Thursday, March 25, 2010


That Mike McConnell, the Senate Republican Minority Leader is one funny fellow, not just one of the drollest elected federal officials. He has done a superb job of keeping Republican Senators united in a bloc opposing almost all Democratic legislation. But this leader of the Party of No has nevertheless shown his sense of humor in his mock concern for his Democratic opposites. Toward the end of the legislative process leading to Senate approval of the health insurance reform legislation, Mitchell advised Democrats to avoid enacting a law which would come back to haunt them in the November elections.

Somewhere in America, someone is touched by this expression of concern for one’s opponents—what a good sport Mitchell is. Everyone else knows that the advice was a threat not even veiled to Democrats to vote down the legislation or face defeat at the polls. Democrats were not fooled for one moment, but I hope that they appreciated the cognitive dissonance as a cause of political mirth and merriment.

Now that the main law has passed and modifications in a reconciliation bill will soon pass, Republicans have adopted a two-pronged attack on the latest law of the land. One prong is to launch attacks on its Constitutionality. Even before the President signed the bill—no time to wait for the ink to dry—several states announced their intention to file suits testing the law in court. I have read nothing which suggests that the suits have merit, but I have read some who believe that activist Supreme Court conservatives will overturn many precedents to override laws contrary to their political views. I cannot foresee the consequences in the areas in which those precedents have defined legal behavior, some for over a century, cannot believe that they will be beneficial in the long run, but can imagine that they will be disruptive in the short run.

The other prong is to campaign on a Republican platform to repeal (and replace) this landmark legislation. Republicans assume that Americans, because they so dislike the legislation, will repudiate many Democratic candidates, cost them their Congressional seats, and perhaps return control to Republicans. Their assumption rests on their liking for good news; they trust some polls but not others. Asked about the process, Americans disapproved of the legislation; asked about its provisions, they approve of it. And when they or those whom they know and for whom they care begin to receive health insurance benefits, they are not likely to vote for those who want to take them away, even if they worry about the national debt.

For this reason, the Democrats have been daring Republicans to run on this platform. Some of them are offering up funny stuff to match Mitchell’s—advising them that this plank is a weak one and, if they walk it, will dump them in the drink come Election Day. I do not think that the advice is at all friendly, much less funny; indeed, I think that it is perverse. Given Republican antipathy to anything Democratic, I suspect that Democrats advising Republicans not to do something are really adopting a strategy of “reverse psychology” intended to get them to do it. If so, I hope the ploy works.

I can imagine that there are sensible alternative, supplemental, or modifying ideas to those incorporated in the just-passed legislation. But I did not hear them, except for a momentary hiccup (like their 19-page 2010 “budget” without numbers). Instead of offering up what they presumably regard as better ideas, Republicans preferred to oppose Democratic ideas. There is something to be said for criticism, even destructive criticism; much more to be said for constructive criticism as a prelude to constructive suggestion. Either way, after over a year of legislative activity in both Congressional chambers, Republicans have not vigorously advocated any, not to mention many, serious ideas to address the problems of health insurance: rising costs, comprehensive coverage, denial for pre-existing conditions, or rejection after disease or injury—nothing adding up to reform.

By now, you are sick and tired—need medical attention, yet?—of this issue. Me, too. I am sure that Americans’ collective exhaustion about it will make Republican reminders ever more unpalatable as Election Day approaches. Americans do not like sore losers or mean people. But I think that the recalcitrance of Republicans on this issue is itself an issue. Do they constitute a party capable of identifying the problems and introducing solutions to them? Can they get past slogans and smear? Do they need to rely on violence or threats of violence against their opponents? Now that Democratics are becoming real targets for assassination—John Boehner declared that “Steve Driehaus [a Congressman from a neighboring district] … may be a dead man. He can’t go home to the west side of Cincinnati"—are they going to go all English major on us and talk about metaphors and their surprise that anyone went all literal on them. I expect someone—will it be that funny Mitch McConnell or that other funny Michael Steele?—to say it was just a joke—no kidding.

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