Rename and Repair “Affordable Care”


The struggle over the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, ended a crucial round last month, when, in the Senate, three Republicans–Susan Collins, John McCain, and Lisa Murkowski–joined Democrats in voting down the so-called “skinny repeal.”  Despite Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and despite the president’s scornful goading, the GOP has at long last stopped in its tracks: it has heard, from far off in the hinterland, the howl of the people.  To repeal the Affordable Care Act, to discontinue its hallmark features, has become politically unacceptable in the US.

Partisan representations of the bill notwithstanding, the guarantee of affordable medical coverage for all, which is at the heart of “Obamacare,” has become a grail to the American people.  Kate Zernike and Abby Goodnough of the New York Times co-authored a fascinating article describing how a sea-change in popular sentiment, running increasingly in support of the ACA, has occurred along with its threatened repeal.  First-hand understanding of the bill’s provisions and benefits are driving Americans to an acceptance of universal coverage that makes the GOP’s top-down rhetoric a tougher sell.  Americans do not want to return to the “bad old days” when insurers could turn sick or at-risk customers away.  They do not want millions of Americans who are now insured to lose the benefits guaranteed them under the ACA.

Politically, then, the President and the GOP face the issue of how to Affordable Care their own.  (After all, it has the makings of a smashing success!)  During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump wasn’t at the forefront of those calling for the ACA’s repeal.  He was the reasonable candidate then, wanting to find solutions that would remedy the defects of the legislation.  During the debates, he suggested eliminating state-level restrictions to allow insurers to create pools across state lines.  Ironically, President Trump has since decided that scapegoating others is essential to his popularity, a conviction that has led him away from an approach to health care that was more constructive and reasoned.  Has the President never heard the saying, “Revenge is a dish that is best served cold”?

Were I a Republican, I would vow never to utter the word “Obamacare” again.  Members of the Republican Party stand to become heroes by repairing the Affordable Care Act and re-branding it to heighten its associations with compassion and inclusion.  Forget about wreaking revenge on Obama.  Listen to the people.  Collaborate with Democrats.  Deliver a shared triumph to the nation.  It will matter far more than any partisan loss.

Image: from this source.
“The National Dime Museum” by Bernhard Gillam
is a send-up of leading American politicians circa 1884.

A Stress Test for the Constitution

Soon after the election, a friend envisioned Trump’s presidency as “a stress test for the Constitution and all of its institutions.”  This is proving to be the case, for reasons that are both collective and peculiar to Trump and his administration.

Collectively, his presidency has halted, and aspires to reverse, the direction American government took under President Obama, a direction decried in some quarters but one charted in careful accordance with the law.  The Affordable Care Act, which some Republicans so revile, was nonetheless “ratified” after a protracted but open struggle by both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court.

In other areas, President Obama’s use of executive power, though politically unwise, was legally defensible.  His approach to reducing carbon emissions, so hated and feared in some quarters, took shape only after a long period of public comment and after his legal team was certain the new guidelines could withstand a Constitutional challenge.  President Obama exercised discretion in whether and how to enforce immigration laws, but, as Richard Lugar, a former US Senator from Indiana, has observed, every president has done the same, since all have lacked the means to see that the laws on the books were fully enforced.  Lugar, a moderate who was one of Capitol Hill’s most influential Republicans before a member of his own party “primaried” him from the right, driving him from office, wrote in the New York Times that, given the howls of outrage over Obama’s immigration policies, one would never guess that his administration had “vastly exceeded the deportations under President George W. Bush,” just as Bush’s had vastly exceeded those of President Clinton.

President Obama sought to move the nation and the Democratic Party in a new direction, but he was not a party leader, and he did not wait for a bipartisan consensus that he knew was never coming to emerge.  In his second term, he focused increasingly on what he could do without Congress–but to the extent that his victories lacked Congress’s active assent they were unsustainable.  They were simply too far ahead of the collective political will.  In the meantime, Obama’s dogged pursuit of his own grand vision hid the senescence of the Democratic Party.

As the first person of color to occupy the presidency, Barack Obama symbolized the America we are fitfully becoming–a nation that is truly inclusive and color-blind.  As a symbol and agent of that change, he aroused a lot of resentment and fear, emotions that candidate Trump and some other Republicans inflamed to their benefit in the campaign.

The stunning political triumph of a charismatic outsider, the shattered GOP’s success at hanging on to power, and the dangerous eclipse of the Democratic party: these are the three huge interrelated events whose consequences are shaking the political community, from the nation’s most powerful institutions to its polarized citizenry, united only in its demand for responsible governance.

Image: “Save yourself”
@2017 Susan Barsy

Day 50: A Change in the Political Atmosphere

Day 50 beautiful aerial of blue ocean and sky
The atmosphere of the presidential race has changed, with ardent Democrats conscious of a tightening race.  Despite Donald Trump’s negative qualities, he has doggedly chipped away at Hillary Clinton’s lead.  Recent polls, whether from Reuters or CBS, show Clinton’s lead in the battleground states vanishing or perilously thin.  John Zogby, writing in Forbes, has the two candidates in a dead heat for the lead, with Jill Stein and Gary Johnson siphoning off enough support to deny either of the other two an advantage.  The particulars don’t matter as much as this general point: it’s getting more difficult to dismiss Trump and more necessary to admit he could end up in the Oval Office.

It might be unthinkable; but impossible, no.

Over the weekend, John Podhoretz published a column in the New York Post, excoriating Democrats for their misguided belief in Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.  He blames the establishment for failing to vet or challenge her sufficiently.  Even Bernie Sanders’ astonishingly strong showing against her in the primaries failed to awaken party loyalists to the stubborn limits of her appeal.  Some Democrats remain baffled as to why the electorate has not swung toward a candidate they regard as likeable and decent.  It’s painful to admit she offers too little in the way of the backbone and implacability the nation wants.

Meanwhile, Trump, formerly intent on misbehaving himself into oblivion, has subtly shifted his strategy, putting more time into dignified niche appearances (like Monday’s at the Economics Club of New York, which some business channels aired in its entirety) and less into vociferous and controversial rallies.  Fearful of throwing away his shot, Trump has stepped up his game.  He wants to win and senses he can.

Oddly, he suddenly chose to lay to rest the birther controversy, admitting last week (after years of claiming otherwise) that Barack Obama was born in the US rather than elsewhere abroad.  Why bother?  Because admitting the truth—that President Obama is an American—is going to help Trump with African-Americans more generally.  An LA Times poll registers increasing support for Trump among that constituency, prompting the president to warn African-Americans that he will view it as a ‘personal insult’ if they don’t turn out for Clinton.  Meanwhile, Trump’s simple message to urban blacks—that years of the Democratic rule have failed to deliver the safety, employment, and access to decent schools that they deserve—is resonating.

RELATED READING:
Niall Ferguson, “The Fight Isn’t Going Clinton’s Way” (Boston Globe)