Digging the Hole Deeper

Yes, just another day in American politics, as practiced now. It seems practice doesn’t make perfect. Obamacare is law. Long ago it passed in the House and Senate, Obama signed it into law, the Supreme Court ruled it was quite constitutional – and the House, firmly in the hands of the Republicans, has voted to repeal the this Affordable Care Act in its entirety thirty-seven times so far. The Senate, in the hands of the Democrats, barely, has refused to take up the House bill each time, and even if they did, and somehow voted for full repeal, Obama would veto any such legislation – and there’s no way to amass enough votes to override that veto. The point is moot, or the point the House is making is symbolic.

They want to be on record. They want America to know where they stand. They don’t like Obamacare at all – it’s tyranny or something, or forcing the Makers to pay for Takers, who refuse to take care of themselves. They have no alternative plan at all to deal with the forty million or more Americans who have no health insurance, flooding the emergency rooms for free care, even if minimal, massively driving up insurance premiums for everyone – but never mind, and never mind the law that says emergency rooms must treat everyone, even if they can’t pay, was Ronald Reagan’s idea – he signed that into law. They don’t like Obamacare and that’s that.

All that’s left is to screw up its implementation – cut off funding for this and that, bit by bit, and filibuster any appointees to key positions, so nothing can get very organized. It’s a plan. The thought is that the American people will reward them for standing up to Obama – because everyone really does despise the man. They do, so that must be true, so it’s critical that he not have a victory of any kind, ever. Yes, Obamacare was a victory for him, but there must be a way to turn that victory into a stunning defeat. They can make sure Obamacare doesn’t work. They can make sure it won’t work. Forty to sixty million Americans will then have no chance of ever being able to buy health insurance, but surely they will be grateful – because Obama will have failed.

That plan is not going well. Symbolic votes just don’t cut it, so the current thinking is that it’s best to concentrate on Medicaid expansion. That sounds too good to too many people, so it must be stopped. The Supreme Court, in its one concession to the desperate Republicans, actually did rule that the states had the right to opt out of that expansion, and this was the day real action was taken:

Legislation to limit the enactment of Obamacare is moving forward in South Carolina, having passed the state House and being placed on the Senate’s agenda, according to The State.

The local newspaper reported the bill would let the state attorney general to sue to block implementation of Obamacare in court if he “has reasonable cause to believe” it is causing harm to people.

If it passes the state Senate and is signed by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, it would make South Carolina the first state to have a law aimed at nullifying the Affordable Care Act.

“It is worth the risk to see if we can protect our state from this far-reaching federal legislation,” state Sen. Kevin Bryant (R) is quoted as saying in The State’s article.

Hey, it’s South Carolina, where the Civil War started. Each state is a sovereign nation, as everyone knows – the federal government cannot tell any single state what to do, just like in the old days. Any state can nullify any federal law. That War of Northern Aggression isn’t over quite yet.

That sort of thing does play well in the South, at least with a significant number of the folks there. It might not play well with the poor, who would dearly love even a chance for a little medical care, or with minorities just scraping by. That’s not just the black folks, as they say down there. The South is rapidly filling up with Hispanics and Asians and whatnot too. They might not get it – they might not think losing access to the possibility of healthcare is worth make making some point about states’ rights from long ago.

The whole thing is rather stupid of course. In this item, Ezra Klein points to a Rand Corporation study analyzing fourteen states that have simply rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion option. The Rand people did tote up the damage, which Klein summarizes:

They get $8.4 billion less in federal funding, have to spend an extra $1 billion in uncompensated care, and end up with about 3.6 million fewer insured residents. So then, the math works out like this: States rejecting the expansion will spend much more, will get much, much less, and leave millions of their residents uninsured. That’s a lot of self-inflicted pain to make a political point.

Ed Kilgore jumps in:

Sure is – but how about those 3.6 million people who fall into the “wingnut hole” (my suggested term for the coverage gap afflicting those living below the federal poverty level who are denied Medicaid in the rejectionist states but also don’t qualify for purchasing subsidies)? Could there possibly be some blowback for the politicians denying them access to affordable health care even as people higher on the income ladder get subsidies?

Klein wonders about that too:

Obamacare creates an extraordinarily unusual situation. The Affordable Care Act will be implemented in states that reject Medicaid. There will be huge mobilization efforts in those states, too, as well as lots of press coverage of the new law. The campaign to tell people making between 133 and 400 percent of poverty that they can get some help buying insurance will catch quite a few people making less than that in its net. And then those people will be told that they would get health insurance entirely for free but for an act of their governor and/or state legislature.


And all that growing awareness of being betrayed by one’s own elected officials for no apparent reason other than hatred of the president will be sinking in just as the 2014 elections are held.

No wonder Republicans remain determined to build potholes in the road to the ballot box. There could be some unusually motivated low-income voters heading to the polls seventeen months from now who normally would never vote in a midterm election. It’s worth watching.

They seem to be digging themselves into a pretty deep hole here, but there’s a plan for that too, one from Robert Stacy McCain:

That’s the attitude necessary to victory, a core belief that whatever Democrats are in favor of is a bad thing for America, because if it was good for America, Democrats would be against it. Democrats are the Evil Coalition of Liars and Fools, and the job of Republicans is to convince America of this basic truth.

Good luck with that. On the other hand, lots of folks watch Fox News, and their resident psychologist and deep thinker sees what’s going on here. That would be Doctor Keith Ablow:

I believe that the Obama administration is conducting psychological warfare on conservative Americans. Not only that but it is also waging this war on all Americans who previously viewed themselves, their country, their Constitution and their overwhelming belief in God as a force for good in the world … Seen through the lens of psychological warfare, the failure to defend our embassy in Benghazi need not be understood simply as a screw-up. It could reflect an actual strategy on the part of the administration to reinforce the notion that homicidal violence born of hatred toward America is understandable – even condonable – because we have generated it ourselves and are reaping the harvest of ill will we have sown. In other words, we should take our punishment.

What? Who is saying we should take our punishment? This is just strange, but Fox News is pushing all the scandal news – Benghazi, the IRS thing, the tracking of phone records of reporters to catch assholes in the government who are leaking the names of spies and such, ruining our efforts to take care of the bad guys – not to mention all the assaults on conservatives and God and gun owners and the military and so on and so forth.

It’s hard to keep it all straight and they don’t sell programs, but, by chance, this was the day to consider the assaults on the military. Whatever Democrats are in favor of is a bad thing for America, because if it was good for America, Democrats would be against it – so if the Democrats are against sexual assault in the military, there must be something really stupid about that position, so they (and a few Democrats) said so:

Senate Armed Services Committee leaders offered a full-throated defense of military commanders to address the spiraling problem of sexual assault in the military at a hearing on Tuesday.

Signaling how tough any significant rewrite of the military justice system will be, both Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and the panel’s ranking member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., offered an unequivocal defense of the power of commanders. They argued commanders are in the best position to take the lead in eradicating sexual assault and should be held responsible for it – not be taken out of the power structure to fix it.

That point of view is an implicit rejection of a bill from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would take the decision of whether to prosecute sexual assault cases out of the chain of command.

The background is this:

The power of commanders to run the military justice system has been called into question given the steady increase of sexual assaults in the military to 26,000 last year from 19,000 the year before, but with less than 10 percent reporting the incidents, largely out of fear of retaliation and lack of faith that justice will be served.

Commanders currently enjoy wide latitude to decide which sexual assault cases to pursue and how to handle them, with the discretion to impose minor slaps on the wrist like hard labor in some cases.

Actually, if a military jury found one of their men guilty of forcible rape, commanders can say forget that – the guy is innocent. All they have to do is say so, which is a problem. How much do we want to respect that chain of command thing? That’s how the military runs. They’d be lost without it – but what’s going on now is beyond reprehensible.

On the other hand, there may be a way out of this conundrum:

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) on Tuesday suggested that the “hormone level created by nature” was to blame for rapes in the military and that all pregnant servicewomen should be investigated to make sure their condition was the result of consensual sex.

Did someone mention the Republicans have a problem with women? Women would rather not vote for them, and this sort of thing doesn’t help. You say you’ve been raped? You have the cuts and bruises and a broken nose too? Well, you’d better be prepared to prove you’re not a total slut, who wanted it, like all women. Nature made them that way.

This is digging the hole even deeper, and Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant didn’t help matters with this:

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said Tuesday that America’s educational troubles began when women began working outside the home in large numbers.

Bryant was participating in a Washington Post Live event focused on the importance of ensuring that children read well by the end of third grade. In response to a question about how America became “so mediocre” in regard to educational outcomes, he said “I think both parents started working. The mom got in the work place.”

It was a symposium on our educational system. Uppity women, doing the unnatural thing, working, had ruined our educational system. He’s been walking that back ever since, but Charles Johnson explains what’s going on here:

Let’s face it: that Republican rebranding effort that was supposed to improve their relationship with minorities and women really isn’t catching on. They just can’t force themselves to say things they don’t believe – and apparently can’t stop themselves from saying what they do truly believe.

Mom got in the workplace. That ruined everything. There must be something in the Bible about that, about a woman’s true place, and Steve Benen adds this:

Bryant acknowledged that he would likely receive a bunch of angry emails in response to his comments. In other words, the Mississippi Republican realized what he was saying would be politically problematic. And he’s right – blaming national education problems on women joining the workforce is ridiculous, antiquated, and offensive.

But it also seems to be part of a growing recent pattern, doesn’t it? Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) argued over the weekend against pay-equity laws to protect women from discrimination. It came two days after a prominent Republican pundit argued that “science” dictates that husbands should earn more than their wives, and a prominent GOP ally in the religious right movement insisted that if a man “has a wife who out-earns him, I think that’s going to put some stress on his psyche.”

And it’s against this backdrop that we still see Republican officials going after contraception and Planned Parenthood.

There’s a pattern here, which Jamelle Bouie explains nicely:

The Republican Party is on bad terms with a long list of voters. It has no credibility with African Americans, almost none with young voters, little with Hispanics, and is on the rocks with women. The latter is partially a result of positions taken by GOP politicians – in particular, the nationwide push to restrict abortion access and the fight last year over Planned Parenthood, Sandra Fluke, and the administration’s contraception mandate.

Since the election, Republicans have made small rhetorical moves toward repairing their standing with women voters, by emphasizing proposals meant to improve life for mothers and children. There’s no evidence – yet – that this has been effective. But if there have been gains, they risk being undone by the rhetoric of GOP senators on the sexual abuse scandal in the military.

Yeah, there is Saxby Chambliss, and Bouie cites others, and there’s Phil Bryant on women’s true place, at home, with no career, to save American education, and maybe America itself, and all the stuff about making sure the maximum number of people have no access to healthcare at all. Bouie puts it this way:

It’s as if some Republicans are actively trying to take the party’s weaknesses, and amplify them.

There’s a rule here. When you find yourself in a deep hole, stop digging.

Few Republicans remember that rule, although some do, as the big news story of the day was Chris Christie’s announcing the schedule for a special election to replace the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, which was basically this:

Christie announced at a press conference that he had opted against appointing a successor to Lautenberg to serve until the 2014 election, and scheduled a general election on Oct. 16. The primary will be held in August. Christie also said he would appoint an interim senator to serve between now and November, though he explained that he had not decided on that temporary appointee yet.

With this decision, Christie is potentially helping create the conditions for a big win in his re-election contest against Democrat Barbara Buono this November. Without a contested Senate campaign happening at the same time as his own re-election, turnout among Democrats is likely to be far lower, allowing Christie to run up the margin of victory in a race he is already a big favorite to win.

That, in turn, could make him look like a more formidable presidential candidate in 2016 should he choose to run.

This was pretty clever, and Ed Kilgore sees the plan here:

Beyond that, it gets Christie off the hook of an obligation to appoint a senator that pleases both his party’s conservative “base” (not just in New Jersey, but nationally) and a general electorate, and gives the former a decent shot to get a conservative senator into office via a low-turnout special election. That will probably, however, be viewed as a consolation prize to right-wingers who wanted him to appoint one of their own to the seat right on up to November 2014 (a legally dubious proposition).

Ah, they weren’t happy, as The National Journal reports:

That did little to mollify Republicans with a stake in retaking the Senate next year. While none wanted to be quoted publicly, all dripped with disdain for Christie’s decision, calling it self-serving. And several pointed to the fact that holding an extra election one month earlier could cost the state about $25 million – a price tag that could dent his image as a fiscal hawk. “I think this ends his 2016 chances. It’s year after year with this guy,” complained one senior Republican official.

Christie worked with Obama and Obama’s FEMA to get the Jersey Shore rebuilt after Sandy, and lauded Obama, and seems to like and respect the guy too, for which there is no forgiveness:

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey on Tuesday excoriated New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) decision to hold a special election to fill the seat vacated by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), accusing him of “debilitating stupidity” in not appointing a Republican outright.

“This is what rankles conservatives,” Armey told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “There’s not a Democratic governor that wouldn’t have seized the opportunity to appoint a Democrat senator, no matter what the status. In some states they may try to sell it and get rich off it as they did in Illinois. All Christie has to do is appoint a Republican. That’s the correct move for him to make.”

He added: “Now, I put it down as debilitating stupidity, the first rule of politics is don’t lose the friends you already have for the friends you’re never going to get. And if he thinks the Democrats are going to love him for being the guy who plays fair rather than takes the political opportunity he’s crazy.”

“Democrats hate Republicans,” he continued. “Democrats aren’t going to vote for Republicans. They’re not going to get a break from Democrats. They will use him. Obama will use him for political cover as he’s done twice now and then actively campaign against him.”

Wait, Dick, Democrats don’t hate Republicans, and Republicans don’t hate Democrats. We’re in this together. Yes, we argue a lot, but that’s necessary. There’s stuff to work out, and there’s also the stuff that just has to get done – disaster recovery, for example. After Sandy, everyone saw Obama and Christie working together, well, and getting things done. Everyone, except for your crowd, was pleased. Obama was elected twice, decisively, and Christie’s approval ratings are sky-high, even with Democrats, in that solidly blue state, where he will be reelected in a landslide. There’s a lesson here. The “hate” stuff is the debilitating stupidity. You’re in a deep hole. Stop digging. Christie did:

Christie said in a press conference on Tuesday that he wanted to do the “right thing” and let the people of the Garden State pick their own representative in the Senate. Christie will, however, likely appoint a Republican in the interim until the special election takes place in October.

“We must allow our citizens to have their say over who will represent them in the Senate for the majority of the next year-and-a-half,” he said. “People of New Jersey deserve to have that voice.”

As they say in Jersey, you got a problem with that?

Actually it’s not funny. There’s stuff to work out, and there’s also the stuff that just has to get done. Having a rational Republican Party, urging caution, to keep the Democrats from going too squishy or wildly utopian, would be nice. It’s just that the current Republicans are too busy for that now. They’re in a deep hole, digging furiously away, deeper and deeper. It’s what they do now, but they’d be welcomed back if… but no, this will take some time.

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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