Due to the travesty of lax political and campaign finance laws in the United States that treat all spending as free speech, American politicians find themselves caught in a feudal relationship to moneyed interests.
No case better demonstrates this than the current bitter fight over the future of the 2010 health reforms adopted by then-President Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress.
The Kochs vs. the people
Case in point: The Koch Brothers, who fund many conservative organizations, have made clear that they will seek to destroy any Republican who breaks the “promise” to repeal the 2010 law.
They will spend countless millions on advertisements and other expenditures to replace renegade Republicans in primary elections within the party in 2018. They have vowed to reactivate their armies of “grassroots” hard-right conservatives of the tea party “movement” to apply pressure from the right.
Pitchforks — steered by billionaires!
In case you wonder how this is even remotely possible in a democracy supposedly as vigorous and people-oriented as that of the United States, just realize one thing.
In a political system that is at the mercy of money-driven manipulation by the very rich, it is very easy to put together enough money to buy a fake “grassroots army” of people willing to object to whatever, while backing it with advertisements.
The Kochs and other billionaire funders driving these campaigns, in effect, puts the good ol’ pitchfork image on its very head. It is not the people who protest against their overlords.
It is the overlords who don’t want a society where the interests of the vast majority get to have an impact — not the loony dreams of libertarian plutocrats.
How to steer the Republicans?
In case you wonder how the Kochs et al. enforce their vision of society on the Republican party apparatus all across the land, just two words: primary elections.
You may very well be a very successful and established officeholder, but — as a Republican — you always face the danger of being presented with a right-wing primary opponent.
Indubitable conservative incumbents such as the late Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah and Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina failed to fight off right-wing challengers in 2010, even after faithfully voting against the health reforms that year.
And to a man (usually), those primary opponents, always interested in making a splash, are funded by the likes of the Kochs, Sheldon Adelson, Club for Growth and a range of lesser-known patrons who have in the past bankrolled specific Republican presidential bids almost in their entirety.
The point of no return?
As bizarre and un-democratic as this money-driven system looks, it may now reach its point of over-reach — and potential collapse.
For the danger if it’s just billionaires and Republican officeholders that are always eager-to-please their money handlers is that, at some point, in their joint sense of omnipotence, they lose any sense of voters’ existential realities.
That point may be reached now.
Next: Political self-mutilation?
If Republicans pass virtually any of the proposals floated to repeal-and-replace the Affordable Care Act, 24-26 million people will lose coverage. Many of their own core voters in rural America will be hit so severely as to make it impossible for their base not to point fingers at them.
If they act as tone-deaf about health care “reform” — i.e., gutting it — the Republicans could even lose their Congressional majority over it.
But surely, given those stakes, they will abandon these plans and move in a different direction, to avoid the wrath of their constituents? No, the feudal allegiances are too strong a pull for these Republican Congresspeople and Senators to do that.
The feudal princes of America
On the one side are arrayed the giant insurance companies and hospitals, which oppose rollbacks of “Obamacare.” They have done very well by it financially.
On the other side are arrayed the billionaire conservative ideologues and their various front groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, the State Policy Network and Heritage Foundation, as well as the donors and organizations mentioned earlier.
This faction believes that the reforms must be undone without hesitation or delay. They represent the companies who were compelled to spend more on health insurance.
America put on its head
Where once this country saw the mobilization of grassroots pitchforks for progress, the wealthy feudal princes of 21st century American conservatism control armies with pitchforks for regression. And even still there are the moneyed rival princes on the other side of the issue to contend with.
What the world is being treated to now is the spectacle of a reactionary paralysis of reform in the United States. This development stands in stark contrast to how most people abroad have traditionally thought of the United States — as a forward movement toward a basic modern social contract and representative governance.
But that is pure fiction at this stage. Many people will have a hardtime adjusting their vision of America to that of a feudalist rule from the top that bears no similarity to the representative delegate-of-the-people model originally envisioned by the U.S. Constitution.
The new party bosses
In fairness, it is not clear that such a system ever really existed. The U.S. government was never really originally expected to be a popular governance model with universal franchise.
And local bosses with paper bags of cash from corporations (or unions) used to rule the outcome of elections well into the second half of the 20th century.
But any recent progress — from the 1970s to the early 2000s — to make U.S. elections truly free, fair and unbought has been swept aside by the opening of the floodgates of direct corporate cash.
Public-interest coalitions representing voters or members who pay dues — such as unions and environmental groups — have been unable to keep up with the tidal wave of conservative business-world campaign cash.
Conservative reform, conservative opposition
The great irony in all of this feuding over the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, as shaped by Barack Obama and his administration, is that the health reform of 2010 was genuinely a conservative, largely corporate (!) solution, although adopted by Democrats.
It was the closest preservation of the status quo U.S. health system possible and it hinged upon market competition models.
Look at it from the consumer’s perspective: The endless paperwork headaches and rapidly increasing monthly payments and annual deductibles remained. Co-pays mushroomed.
No insurance bill ever seemed final. For all the talk of “comprehensive” insurance, there always was something more to pay. There was no nationalization of insurance. Not even a public insurance option was made available.
The overdrive moment
It is this very fact that best explains why the Republicans are now at such odds — with one another, with much of the industry and indeed with reality itself.
Typically, Republicans stand for giving a larger share of the public pie to corporations. But this is an issue where corporate interests are split — and there is not much, if any, runway left on that front, considering the industry friendly approach chosen by Mr. Obama.
Thus, it is nigh impossible to imagine a more conservative solution to health care or health insurance that comes anywhere close to accomplishing what the Affordable Care Act accomplished.
And let us not forget that “Obamacare,” for all its supposed heralding of “socialism,” came up way short of what citizens and consumers are offered in most developed economies, often at a fraction of what one has to pay in the U.S. for similar (and still spotty) coverage.
From “Republican Leninism” to reality
Republicans will eventually find, if at the ballot box, that their crass attempt to make health care reality fit their extremist notions of how to organize society by focusing on the destruction of what works will backfire on them.
From here on out, given the immense cost pressures the average American lives under, the only viable conservative solutions will actually go further than the ACA.
One reasonable, “unsocialist” model that would fit the U.S. market very well is to move toward a German-style, tightly regulated non-profit insurance system. The progressive or liberal proposals will tend toward public options, Medicare-for-all, sector nationalization and/or full single-payer.
Republicans: Full of ammunition, but out of ideas that work
But viable solutions are not likely to find traction in a Republican Party that is fully in the thrall of the moneyed princes and their reactionary foot-soldiers.
How much longer they can keep treading water against the bulk of their own constituents and the moneyed princes who actually oppose the reactionary and regressive proposals is an open question.