Nothing brings out America’s political schizophrenia like Medicare. The program is universally popular with consumers, and universally seen as a necessity by providers. Despite these facts, the reality is that Medicare is Socialism. The program ranks behind only Social Security and public education (by percentage of GDP) in the United States welfare state (with police, firefighting, and Medicaid ranking behind it). In 2009, literally millions of independent and conservative voters were convinced to fight health care reform on the grounds that it damaged Medicare, the United States’ preeminent example of Socialism. Confusion reigns supreme!
But American politics likes when a program inspires schizophrenia, because it means American politicians can use the program like a weapon. During the aforementioned debate over health care reform, Republicans (who fought Medicare’s enaction in the 1960′s and have spent decades trying to kill it), used the cuts to Medicare against the Democrats. The Affordable Care Act provides for $500 billion worth of direct cuts, reimbursement changes, and quality programs to Medicare over a 10 year period. None of the cuts will deny coverage or service, focused as they were on reductions designed to force providers to be more efficient, and the elimination of subsidies for the Medicare Advantage Program. This idea sounds suspiciously like fiscal responsibility, but it was a convenient and well-used weapon in the conservative arsenal circa 2009.
Filed under the heading of useless government action; the Republican House (and three Democrats) voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In truth, they voted for the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act”, a magnificent example of snake-oil salesmanship. The action has no real political meaning; the Senate will never see the legislation because Republicans don’t have the votes to either open the debate or invoke cloture to force a vote. If the Senate were to pass a complement, President Obama would veto the action, and there aren’t enough votes in the House to override his veto.
But lets set aside the action, and move swiftly to the conservative premise for its taking. “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act”, is the title, and it purports to explain the reason the GOP moved against the law. It isn’t immediately apparent why a law that addresses the principal source of American industry’s lack of competitiveness with European business would be a job killer. But Speaker Boehner has an answer, and his answer is a stunning example of hypocrisy and economic smoke and mirrors. We all, I am sure, remember that time long ago (two weeks ago), when the Speaker dismissed the CBO as “opinion”. We all also remember when then-Minority Leader Boehner consistently slammed the CBO over its scoring of the bill as a deficit-reducer.
My personal memories of 2010 will be less than stellar; outside of the growth of this blog there is a paucity of professional accomplishments to celebrate. Politically, 2010 will stand as one of the most confusing years in the history of our nation. The hallmark of this year is the level to which political message has risen above real political action and governance. This is the year where the transformation of political parties has come to fruition. Once instruments that supported and nurtured a set of principles, Democrats and Republicans have outgrown their simple and honest purpose. Principles are now defined and crafted to suit the ambitions of the parties.
Republicans have long been proficient at political branding; indeed, the conservative success of the last thirty years is linked directly to their ability to push Democrats away from their own name. But 2010 stands as a shining example of that talent in action. In 2008, Americans had reason to firmly reject the notions of supply side economics and interventionist foreign policies that conservatism had wrought. The Republican Party was dead, the pundits declared, and it would be a long stay in the wilderness before they returned. President Obama’s pragmatism and ability to work across the aisle (demonstrated in the Senate), would preclude real controversies. Domination of the Senate and House by the Democrats would allow for the orderly procession of problem-solving legislation. 2010 culminates a very different 2 year period from the one predicted by the pundits.
It is the singular measure of the extremes our nation is swinging between that our political debate so often involves the Constitution. A brilliant document and the creation of great compromise, our Constitution serves as the foundation and framing of the nation. The cement was poured and set over 200 years ago, and the framing has been added, in the form of amendments, at various intervals since that time. In our great arrogance today, we have decided that every problem requires a Constitutional remedy. This practice is apparent at the level of state politics, where activists have turned to amendments to codify attacks on marital rights. It is now becoming evident at the federal level, where both “sides” of the ideological spectrum have lined up the Constitution in their sights.
Changing the foundation and framing of our great structure is, first and foremost, an act of destruction. Demolition must occur, and in this type of work, blow back is inevitable. Typically, an amendment is added to correct an overwhelming injustice when that injustice is favored by the bulk of society. Representative Aaron Schock’s recent statements on the judicial ruling against California’s Proposition 8 (a referendum that banned gay marriage), were beside the point. He disagreed with the ruling because he stated it was against the will of the people. He is wrong because protecting individual rights, after all, is the act of protecting those classes who cannot protect themselves against the power of the majority.
We live in the era of permanent campaigns. Elections which used to be contained within the month or year of the actual voting, now form a constant backdrop to the democracy. Alongside the toxic commentary and baseless opinions that dominate cable “news”, voters can see a constant parade of poll results. What we the people aren’t shown, is the question order, context, or full spectrum of questions found in the polls. As with all reporting, it is the information that we don’t see or hear that demonstrate the bias or intent of the source.
The original intent of political polling is customer service; a politician or business asks the customers what their feelings are in order to better design the service. But polling has taken on a very different role in U.S. politics today. Winning the “battle” of public opinion on specific bills is the key to the process; prove you can drive approval, and networks, newspapers, and magazines will follow your cues. Prove you can drive a story, and political allies and fundraisers will flock to your banner. Polling, and the poor standard of reporting that accompanies the art, are the foundation for the straw-man strategy that political operatives have now perfected.
For years, America has been treated to a steady attack on poor people. When bad things happened over hill and dell, you could bet that poor people were the cause. White poor people in Appalachia, brown poor people in the Southwest, and black poor people everywhere; where there was crime, despair, or peeling picket fences, there was poor people. Poor people, it seemed, were poor because they didn’t like work. Poor people were poor because they were lazy. As with many arguments, there were, and are, nuggets of truth to the claims. Some percentage of the poor, perhaps even a significant percentage, were and are lazy. But much of the focus on the poor was of a political nature.
Democrats, starting in the 1960′s, began to specialize in getting the poor vote. Republicans, beginning with the Reagan Democrats in 1980, started drafting working class Americans to vote against programs perceived as catering to the poor. Class division, after all, is such a wonderful tool for creating electoral momentum. But we have moved past the poor in today’s America. Much of the architecture set up to ensure help for the poor has fallen by the wayside; even our education system is being pushed out of relevance. Nowadays, the political powers that be have picked out a new target; the working class.