That’s what Bill Clinton says is his answer when people ask how his administration produced four budget surpluses in a row. It was also his answer for why Republicans quadrupled the national debt in the 12 years before Clinton took office and doubled it again in the eight years after he left office.
“It was a highly inconvenient thing for them in our debates that I was just a country boy from Arkansas, and I came from a place where people still thought two and two was four,” he told the audience at last year’s Democratic National Convention. “It’s arithmetic.”
Republicans threatening to shut down the federal government, default on the national debt and crash the world economy unless the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is defunded are again struggling with arithmetic. But this time the math Republicans are having trouble coming to grips with is 65,915,796 – 60,933,500 = 4,982,296. That would be Barack Obama’s popular vote margin over Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.
Republicans might be forgiven their confusion. Those are big, scary numbers, especially when you consider that they represent a repudiation of most everything Republicans believe and hold dear. Things like more tax cuts for the rich, cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and repealing Obamacare.
So how about if we express them as percentages of the popular vote? Then it’s 51.06 percent vs. 47.20 percent (by the way, Obama was the first president to win election twice with 51 percent or more of the vote since Eisenhower, and only the sixth president in U.S. history to accomplish this feat). I still get a kick out of that 47 percent figure every time I see it. Who says the universe doesn’t have a sense of humor?
If percentages are too confusing for Ted Cruz and GOP members of Congress, how about 332 vs. 206? That was the electoral vote split. Granted, Obama won only a bare majority of states, 26, plus the District of Columbia. But then, those 26 states included 15 of the 25 most populous ones.
Whatever way you try to add it up, a loss is a loss. And Romney and the Republicans lost big.
Obamacare was a key issue in the 2012 presidential election, with Romney pledging to repeal it on “day one” of his administration. Obama, of course, defended his signature legislative achievement. People voted. The guy who wanted to get rid of Obamacare lost. It’s just arithmetic.
Ah, but Republicans will claim that Americans voted for “divided government,” that they returned a GOP majority to the U.S. House of Representatives to keep the Muslim socialist not-really-American guy in the White House in check. But then, America didn’t actually vote to keep the House in Republican hands. Nationwide, Democratic House candidates won about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans. Thanks to some extreme gerrymandering, the Republicans held onto a 33-seat House majority despite being the minority party (and to think the U.S. likes to lecture other countries about the virtues of “democracy”). Indeed, Republican party officials have even bragged about how they accomplished this feat. Their 2012 House victory might win them points for political strategy and even cynicism. But it didn’t earn them a mandate. Again, arithmetic.
Republicans also lost seats in the Senate, where they had hoped to take control last November. Instead, they have 46 seats in the 100-member body to 52 held by Democrats and two by independents who caucus with Democrats. You can block stuff from getting done in the Senate with 46 votes, thanks to archaic filibuster rules. But you can't pass anything with 46 votes, and you can't repeal something that's already the law, like the Affordable Care Act.
Even if Republicans in the Senate could peel off enough Red State Democrats to pass a bill defunding health care reform, there is no way they could override Obama's veto (and you know Obama is going to veto any bill defunding or repealing something called "Obamacare"). There are 233 Republicans in the House. To override a veto, House Republicans would have to muster 290 votes, 57 more than they command. Senate Republicans would need 67 votes, 21 more than they have. It just ain’t going to happen. Arithmetic.
Republicans claim that despite how they voted in November, the American people are demanding the repeal of Obamacare. But even there the numbers don’t add up. Yes, Obamacare is controversial, hardly surprising given the air time, ink and money right wingers have spent lying about it, but polls show little support for repeal or defunding.
The problem for Congress and the rest of the country is that Cruz and other Tea Party luminaries, egged on by the likes of right-wing “think” tank Heritage Foundation and Koch brothers front group Americans for Prosperity, have convinced much of their base that Republicans can repeal Obamacare as long as they stand firm. The fact such a result is mathematically impossible doesn’t ever even seem to enter into the conversation.
Mind you, this is the same Republican base that believes the Earth is 6,000 years old, global warming is a hoax and the Obama presidency had its genesis in a conspiracy that began 52 years ago when the plotters placed birth notices in Honolulu newspapers for a baby born somewhere in Kenya. Logic and reason are not popular concepts with this crowd, so we probably shouldn’t be surprised that math is a challenge for them as well.
Researchers and pundits have been warning for years that American kids’ poor math skills would eventually undermine our economy. They were half right. Math may well be our undoing, but don’t blame the kids. Blame the angry old white guys – aka Republican primary voters – who are pushing members of Congress to send the country into another depression, all in a bid to win a health care fight that the numbers say they can’t possibly win.
Like Clinton said, it’s just arithmetic.
Originally published in The BigSlice.org