es, that is what the ideological one-noters among Republicans want to do, so let them do it! Of course it’s not that simple, as even two-note Republicans have begun to acknowledge wanly, since flat-out repeal could make enemies for the party, maybe twenty million of the suddenly uninsured. That’s almost ten times the number of votes Hillary won by. Bring it on.
In reality, Obamacare threatens to become a deadly serious tar baby for Republicans: the more they mess with it, the more it’s going to entangle them in sticky wickets (and forced metaphors). The sensible thing for others is to stand back and watch the spectacle. It can’t end well for Republicans, because they have no connection to the supposed purpose of Obamacare: providing health insurance that makes health care more possible for more people. Obamacare isn’t just an ordinary tar baby, it’s a tar baby designed by Rube Goldberg, managing to provide an unnecessarily complex solution to the wrong question that is only tangentially related to the right question (How do we provide health care for everybody?).
For years, Obamacare has been a Democratic tar baby and Democrats, irrationally, will likely feel compelled to defend it because they built it, they prolonged it, and besides it’s part of Obama’s legacy. That argument is all well and good for sentimentalists and lockstep party loyalists looking for more cliffs to march off, but the rest of us might want to figure out something less suicidal, maybe even something more beneficial to all those strangers sometimes known as “the American people.”
If Obama had been more concerned with his legacy in the first year of his presidency than he was in its last year, he might have made a serious commitment to universal health care, instead of wasting the country’s time and energy on something like half a loaf for half the folks. That would have been difficult, visionary, and correct, but it was technically doable with no Republican votes (the same number Obamacare got). Democrats, and Democrats alone, denied the country the chance to have Medicare for all. So when Democrats talk about defending health care and Obamacare as if those were the same thing, they have no credibility. To regain credibility, Democrats will have to rediscover something like principle, and the courage to stand for principle – qualities they’ve mostly done without since Tip O’Neill played roll-me-over-in-the-clover with Ronald Reagan, a corrupt game in which the “ordinary” American got gutted.
The sensible response to Republican attacks on Obamacare is to urge them to go for it – go ahead, repeal Obamacare in its entirety, but only after replacing it with Medicare for all. That is a rational position, that is an honest position, and that is the best medical and economic position. That is even a strategic political position. Let Republicans tangle tactically with the tar baby, while the principled opposition takes a stand for something that works for everyone. Single payer health care isn’t an experiment, it’s a tested system that works in other countries around the world. Even if standing for Medicare for all is a losing position in the short term, it secures the moral and intellectual high ground for the future.
Democrats lost the election for a host of reasons, one of which was that Democratic voters stayed home in greater numbers (and percentages) than Republican voters. Young voters, who turned out for Bernie, stayed home in greater numbers than in 2012. It’s just possible that Democrats stayed home because their party no longer defends, or even much fights for decent Democratic values. If this self-eviscerated party can’t restore itself, then it’s time for a new party to emerge from the ashes of the old.
Health care is pretty much a universal concern, so why not do it right, or go down fighting? When the only alternative to doing the most sensible, effective thing is just a competition between the hypocritically inadequate and the inadequately hypocritical, why is that considered an alternative at all?