Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rogue Elephants

Here's an embarrassing fact: people in other countries know more about how our government works than people in this country know about how other governments operate. That's one of the lessons I've learned by visiting Watching America. Given the bellicosity of the US over the years, I suspect such knowledge is necessary as a matter of survival, but I'm still amazed at the depth of that knowledge and the astuteness of the analyses which accompany it.

This opinion column from Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung provides a classic example. The subject is the GOP response to the passage of the health care reform bill and is titled "Enraged Elephants."

But into the history books will also go the last fourteen months, during which Americans were witness to an unprecedented battle. Compared to the populist propaganda attacks launched by conservatives in and around America’s Tea Party movement, our little verbal skirmishes between coalition partners in the Berlin government look almost like peace talks. Republicans now attack the reforms like a herd of enraged elephants (in line with their party’s mascot) gone off the deep end.

Obama the tyrant, opposing the will of the people; the socialist who wants to turn America into a communist country. There were no comparisons so crude that opponents of health care reform wouldn’t stoop to using to demonize Democrats and their reform initiative. Right up to the actual vote, Republican representatives agitated against it; now that it’s been passed, their opposition continues. At least ten states, some with Democratic governors, now plan to challenge the new law in court.


The shrill Tea Party movement had a lot of success, and representatives got a taste of their displeasure in town hall meetings. But in the end, mobilizing their rage didn’t work. The bill was signed into law and thereby became a huge problem for Republicans: What happens if people start realizing over time that all the sky-is-falling rhetoric used by the conservatives hasn’t come true? What happens if America doesn’t magically change into communist China as promised? What happens if more Americans get healthy and stay that way?


The more Republicans try to demonize the new law in the run-up to the November elections, the more they will come off looking like sore losers. It’s also doubtful that public anger over the law will last that long — especially if the apocalyptic prediction from Republicans that it will spell the end of the United States doesn’t materialize. If the economic picture begins to brighten at all, anger against the Obama administration will be short-lived. Many say conservative opposition will start collapsing as soon as people start seeing their health care situation improving. The stubborn patriots Republicans depicted themselves as could soon start looking like mere naysayers.
[Emphasis added]

I suppose an argument can be made that with only two political parties, following US politics is considerably easier than following the politics and governance of a country with a multiple-party parliamentary system. Still, the two US parties are not exactly monoliths. We have liberal Democrats, Blue Dog Democrats, DLC types, and Southern Democrats. We have social conservatives, economic conservatives, and moderates in the Republican Party. Complicating matters further is the fact that there is a sizable chunk of 'independent' voters with no formal party allegiance, a bloc that both parties turn themselves inside out to woo come election time. One need only look at the sausage-making process on this bill alone to see just how complicated our political landscape can be.

While I think the author of this opinion piece is rather optimistic about the effect the health care reform law will have on the nation, I think his assessment of the foolish response from the Republicans to the bill is right on the money. They've written a check with their mouths that their backsides won't be able to cash. If the economy begins to pick up and the jobless rate falls, a great deal of the anger felt by the more rational elements of the populace will dissipate. Only the fringes will be waving tea bags and indulging in "open carry" actions. The rest of the country will look at them and recoil in disgust. Maybe then David Frum will find a job.

More importantly, maybe then we can get back to the job of designing some real health care reform.

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Anonymous Jamie said...

well to be fair, the Insurance people have a point, but if the Hospitals charged everyone the same price for a service, the insurance companies bidness model would collapse

9:14 PM  

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