Friday, October 2, 2009

Right Republicans

Political lore has it that Joe Kennedy used to say: “Show me a Republican, and I’ll show you a son of a bitch.” Since it takes one to know one, he should know. But that was back when the pillars of the WASP establishment were, to a man (I use the term deliberately), Republican. Nowadays, the Grand Old Party is comprised mainly of folks with whom those gentlemen and their ladies would never think of breaking bread or welcoming into their houses (except to work there) – ill-informed, status-anxiety ridden, racist, God-fearing morons. This is what Nixon’s Southern Strategy and Reagan’s recruitment of useful idiots has come to. Even so, for the most part, ruling class types remain in the Republican fold – after all, their greed knows no bounds, and the idiots are useful. Meanwhile, however, cultural contradictions are intensifying, and who knows where it will end. For the time being though, it is fair to say that “son of a bitch” is much to kind. Show me a Republican and I’ll show you a reprobate (at least as regards anyone already born) with the mind of a laughing stock or, what comes to the same thing, a Limbough/Beck/Palin fan. To whoever says otherwise, I say “you lie!”

The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party is, of course, good news for Democrats. But it would be far better news if the Democratic base had more than a handful of representatives in Congress, and if the White House was not so resolutely “bipartisan.” Small as it may be, the Republican base is well represented in Congress. Show me a Democratic legislator nowadays and there’s a better than even chance I can show you a son of a bitch – a bought and paid for one to boot. But show me a Republican legislator and I’ll show you an authentic representative of the Moronic Minority.

[There are other advantages that the Republican base has over the much larger Democratic base. Among other things, the political entrepreneurs and public relations hacks who rile the Republican base up have the backing of very deep corporate pockets, while the Democratic base is self-generating and, for the most part, self-sustaining. Also, unlike the Democratic base, the Republican base has a network of well-funded, dedicated mass media, not just Fox News, pushing its case.]

Witness the endless “deliberations” of the Senate Finance Committee – with its five miscreant Democrats (led by the profiteers’ flunky-in-chief, Senator Max Baucus) and its Republicans. Noxious as the other Democrats on the committee may be – I’m thinking especially of Charles Schumer – it’s hard not to root for them against the others. After all, what they are promoting is significantly less bad than what will emerge from Baucus’ bipartisan efforts. Nevertheless, there is a stubborn fact that cannot be denied: that on the question of the “public option,” the good (less bad) guys are wrong and the Republicans, along with their Democratic co-thinkers, are right.

They’re wrong, not in wanting a public option, but in insisting that a real one – one that is not transparently a sham – would do no lasting harm to the insurance industry but would only keep private insurers “honest” by forcing them to compete. Like Obama’s claim that real health care reform can be “deficit neutral,” this is nonsense. If the mere addition of a competitor were so beneficial, then costs should be lower and access greater in proportion to how much competition among private insurers there is in different markets now. Where is the evidence that competition has this effect? There is none for an obvious reason: because the only way one more competitor would lower costs and improve access significantly is if its costs were significantly less than its competitors. Any public option that is not just a sham concocted to placate “liberals” as they cave in entirely, would lower costs and improve access by reducing administrative costs and, above all, by eliminating the profit motive. It would therefore be a harbinger of a system of health care provision in which, as in civilized countries, health care is a right, not a commodity. Thus the Republicans are right, and the Democrats (or rather the “liberals” among them) are wrong. The public option is the camel’s nose in the tent. Get it in place and we will finally be on track for backing into where we should long ago have gone directly.

After all, other things being equal, who but a doctrinaire libertarian – in other words, a free market theologian – would prefer to pay more just in order to keep health care a commodity? Outside the cesspools from which birthers and deathers and tenthers are spawned, not anybody at all, except perhaps the handful of capitalists who profit directly from the system in place. That’s why a public option, assuming it’s one worth having, is so important.

Wrong-headed and dumb as they may be, the Republicans are therefore right about one thing – the debate over a public option is not about holding private insurers “honest.” It’s about whether, in matters of illness and health, we will inch towards the only viable cure for what ails us or, as Republicans and their co-thinkers in the Lesser Evil party prefer, hurdle towards disaster by letting private ownership and market mechanisms work their many harms.

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