Having lost their grand crusade to deny Americans the same health care security that is standard practice everywhere else in the western democratic world, the Republicans and their allies can't seem to agree what to do next.
One natural impulse is to burrow even deeper into dreamworld. For instance, a vocal faction - which includes Mitt Romney, John McCain, Jim DeMint, Bill Kristol, and the tea partiers - is already hoisting the banner of Repeal, insisting that Congress rise up and wipe the new law off the books. But another faction - which includes ex-Bush speechwriter David Frum, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - insists that any repeal effort would be a colossal waste of time.
Romney is perhaps the most vociferous repealer, arguing yesterday on a conservative blog that the health reform needs to be reversed because President Obama "has betrayed his path to the nation." (As a 2012 GOP presidential hopeful, Romney needs to be shrill on this issue, lest conservatives notice that Obama's health reforms closely resemble the Massachusetts health reforms that he himself succcessfully championed as governor.) He was joined yesterday by McCain, who, having lost another one to Obama, apparently wants to further extend his streak; on TV, he declared, "We're going to repeal this." And fellow senator Jim "Waterloo" DeMint, having failed along with his colleagues in the quest to "break" Obama, said yesterday that he intends to push for repeal legislation.
I have to believe that these people are not as dumb as they seem, that deep down they are fully aware that the so-called repeal crusade is just raw meat for the dimmest denizens of the conservative base. It's an emotional gimmick to keep the base pumped during the '10 election season, which probably explains why 35 GOP Senate candidates (including Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania) have taken the repeal pledge.
Anyone with a fundamental grasp of math would quickly realize that the talk of repeal is worthless. Until at least January 2013, and quite possibly until January 2017, the guy in the White House would veto any such bill. And for however long Obama serves as president, the Republicans would need 67 Senate votes and 290 House votes in order to override such a veto. Even if the Republicans did manage to elect a president in 2012, it strains credulity to think that the party can achieve a 60-seat Senate supermajority for repeal. No wonder the U.S. Chamber of Commerce president said yesterday of repeal, "We're not going to spend any capital on that."
Ex-Bush speechwriter and conservative blogger David Frum wrote online yesterday, "No illusions, please. This bill will not be repealed." Frum is frequently mocked by many of his brethren because of his habitual attentiveness to empirical reality, and this may be yet another instance. Frum righly scoffs at the repeal strategy ("adventures in fantasyland"), not just because the congressional math is so daunting, but because it fails even as raw-meat politics.
Frum points out that any Republican who votes for repeal would essentially be voting to again permit health insurers to deny coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions. He warns that any Republican arguing for repeal is essentially arguing "to banish 25 year olds from their parents' insurance coverage." Any Republican pushing for repeal is essentially saying that we should "reopen the 'doughnut hole' and charge seniors more for prescription drugs."
For those reasons alone, Democrats should hope and pray that the GOP talks up repeal between now and November - because it's dumb politics to try to take away people's benefits. Democrats can therefore challenge their pro-repeal opponents: Why do you want to reinstate lifetime caps on health insurance coverage? Why do you want to again allow insurance companies to dump the people who get sick? Why do you want to eliminate the new tax credits for small businesses that provide coverage to their workers?
(The dimmest pro-repeal conservatives will no doubt trumpet the new CNN poll, which shows - on the surface - that 59 percent of Americans oppose the health care reform law, while only 39 percent support it. But spend two seconds on the fine print, and the figures look very different. Thirteen percent of those opposing the law happen to believe that it's not liberal enough - which puts the conservative foes in the minority. And when poll respondents were asked whom they trust most to handle health care - Obama or the Republicans in Congress - they chose Obama, 51 to 39 percent.)
Also, with respect to this repeal issue, Democrats can put the squeeze on those GOP candidates - such as Ohio Senate hopeful Rob Portman - who thus far have declined to take any stance. If the holdouts finally say yes to repeal, Democrats can challenge them with the aformentioned questions. If they say no to repeal, they risk being hammered by the talk-radio teeth-gnashers in their own camp.
Speaking of Rush Limbaugh, he issued a cri de coeur for repeal yesterday. Frum, the conservative blogger, is not surprised; in his words, the GOP's "abject and irreversible defeat" on health care is actually "a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry," which thrives on polarization and fantasy remedies.
Frum writes that, in the aftermath of the health reform defeat, the Limbaugh camp's "listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it's mission accomplished. For the (conservative) cause they purport to represent, it's Waterloo, all right: Ours."
Need I say more?
Temporarily sick of politics? Read my new freelance piece, a farewell to America's first TV-marketed cultural icon.