Pittsburgh in 1963 was pretty dismal. Sophomore year in high school there that year was even more dismal – but there were new sounds coming out of California, where it was always sunny and wonderful. They had surfers out there, and they had surfer rock. The big hit that year was from the Surfaris – a thumping simplistic instrumental called Wipe Out – a throwaway song recorded at a studio out in Cucamonga, nowhere near any beach, but we didn’t know that. We loved it. “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha… WIPE OUT!”
Those were the only words, spoken at the beginning. You were supposed to think of a surfer wiping out, but no one was surfing in Pittsburgh, or much of anywhere else for that matter. You thought of the cool dude, being so cool, impressing all the girls, falling on his face and then tumbling around with his ass in the air. It didn’t have to be a surfer. This was a metaphor for how life should be, if there were justice in the universe – those who think they’re hot shit would suddenly look like dorks. That should happen more often – to the dimwitted big football star, to the snooty homecoming queen, to certain teachers and other irritating adults.
Every alienated teenager knows that. The song had to be a hit. That year, and for years after, those who thought they were losers, and probably were, would point to someone cool blowing it, whatever it might be, and gleefully shout out those words – “Wipe Out!”
It was great fun, but of course opportunities to shout out those words were few and far between. The cool dudes kept being cool dudes. The winners kept being winners. Those who were never going to be cool would have to wait and wait and wait. But one day the cool kids would blow it. They’d wipe out. That would be a moment to savor. The hapless dorks – who no one once ever thought were cool – would have their day.
That day just came in American politics. Obama has been called cool, and he’s certainly smooth and smart and gracious and funny, and a winner for the most part, getting done what he intends – Obamacare and all the rest. The Republicans are not cool and they know it, and they don’t care – they’ll oppose gay marriage and science and most anything that isn’t the way things were in 1953 or so. They hate “cool” on principle. Since the day Obama took office they’ve been waiting to point and shout “wipe out” to the world, so now they can:
Republican Matt Bevin won a big upset in the Kentucky governor’s race. The guy who Mitch McConnell crushed by 25 points in a 2014 primary will now become just the second Republican to govern the Bluegrass State in four decades.
Democrats failed to pick up Virginia’s state Senate. It’s a huge blow to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who went all-in to make it happen. Democrats could have won by capturing just one seat because of the tie-breaking authority of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D). But Republicans held every single seat.
Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, designed to protect the rights of gay citizens and others, failed by a wide margin.
Ohio rejected marijuana legalization by a two-to-one margin.
Even in San Francisco, the sheriff who steadfastly defended the city’s “sanctuary city” policy went down. Fox News: “Ross Mirkarimi and his office received heavy criticism after Mexican illegal immigrant Francisco Sanchez allegedly shot and killed 32-year-old Kate Steinle on San Francisco’s waterfront July 1. Sanchez had been released from Mirkarimi’s jail in March even though federal immigration officials had requested that he be detained for possible deportation.” The city also rejected new regulations on Airbnb.
And this detail:
Focusing on social issues, including promises to defund Planned Parenthood and defend Kim Davis, helped drive the conservative base to turn out. Bevin’s focus on energizing evangelicals in the final days, and it clearly paid off. Kim Davis called herself “ecstatic” about Bevin’s victory in a statement released by the nonprofit representing her: “He is such a genuine and caring person. I will be forever thankful that he came to visit me while I was in jail. At a clerks’ meeting he hugged me and said he was praying for me. I am looking forward to his leadership as our new Governor.”
But there was this:
In a stinging rebuke of Chris Christie, undercutting one of his rationales for seeking the presidency, New Jersey voters ousted at least three Republicans from the state Assembly. Alexander Burns in the New York Times: “Republicans had hoped to build on Mr. Christie’s political successes and cut into the Democratic majority in the chamber, where Democrats currently hold 48 of the 80 seats. Instead, the election became a sharp reality check for allies of the governor, who only two years ago won re-election by a towering margin. Democrats battered Republicans for their affiliation with Mr. Christie, sending paid political mail accusing them of aiding the governor’s presidential ambitions at their constituents’ expense. Perhaps mindful of his diminished popularity, Mr. Christie appeared at private events to raise money for Republican candidates, but he never hit the campaign trail as a public spokesman for his party.” Dems now have their biggest majority since the 1970’s.
And Salt Lake City elected Utah’s first openly gay mayor and Democrats won mayoral races in Charlotte and Indianapolis and voters in suburban Denver recalled three conservative members of a school board who had worked to weaken the local teachers union – and who wanted American history courses not to mention slavery or anything unpleasant – and Pennsylvania suddenly got more liberal – so it wasn’t a total wipe out.
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum suggests this:
Conservatives did win big victories in Virginia, Kentucky, and Houston. But Ohio’s marijuana initiative most likely went down because it was too raw a giveaway to a bunch of rich donors, and San Francisco sheriff Ross Mirkarim was plagued by scandals that had nothing to do with his support for sanctuary cities. (The winner, Vicki Hennessy, was endorsed by SF mayor Ed Lee. She’s hardly a conservative insurgent.)
Elsewhere, liberals won public financing initiatives in Seattle and Maine. Pennsylvania elected three Democrats to the state Supreme Court. Movement conservatives lost big in two of Colorado’s largest school districts.
I don’t want to go all Pollyanna on you, but the basic result of yesterday’s elections is that conservatives won big in the South, while liberals did OK everywhere else. Losing Kentucky was a kick in the gut, but I can’t work up a lot of surprise when Democrats lose ground below the Mason-Dixon Line. It’s unfortunate, but it’s hardly big news.
Rush Limbaugh won’t be playing that old surfer-rock song? There’s no wipe out? The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent strongly disagrees:
The news that Tea Party Republican Matt Bevin snatched the Kentucky governor’s mansion away from Democrats is a particularly stark reminder of how deep a hole Democrats have dug for themselves at the state level, and of the consequences that could have for the long-term success of the liberal and Democratic agenda.
Bevin will replace Democratic governor Steve Beshear, who was perhaps the leading evangelist for the Affordable Care Act in the South. Beshear famously set up a Kentucky health insurance exchange and opted in to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion amid a region of hostility towards the law. Bevin has pledged to transition people off of the exchange to the federal one, and to shut down the state’s Medicaid expansion. But in Kentucky, the law has succeeded at its primary goal: Early on it successfully brought health coverage to some of the state’s (and the country’s) poorest and unhealthiest counties, and Gallup found earlier this year that Kentucky boasted the second largest drop in the uninsured rate of any state in the country.
Now those policy gains may be in some doubt. It remains to be seen how the state battle over rolling back Obamacare will play out or whether people will actually end up losing benefits. But the loss challenges Democrats’ assumption… that they can win on hostile political turf by successfully demonstrating how government programs can help people and pointing out that Republicans will take all that away from them.
And there’s this:
The loss could also impact another policy area, too: Climate change. Obama’s Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by setting carbon reduction targets for states. They can try to hit those targets with their own plan, or the feds will step in and create one for them. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell is a major foe of the CPP. But in Kentucky, under Beshear, the state had actually been preparing to comply on its own. Now the Republican win raises the question of whether that will continue. It’s true that even if the state ends up not complying, the federal government will create a plan for it. But state compliance and participation might increase the odds of success.
The broader point is that the Kentucky loss underscores once again that there are serious policy consequences to the profound deficit Democrats face on the level of the states.
As for the Obamacare thing, David Weigel adds this:
When people called Greg Stumbo to talk “Obamacare,” it was usually to say they were against it. The Democratic speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives knew just what to say. President Obama had nothing to do with their health care, not really. They were eligible to find insurance on KYnect, the exchange created by popular outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear (D-Ky.).
“I’d tell em we’ve got Beshearcare,” said Stumbo in an interview Tuesday night, “and they’d be fine with that.”
This was about sticking it to Obama, the cool kid:
In polls, Kentucky voters rejected Obamacare at roughly the rate they rejected the president, 2-1. But they were fond of KYnect, which Beshear created by executive order, bypassing a gridlocked Kentucky legislature. Month by month, Kentuckians took advantage of the state’s Medicaid expansion or the plans offered on the exchange, and the state’s uninsured rate plummeted from 20.4 percent to 9 percent. Beshear predicted that “the Democratic nominee will make this a major issue and will pound the Republicans into the dust with it.”
On Tuesday night, it was the Democrats eating dust. Attorney General Jack Conway, who was expected to replace Beshear, lost in a rout to Tea Party activist Matt Bevin. Conway defended KYnect; Bevin called it a disaster. While his prescription for changing it shifted, he ended the race with a promise to undo Kentucky’s successful experiment.
“I plan to use the open enrollment period in 2016 to transition people from the state-level exchange to the federal exchange,” Bevin told the Cincinnati Enquirer last week. “Once all are transitioned, I would shut down the exchange.” When it came to Medicaid, Bevin pledged to “repeal the expansion as it currently exists, and seek a Section 1115 waiver from the Center for Medicaid Services.”
This may be close to a wipe out:
Bevin’s win, and the Republican victories in neighboring Virginia, were body blows to Democratic hopes of enforcing the Affordable Care Act. Virginia voters rejected a chance to hand the state Senate back to a party that would expand Medicaid; some Kentucky voters who had benefited from the expansion surely voted against the candidate who’d keep it as is. Bevin pulled some of his best numbers in Kentucky’s impoverished eastern counties, where enrollment had been highest. As the polls closed, the situation reminded author Thomas Frank of his thesis in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” of voters striking out against their interests.
“It’s a classic example, up there with fighting over the theory of evolution,” said Frank.
This was not the plan:
Winning over voters with expanded health care access was not supposed to be this hard. Beshear wasn’t the only Democrat who talked about it. In 2009, as the Affordable Care Act debate burned through Washington, former President Bill Clinton told progressive activists that passing a bill would come with political benefits.
“The minute the president signs a health care reform bill his approval will go up,” he said. “Secondly, within a year, when all those bad things they say will happen don’t happen, and then all the good things happen, approval will explode.”
On Tuesday night, a shocked Stumbo was girding for a fight with his slim majority on one side and Republican governor and anti-ACA groups like Americans for Prosperity on the other. AFP had marched through much bluer states, and broken the support for the ACA, halting the Medicaid expansion and the construction of KYnect-style exchanges. Some states had botched the exchanges and handed control to the feds. But no state had rolled back the programs, as Bevin seemed ready to do.
“I’m gonna fight for KYnect because I believe it would be inhumane to take health insurance away from hundreds of thousands of people,” Stumbo said. “The problem is that we never statutorily approved it. It’s gonna be a battle in this next session to see what happens with that program. Everybody: Put on your boots and your big-boy pants.”
It may be too late for that, and at Salon, Simon Maloy adds this perspective:
Kentucky continues being a land of false hope for Democrats. Last year there was some guarded enthusiasm that Alison Lundergan Grimes might knock down (or at least convincingly challenge) high-ranking Senate fossil Mitch McConnell in his bid for re-election, but she ended up getting blown out by the ascendant majority leader on Election Day. And last night, heading into the Kentucky gubernatorial election, Democrat Jack Conway was viewed as a slight favorite over Republican Matt Bevin, but it was Bevin who came out comfortably on top once the votes were tallied, making him just the sixth GOP governor of Kentucky in the last century. The Bluegrass State seems to be busily putting the last touches on the broader disintegration of the Democratic Party in the old Confederacy.
That’s the wipe out, but that’s not the half of it:
The more immediate concern raised by Bevin’s victory is what will happen to the hundreds of thousands of Kentucky residents who have benefitted from the state’s enthusiastic embrace of the Affordable Care Act. Kentucky stands out as one of the ACA’s unquestioned bright spots. Departing Democratic governor Steve Beshear expanded Medicaid and set up a state-based insurance exchange, Kynect, which resulted in a massive reduction in Kentucky’s uninsured rate – in 2013 it stood at 20.4 percent; today it’s down to 9 percent. Instances of uncompensated care at Kentucky hospitals dropped, preventative screenings for cancer and other diseases increased, and over 16,000 previously uninsured children gained coverage.
But Bevin ran, and won, on a promise to do wholesale violence to the health reform law within the state. He’s promised to do away with Kynect – which, again, has been a huge success – and instead make use of the federally run healthcare marketplace. What’s more worrisome is Bevin’s clear-as-mud position on what will happen regarding the state’s expansion of Medicaid. Depending on which statement you choose to believe, Bevin will either undo the expansion altogether, or he will petition the Department of Health and Human Services to obtain a retroactive waiver to “tweak” the expansion and add barriers to access while throwing in some free-market bells and whistles.
It doesn’t matter, and once again this is about seeing the cool dude, being so cool, impressing all the girls, falling on his face and then tumbling around with his ass in the air:
Either way, Bevin’s plan for Kentucky is to “reform” a healthcare law that is working very well and make it less comprehensive and less effective for no real reason other than Barack Obama passed it and Barack Obama is very bad. This is ideologically satisfying for a great number of people, but it will also almost certainly result in fewer people having access to healthcare. This fact is one that has bedeviled conservatives and Republicans for years now as they’ve tried to work out the “replace” part of “repeal and replace Obamacare.” What they’ve never had to grapple with is a real-live rollback of the ACA in a place where it’s been fully implemented. Promising to obliterate Obamacare may sound good and tough on the stump, but actually going through with it means taking away people’s healthcare coverage.
Their satisfaction with this may not last:
If Bevin does go through with it – and there’s no real reason to think he won’t – he’ll likely be praised by conservatives and Republicans for striking a real blow against the Obama administration’s hated healthcare reform. But it will come with costs. Every Democrat and liberal in the country is going to be ready and waiting for stories of coverage cancellations, once treatable health problems left to fester, and the opening of a previously non-existent Medicaid coverage gap.
To clarify, the Medicaid coverage gap is when people earn too much to qualify for a state’s Medicaid threshold but not enough to meet the criteria for financial assistance under Obamacare. Those folks are covered by the Obamacare Medicaid expansion funds – the feds will cover all the cost for three years and ninety percent on out after that. That’s free money to the states so everyone gets some kind of insurance – no one will go without – but the Supreme Court ruled that, as the states are charged with administering Medicaid as they see fit, accepting these new funds should be entirely voluntary.
Kentucky accepted the funds. The new governor will put an end to that. He will join the other Republican-controlled states in this. Kentucky now doesn’t want that free money. It smells of Obama or something. A whole lot of poor folks are about to lose the health insurance they finally got two years ago, but there’s a principle at play here. It has to do with states’ rights, or with free markets, or with Obama, the cool kid they want to see wipe out, or with a general disgust with poor people. The last is most likely.
Maloy says it doesn’t matter:
Once the uninsured rate starts to creep back up, Kentucky could suddenly become a cautionary tale of what happens when Obamacare repeal – the promise of every Republican candidate and one of the chief justifications for electing a Republican president – is actually put into practice.
This was the same danger Republicans faced when they were loudly encouraging the bad-faith Supreme Court case challenging the legality of the Affordable Care Act’s federal marketplaces subsidies. It’d be one thing if Kentucky’s Obamacare experience had been underwhelming or disastrous, but it’s actually done real, tangible good in the state. Bevin promised to sabotage that progress, and if he follows through on that pledge, Republicans may not like what they see.
Or they may. It was fun, back in high school, when someone who was infuriatingly cool and successful stumbled, to shout out “Wipe Out!” That made you cool, not them – but then we grew up. At least some of us grew up.