The Republicans are reacting. Teddy Roosevelt’s bear political hug came to them from a Democrat President who sees the two cousins, TR and FDR, as being synonymous. Barack Obama is in the history books riding the coat tails of the first American progressive, TR, who lost his bid for a third term running neither here nor there. His cousin, FDR, who had come later had won the third term and then a fourth and cemented the progressive agenda in place.
In the McCain convention in 2008, the Republican flagship consisted of two Rushmore presidents: Lincoln and TR. Since the great rhetorician Democrat governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, wrote the book about why Lincoln was meaningful, both the giants on Rushmore began riding the donkey after alighting from the elephant, the whistle stop tour and all.
Barack Obama, having accomplished the two tasks in his first year as president at which Bill Clinton had failed in his first year as president in a bloody political fight that had defined the rest of his presidency ― health care reform and gays in the military ― is marching the donkey army both left and right at the same time, claiming the entire fertile political real estate between the center left and the center right.
On his inauguration day, the new president was symbolically standing in the epicenter in front of the capitol building, with him on the center left and Reagan on the center right. Stretching his political wings would have meant embracing all of what makes American politics tick. And he began to do that with health care. If Clinton was the Jesus who was crucified trying to do the same, Obama is the resurrection. The elephants are being slaughtered for the ivory into a possible political extinction in the laissez-faire wilderness of Kenya since September 11th.
The Republicans, in the worst political identity crisis since losing the Congress over Iraq and political corruption in 2006 and counting on an electorate confused about wanting health care but uncertain about its cumulative high cost over time, want to make the health care law that cleared yesterday in toto in the Congress a political issue to replace the president in 2012 and then reform health care once again by ending universal health care because they believe that in a free market health care cannot be universal. And they cannot be more wrong.
There is a bipartisan consensus in the country that health care needed reform and that it must be universal. The debate was always about the cost. And that this was the debate was also consensual. The President reformed health care and made it universal. He did not address the issue of the cost. And fixing the cost problem does not require the repeal of the law because 40 million Americans without health care in a country of 300 million will not want go to the doctor and vote Republican at the same time if they know that the Republicans want to take away their health care access, whatever the cost. They may bemoan the poorly crafted solution but not the outcome that it makes possible.
The Republican case against the high costs of health care completely rests on two issues dear to them: social conservatism and fiscal conservatism. The costs are high because the for-profit free market ideology that is the staple of Republican politics wants to keep charging more for health care services because every man, woman and child needs them from conception to death. Wisdom dictates that that unflinching demand can also be met if more people receive health care in that same free market at a lower per capita cost without redistribution through ever higher insurance premia and the government to fatten the middle men. And doing so would also be fiscally conservative.
The Republicans must not seek to repeal, replace and reform, but must reform what has been reformed by returning to their political roots of a smaller government and individual responsibility. And neither government greed (that doubles the government budget by 2050 as a percentage of GDP) nor market greed (that doubles health care costs in that same period) are responsible. But unfortunately this is the state of contemporary politics.