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Killed by Death Panels: Why the ACA is The Elephant’s Graveyard

The fight over the Affordable Healthcare Act has doomed the Republican party. It is the event that historians will come to look back as the point of no return for the Grand Old Party.
Decaying GOP Elephant

Historians determine the length of an historical era by picking specific, significant events. Like plot points in a movie they determine not only the scope, but also anchor the historical narrative. In choosing which ones there can be a bit of a bias creep. If you’re partial to ancient Rome then you might include the Byzantines in your metric, and claim the Roman Empire ended in 1453 with the Fall of Constantinople rather than the traditional date of the fall of the Western Empire, 476, when the Germanic Chieftain Odoacer forced Romulus Augustus to abdicate. Of course if you’re a medieval historian you might be inclined to go in the other direction. Rome ceased to function as effectively as it had during the Pax Romania by 395 AD when the Emperor became merely a figurehead and strongman ruled Italy. You might push it back even earlier when Diocletian (Emperor: 284 – 305 AD) restricted social mobility by law, tying peasants to the land and effectively kicking off proto-feudalism.

A question that’s still up for debate among historians is when does history actually begin? Is it yesterday, or does a certain length of time need to pass? How important is historical distance in order to render an objective analysis? Do events possess an intrinsic historical value, or are they merely given significance by the present society for its own needs? If events do possess an intrinsic value can you know you’re living through one as its happening? How would recognize it?

The fight over the Affordable Healthcare Act has doomed the Republican party. It is the event that historians will come to look back as the point of no return for the Grand Old Party. This isn’t an isolated incident. A whole, heaping shit ton of hubris along with changing demographics lead up to this point, but ACA, or Obamacare, will be the benchmark and the Republicans have only themselves to blame.

ACA wasn’t conceived that way. In fact it’s not even a terribly liberal policy. It’s not socialized medicine, or a government takeover. It’s a private insurance based system, conceived by a conservative group, to make the healthcare market actually offer some sort of quality product. It’s not that ACA is so dangerous to the GOP, and by extension American Conservative Free Market Economic Theory, but the implication of ACA is a heart attack that is about happen for the GOP. The reason the GOP has been fighting against it tooth and nail is because it completely invalidates everything they’ve been saying since Reagan first uttered "government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem."

When, not if, ACA produces positive results for a sizable portion of the people of United States regulation of a market will not be seen as socialist despotism at worst, or naïve, liberal utopian dreaming at best. It will demonstrate that, in some things, government regulation can make some things more, not less, effective. Single Payer won’t seem like such an unthinkable proposition, and people might start to think about other industries (airlines, energy, food, even firearms) that could work more effectively with smart regulation.

That in and of itself wouldn’t doom the Republican Party. Organizations change course all the time. They go through a rough period of adjustment as habituation and culture slowly changes over time, but eventually they emerge for the better. The GOP won’t do that. In fact they can’t do that. Like a gambler who thinks just one more roll of the dice, just one more hand, one big winner will turn everything around, make all the losses somehow worth it they’ll keep doubling down on repeal. Even those so-called “smarter” voices who are saying it’s time to move on are too late.

Republicanism has become something of a religion. Objective analysis, and fact based reality don’t penetrate the bubble anymore thanks to the media machine that’s been built for them. The sermon has never been questioned, and those who’ve left the flock (myself included), are considered apostates. After you’ve preached fire and brimstone, and propagandized the remaining zealots how do you tell them what is essentially “Oops. Our bad.”? How do you go against fundamental, deeply held, core beliefs? Saying that the government, when monitored by an educated, and active citizenry, can serve the People and help make the private sector better to the Republican base would be akin to Pope Francis saying, “Look Jesus was a wise, and righteous dude, but the son of God? Come on that’s a bit of a stretch.” It’s simply not going to happen.

And that’s why the House GOP’s first act once they’re back in session will be to fuck around with Obamacare. Again. For about the 50th time. That’s not me being hyperbolic. It is literally close to 50 legislative tries at this point. That’s why Republican state governors have either blocked the Medicaid expansion for ACA outright, or tinkered with it. It’s why GOP attorneys general have done everything they could to derail the law through the courts. Heck it’s why it’s called Obamacare! The Republicans gave it that name in the hopes that once they destroyed it, once it was perceived as a failure they could hang it like an albatross around President Obama’s neck.

Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone this week that the GOP has declared war on itself.

The news came in the Wall Street Journal, where the Chamber of Commerce disclosed that it will be teaming up with Republican establishment leaders to spend $50 million in an effort to stem the tide of “fools” who have overwhelmed Republican ballots in recent seasons. Check out the language Chamber strategist Scott Reed used in announcing the new campaign:

“Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates… That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket.”

Now while I understand Ben Cohen’s point that money wins elections this will be a waste. If you have nothing to sell, nothing better to offer, in fact if what you have is worse you won’t be successful even with an unlimited budget. (See Hollywood in 2013)

If the GOP wants to move forward not having loser candidates won’t be enough. They’ll need better policy positions, ones that appeal to groups they’ve previously disregarded (everyone who isn’t White, Rich, Christian, and Male). Even if they did the GOP brand might be unsalvageable. Like the Federalists, and the Whigs the GOP will be just another party that couldn’t adapt to the changing culture of America. In regards to religion it’s much easier to change the name of the god than it is to change the practice. American Conservatism isn’t going anywhere, but the political party that is its current standard bearer is on borrowed time.

The GOP isn’t just fighting a war among its own. It’s fighting to remain relevant.