Rx, Republican Style

The GOP's shame, America's peril
By EDITORIAL  |  July 3, 2012


To understand what a dangerous and reactionary force the Republican Party has become, you need to look no further than its jack-booted opposition to the idea that, in the 21st century, all Americans deserve access to affordable health care.

Republican opposition to Obamacare, the popular name for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed by Congress in 2010 and constitutionally certified by the US Supreme Court last week, is so visceral, so widespread, and so unhinged that it makes 1960s-era opponents of racial equality seem almost reasonable in comparison.

The Republican party line on Obamacare is rooted in profound ignorance and breathtaking cynicism.

That a nation's central government should take an active role in ensuring that its citizens receive adequate health care is a practice that is almost 130 years old.

It was the brainstorm of Otto von Bismarck, the arch-conservative German chancellor who also dreamed up government-guaranteed old-age pensions — what Americans call Social Security.

Every generation or so, when the urge to commit political suicide inexplicably grips the GOP, it tries to undo Social Security, which is arguably President Franklin D. Roosevelt's most enduring legacy.

Predictably, the voters roar, "No."

Government paychecks for geezers have long been as American as apple pie. But it is one of the mysteries of the national political psyche that granting everyone access to a doctor is still considered as subversive as, say, same-sex marriage.

That is not how the rest of the educated, industrialized world sees it. Truth be told, the US has the most expensive and least accessible health care in the developed world.

Perhaps it's America's Puritan heritage. If you don't have a job that provides health benefits, and if you can't afford to pay for your own insurance, then maybe you deserve to get sick. And if you die, well, we all will; consider yourself ahead of the game by cashing in early.

Roosevelt — rather obliquely — began the long process of undermining this way of thinking when he introduced the idea that the American dream was comprised of four freedoms, the third of which was freedom from want.

His successor, Harry Truman, took a stab at developing a national health-care policy, but Truman was spiked by the political minions of the medical-industrial complex, who warned that anything approaching universal health care was part of a vast communist conspiracy to unman America.

There things sat until Lyndon Johnson persuaded Congress to enact Medicare and Medicaid, thus denying old folks, the disabled, and the destitute the opportunity to die in the gutter.

As for Bill Clinton's health-care plan, as far as Republicans were concerned, it was spawn of the devil.

For generations of Republicans, if there was anything more sacred than tax breaks for big business and the affluent, it was opposition to a healthier America.

That President Obama and the Democratic Congressional leaders were able to secure the passage of ACA in spite of fierce Republican opposition and considerable skepticism from conservative Democrats is still an under-appreciated legislative triumph.

The underwhelming aspect of public understanding is due, in part, to Obama's failure to sell his achievement effectively to the public, to preach its merits, to teach its specifics.

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