Monday, March 22, 2010

Calling All Principled Conservatives

It's time for some soul searching on the right. It's time for honest and benevolent people to control the Republican Party.

America has just reached the end of a 14-month debate over whether or not and, if so, how to reform our health care system. The legislation with which we've emerged is a big tapestry of ideas, many of which are historically Republican ideas and many of which are Democratic ideas. The president said, "This isn't radical reform, but it is major reform." He's right. It's not radical because we will still have a predominantly employer-based insurance system. It's not radical because for-profit insurance companies will continue to be the major players on the scene. But it's major reform because through a series of tweaks to the system (subsidizing insurance purchases for the poor, expanding Medicaid, creating a national insurance exchange, reining in the worst industry practices, etc) we will end up insuring virtually every American. And according to the most objective referee we have for stuff like this, the CBO, we will make these "tweaks" while also reducing the budget deficit and reducing the tax and premium burden on working families. In other words, having everyone insured is going to be cheaper for America than having millions uninsured.

Sounds great. So why did this debate feel like nuclear war? Why did every single Republican member of Congress vote against this bill? What were conservatives standing up for by opposing the bill?

The Usual Suspects Of Anti-Progress

We would expect the small class of people who own and manage big health care companies--and big companies in general--to oppose the bill. They're looking out for their own personal interests and defending their positions of power. If anything is consistent throughout our political history, it is that this class exists and it intelligently defends its interests.

We would also expect racists and social conservative extremists to oppose the bill. They would view the legislation as too big of an equalizing force in society. They would not want to see people of other colors, religions, or sexual orientation gain any more solid footing and security in America.

OK, so that explains the CEO and KKK vote. But even I don't think the Republican coalition is just the corporate class and the hateful class.

The "Silent Majority" Of The GOP

How do we explain the raging opposition to health care reform from good-hearted, principled conservatives--conservatives like many of my friends and extended family? Sometimes in the heat of battle I have to remind myself that these conservatives exist. Decent and wise people have good reasons to argue for less government intervention in our lives, more local control, more emphasis on markets for distributing resources and making decisions. There is a principled conservatism out there, and there is an important place for it in our political dialogue.

But how does that principled conservatism translate into opposing health reform that saves lives and saves money--especially when there isn't a conservative path to universal health care on offer? What, other than abstract principles, are these conservatives losing with this reform? It's as though you told them, "I'll give you each $500 if you will let me save that person's life over there," and they chanted back in unison, "KILL THE BILL! KILL THE BILL!" (Actually, that seems like a pretty accurate summary of the whole health care saga of the last year.)

I understand conservative principles. I understand how comprehensive health care reform violates a number of conservative principles. But I cannot understand why so many good people would stick to conservative principles even when the demonstrable consequences are poverty and death for so many.

Is A Different GOP Possible?

In the wake of their biggest legislative defeat since the 1960s, it's time for principled conservatives to capture the Republican Party from the corporate class and the hateful class. I think it would be good for America. But it's going to take some political soul searching for them to get there.
Principled conservatives should ask themselves:
What positive agenda are we advocating?
Are there any compromises we are willing to make--any at all?
In what ways should modern conservatism differ from what we say "the Founding Fathers intended?"
Is it perhaps more than an embarrassing coincidence that we are so often on the same side of the issues as CEOs and the KKK?

It's my sincere hope that once the provisions of the health care bill come into effect, large numbers of principled conservatives will also ask themselves, "What the hell were we doing at those Tea Party protests?" But I'm not holding my breath. What's more likely is that the provisions will slowly and quietly become more and more popular, until one day even mainstream Republicans will defend them, like they're now doing with Medicare.


delaine said...

Dave, this is what Paul Krugman wrote Sunday in the NYT:

"And let’s be clear: the campaign of fear hasn’t been carried out by a radical fringe, unconnected to the Republican establishment. On the contrary, that establishment has been involved and approving all the way. Politicians like Sarah Palin — who was, let us remember, the G.O.P.’s vice-presidential candidate — eagerly spread the death panel lie, and supposedly reasonable, moderate politicians like Senator Chuck Grassley refused to say that it was untrue. On the eve of the big vote, Republican members of Congress warned that “freedom dies a little bit today” and accused Democrats of “totalitarian tactics,” which I believe means the process known as “voting.”

So, one wonder where is the Silent Majority of the GOP? Where are the politicians of the ilk of Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln? Where are the Republican problem solvers of the Conservative stripe? I believe they are afraid to speak out and be vilified by the Beck-Limbaugh-Hannity-Fox mob. Those"pundits" and newsmen have done much to bring down the GOP.And in doing so, have spread a toxic atmosphere throughout the country. Do you think they have put two and two together yet?

Mason said...

Dave, I think you answered your own question of why principled conservatives would oppose health care reform. It's the "abstract principles." The morality of the market trumps the morality of a government handout, so the process matters more than the result.
When a piece of legislation like this passes, it's like an attack on their identity and people will be irrational defenders of the status quo and believe that it's nothing more than a trillion dollar plan to abort more babies.
Now that the bill has passed and defeat is internalized, many will settle down and realize that it may not be as bad as they thought. That's why I think the repeal campaign won't get very far. Even so, there's a big battle ahead over the next seven month of what the bill does and why we needed it and how we can afford it.
I've got both fingers crossed because I think we achieved this reform on large majorities in Congress rather than a successful sales pitch to the people. I listened to all the floor speeches before the vote and Pelosi was the only one who mentioned that access to health care is integral to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Dems too often think it's enough to say that "we can now insure 32 million people who didn't have insurance." That sounds good to fellow Dems, but doesn't make people switch sides.
In 40 years it will seem like sheer lunacy that people like my cousin's daughter with cystic fibrosis was denied health insurance, just like it's sheer lunacy now to think that my black classmates would have to use a different restroom. Government DOES grant rights, and as a people, together we CAN make progress.
Now, on to financial reform. Oh yeah, we're in a giant economic crisis with high unemployment because the market wasn't as moral as we thought.

Dave said...

Delaine, I think your right that the interests of conservative media like Fox News and talk radio often conflict with the interests of the GOP. David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, makes that point in a recent article, which I linked to in this post. Fox and Rush get more viewers/listeners when people are seething mad or scared to death. But that same anger and fear make it impossible for Republican representatives to negotiate or maneuver in office. So Republicans themselves up for EITHER a huge win (successfully blocking all reform) or a devastating defeat (what we've just witnessed).

Mason, good points. I don't think the repeal campaign is going to go anywhere at all. Whatever happens in November, Dems are going to be strong enough in Congress to stop it. (I think Dems will keep both chambers.) And by the time Republicans finally do have clout in government again, more Americans will be familiar with and favorable to these reforms. I think the repeal campaign is just an attempt to keep the base from being dejected heading into November.

Scott said...

What's clear to me is this: the GOP waaay overplayed their hand on this. Their strategy was based on a)defeating the bill in congress and/or b)hoping that if the bill did pass, it would be so unpopular that they would come out smelling like roses. Unfortunately for them, neither a nor b occurred. In fact, gallup has a poll out today showing 49% of people approve of the bill that was passed as opposed to 40% opposed. And as the actual facts about what the bill really does slowly get out in the world, the bill will become even more popular and that much tougher to repeal. Frum, and some other conservatives, have suggested Republicans should focus on efforts to make the bill stronger from the inside in the coming years as opposed to repealing it (which is impossible at the moment anyway), but my prediction is the GOP will grow even more shrill and crazy. They'll gain a few seats in congress this November, but not enough to retake either chamber, and probably lose them again in 2012 as Obama runs for re-election. We are really witnessing the death of the GOP. It's not quick and quiet either: it's long and messy. It's funny to me how Obama practically begged them to give him ideas to include in the bill which they did not oblige. He gave them a huge window to try and put their own stamp on it but their strategy was predicated on saying "no." In fact, that should be put on their headstones at their graves. But now, all Obama has to do is say "Dear uninsured America: you now have insurance that you can't be dropped from or denied based on your health. Also, your premiums won't skyrocket if you do get sick. I begged the GOP to help influence this bill but they wanted to deny your right to coverage. We the Democrats on the other hand, made this landmark bill come to fruition. So think about that when you vote."

Ok, I've rambled. Sorry Dave. Hope this makes sense. :)

Solid said...

Well, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't confess that there are a number of good things in this bill. And a lot of the repeal stuff is just ridiculous. But how would you respond to Caterpillar's report that the bill will cost them 100 million dollars next year alone? I don't want anybody to be uninsured, but I don't want anyone to be unemployed either, and it sounds to me like Caterpillar's going to have to lay off even more people soon.

Elizabeth said...

I heard a phenomenal story on NPR here in Chicago yesterday about Caterpillar's claims (they're based outside of Chicago). They made a couple points. One, when your profit is over 3 billion, 10 million isn't exactly a huge game-changer. That's not to say that it's not significant, but it puts it a little bit more in perspective. Two, they also set aside 37 million just for SEVEN executives. And if you add in their CEO, that number is bumped up to 55 million. Three, even in the economic slump of last year, they were able to still turn a profit of nearly 1 billion. That's not insignificant.

Once the NPR transcript is posted, I'll make sure to post it here. But it gets back to what this blog is all about: corporate power versus the little guy. I don't know how you can make a good case that you won't pay 100 million for your thousands and thousands of employees to have health insurance but you WILL pay over 50 million for your top 8 fat cats.

And even as Caterpillar wrote a letter against the bill, Wal-Mart, YES, WAL-MART! came out in support. The point is that corporations are responding differently. It might also matter that James Owens, Caterpillar's CEO, is a Republican and has contributed a LOT of money to the Republican party. Surely that doesn't make him biased, though, does it?

Elizabeth said...

Also, I meant to say that NPR claimed Caterpillar's math (or really accounting) was a little bit fuzzy to claim it will cost 100 million (in my last post I said 10) in just one year. I'll post the transcript when it appears.

What Blue Dot? said...

It has been so draining watching this war rage on for the last year. I shudder to think how painful the next three will be.

Have the Republicans overextended themselves on this one? Or is t possible that, just as Democrats got a little nutty during the election, the base--the real, live people of the base--has been twisted and manipulated into being just aware enough of life outside of American Idol to treat it like a raving soap opera in which nothing matters but how terrible you can make the other guy look and if people get hurt or even killed in the process... well that's just good for ratings.

I think we have all gotten tugged away from the truth that we are all human beings and the name-calling, even at CEOs, is shredding us.