Here’s how GOP Obamacare hypocrisy backfires

GOP base doesn't understand right wants to turn Medicare, Social Security and more into a very similar program

Topics: Obamacare, Ted Cruz, Tea Party, Conservatives, Politics, Editor's Picks, Medicare, ,

Here's how GOP Obamacare hypocrisy backfires Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor (Credit: AP/Alex Brandon)

The smartest thing yet written about the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s federal exchange program is a post by Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute at his “Rortybomb” blog at Next New Deal.  Konczal makes two points, each of which deserves careful pondering.

The first point is that to some degree the problems with the website have been caused by the overly complicated design of Obamacare itself.  Instead of being a simple, universal program like Social Security or Medicare, the Affordable Care Act system is designed as if to illustrate Steven Teles’ notion of “kludgeocracy” or needless, counterproductive complexity in public policy.  By using means-testing to vary subsidies among individuals and by trying to match individuals with private insurance companies, the ACA requires far more information about people who try to sign up than do simpler public programs like Social Security and Medicare.  If Congress had passed Medicare for All, the left’s preferred simple, universal alternative to the kludgeocratic ACA mess, signing up would have been a lot easier and the potential for website snafus correspondingly less.

Konczal’s second point is even more important — the worst features of Obamacare are the very features that conservatives want to impose on all federal social policy: means-testing, a major role for the states, and subsidies to private providers instead of direct public provision of health or retirement benefits.   This is not surprising, because Obamacare’s models are right-wing models — the Heritage Foundation’s healthcare plan in the 1990s and Mitt Romney’s “Romneycare” in Massachusetts.

This point is worth dwelling on.  Conservatives want all social insurance to look like Obamacare.  The radical right would like to replace Social Security with an Obamacare-like system, in which mandates or incentives pressure Americans to steer money into tax-favored savings accounts like 401(k)s and to purchase annuities at retirement, with means-tested subsidies to help the poor make their private purchases.  And most conservative and libertarian plans for healthcare for the elderly involve replacing Medicare with a totally new system designed along the lines of Obamacare, with similar mandates or incentives to compel the elderly to buy private health insurance from for-profit corporations.



If you don’t like Obamacare, you should really, really hate the proposed conservative alternatives to Social Security and Medicare.  Konczal writes:

Conservatives in particular think this website has broad implications for liberalism as a philosophical and political project. I think it does, but for the exact opposite reasons: it highlights the problems inherent in the move to a neoliberal form of governance and social insurance, while demonstrating the superiorities in the older, New Deal form of liberalism. This point is floating out there, and it turns out to be a major problem for conservatives as well, so let’s make it clear and explicit here.

Building on an insightful discussion of public policy by means of subsidies or “coupons” published by the New America Foundation’s Next Social Contract initiative, Konczal contrasts the indirect, market-based, state-based  neoliberal/conservative approach to social insurance that inspired Obamacare with the kind of universal federal social insurance preferred by liberals in the tradition of FDR and LBJ:

So this tells a story. Let’s refer to these features of social insurance, which are also playing a major role in the rollout problems, as “Category A.” Now, what would the opposite of this look like? Let’s define the opposite of this as “Category B” social insurance. And let’s take these two categories and chart them out:

Konczal speculates that the flaws of Obamacare may undermine public support for proposed conservative replacements of Social Security and Medicare:

However, the smarter conservatives who are thinking several moves ahead (e.g. Ross Douthat) understand that this failed rollout is a significant problem for conservatives. Because if all the problems are driven by means-testing, state-level decisions and privatization of social insurance, the fact that the core conservative plan for social insurance is focused like a laser beam on means-testing, block-granting and privatization is a rather large problem. As Ezra Klein notes, “Paul Ryan’s health-care plan — and his Medicare plan — would also require the government to run online insurance marketplaces.” Additionally, the Medicaid expansion is working well where it is being implemented, and the ACA is perhaps even bending the cost curve of Medicare, the two paths forward that conservatives don’t want to take.

Will the flaws of Obamacare really hurt the right and help center-left supporters of universal social insurance?  I doubt it.

To begin with, this implies a willingness of the right to acknowledge that Obamacare, in its design, is essentially a conservative program, not a traditional liberal one.  But we have just been through a presidential campaign in which Mitt Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts presided over the creation of the most important model for Obamacare, rejected any comparison of Romneycare with Obamacare.   What is more, instead of agreeing with Konczal that the flaws of Obamacare are shared by most conservative entitlement reform proposals, conservatives are likely simply to denounce Obamacare as “socialism” or “collectivism” while promoting their own, Obamacare-like replacements for Social Security and Medicare, with blithe indifference to their own inconsistency.

Nor are progressives likely to press the point in present or future debates.  Unlike conservatives, who are right-wingers first and Republicans second, all too many progressives put loyalty to the Democratic Party — most of whose politicians, including Obama, are not economic progressives — above fidelity to a consistent progressive economic philosophy.  These partisan Democratic spinmeisters are now treating Obamacare, not as an essentially conservative program that is better than nothing, but as something it is not — namely, a great victory of progressive public policy on the scale of Social Security and Medicare.

In doing so, progressive defenders of Obamacare may inadvertently be digging the graves of Social Security and Medicare.

If Obamacare — built on means-testing, privatizing and decentralization to the states — is treated by progressives as the greatest liberal public policy success in the last half-century, then how will progressives be able to argue against proposals by conservative Republicans and center-right neoliberal Democrats to means-test, privatize and decentralize Social Security and Medicare in the years ahead?

I predict that it is only a matter of time before conservatives and Wall Street-backed  “New Democrats” begin to argue that, with Obamacare in place, it makes no sense to have two separate healthcare systems for the middle class — Obamacare for working-age Americans, Medicare for retired Americans.  They will suggest, in a great bipartisan chorus:  Let’s get rid of Medicare, in favor of Lifelong Obamacare!  Let’s require the elderly to keep purchasing private insurance until they die!

I’m sure a number of token “centrist” Democrats will be found, in due time, to support the replacement of Medicare by Lifelong Obamacare.  And with neoliberal Democratic supporters of the proposal as cover, the overclass centrists of the corporate media will begin pushing for Lifelong Obamacare as the sober, responsible, “adult” policy in one unsigned editorial after another.

Once Medicare has been abolished in favor of Lifelong Obamacare, perhaps by a future neoliberal Democratic president like Clinton and Obama, Social Security won’t last very long.

The conservative Republicans and centrist Democrats will argue that the success of Obamacare, in both its initial version and the new and improved Lifelong Obamacare version, proves that a fee-based, means-tested, privatized and state-based system is superior to the universal, federal, tax-based Social Security program enacted nearly a century ago in the Dark Age known as the New Deal.  We will be told that, in a world with computers and globalization and apps or whatever, simple, universal, one-size-fits all social insurance is obsolete.  In the “new economy,” public policy needs to offer as many baffling choices as airlines or gyms, like the ridiculous bronze, silver, gold and platinum plans of Obamacare.

At some point in the future, the right will introduce a plan to replace Social Security with a system of individual mandates and fines to compel working-age Americans to invest in for-profit Wall Street mutual funds during one’s working years, and to compel them to buy annuities from for-profit money managers at retirement (which with the help of centrist Democrats will be postponed to 70 or beyond).  The genuine progressives will respond with a defense of Social Security.  Whereupon the faux-progressives, the neoliberal heirs of Carter, Clinton and Obama, will reject the option of preserving Social Security — why, that’s crazy left-wing radical talk! — but insist that the subsidies for the poorest of the elderly be slightly increased, as the price for their adoption of the conservative plan to destroy Social Security.  Throughout the process, the right-wing Republicans and neoliberal Democrats will ask, “How can progressives object to means-testing, privatization and 50 state programs, when those are the very features of the Obamacare system that our friends on the left celebrate as a great achievement?”

Think about it, progressives.  The real “suicide caucus” may consist of those on the center-left who, by passionately defending the Affordable Care Act rather than holding their noses, are unwittingly reinforcing the legitimacy of the right’s long-term strategy of repealing the greatest achievements of American liberalism.

Michael Lind is the author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States and co-founder of the New America Foundation.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...