Latest Newspaper Column
A week ago, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to enact a sweeping reform of the nation's health-care system. A lot has been written about who should take the credit (or blame) for passage of the bill after almost a year of often acrimonious debate. But today, I want to thank the people who really made it possible, the unsung heroes, if you will, that really helped make health-care reform the law of the land.
I'm talking, of course, about the Republican Party.
Last July, Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina revealed the true Republican goal. "If we stop Obama on this," he said, "it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."
After that, it was, as the kids say, on.
They pulled out all the stops. Sarah Palin raved on her Facebook page about nonexistent "death panels." Far-right bloggers and talk show hosts whipped "tea partiers" into a frenzy over "government-run health care" (although, judging from the apparent age of most of them, they were already on government-run health care, i.e., Medicare).
Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted "you lie!" at the president during a congressional address. The Republicans carped that Obama had promised the debate would be televised, and then, when he called a televised "health care summit" with them, derided it as a "PR stunt."
The ones that showed up provided a "plan" that was to "scrap all your proposals and start over." (Remember, to a Republican, "bipartisanship" is a code word for "do everything we demand or we'll say nasty things about you, except we'll say nasty things about you anyway.") GOP lawmakers predicted "the death of the Senate" over parliamentary procedures that they themselves had frequently used in the past.
Eventually, it became clear to everyone that there was no compromise with these people, that they were going to vote against whatever plan came up in the House or the Senate. That left President Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi free to concentrate on lobbying their own fractious party.
That's never an easy task, with single-payer advocates like Dennis Kucinich on the left, social conservatives like Bart Stupak on the right, and conservative Blue Dog Democrats scattered about. But the behavior of the Republicans made their task that much easier.
Sun Tzu, in "The Art of War," offered this advice: "In death ground, fight." It became apparent that this was, indeed, meant by the GOP to be the Democrats' "death ground." If this failed, the president and the speaker warned, every Democrat would spend every news cycle from now until the midterm elections with the GOP talking heads and their lapdogs in the media hanging the "loser" sign around their necks and deriding the President's and Congress' "inability to get anything done."
They developed a plan to vote "yes" on the Senate bill, then send a filibuster-proof package of changes to the Senate, where the reconciliation process provides only for what Republicans used to routinely demand: "an up-or-down vote." At which point, Republicans howled that an up-or-down, majority vote was, literally, tyranny of Hitlerian proportions.
Gradually, as their opponents got crazier and crazier, the recalcitrant Dems fell into line. Kucinich signed on, reluctantly, to the bill. Stupak, who'd fretted about federal money going to fund abortions, agreed to a face-saving executive order that said that the bill would -follow current law that already forbade such funding.
But, as he found out, that doesn't help you with Republicans, one of whom shouted "baby-killer!" at him on the House floor. In the end, the bill and the reconciliation package passed in the House with votes to spare.
So thanks, Republicans. By announcing early on that you meant to "break" their party's president, then using every lie, slur, whack-job conspiracy theory, drama-queen display, and outright thuggish tactic in your arsenal to try to make that happen, you helped bring the Democratic Party together. Not completely, but enough. The president and the speaker couldn't have done it without you.
Now, they announce, they intend to run this fall on a platform of repealing the bill. They'll be trying to make it possible once again for insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and drop you when you get sick. They'll be trying to reopen the Medicare "doughnut hole" and cost seniors more for their medicine. They'll be trying to repeal tax credits for small business to help them buy insurance.
Go ahead, guys. Knock yourselves out.