Wigging Out

Monday, December 14, 2009, was the first day of the new Lieberman Administration as the senator who was once a Democrat but is not yet a Republican, although he votes with the Republicans on all issues, decided the future of healthcare in America, getting exactly what he wanted, as both the Medicare buy-in and the “public option” are now dead:

After a meeting among Senate Democrats today, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh said it looked like the proposed Medicare expansion would be dropped. “The general consensus was that we shouldn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good and in order to get all the insurance reforms accomplished and a number of other good things in the bill,” dropping the Medicare expansion “would be necessary to get the 60 votes,” Bayh told reporters.

Earlier, two top proponents of the public option, Senators Jay Rockefeller and Tom Harkin, said they would be willing to give up the public option to win passage. Harkin said he’d also be willing to forgo the Medicare expansion. The senators’ statements suggested a deal might be close. Harkin, an Iowa senator and chairman of the Senate health committee, and Rockefeller of West Virginia both said it was time to focus on what needed to be done to get a bill passed.

“This bill, without public option, without Medicare buy-in, is a giant step forward toward transforming American health care,” said Harkin. “That’s reality, there is enough good stuff in that bill that we should move ahead with it.”

And CNN confirmed this – the Republicans, who wanted to keep the government out of anything that had to do with healthcare, and have no national system, or even guidelines, or even rules for how insurers might behave, or even any policies at all regarding anything to do with healthcare and the general wellbeing of the citizens, had faced off against the Democrats, who wanted some structure in place to assure every American could get some level of care and not face bankruptcy if they had to cover unavoidable medicals costs and they didn’t have the money for that, or found out the expensive health insurance they had purchased only covered a tenth of the costs, after a ten thousand dollar deductable. They argued for the common good. The Republicans argued for freedom – let people arrange these matters themselves – and the Democrats pointed out all that was available to people was expensive insurance coverage that did its best to deny as much care as possible, to assure profits for the shareholders of the insurance companies. A pubic option would offer an alternative to that problem, even if very few would be eligible for such a thing. Expanding Medicare, allowing people as young as fifty-five to buy into that, to pay their money to hook into that system, seemed like a reasonable thing to do. That would at least offer an alternative to those who had no insurance at an age when no sensible insurer would even think about writing them a policy, or if they did, would ask for at least ten or twelve grand a month in premiums, and agree they’d cover only the first ten percent of any medical costs, after a hefty detectable. But the Republicans were appalled by that idea – sure the government could take their money and revitalize and handsomely refinance the Medicare system, but that would extend a single-payer government insurance program, a sure set toward America becoming a socialist nation.

This was quite an impasse – a stalemate. The Democrats had the White House, and a majority in both the House and Senate – but the Republicans had their forty minority votes in the Senate, and with those they could stop any vote from coming to the floor, as it takes sixty votes to end debate and get around to doing the voting. The Democrats had fifty-nine votes in the Senate, and Joe Lieberman, who each and every time it seemed like the Democrats could get what they wanted, suddenly changed his mind and decided he’d not vote with them, again. They keep trying to butter him up – he still retains his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, a post he holds at the pleasure of the Democratic-controlled Senate, and that was by design. Maybe he’d vote with them now and then. But of course he’s a difficult man, bitter and angry, who just loves to stick it to the Democrats – pretending he might sort of be one of them, then twisting the knife. And this was his sweet revenge. He decided that “public option” was awful early on, and then after years of lauding the idea of a Medicare buy-in, decided at the last moment it was awful too – it was just unnecessary. Ha, ha – gotcha again.

And whatever it is that passes, what Tom Harkin calls a giant step forward toward transforming American healthcare, comes down to requiring all citizens to buy healthcare insurance from the insurance cartels, at whatever price they choose to charge, and allowing all insurers to cap yearly payments if someone gets too expensive for them – as long as they promise to sign up lots of people who they might otherwise have not wanted to deal with. But the government will cover their losses, and if they decide to charge everyone thirty or forty thousand dollars a month in premiums, just because they feel like it, and because that would make their shareholders wet their pants in joy, that’s fine too – the government will pay the premiums of those who don’t have that kind of money. That’s about it.

So the Republicans didn’t get what they wanted. The government will be involved in healthcare after all, spending ungodly amounts of money. That’s awful. They hate the whole idea, and maybe they should. And the Democrats got none of what they wanted – no single-payer system, which was always unlikely anyway, and no vestigial public option for at least a few people, and no expansion of Medicare for those trapped at the end of middle age but not yet sixty-five. America got the Lieberman plan instead, and Lieberman got to gloat. He’s decided how things will be, not Obama, not the Democrats, and not the Republicans, really. Next up, what he will do about the Middle East, and Iran specifically (he wants to bomb them into glowing radioactive insignificance and then take over the place so they don’t get any ideas), and climate change, and banking regulation, and drug policy, and everything. It’s good to be king.

But he’s king now – far more powerful than Obama or anyone else – because of a structural anomaly. Our two-party system stalled out. The majority faced a concerted minority who realized that a minor parliamentary procedure – the cloture rule, ending debate – could, given the unusual way the numbers fell out this time around, be used to nullify the majority day in and day out. Why not use it? And stalemate works to their advantage – you get to say the other side can’t get anything done, that they can’t get themselves organized on anything, that they’re all hopeless idiots. It’s good politics.

There’s a reason the Palin-Beck tea party crowd looks more and more like a third party movement. They despise Democrats – that’s a given – but they’ve had it with Republicans too, as was shown in that congressional race in upstate New York where they backed the Conservative Party candidate, declaring the Republican in the race simply unacceptable. That didn’t work out, but it was a start – not really about who controls the Republican Party but whether the Republican Party even matters. There’s a lot of talk about that crowd forming a third party – a full-on guns, God and gold, drill-baby-drill, death-to-the-Muslims-and-gays-too conservative party. But third parties have always been spoilers, not winners. At best a Palin-Beck ticket could draw a bit more than a fifth of the national vote, dooming the Republicans, and everyone on the right. Split the vote and the Democrats win. That’s what happened in upstate New York. On a national level that would please no one on that side. People are being careful about that.

But think about it. We have one party represented by a braying donkey, which, even if fitting, doesn’t inspire confidence, and the other represented by a slow-moving, dim-witted elephant, who never forgets, even when he should. Wouldn’t you like a party represented by a wise owl? That would be cool.

Actually there is one. It’s the Modern Whig Party.

Okay, the Whigs originally were the guys just fine with the beheading of Charles I and that Interregnum where Oliver Cromwell ran England with his Roundheads and the Puritans shut down the theaters and whatnot – they were the guys who never wanted a king again, and certainly didn’t want James II, a twit who had waited out the whole thing in France of all places, with his buddy Thomas Hobbes writing about Leviathans and all that. The whole idea of absolute authority seemed absurd to them, no matter what that Hobbes fellow was writing about life being all brutal and nasty and short, and thus a bit of absolute authority being necessary.

The American Whig Party said they felt the same way, but about King Andrew – that would be Andrew Jackson, doing far too many things he had no right to do, overriding Congress, overriding everyone. And they were the other party, before there were Republicans, the big guns from 1833 to 1856 – Daniel Webster, William Henry Harrison, and their preeminent leader, Henry Clay of Kentucky, and their war heroes, Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. Abraham Lincoln was a Whig leader in frontier Illinois. They were hot – and we had four Whig presidents – William Henry Harrison (1841, died fast), John Tyler (1841–1845), Zachary Taylor (1849–1850) and Millard Fillmore (1850–1853, rather useless and tossed out of the party). The slavery issue did them in. The Compromise of 1850 split them apart. Lincoln and others formed the Republican Party and the Whigs faded away.

But they’re back – a “party for the rest of us.” They say they are as a mainstream and non-fringe “middle ground” between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, and were founded by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, who say they don’t much like nonsense from the right or the left.

And there are the six tenets of the Modern Whig philosophy:

Fiscal responsibility – “The Modern Whig philosophy is to empower the states with the resources to handle their unique affairs.” [Sounds all South Carolina far-right…]

Energy Independence – “Reduce dependence on foreign oil by developing practical sources of alternative energy. This will have the simultaneous effect of changing the national security dynamic.” [Sounds all lefty-green…]

Education/Scientific Advancement – “Increased public and private emphasis on fields such as space, oceanic, medical and nanotechnology. Also, providing common-sense solutions to enhance our educational system from pre-school to university-level studies.” [Sounds like something the anti-science creationists on the Evangelical Right would hate…]

States’ Rights – “Each state can determine its course of action based on local values and unique needs.” [See above…]

Social progression – “Government should refrain from legislating morality.” [Sounds all pro-gay-marriage left, or libertarian right…]

Veterans Affairs – “Vigilant advocacy relating to the medical, financial, and overall well-being of our military families and veterans.” [That’s who they are…]

Are they a threat to the rule of Joe Lieberman? Who knows? But they’re quite real. And there is the logo:

For its logo, the Modern Whig Party uses an owl, the symbol of the original Whig Party. The red, white, and blue color scheme is used once again, but with different meaning. In this case, the bird is half blue (for Democrats) and half red (for Republicans) with a white line and a band of stars dividing the two colors. The party believes that the United States’ future lies in meeting in the middle, thus the placement of the stars in the middle of the owl.

Cool. And Andrew Dubbins attended their recent convention:

The Modern Whig Party held its first-ever national council meeting this weekend in a small conference room at the Arlington Courtyard Marriott. The party is small but, they insist, growing: It now boasts a national headquarters in Washington, D.C., 20,000 “members” (more on that later), and 28 official state chapters, including one in Florida, where the party is a registered political organization with ballot access.

Among the attendees was Conor Boland, 14, who rode the Amtrak from Delaware with his father, Kevin. “I’m here with a future Whig voter,” said Kevin, a former Marine who has not yet taken the plunge into the party himself but wanted to encourage his son’s civic interest. Other attendees were serial third partiers. “I’ve seen my fair share of third-party flops,” said William Cerf, 63, a New York restaurateur who, previous to the Whigs, was a member of the Libertarian Party and the Peace and Freedom Party. But that didn’t stop him from jumping on the bus from New York to Washington for the conference. “I hope this will be the first new mainstream political party,” he said. “It could be a historical occasion.”

The rest is amusing. They have a long way to go. But maybe in the Age of King Joe of Connecticut, with both major parties in disarray, and the tea-baggers going all nutty, a Whig Party who will resist establishing a monarchy isn’t a bad thing.

But nothing will come of it, and neither Sarah Palin nor Glenn Beck wants to lose the next presidential election nobly, heads held high, as that’s still losing. We’re stuck with the same old two parties, now unable to get anything done, and Joe Lieberman grinning, and giving America the finger. But an owl, not a donkey or an elephant… that is cool. Not that it matters.

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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