Regarding That Impossible Dream

France has given us centuries of brilliant thinkers, and Italy gave us all those wonderful operas, and Germany gave us Nazis and Wagner, but Spain never did toss in all that much. Picasso moved to Paris as fast as he could, as did Salvador Dalí a generation later. Spain was just a place you were from, kind of like Pittsburgh – but there was Cervantes. In the first decade of the seventeenth century, Cervantes pretty much invented the novel with Don Quixote – and in the process Cervantes also invented the modern hero, such as he was. Don Quixote, the hero of the tale, was at odds with the world, which was a mean and nasty place, when it wasn’t indifferent. Quixote pretended it wasn’t, or he was delusional – he believed in honor and love and all the rest, and found himself tilting at windmills. He was a fool, or a noble dreamer, or both, and that resonated with all readers everywhere. Quixote then became Huck Finn and Jake Barnes and Holden Caulfield and every other literary hero trying to make this sorry world make sense. In Cervantes’ tale the effort was elaborately comic – the guy was absurd – and then, finally, tragic – but noble. Writers that followed Cervantes adjusted the mix to suit their times, but the general idea persisted, and Cervantes’ novel has never been out of print. That’s what Spain gave the world, the guy who tries to do the right thing, even if it can’t be done. Do we laugh, or cry?

Most Americans only know the original tale from that 1965 musical The Man of La Mancha – always playing somewhere, even if it’s some high school’s big spring production or featured at an obscure dinner-theater in Tulsa. And the show-stopper is that song about The Impossible Dream – easy enough to sing, and filled with pathos. The Spanish Inquisition was no fun at all, and even a goofy amateur actor playing Don Quixote can deliver that one key line of dialog with devastating effect – “The only battles worth fighting are losing battles.”

That’s uplifting. That gives people courage and hope – every man and woman in the audience sits up a little straighter – but Cervantes’ point was that that’s also absurd. Fighting on, when the battle seems lost, does show character, but fighting on, when the battle is over, is another thing entirely. It’s best not to confuse the two. Think of it in terms of sports. Fans want their team, even if they’re losing badly, to give it everything until the last second of the game. That’s noble and good. Seeing their team standing around on the field, after the other team has showered and boarded the bus for home, is comic. Or think of it in terms of politics. Obamacare has been the law of the land for three years now, and it’s being implemented, and the Republicans are still out there on the field. It may well be that the only battles worth fighting are losing battles, but battles that are over can no longer be fought. There’s no one out there on the field with you. Everyone moved on. You’ll find yourself tilting at windmills.

Most Republicans are beginning to realize this, and Chuck Todd and his team at First Read report on the adjustments they’re making:

After losing the last two presidential contests, after the damaging government shutdown, and the midst of a still-ongoing ideological battle inside the party, Republicans clearly have the political advantage when it comes to health care. They scored points on the federal website’s woes; they bruised President Obama over those private-market cancellation notices; they’ve highlighted the security concerns; and they’ve played the card that Americans might not be able to keep their doctors. But are they beginning to run out of ammunition?

They are, but they have a plan:

Today, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is taking a page out of the 2010/2012 playbook hitting Senate Democrats on the well-worn $700-billion-in-Medicare-cuts charge (when House Republicans have adopted those very cuts – to providers, not beneficiaries — in their own budget); the NRSC says the hit is in response to the Democrats’ own well-worn Medicare attacks.

Ah hell – it’s time to fight about something else – and this item also mentions that Republican leaders are no longer talking about repeal. Americans are now out there purchasing their new health insurance. It’s a done deal, and this item also notes that “not a single Republican lawmaker used the word ‘repeal’ on a Sunday show in the last two weeks.” What would be the point of that now? Repeal would mean taking away what many have wanted for so long and are now finally getting – just some way to get health insurance, so they don’t go bankrupt if their kid breaks his leg. Do you really want to snatch that away, at Christmastime?

All they’ve got is this:

House Republicans tell us that their plan is to continue to highlight individual stories about canceled plans and higher costs. “As they continue to lose their plans, find that every available replacement costs more, and lose access to their doctor, we will continue to highlight those issues,” House Speaker Boehner spokesman Michael Steel says. “There will be other issues along the way (security and privacy issues on the website, for example, or the limited options available under Medicaid), but hammering on the broken promises that people see every day will continue to be at the heart of it.”

This is not over:

Fellow Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck adds that the NRSC’s Medicare hit “is a tried and true campaign hit, so it shouldn’t be surprising they are continuing to talk about it, but don’t let that give you any idea that we feel anything less than in the drivers’ seat with plenty to talk about.”

Chuck Todd and his team beg to differ. Republicans are running out of new attacks. We’ve returned to 2012 – the same old same old – and the generally conservative Kathleen Parker points out how bad things are for the folks on her side:

Even if the president at times resembles Baghdad Bob, the Iraqi spokesman who said everything’s fine here as U.S. bombs exploded in the background, Republicans are the shock-and-awe gang with no plan for the day after.

Democrats have targeted the GOP’s soft spot, which is a hard line on social services. Thus, when Republicans want to drastically cut food stamps, it is a piece of cake (and not the moldy sort Marie Antoinette suggested the peasants eat) to designate conservatives as cruel and heartless.

When Republicans say the healthcare plan is doomed, a train wreck, a disaster, etc. – and offer no hopeful options – they appear to be rooting only for failure.

This approach is a blessing for Democrats, who have responded by shining a light on success stories: the 25-year-old who gets to stay on his parents’ insurance plan another year, the child or elderly parent with a preexisting condition who now can get insurance, the family who never could afford insurance and now can, thanks to…well, all those people who are now mandated to buy insurance of a certain type or else.

Comparing approaches, President Obama is wearing love beads and planting flowers in the gun barrels of the Republican guard.

All this drives her crazy, because it’s so unfair, but she wants her side to face facts:

What Democrats know keenly – and Republicans seem never to learn – is that positive beats negative every time. Thus, we see MSNBC’s clever montage of Republican negativity: A series of unfriendly faces decrying the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with apocalyptic language. Which would any everyday American prefer? The healer or the doomsayer? The elves or the orcs?

This is not precisely reality, but perception drives policy as much as reality does. The key for Republicans is to drop the negative attacks and refocus energies on the positives of their plans. They have some, right?

Ah… no, they don’t. Boehner was asked directly if there would be a Republican alternative to Obamacare for everyone to consider soon, and all he could come up with was “We’ll see.”

Parker is not impressed with the guys on her side:

“No” gets you nothing but nothing – and gloating floats no boats.

Think back on Don Quixote. He fought on, often absurdly, after all seemed to have been lost, but he was fighting FOR something – chivalry and honor and whatnot. He didn’t sit around muttering no, no, no, no, no, all the damned time. He almost never said that. That’s why readers loved him so much, even if he was absurd, and Greg Sargent argues that although the Obamacare website disaster scared some Democrats, in the end, almost none of them actually abandoned the law:

It’s clear they believe the worst is now over and it is safe to return to the message they always expected to adopt.

I know I’m a broken record here, but folks are overlooking the possibility that no matter how unpopular the law, the Republican stance on health care may prove a liability, too. The basic Dem gamble is that disapproval of Obamacare does not automatically translate into zero sum political gains for Republicans, and that voters will grasp that one side is trying to solve our health care problems, while the other is trying to sabotage all solutions while advancing no constructive answers of their own. Polling shows disapproval of the law does not translate into majority support for GOP attempts to repeal or sabotage it, and Dems think this will only harden as more people enjoy the law’s benefits.

Kevin Drum adds this:

It’s funny that Republicans don’t believe their own propaganda. For years, they’ve been hell-bent on repealing Obamacare because they knew that once it was fully implemented in 2014, it would have millions of beneficiaries who would fight to keep it. Once the benefits of a new program start flowing, it’s very, very hard to turn them off.

They were always right about that. By the middle of 2014, Obamacare is going to have a huge client base; it will be working pretty well; and it will be increasingly obvious that the disaster scenarios have been overblown. People with employer health care will still have it and very few will notice even a minor change in their normal routine.

Given all this, it’s hard to see Obamacare being a huge campaign winner. For that, you need people with grievances, and the GOP is unlikely to find them in large enough numbers. The currently covered will stay covered. Doctors and hospitals will be treating more patients. Obamacare’s taxes don’t touch anyone with an income less than $200,000. Aside from the tea partiers who object on the usual abstract grounds that Obamacare is a liberty-crushing Stalinesque takeover of the medical industry, it’s going to be hard to gin up a huge amount of opposition. And that’s doubly true since, as Sargent says, the Republican Party will have no credible alternative for a benefit that lots of people will already be getting.

Maybe I’m missing something. But either Republicans are seriously miscalculating, or else they’re simply betting the farm on the hope that Obamacare will be an epic disaster. Maybe it’s a bit of both. Either way, I think they’re fooling themselves pretty badly.

That may be so, and the problem now is that there’s too much “yes” in the air for the Republicans. In the last two days there’s been a massive surge in ACA enrollments on that Healthcare.gov site, which seems to be working now – in two days there were as many new Obamacare sign-ups as in the whole of October – and at Mother Jones, David Corn argues here that this means it’s make-or-break time for both parties now:

Within months, it may well be that abstract arguments over the nature of Obamacare will be trumped by the realities of the Affordable Care Act. Eventually, there will be stats and facts to consider: how many people receive insurance through the exchanges, what happens with premiums, the direction of health care costs, customer satisfaction, and the like. Though the results may be open to debate for a while, it is distinctly possible that one side or the other will be proven right (or wrong). If the website functions, millions sign up, and the health care market doesn’t crash, and premiums don’t zoom up – and this will be on top of the already existing benefits of Obamacare, including removing preexisting conditions restraints, allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ policies, reducing out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for seniors, and forcing insurance companies to devote a higher percentage of premiums to health care coverage – where will the Republicans be? Not only will they be failed doomsayers; they will have lost the No. 1 item on their why-you-should-vote-GOP list. Their anti-government crusade will be derailed. They will be a train without a motor.

Should Obamacare not work, then Obama’s vision – which reflects the progressive tradition of the past century – will be a flat tire. He will no longer be able to advance the cause of government activism. Expand Head Start? Create an infrastructure bank? Why should government be allowed (or trusted) to increase its reach? He can talk about helping the middle class – but how? The failed rollout of the website was a problem in so many ways but especially because it suggested that government cannot perform competently. A more extensive failure with Obamacare would suggest that government cannot be used in the manner Obama wishes to see it utilized.

What’s at stake in this never-ending debate over Obamacare are the foundational premises of each party. The success of Obamacare could be close to a death blow to the GOP. Ditto for Obamacare and the Democrats, should it collapse.

Greg Sargent also points out something else:

It’s widely accepted as an article of faith that Obamacare will be uniformly bad politics for Dems in 2014. After all, the rollout is a disaster and majorities disapprove of the law, so how could it possibly be any other way, right?

Here’s something that counter-programs that narrative a bit: Democrats are currently using a major pillar of the health law – the Medicaid expansion – as a weapon against Republican Governors in multiple 2014 races. Many of these Governors opted out of the expansion or have advanced their own replacement solutions, and many are facing serious challenges.

The specifics:

In Florida, Democrat Charlie Crist has excoriated GOP Governor Rick Scott for dragging his feet on the Medicaid expansion, claiming a “million” Floridians “will not get health care” as a result. In Wisconsin, Democrat Mary Burke is campaigning on a pledge to reverse GOP Governor Scott Walker’s decision to turn down $119 million in federal money to expand Medicaid to more low-income Wisconsinites.

In Pennsylvania, multiple Dems looking to run for governor are attacking GOP Governor Tom Corbett for subbing in his own plan to expand Medicaid, arguing it’s a ploy to defuse the issue. In Maine, Dem Rep. Mike Michaud is attacking GOP Governor Paul LePage for refusing to opt in.

Some Dems running for governor in red states, such as South Carolina, may not embrace the Medicaid expansion debate as directly. But the fact that it’s emerging as an issue in some high profile races is a reminder that it’s still good politics for Dems to campaign on components of the Affordable Care Act that directly impact many of the constituents these GOP governors represent. Terry McAuliffe was just elected governor of purple Virginia partly on the Medicaid expansion.

It may be part of the national Tea Party agenda that no more people get Medicaid, but on the local level that’s political poison:

Obamacare was heavily litigated in 2012; Dems won; and the law’s benefits are now kicking in across the country. Yet some of these GOP governors – originally buoyed by a movement organized largely around Total War opposition to Obamacare – continue to resist accommodation with its Medicaid expansion, even if so doing means denying expanded coverage to their own constituents. And they will now be pressed by Dems to answer for it.

In the New Republic, Alex MacGillis had already argued that the politics surrounding the Medicaid expansion are shifting:

Governors and legislators rejecting the expansion have been warned over and over that they are leaving hundreds of millions in federal dollars on the table. But now other numbers are coming to bear as well – states are rejecting expansion are actually being [fiscally impacted] twice, because they are not only leaving that money on the table but also bracing for big cuts in federal funding for hospitals that see an unusually high share of uninsured patients. The law calls for cuts in that funding since the whole idea was that fewer patients would now be uninsured. Already, at least five hospitals have closed in states where Medicaid wasn’t expanded. This gives even more ammunition to the healthcare industry lobbyists in states urging lawmakers to come around on expansion. Meanwhile, it’s becoming more evident just how much expansion-accepting-states are benefiting at the expense of taxpayers in expansion-rejecting ones, a fact that politicians in the latter states, including some Republicans, are sure to latch onto sooner or later.

Don Taylor then takes a look at how much money red states are giving up by refusing to participate in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion:

According to an analysis I have done using Kaiser Family Foundation data – in 2016 alone – the 24 expanding states will receive $30.3 Billion additional federal dollars, while those not expanding will forego an additional $35.0 Billion they could have had. …

States that are not expanding Medicaid have historically received more in federal spending per dollar of federal taxes paid by the state ($2.18) as compared to States that are expanding ($1.85) [and] while the Medicaid program is not the only means through which richer states have cross-subsidized poorer ones, it has been a large and consistent source of such flows. By choosing not to expand Medicaid, the poorer, mostly politically “red” states are redistributing money toward the richer, mostly politically “blue” ones. …

The bottom line is that if the current State Medicaid expansion decisions persist, the unintended story of the ACA will turn out to be the redistribution of money from poorer states to richer ones, an outcome imposed by the poorer states, upon themselves.

The poor red states just hand billions of dollars to the rich blue states, year after year? This is beyond quixotic. This is stupid, and Kevin Drum thinks they’ll figure that out:

No matter how, um, passionate the tea partiers are about Obamacare, at some point it’s going to be clear that it’s here to stay. Maybe that’s a year from now, maybe it’s two. And when that finally happens, the scorched-earth opposition is going to deflate and all those red states are going to start taking another look at all the money they’ve given up. It may take a while, but I suspect that within a few years virtually every state will finally decide that there’s not much point in continuing to hold out. One by one, they’ll all belly up to the bar and sign up.

Or they could sing that song about the impossible dream – to fight for the right, without question or pause, to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause, and so on and so forth.

But what’s the heavenly cause here? Don Quixote was a comic novel after all. The musical turned it into maudlin schlock, if you know that term, and Cervantes didn’t write in Yiddish. Cervantes wrote in his native Spanish and gave us the novel form, and the modern hero. Do we laugh, or cry? Republicans only make us laugh, bitterly.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Regarding That Impossible Dream

  1. Rick says:

    Is somebody kidding us? Are the Republicans really bringing back that feckless issue from the election of 2012, that the “only candidate in this race who has cut Medicare is President Obama”?

    “Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck adds that the NRSC’s Medicare hit ‘is a tried and true campaign hit, so it shouldn’t be surprising they are continuing to talk about it…’ “

    I don’t get it. Okay, to borrow a critique from what now seems like ancient history:

    (1) First of all, that $700-million “cut in Medicare” they accused Obama of making wasn’t a cut in benefits, it was a cut in what providers were allowed to put in for. A hypothetical example of the difference between these two might be:

    I have a procedure done at a hospital. The hospital tries to get Medicare to pay $100,000 for the procedure. Medicare tells the hospital, no, not only will we only reimburse $1000 for it, we also forbid you to charge Rick the difference. Rather than being a cut in benefits to me, as the Republicans imply, it’s only a reduction in payments to the hospital.

    (2) This “cut” that Obama made, the one the Republicans are complaining about, is the same one the Republicans included in their own Ryan budget.

    (3) On top of all of this, they are complaining about Obama doing something they themselves are in favor of — that is, cutting the amount of money Medicare pays out.

    Now on the face of it, the Republicans seem to be still trying to make political points out of slight-of-hand trickery, right? And it’s trickery apparently that doesn’t fool anybody, since Romney did lose, right?

    “Sure,” they might say, “but who cares, as long as it works!” Well, if they think it works for them, they need to go look at their approval numbers.

    Also:

    “Yet some of these GOP governors … continue to resist accommodation with its Medicaid expansion, even if so doing means denying expanded coverage to their own constituents.”

    This reminds me of everyone once saying of Saddam Hussein, “He even used poison gas on his own people!”

    This, I always thought, was only partly true — in that, yes, technically, he used them on Iraqi citizens, but I always wondered if he himself considered the Kurds, especially the rebellious ones, “his own people”. I suspected he didn’t. After all, he was of a different ethnic group, and maybe wouldn’t have minded if all those people just disappeared.

    In the same way, I wonder if these GOP governors really see the kind of people who could be on Medicaid as “their own constituents.” I suspect not. After all, they are of a different social group and, despite whatever economic consequences there might be for their state, maybe wouldn’t mind if all those people just disappeared.

    I keep wondering what will happen to hospitals in these states that no longer will receive federal funds to cover coverage for the poor — and more importantly, what will happen to the poor people turned away. Won’t this be worse than the system that we have today?

    It could be Kevin Drum is being an optimist when he says he thinks these Republicans will eventually come around and see the error of their ways. As I’ve said before, I think these guys are fully aware of the long-term political consequences of their choice, but also see themselves as standing on principle — that is, not contributing to the creation of any “moral hazard” that comes from encouraging non-productive people to continue to be non-productive.

    Although I suppose that, just as they today look back at Rosa Parks and see her cause as just, they may some day look back at their past selves of 2013 as they try to do away with poor people by pretending they don’t exist, and ask themselves, “Geez! What the hell were those idiots thinking?”

    No, obviously we liberals aren’t really geniuses, we only look that way in comparison.

    Rick

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