The GOP Takes Its Clothes Off in Public: It's Not a Pretty Sight, Even for Some Republicans

Lyndon Johnson's vision of the "Great Society" Program came to an end in 1967, after he had decided that in order to fend off GOP red-baiting tactics, he had to expand the War on Vietnam. Since that time, our nation has been governed either by Republican Presidents and Republican policies or by Democratic Presidents who pretty much went along with the Republicans on major issues. Funnily enough, Richard Nixon, who some of us grew up learning to hate as one of the epitomes of the McCarthyite terror, was also the last President to implement major forward looking national programs, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. In fact, it is most ironic that if it had not been for Watergate, under Nixon - assuming that a compromise could have been reached with Ted Kennedy - we would have had a national health insurance program that would have been much more progressive than "Obamacare" at its very best.

Nothing much happened domestically under Jimmy Carter, although I myself heard him pledge, at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in 1976, that by the end of his first term, a comprehensive national health insurance program would be in place. From the time of Ronald Reagan onward there have been no comprehensive progressive domestic policy reforms, although there have been some negative ones, like the "end of welfare as we know it" and "the days of 'big government' are over" under Clinton. All of this time the Republican Party's mantra, whether in the White House or not, has been mainly characterized by "lower taxes" (no matter how much they might have been already lowered) and "smaller government" (except of course for big-government programs that they just love like the keeping military-industrial and prison-industrial complexes humming along, fighting the so-called "drug war," providing huge subsidies to the petroleum industry and factory farmers, and so on and so forth). But they were never public, or very public, about their true agenda. They always tried to keep the focus on "lower taxes, smaller government," with of course lots of push on the distractive issues of religious determinism, like opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage.

Then we came to the October, 2013 fight over the Continuing Resolution to keep the federal government functioning, which led to the shutdown of most of its operations for about two weeks. The House GOP, led by its most far-right, so-called "Tea Party" members, made killing "Obamacare" their price for approving a continuing resolution to keep the Federal government functioning for another six weeks or so. They wanted to achieve by this tactic what they could not achieve through the electoral and conventional legislative processes. Of course, that time around, they failed.

But earlier in the confrontation, they revealed a much broader agenda for specific policies than they usually put before the electorate:

1. Approve of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

2. Weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

3. Delay implementation of Obamacare for one year.

4. Cut $120 billion from federal health programs over the next decade.

5. Increase offshore oil drilling and energy production on federal lands.

6. Block federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

7. Restrict most forms of federal industry regulation.

And with this list, they suddenly took off their clothes, showing their real priorities and interests.

A quick read shows the industries which the implementation of these policies would benefit and which consumer/worker/overall national interests it would harm, in many cases most grievously. The GOP has sponsored such policies for decades, as pointed out above. But they rarely put them up front and center on the political table. While for the moment they have cut back to just killing Obamacare, the Democrats should waste no time in going after this true agenda (but of course, for the most part, the Democrats, other than folks like Elizabeth Warren and Alan Grayson aren't). One must give the President credit, however, for at least digging in his heels on the attempt of the GOP to achieve through fiscal blackmail what they could not achieve through politics and the Democratic process: repeal of Obamacare.

But they have taken off their clothes about more than what they are really about. As has been pointed out by many (e.g., the both great and funny Stephanie Miller), what they are really scared of about Obamacare is not that it is bad law or will cost so much money (the Joe Scarborough mantra). What they are most concerned about is that it will actually work and that even by the 2014 elections they will be taking a very hard hit for having opposed it, even beyond the end of the usual legislative/electoral political process, putting the nation at such risk (e.g., at last look, about 3,000 flight safety inspectors had been furloughed). If in fact what they were really concerned about is the nation's future fiscal health (as Joe Scarborough tells us over and over again, all the time talking over and around the estimable [on this issue at least] Mika Brzezinski), there's always raising taxes on the wealthy, introducing new taxes that could secure huge amounts of money for the federal treasury, e.g., the stock market transaction tax, and then major cuts in the federal big-money programs that the GOP loves so much (see above). But that won't happen.

And so, the "moderate" (ho, ho, ho) House Republicans tell us that what they are afraid of is primary challenges from the "Tea Party" should they vote for rationality on the continuing resolution matter and then on the perhaps more important debt ceiling increase that is just around the corner. Well yes, many of them would face such challenges, but the overall national leadership of the GOP is just as afraid of them as any individual House member is. For in the highly gerrymandered districts inhabited by so many Republicans in the House, many of those challenges would be effective. But then, in the general election, given decent Democratic candidates with some money from the DNC, even in gerrymandered districts, as happened in a few elections in 2010 and 2012, the far-rightists might be so far-right, that Democrats might be able to take over the House. To say nothing of what it might do to GOP chances in the state–wide elections for Governor and Senator. Then there's Ted Cruz and 2016. A big OY! on that one.

This does not bode well for national policy (and believe me, as a long-time supporter of "single-payer" health reform I am not a big fan of Obamacare), for fiscal health, and, when the next debt ceiling fight comes along, for the status of the US as a nation that stands behind its debt-obligations. You can be sure that the Heritage Foundation-sponsored Ted Cruz will be at it again.  And so do stay tuned for more even than that: in addition to the future health of the nation and the many presently un- or under-insured who would benefit under Obamacare, even with gerrymandering and organized voter-suppression, the Republican Party might be so bagged with the "Tea Party," that its future health might also be at stake.

Finally, the GOP may well come to have buyer's remorse for whatever they paid to the slogan-smith (Frank Luntz?) who came up with the term "Obamacare" as a substitute for its short legislative name, the "Affordable Care Act." If the President wins this one, and Obamacare goes into effect, and if it achieves the modest levels of improvement in health and health care that it is capable of, his name will forever be on the most important piece of domestic legislation passed by Congress since Medicare. Not good news for the GOP, perhaps even years down the road.


An earlier version of this column appeared on BuzzFlash at: