Monday, March 22, 2010

Obamacare: Thank You, Scott Brown

The New York Times on Sunday, March 21, ran an article purporting to explain how health care reform came back from the dead, so to speak. The article cited the proposed 40% increase in premiums by an insurance company in California and a letter from a woman in Ohio who had to choose between keeping her house or her health insurance. She chose the former. Now maybe these events changed things, maybe. But here is a better or at least another explanation.

The election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts' special election to fill the seat of the deceased Ted Kennedy did the trick. How so? Well, it is crucial to note that all politicians have at least two concerns, first, maintaining the political status quo which means continuing in office and maintaining the prevailing political alignments. Second, they are interested in getting some things done, advancing their agendas. Of course, as is only logical, the first is more important than the second. And as a result of Brown's election to the Senate this concern came into play for the Republicans with the result that Brown's election boxed them in with regard to health care reform.

It is important to recall that Brown was not propelled to office by virtue of Republican votes or influence. Rather, it was the votes of those like the Tea Partiers and their influence that led to his election. The Tea Partiers are not Republicans; they are an insurgency and, as such, threaten to upset the status quo, meaning voting even Republicans out of office and undermining the power of the Republican Party elites as those now exist. Hence, the insurgency had to be addressed. How to do that? Well, it required standing absolutely opposed to any health care reform worthy of a name and certainly against any such reform that looked consistent with what Obama and the Democrats wanted. In this way, the Tea Partiers, the insurgents, would be satisfied and, with luck, controlled, while not being ignored.

So, given the forces that elected Scott Brown to the US Senate, the Republicans could not budge on health care, could not compromise, and they became "the party of No," as Obama and Democrats put it. The Republicans became, for all practical purposes, obstructionists and little more. But obstructionism rarely works well in our political order - just ask Dennis Kucinich who tried to be an obstructionist on the Democratic side. Why is this the care? Long story. Made short it has to do with the character of "government," and the inherent notion that governments are suppose to be active.

But, bottom line, Obama perhaps saw this and moved to regain the "high ground" by presenting himself as willing to act, even to act in concert with the Republicans. But the Republicans could not meet him half way without undermining their support among the Tea Party types, i.e., the deeply disaffected from the "conservative" side of the aisle. The Republicans were between a rock and a hard place and, to preserve their power [the status quo within their party] they said "NO!" Because Obama does not have to worry about the Tea Party types - they will never vote for him or most of the Democrats - he does not have to worry about their insurgency and he can motivate his base by pointing out the illogic of the Republicans telling Democrats that if they pass health care reform they will be voted out of office in huge numbers. Why would the Republicans want to warn Democrats of their own impending doom? Doesn't make sense.

So, objectively as it were, after the election of Scott Brown, the political landscape favored Obama and reform. To his credit, Obama or someone with him noticed this and moved "forward," becoming "transparent" because it served their purposes and not because they were embracing "transparency" as a principle. Even Kucinich had to come along. Obama is no genius; he just read the tea leaves and acted accordingly. Good for him - and, I think, good for us.

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