwed up, if not quite owning the screw up. Seldom have we seen so much freely given political capital (the shutdown) dissipated so quickly, wantonly, and extravagantly. And so it went as one of the most profound unforced errors in the history of American social policy staggered through its painful, incompetent debut. 

However, the Obama administration seems to have gotten away with it, as a practical matter.  ACA enrollments are ahead of predictions, premiums are being paid, costs of premiums are not going through the roof, enough young people are signing up to ensure the viability of the program, and a healthy majority of people who have taken part, including those who identify themselves as Republicans, have been satisfied with their coverage.

As a political matter, it seems unlikely that the Right  will move on from here.  On the other hand, few seem to believe that the ACA is likely to be undone, even at this early stage.  By 2016, the prospect  of going back to the way things were is not likely to be any more tenable. Still, the Tea Party is alive, if not entirely well, and still flexing their muscle. 

One day soon, the passage and implementation of the ACA may go down as one of the greatest political achievements of all time. And we have Ted Cruz to thank for that.

16 Days in October (Part 2)

 20 January 2015

There goes the neighborhood…

The Know Nothing/Do Nothing 113th Congress may have been noteworthy for their lack of legislative accomplishments but I fear that they may not suffer by comparison to their immediate successors.  The intransigence of Know Nothing Republicans is not likely to be tempered by the failed coup of October 2013.  The districts that elected the 80 Know Nothing Representatives who held the country hostage will still be safe Republican districts, probably even after the coming mid-term elections.

Yes, Republican gerrymandering played a role in 2012, but those gerrymandered districts were mostly drawn in Republican strongholds anyway.  (See Nate Cohn’s take) Our country is self-segregating.  Many aging baby boomers are migrating to urban areas for easier access to cultural venues and a less automobile-oriented lifestyle. Overall, the US is becoming more diverse, racially and culturally. But many rural Republican districts are actually becoming “whiter.” Constituents in these homogeneous communities fret about the threat to an American way of life (that never really existed), posed by illegal immigrants, abortion rights, “death panels,” government regulation, and yes, Socialists.

There seems to be a popular perception that the Tea Party sprang up, spontaneously, in 2009, shortly after the election of America’s first black president. But present day social conservatives have much in common with the late Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority back in 1976. The present day Know Nothings put politics just ahead of religion whereas the Moral Majority had it the other way around.

Back in the late ’70s there were pundits who felt that the naifs who made up the Moral Majority were being taken for a ride by the GOP establishment, that they had been seduced by a superficial conservative social agenda and were unwittingly advancing a grander agenda which they didn’t fully understand and couldn’t participate in. Some observers even went so far as to say that, eventually, the Moral Majority constituents would recognize that the political ideologies of the Democrats were more to their liking than those of the Republicans. (So, who was naïve there?)

The mainstream GOP has long and masterfully outmaneuvered the Democrats by exploiting working class, rural, and under educated voters, who realized little benefit from the fiscal policies promoted by the likes of the Koch brothers, Heritage Action, and others who spend big on the extreme right, by appealing to their latent fears and prejudices. Mitt Romney’s classically daft “47%” comment is cited by some as the deciding factor in the 2012 election. However, given the demographics of the people in that 47% group, it’s likely that most of those 47% (the ones who actually voted) voted for Romney anyway, despite his outright disdain for them.  

16 Days in October (Part 1)

12 January 2015

The Dodo is Extinct…The Wacko Bird is Alive and Well

“You do not take a hostage you are not going to for sure shoot, and we will not for sure shoot this hostage.”

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)

Another national election season is upon us and the field of potential Republican presidential candidates is as thick as locusts. Given Republicans’ approach to problem solving (remember the government shutdown?) does the GOP candidate exist who would not alienate the vast majority of the electorate?

There used to be a saying in national politics: Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line.  The first part is probably still true. Democrats are less likely to vote for a candidate purely because he/she is their party’s nominee if the candidate does not inspire passion. Republicans, on the other hand could always be counted on to turn out the vote, weather be damned, no matter who their nominee was, because theirs was a top-down organization. This disciplined approach to electioneering served the party well for decades and that, coupled with their fund-raising advantage and superior knack for appealing to the everyman, made them a force to be reckoned with.

Something has changed. These days the Republican party looks a lot like the maniacal melange of characters gleefully portrayed by Tony Collett, whose protagonist, Tara, suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID) in Showtime’s “The United States of Tara.” The title of the show is ironic but, then, so is the GOP, self-identified as the party of fiscal responsibility.

So, how did the party that could be counted on never to air its dirty laundry in public become the disfunctional family whose internal disagreements spill into the street and wake up the neighbors?

Dog Day Afternoon

In August of 2013, 80 House Republicans sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner suggesting that he use the threat of a government shutdown to defund the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  (Charles Krauthammer dubbed them the “Suicide Caucus.”) The Suicide Caucus was largely composed of Representatives of southern and upper midwestern, (mostly) red states. None of these states are on the West coast or in the major population centers of the East coast and New England. These 80 House districts represented just 18% of the US population – though the US population they represent is not representative of the US.  These districts are whiter, more rural, and far more Republican than the country as a whole.  Despite widespread criticism of the tactic from the more moderate wing of the party, the Suicide Caucus, egged on by fellow “wacko bird” Senator Ted Cruz, took the US Government and the world economy hostage. Standard and Poors estimated that the shutdown cost the US economy $24 billion and substantially reduced fourth quarter GDP. True to it’s nickname, the Suicide Caucus went down in flames, though its demise was not nearly as dramatic, nor as noble, as they wanted it to be.

“We’re not going to be disrespected”
Representative Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind) to The Washington Examiner.

(He was wrong.)

The Suicide Caucus’s initial demand to defund Obamacare as a condition for agreeing to a budget was quickly abandoned as unobtainable, and the ensuing drama devolved into a deluge of disfunctional demands which decreased in relevance and legitimacy as the fiasco wore on.

The ransom note(s): (Courtesy of Rachel Maddow. The comments are mine.)

  • Defund Obamacare
  • Delay Obamacare
  • Delay the Individual Mandate
  • Deny Coverage for the President
  • Deny coverage for the cabinet
  • Deny coverage to congressional staffers
  • Deny birth control coverage
  • Means testing for Medicare (Actually, a good idea. How did that get in there?)
  • Change federal employee pensions
  • Approve the Keystone pipeline
  • Expand oil drilling 
  • Block net neutrality
  • Tort reform
  • Weaken regs for coal-fired power plants
  • Tax code changes (Also a good idea but not the way they intended)
  • Thwart EPA coal-ash regulations
  • Repeal the medical device tax
  • Change rules on debt ceiling

The GOP has long been the party of fiscal and social conservatism.  This, even though social conservatives, who tend to be religious, often don’t have a clue as to what fiscal conservatism is all about. And many country club Republicans only pay lip service to conservative social values, for the sake of party unity. Mainstream fiscal conservatives are more likely to live on one of the coasts rather than in the rural bible belt, the domain of social conservatives. Monied Republicans are only loosely tied to rural conservatives by a shared dread of change. Change is bad for your bottom line—or it might be.  (Why take the chance?) If you are socially conservative you don’t want change because things are the way God intended (else, why would they be this way?) and you are bound to follow God’s will.

The issue of gay marriage may be the quintessential example of the divide between the two factions. Does anyone suppose that the cause of gay marriage (which is near to becoming the law of the land) would have made the gains it has in the last few years without the support of many mainstream Republicans?  Fiscal conservatives, business people, have gone public, first with tepid expressions of tolerance of gay unions but, increasingly, with full-fledged endorsements of gay marriage.  Why? The short answer is that gay marriage is good for the economy.

Listening to the rantings of the Know Nothing Suicide Caucus one was struck by the other worldliness of their point of view.  The “keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” ignorance of Tea Party constituents would be amusing if it weren’t also echoed by their elected representatives—at least when it serves their purpose.   Mainstream Republicans are no better. After all, they don’t necessarily disagree with the Know Nothings’ point of view, only their tactics. Their insistence that Obamacare is a “train wreck” that is “doomed to fail,” that it will “bankrupt the country” and is “causing thousands of people to lose their jobs” before it was implemented, mind you, borders on delusional.  The plain fact is that the state of health care in the US was a “train wreck” that was bankrupting the country and causing thousands of people to lose their jobs.  Not to mention that it isn’t any better than health care elsewhere that costs a third as much.