Updated below, Saturday night.
Nothing makes Republicans feel more virtuous than bullying the poor into practicing virtues they never had to practice themselves.
This is how we get treated to the spectacle of George W. Bush, who never put in a full forty hour week before he became President, never held a job, including the Presidency, his family’s money and influence didn’t secure for him, gushing over the virtuousness of a woman working three jobs in order to pay for minimal health insurance for herself and her family.
It’s how Paul Ryan can set himself up as a moral exemplar for the working poor and lecture them on their lack of self-reliance and a proper work ethic, which if they had either, as he pompously and fatuously admonishes, would put them on the path to comfort and prosperity, without his feeling he needs to explain how he would know, considering he’s rich thanks to having inherited money, married money, and had money thrown at him by richer people who can’t pay him enough to hear him bully the poor and devise unworkable “budgets” whose main objective is to make the rich richer by making the poor poorer.
I’d like to hear Ryan explaining to a working mother of small children she could make all her troubles go away just by writing a vapid book strung together from a list of conservative-beloved clichés that her rich friends could turn into a bestseller by buying thousands of copies to give away at political fundraisers.
By substituting moralizing for morality, Republicans cover a multitude of their own sins. They get to be selfish and greedy. They get to be complacent, self-satisfied, and boastful and vain. They get to be uncharitable, unforgiving, unyielding, and unkind. They get to bully and scold and torment and punish the poor and unfortunate. They get to look on with smug self-approval as people fail to live up to the high standards they set for them but not for themselves. They get to watch with lofty disdain as people lose their jobs, lose their homes, go broke, go hungry, get sick, and die. And all the while they get to congratulate themselves on what a good deed they are doing with their petty cruelty and meanness and how their hardness of heart will get them into heaven.
And, make no mistake, they enjoy watching others fail. They need to see them fail. It’s a key to their vanity. Of course the main reason they do anything is to advance their own economic interests which are those of the rich who can never make enough money. The point is almost always more money and the way to more money is either to earn it, which is hard, or not spend it which can be done in ways that cost others more than it costs themselves. They don’t think they should have to spend money to begin with, since they own everything already. This is why they hate to pay taxes. They own the country. Why should they have to pay for the benefits of living in a place they own? And why should they have to pay to help others afford to live on their property? Those people, those parasites, should be paying them rent! And this sense of proprietary entitlement extends towards paying those others to do the work that makes them their money. Why should they pay you for what is already theirs? They own the fruits of your labor going in. They own your labor. They own you, if the truth be told.
It’s necessary that you understand that.
If you don’t, you might not let them get away with underpaying and exploiting you.
It’s useful, then, that you believe your poor pay and exploitation are your own doing.
You deserve what you get.
Their moral posturing and pretenses of superior virtue are intended to make you feel you’re the moral failure and the victim of your own vices. If you were good and decent and deserving, if God favored you as he favors them, you wouldn’t be what you are and where you are. You’d be one of them. One of God’s favored. One of life’s winners.
Accept that and internalize it, feel yourself as at fault and to blame, then you won’t in “good conscience” ask for more. You won’t object when they decide to give you even less.
But beyond that they have themselves convinced that making money is a virtue. Not a sign of virtue. The virtue. The virtue from which other virtues spring. You don’t make money unless you are virtuous. You must be diligent to begin with, then prudent, then thrifty, then self-denying, then, without losing your head about it, generous at least to the moderate degree of sharing---sharing the work, sharing costs, sharing the benefits---so that others will share with you.
This might be a limited and limiting concept of virtue, but what makes it vicious in practice instead of virtuous is the vanity it engenders and the need to feed that vanity through knowing that others are less virtuous than you.
This leads to sadism. How better to know they are less virtuous than watching them suffer for it unless it’s by being able to make them suffer for it at one’s own righteous hand?
If I didn’t deserve the whip would God have handed me the whip?
And this is why I believe they oppose everything that might contribute to the public good. Contributing to the public good is against their economic interests, to start with. Do good for the public and the public might start thinking they’re meant to have and enjoy good things. It’s not that they won’t work. It’s that they won’t work on the conditions the owners and bosses set. If they don’t need a particular job to survive and thrive, they won’t do as they’re told and like it and lump it for whatever the owners and bosses deign to pay. They will cost the rich money and they already cost the rich too much money.
They don’t hate Obamacare. They hate the prospect of universal health care in any form because it’s a public good and therefore against their economic interests. It costs them money by increasing their taxes and decreasing their ability to bully and exploit workers.
And it violates the principle that bridges their economic interests and their sense of superior virtue: Nobody should get anything they can’t pay for out of pocket with money they earned. If you can’t pay for the best health care, you don’t get to have the best health care. If you can’t pay for any health care, you don’t get to have your health cared for. You suffer. You do without. You muddle through until you get better. And if you don’t get better, you die. And you understand and accept that this is your own fault, the just punishment you earned through your own lack of virtue.
Liberals don’t care if it’s your fault or not. They just want you to get better because it’s a public good that you do. This goes for your economic as well as your physical well-being. Free community college isn’t a “gift” to the children of the undeserving poor---let’s gloss over the fact that it’s designed as a reward, not a gift. You have to earn it by getting good grades, in contrast to the children of the rich who can go to elite private colleges even if they’ve earned less than good grades as long as their parents are able and willing to pick up the tab.---it’s a public good based on the fact that we all benefit by increasing opportunities generally because we all benefit from living in a better educated, more broadly prosperous and therefore more stable society. Universal health care is a public good because we all benefit from living in a generally healthier and less anxious and more economically secure society.
It’s ridiculous to call the ACA a Republican health plan, either as a defense or a criticism, because the Heritage Foundation plan Romneycare and by extension Obamacare were modeled on wasn’t a plan. It was a ploy. It was designed to be rejected out of hand by the likes of Ted Kennedy, who, the designers judged, wouldn’t accept anything less than national health care paid for directly by the federal government. The object was for Republicans to be able to say, “Well, we tried, but Ted said no way,” while hiding their sighs of relief.
It probably still surprises them that Democrats aren’t socialists but are pragmatists. Conservatives can’t get their heads around the fact that liberalism isn’t an ideology like conservatism. It’s a broad and general principle of making life better for all Americans by doing whatever works.
A lot of self-styled Progressives can’t get their heads around this either.
We weren’t going to get universal health care paid for by the federal government. Maybe some day. But today there are too many kids whose parents can’t afford to take them to the doctor’s, so…whatever works.
[Editor’s note: Before you get all worked up, see note below.]
There is no Republican plan for universal health or coverage of any kind because the Republican position is that nothing should work.
Not for the public good.
Besides costing them money and the power to bully and exploit, universal health care deprives them of the enjoyment of being able to look down on people who are suffering and say, “Your own fault. You should have been more like me.”
So, by definition, any plan put forward by Republicans that treats universal health care as a public good and therefore something the government should have even a minimal hand in is not a Republican plan. Conservatives would have more grounds to object that such a plan is in fact a Democratic plan than liberals have to object to the ACA as a Republican plan. And, by the way, some conservatives are objecting pretty much an those grounds, out in Indiana and Ohio where the Republican governors are tying to implement their own “conservative” versions of Obamacare and are being defied and thwarted by the Republican state legislatures. And if any Republicans in Washington put forward a plan like that, one that inherently accepted the need for the government to do something to help provide universal health care as a public good, you would expect many of their fellow Republicans to rise up and shout it down as a violation of principle and religion.
Well, three Republicans have put forward a plan to replace the ACA that the Plum Line’s Paul Waldman thinks implicitly accepts the idea that universal health care is a public good and therefore something the government is obligated to at least help provide.
What’s really remarkable about this plan is that for all the claims we’ll hear about how it undoes the tyrannical horror of Obamacare, the Republicans’ version of health care reform has accepted most of the fundamental goals and regulatory paths of the law they so deeply despise. This plan — authored by Senators Richard Burr and Orrin Hatch and Rep. Fred Upton — is little more than Obamacare Lite. Though the devil is in the details — and there are some devilish ones — this tells us that Barack Obama has for all intents and purposes won the health care argument, at least as far as it concerns government’s role in health care.
Waldman doesn’t think this is a good plan and he lays out the ways in which it is in intent and effect a deliberately bad plan, bad as in being more about making sure fewer people actually benefit, the little public good is achieved, and whatever’s done to whatever degree is done on the cheap.
All of that, though, marks it as a Republican plan or at least one based on Republican ideas. But if Waldman is reading it right---and it’s hard to read because another way it’s a Republican plan is that skimps on the details and is deliberately vague in order to hide the fact that like all Republican plans to pay for things (wars, more tax cuts for the rich) it includes the step: Here a Free Market Miracle Happens and Everything Pays for Itself.---the plan proposes a compromise…between the Right Wing and corporatist faction that control the Republican Party and the dwindling breed of old-fashioned conservatives who believe, grudgingly, that the government has at least a minimal responsibility not to sit back and watch Americans get sick and die.
But it is still Republican at heart in that it includes provisions meant to bully poor people into practicing virtues these Republicans don’t have to practice themselves.
What we have is a case of millionaires who are on the government payroll and intend to stay on the government payroll for a long time and then cash in by going on the payroll of some corporation and still collect their federal pensions, who in short have all their health care and living expenses and vacations and retirements and their children’s and grandchildren’s educations paid for by others including taxpayers, telling people who are already fending for themselves that they have to fend harder, work harder, plan better, and save more---in short be more virtuous---or accept it as their just punishment when they can’t pay for their child’s blood test.
It’s also Republican in the way it sets people up to fail, no matter how virtuous they strive to be, by making them jump through hoop after hoop with no tolerance for a mistimed leap. It’s your responsibility to meet every deadline, read all the fine print, anticipate every contingency, and be prepared to discover you still aren’t entitled to the coverage you thought you were.
Your fault, again, if you can’t take the kid to the doctor’s or yourself to the hospital.
But it’s most flat out Republican in its stinginess and meanness. The first thing it does, and the most important thing it does, I’m sure, in the eyes of most conservatives, is throw people to the wolves.
Millions of people would have their health insurance taken away.
Oddly---or you might think oddly---the majority of those people would be people Republicans ought to consider virtuous, working people. Working class and lower middle class people with jobs, just jobs that don’t pay them enough to afford to feed, clothe, and insure their families without constant struggle, worry, self-sacrifice, self-denial, and hard work as in no days off, no vacations, no time or thought for anything but making more money. People who aren’t asking for “gifts”, just a little relief. The help they need is help to be more virtuous by giving them hope an incentive. Republicans are supposed to be all in favor of incentivizing virtue, aren’t they? Why, then, have these Republicans chosen them to be the first to suffer?
It’s because they work.
They are workers.
Workers work for others. They work for the rich. And to the rich they aren’t people. They are costs. Costs are to be controlled. That’s done by keeping workers in line. And the Republican-preferred way to keep them in line is to make them desperate and afraid.
You can understand everything the GOP does in this context: Cheap, disposable labor with no protections or rights. That's it.
So it’s Republican in that it is promotes the economic interests of the owners and bosses far above the public good. But the cruelty is also an attraction for Republicans.
They get to watch more people fail.
They get to tell more people, “It’s your own fault.”
They get to feel virtuous and holier-than-thou and more confidently on the road to heaven as they laugh all the way to the bank.
Scott Lemieux doesn’t think it matters that the plan seems to accept the idea that the government should play a role in getting people to the doctor. He doesn’t think it’s a plan at all. He thinks it’s another ploy.
This time the ploy is to give the Republicans on the Supreme Court an excuse to find for the plaintiff in King vs. Burwell and kill the ACA:
If it’s entirely clear that siding with the ACA troofers will throw most of the country’s health care insurance markets into chaos…it might give Roberts and Kennedy pause. It might not — I can very much see Roberts writing a hilariously disingenuous conclusion asserting that his troofer holding will modestly allow Congress to clarify its intent — but as Barnett’s concerns indicate, it might. Pretending that the GOP has an actual alternative acts as reassurance. The congressional Republicans putting on a kabuki make it easier for Republicans like Kennedy and Roberts to lie to themselves a la Michael Strain. Admittedly, there is a risk involved — a really spectacular flameout could dispel the illusion — but I don’t think things will get far enough along for that. Republican legislators showing up at press conferences after having visited Kinko’s with copies of earlier terrible proposals may be good enough for the swing votes on the court to convince themselves that they’re not really about to kill a lot of people when they declare [that the Congressional Democrats who passed the ACA over unanimous opposition from Republicans intended to give Republicans a bomb with which to blow up the act at their whim and leisure].
In short, the plan is for Roberts et al to say, “Congress wasn’t clear on this point, so we’re sending it back to Congress for them to fix it. Meanwhile, no more subsidies unless you live in a state already that’s set up its own exchanges. What’s that? You live in a state run by Republican legislators? Congress is now controlled by Republicans who have no intention of fixing it? Your wife’s pregnant? Your husband’s slipped a disc? Your kid needs glasses? And the car’s in the shop and the mortgage is due? Oh well. Your own fault. You wouldn’t be in this trouble if you’d only been as virtuous we are.”
Read all of Paul Waldman’s post, Introducing Obamcare Lite: What the new GOP health reform ‘alternative’ really tells us, at the Washington Post’s Plum Line, and all of Scott’s, Why Republicans Are Putting on a Health Care Kabuki, at Lawyers, Guns & Money.]
Note: The ACA really is a case of whatever works. It doesn’t work as well as other plans would have. It doesn’t work in the way I would wish which is as government funded health care for everybody. But it works and works well for millions of people in that there are millions of kids seeing doctors today who couldn’t only a year and a half ago.
But when I say whatever works I also mean whatever can get passed into law and be set into motion. This one’s going to be argued forever, but it you’re going to argue that something else, something better, could have been made to work in that way in 2009, you need to show how Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh could have been convinced to go along with that.
Update. Because it’s better poor people die than that Republicans lose the freedom to sneer at poor people dying: Tennessee and Wyoming have Republican governors who want their states to offer Republicanized versions of Obamacare. Their Republican legislatures won’t let that happen. More from Scott Lemieux: Cartoon Villains Deny Health Care to Large Numbers of Poor People.
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