Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Was it ever really about health care?

I need to go to bed soon, but here's something I was musing about when I was flitting from alarm to alarm for twelve hours at work last night. It's not a new idea - really, it's something that's been in the back of my head from day one - or at least from when the de facto leader of the Republican party, when asked what his hopes were for the newly inaugurated Obama administration, responded simply "I hope he fails."

I think that the organized opposition to health care reform had almost nothing to do with health care reform. Health care reform provided a context, but I think if President Obama had made his top priority jobs creation, or economic recovery, or baseball, motherhood, and apple pie, the same coalition would have mustered the same fury to thwart the successful achievement of his stated objective.

We'll see if that is true in coming months, as the focus moves on to other topics.*

And what have they accomplished?

1. They very nearly succeeded in thwarting the top priority of the President they hate so much. That in itself is a huge achievement - and if they had succeeded, this would be a completely different situation.

2. They forced proponents of health care reform to invest enormous amounts of effort into getting it passed - far more than they had expected would be necessary, or allocated for. What other priorities will not, can not be pursued as a result of this extra energy cost? Each one that has fallen by the wayside can be counted as a collateral victory, even if the stated objective of stopping health care reform was ultimately unsuccessful (But see *, below.)

3. They have poisoned the political landscape. See the chapter "I Grow Discouraged About the Tone" in Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them for more information. Of course, this was written years before any of this happened. Now populist politics is a no-rules, no-holds-barred game. I think in the future we will look at the organized assaults on last summer's town hall meetings as being a happy memory of a more genteel time.

4. They have demonized the opposition. They have convinced so many of the people that stand to benefit the most from health care reform that the members of Congress - Democrats all - who voted for health care reform are pure evil, blood-sucking baby-killing demons from the deepest pits of hell. So come election time, will you vote for them, or for whichever Republican is set against them?

In the end, I think that's what it's all about. Politics. Power. Who controls Congress. Health care reform had almost nothing to do with it. The goals would have been the same regardless, and I suspect that the methods used to achieve those ends would have been the same.

*Of course, the opposing forces have still vowed to continue to fight the battle they just lost. Jeering that it's just a flesh wound, I suppose. "The Black Knight always triumphs!"

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