I've been thinking a bit about the passage of the healthcare bill, Republican political prospects and the future of the US--its economy, its role in the world, and its spirit. I have a few thoughts to share, so please indulge me. This will be a long one Goldwater's Ghost, so pipe down with your complaints.
1. If you have a moment, read Ghost of Halloween Past's comments at the bottom of my post on the healthcare legislation yesterday. GHP's a great girl and all, but she's sorta at the leading edge of my whole "neo-socialism" thrust. She can--and does--write quite honestly that there isn't anything "socialist" about what will be signed today. And strictly speaking, she's right--which is why I prefer to call it "neo-socialism". This is of course, the prevailing view of the left these days--they have seen the failure of socialism as a political strategy worldwide--and they were intellectually bereft for nearly twenty years, until capitalism's latest bout with creative destruction gave them an opening. And they are POURING through it now, not armed with the theories of Marx and Lenin as in days of old, but armed with the work of social justice theorists, academics, and economists who look wistfully across the Atlantic at Europe and say, "they have it better than we". They would have us believe that capitalism and competition have failed us, and that we now need the comforting hand of the government to smooth out the inconsistencies in how Americans live their lives. Never mind that the "comforting hand" of government in our present capitalist system fails routinely to effectively and/or efficiently carry out on a small scale that which they would now have it do on a large scale. Never mind that the "comforting hand" of government--as wielded by those on the RIGHT AND THE LEFT is an un-indicted co-conspirator in the financial crisis atop which they now stand and cry "injustice" and "failure". Bottom line here? GHP is right--this healthcare legislation is not socialism. It is neo-socialism to its core, and it even more dangerous as a political force because it presents us with the "boiling frog" conundrum (NOTE TO RIDICULOUSLY LITERAL READERS--I cite this pithy little saying because of its widespread use, not because of its physiological relevance to amphibians). Put a frog in cold water and slowly raise the temperature. As the frog passes through the lovely warm water on the way to hot, he is eventually boiled without knowing what hit him. Neo-socialism is that slow boil, and it will weaken our nation over time.
2. It is possible that with this legislation--coming on top of the debt piled up by both the Bush and Obama Administrations (and with the prospect of more coming)--has created the conditions for accelerating America's decline as a world power. We simply cannot afford to spend $700B a year on defense, at the same time we greatly increase social spending and infrastructure spending, at the same time we try to cut deficits and debt, at the same time that we maintain a tax regime that fosters innovation and growth. These are incompatible ends, I am afraid. When one looks across the Atlantic at European nations and envies their high standards of living, one must also recognize that they are not the world's leading economic, military and political powers. They are comfortably numb, irrelevant diplomatically and feckless militarily. Those who would have us look to these economies as models would be horrified by their inability to do EVEN BASIC things to alleviate human suffering around the world under emergency conditions. Our military gives us the ability to change outcomes--political, military, diplomatic, and social. But it will be the bill-payer for both social programs AND debt reduction. With the loss of our military flexibility will go our influence, our capability, and our capacity.
3. I think the worst thing Republicans can do is to run around shouting "REPEAL". It seems easy, it seems right, it seems effective, it seems to be common sense. But it is a losing strategy politically. Again--GHP is right. Things COULD HAVE BEEN A LOT WORSE if she and others like her had gotten their way. But in our country, a determined majority can get things done, and that is exactly what the Democrats did. Now there are a TON of things wrong with this bill--but a good many of them won't really be apparent for YEARS. What will be apparent early? Its benefits. Just like GHP said. Extension of healthcare benefits to those without. Coverage of pre-existing conditions. Both of which are IN THE ABSTRACT very popular with the American public. When you begin to educate them (as the opposition did over the past six months), they become less enamored with the ideas. But the shouting is over, they bill passed, and guess what? Things that many Americans perceive as "good" are going to start happening RIGHT AWAY. What will be the noise heard if Republicans take the "REPEAL" strategy? "They are taking my healthcare away". "They are denying me care". There are HUGE TRAPS in pursuing this strategy--and let's face it--very few groups are as comfortable with squandering advantage as the Republican Party. Pursue this strategy and we'll find ourselves steadily declining with those we seek to influence--the apolitical, the folks in the middle, the folks who "swing elections".
4. So what to do? First, recognize that this isn't the Apocalypse. The forces of good DID have a lot of impact on the legislation (as GHP's lamentations reinforce). Are there things that are abysmal about it? Of course. So let's look REALLY hard at how to go about changing the REALLY bad things. Additionally, we need to advocate strongly for getting things INTO the system that did not make the cut--things that would actually LOWER COSTS for the 85% of people who have health insurance. Popular things--like TORT REFORM. Like SMALL BUSINESS POOLING. Like COMPETITION ACROSS STATE LINES. I know it is tempting to just "REPEAL" everything--but it is politically a non-starter, as long as a Democratic President has one end of Pennsylvania Avenue and Republicans do not possess a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. So--when's the last time Republicans had the Presidency and a filibuster-proof majority? Not in my lifetime.
So--my advice to those who might be listening--is get in there and fight to make this "system" better. Concentrate on the inefficient and unpopular--NOT the popular--parts of the legislation. Divide it and conquer it. Take the long view--and we will all be better off in the end.