The Spoils of War: For One Side, Healthcare; For the Other, an Incurable Condition

DDWar is a series of battles, but is always about a bigger prize. The I Ching warns of this, and every hunter knows: watch with your eyes, listen with your ears. Know where you are and what’s ahead before you make your next step.

War has two goals: 1) win; take away, tie up or use up options to bring defeat to your enemies and put people, resources and authority under your control; 2) a new system; alter the methods and positions of power, both as a deterrent and control.

Without guns, America is witnessing a political civil war. It’s not loose talk or noise. It is advanced by legislative procedures that breach trust, crater resources, and weaken the entire Republic. It leaves opponents without a defense. It accumulates power for a well funded, fortressed minority. Its losses embolden its backers and voters.

Let’s look at the logic of the healthcare-government funding fight: why will Republicans not eliminate tax credits for Big Oil not tied to life or death, or cut defense? Why will they endanger the lives of citizens by denying healthcare in the name of freedom and jobs?

Because healthcare is only a flag; as in battles of old when the the object was to bring down the flag and the courageous flag holder—the battle within the battle—healthcare is one of the main dynamics of changes the GOP targeted in their march and attacks to restrict opportunity and install limits on personal liberty, especially for women.

Flag and flag holder: on the day that marked his greatest success, perhaps the greatest day of his presidency, Barack Obama was forced to watch the government he was elected to head shut down.

That government, while he has held its flag, tightened equal pay requirements, protected financial consumers, increased Wall Street oversight, enabled people with intra-gender sexual preferences to serve openly in the military, provided middle class tax cuts, cleaned up the Gulf, and developed a working agreement to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

It’s closed.

America rejects the New Orleans idea of the spy boy; it doesn’t seem to want a President with forward vision. It’s too busy looking backward, or stuck in the present. The national character is one of passion, excited by the unexpected, without realizing these moments are often planned.

Like a magician’s act.

Republicans have leveraged this naive view of politics into skillful deceptions, with the assistance of media’s commitment to the doctrine of false equivalency. Media reports a world that lacks comparisons, outcomes and consequences, and in the name of fairness, only reports narratives of blame.

The media didn’t widely report some Republicans in the House ran on the intent of shutting government down. Republicans blitzed the flag and flag holder, the people’s government and its elected President. If they didn’t get the flag, they took up the siege.

A few spy boys took note: A New York Times commenter on Paul Krugman’s blog wrote:

 “None of this is about the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare; It is about whose legacy this legislation stands to benefit: A black man.”

It’s also about how easily he has dismantled their most cherished myths and took power that was for so long in the grip of their hands. So, chagrined at losing their mojo, they confuse their decline with insolence. But they are impertinent about the basics we expect of national elected officials. As the Washington Post put in an editorial:

“Pay the bills and try not to embarrass us in front of the world.”

Publicly and privately, these officials have named and targeted government the enemy. And before day one, these officials and their financiers questioned, at every level that involves rumor and error, Barack Obama’s constitutional right to be President.

Hardball MSNBC show host Chris Matthews had the following exchange with Rep. Steve King (R-NY) this week:

MATTHEWS: I’ve had members, they know who they are, they say — ‘I really can’t say with these lips that this man, Barack Obama, was elected President.’ They choke on that. How many are there in Congress on your side that represent that rejectionist front? [...]

KING: I would say there are probably 30 or 40 who are like that. As there were a number of Democrats who felt that way about George W. Bush, and going back to when you and I first met, Republicans who felt that way about Bill Clinton… This is a very dangerous aspect to our government… The fact that we have people who are willing to demonize the President of the United States because he’s from a different party… and now, obviously, with President Obama, it’s definitely there.

Texas Governor Rick Perry said implementing Obamacare is a felony.

So, in the riving throes of contempt, the GOP wants to show that America can do without government and nothing bad will happen. It is a near-sighted approach to power, because, in fact, government manages the long term. The drift of environmental poisons, food safety, federal land, highway safety, air traffic, weather reports, passports and a host of other invisible services dampen short-term shocks by effective long-range planning.

Government has a positive, sustaining impact on our lives. So nothing will happen today. Or likely, tomorrow.

But that’s not the point! The short term is safe not because we don’t need government, but because government has worked effectively to make it secure. Continue reading The Spoils of War: For One Side, Healthcare; For the Other, an Incurable Condition

A State of the Union Address Filled with Common Sense

My first college course in anthropology instilled in me a profound appreciation for best practices. It’s been a personal mission to uncover the best ideas and chart how they work, identifying their structures and functions. One discovery has been that even bad ideas can work well. It sounds strange, but the success of an idea often has nothing to do with its truth or level of insight. Its power and influence has more to do with its context and how it functions with other assumptions and tasks.

We would all prefer strong ideas that work well. Alaska’s Iditarod grips my imagination most winters, more than the State of the Union. The long distance grit of lead dogs Andy, Larry, and Granite guiding teams through 50-50-50s—winds 50 miles an hour, temperatures 50 degrees below, with visibility less than 50 feet—across wilderness and glaciers is a test of endurance rarely seen in politics. And the Iditarod offers equal opportunity. Susan Butcher won three in a row and four out of five between 1986 and 1990, and once had two dogs killed mid-race by a pregnant moose.

Last night’s State of the Union had Speaker Boehner making pregnant moose faces; his uncomfortableness with the President’s proposals was obvious—but was it a bad idea that served, from Boehner’s view, a good intent? Did it function to keep the GOP brand alive, apart from the pockets of craziness where they are winning elections, winning not really based on their platform of budgets (most states have laws that require balanced budgets), but more on hot button issues like immigration and race, or winning in one-party states out west?

The President, often criticized as a poor team player, continued to prove he is an effective leader (Susan Butcher’s dog Granite suffered from the same criticism!) with good ideas.  He has also proven he can outrun the lumbering herds of opponents who have not adapted to the new environment and are using outmoded best practices.

The silent test of last night’s State of the Union was to outflank Ronald Reagan. Even President Obama has described Reagan as someone who reset the arc in America’s politics. Yet we forget the circumstances of that reset. Reagan created the meme that all of the problems of society were created by government excess. But what were the problems?

Women pushing for access to opportunity and self-determination, blacks refusing to be exploited, physically intimidated or discriminated against; massive resistance to corporate interests; food purchased from the bins of co-ops rather than on sale in plastic packages and cans stocked by chains. Reagan realized that the government protected those actions and had played a major part in expanding these rights. He coined the idea that government “created” these problems and caused the disturbing sight of school kids being bused and women deciding about pregnancy, and colleges graduating more critical thinkers who challenged the system and the status quo. The government didn’t reflect the will of the people, the people reflected the will of the now all-powerful government. But without the help of government, the gains of the people probably couldn’t be sustained.

In Reagan’s view, stop government, stop the advance of the people. He couldn’t sell an attack against the people—couldn’t demagogue blacks, women, youth as the problem (which for conservatives, they were!)—so he brilliantly assigned blame to government and used exaggerated stereotypes to knock it down. The welfare queen and other non-existent stories were repeated until the bad idea of government’s bad ideas became the Republican best practice for winning elections. Even Reagan’s ideology of cutting taxes to provide greater wealth to the rich didn’t happen during his administration, but the idea survived and is the basis of Republican policy today.

Despite widespread thinking that liberalism (again a code word for blacks, women and youth, packaged as “growing government”) was dead, Barack Obama somehow made it through and revived it in his first term. No matter; the new GOP plan was to blame his success and go after the old groups with a vengeance. If the stimulus succeeded, blame Obama for its size. If the economy recovered, blame entitlements, loudly arguing it could be even better without them. Turn obstruction into patriotism. Sprinkle the discussion with a little of the sour sickness of race—always heretofore cured by blaming the victim. Continue reading A State of the Union Address Filled with Common Sense

The Negative Consequences of Friendship

Congratulations Barack Obama! Your second inaugural was sublime and passionate, and the weather offered a beautiful, brisk day. But I’m thinking about poor William Henry Harrison in 1841, who spoke for two hours in the cold without a hat or coat during his inaugural. He died thirty-two days later, from complications of pneumonia.

His impulse of the ridiculous lives on in the attitudes of today’s Congressional Republicans. They too have Harrison’s meaningless tenacity and his willingness to ignore the impending damage. In this vein, the first bill the House will consider is one that cuts off the salaries of Senate millionaires.

Michelle Obama was right to roll her eyes. The Boehner-directed legislation that demands a budget resolution also raises the debt ceiling for three months. During his tenure, Boehner has turned the House into a legislative assembly line, passing versions of the same bills over and over, including the repeal of the Affordable Care Act thirty-four times!

Boehner’s dysfunction is accepted as a part of the political game, the differences between the parties. It’s not. The real difference between the parties is in their commitment to differences in ideology. The Republican positions are mistaken for policy, as variations of a broad approach to governing that reduces government spending and oversight. This persistent idea is absolutely contradicted over and over by the words and actions of Republicans themselves; their policies’ common feature is its ideology of power, power in its worst and best cases, its hidden relationships, its strategies and paradoxes, its pursuit as the prize.

That’s why the bill to temporarily raise the debt ceiling for three months has a provision to block the Senate’s salaries unless it meets the House’s demands. That’s not about policy; it’s a blatant, bruising bill that asserts power and challenges the Senate, dictating the terms and conditions they must meet, or accept a House-imposed-and-passed personal penalty.

Even a divided, smaller Republican party would have many tools left to further its drive for power. First, the Republican Party has well financed outside help. From organizations such as the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity to the Jim DeMint-headed Heritage Foundation to its large individual donors, Republicans have an ever-expanding cache of money to use to advance its pursuit. Too often, Democrats and progressives decouple money from politics after elections, without recognizing that for Republicans the funding cycle never ebbs. Continue reading The Negative Consequences of Friendship