Focusing on Russia Means Losing Obamacare
Charge of the slight brigadeWin McNamee / Getty Politics Features Nancy Pelosi
The Senate is about to kill Obamacare, and the Congressional Democrats are impotent. They’ve been stalking Russia, and yearning for the red hills of Georgia. Divided attention didn’t work for the Germans in either war, and it’s a poor look for Pelosi too. By taking their eyes off the ball, the party has made the passage of McConnell’s grim bill that much more likely.
I am invested in Russiagate. I have written about Russiagate. I enjoy Russiagate. Russia is important, but Russia is not the ballgame.
James Hohmann, writing for the Post, argued “the party has not focused enough on issues that directly impact people’s lives.” He quoted Joseph Crowley, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus:
“The shiny object which is Russia and the Trump administration is in many ways a smokescreen for Mitch McConnell and the Senate to do things they probably wouldn’t be able to get away with if the public and media were paying more attention,” Crowley explained in an interview last night. “We’re all guilty of that to some degree.”
I haven’t seen a Dodge that big since before the oil crisis. I agree, the public and the media are two mighty forces. Why, if only there were a select group of people selected by the public to represent their interests.
Perhaps these “representatives”—if I may invent a word—could gather in a city, a capital city. A district, perhaps a District of Columbia. And since the American public cleaves along economic lines, perhaps a body of representatives whose interests were similar could come together and operate in a unified, organized fashion. In this fantasy otherworld I’m constructing in my head, there could even be a people’s party—a “Democratic Party,” if you will—which could be elected and paid public salaries specifically for the purpose of making sure the people’s health care isn’t gutted. And then they could forget that purpose, and go off red-baiting when it suited them, because this party had been bought off, a long time ago, by donors who really didn’t care for single-payer health care.
Generally, people in power will never lose their appetite for blaming their customers (the public) and their enablers (the press). It’s not their fault, you see.
I agree with Crowley in one regard: the media has made a hash of this too. But even when the press goes awry and keeps oblivious, it turns out that elected politicians have a great amount of control. They can say the words, they can set the agenda.
The Russia probe is a consequential issue. And I get why Ossoff mattered to so many people. It’s not rocket science; it’s not even a photograph of an eighth-grade report somebody once wrote about rocket science. The Democrats want to bite Trump where it hurts. So drawing heart shapes around James B. Comey and Jon Ossoff makes a kind of warped sense.
We all understand this. But focus is a conserved quantity: the more you spend in one place, the less you have for everything else. Narrowing in on Karen Handel and Vladimir Putin means that the health care battle has been abandoned, more or less, by the leadership. Most of the blame can be laid at the feet of Congress, particularly the Congressional Democrats, who apparently never learned how to play the whole court.
See—speaking mood-wise here—Congress is made of Republicans, who are aggro and triumphant, and Congressional Democrats, who are forever dreaming of how to loot some of that dainty pile of Republican votes. It’s not a pretty ecology to consider, but there it is. The Dems believe that if they shake the Russia basket enough, Watergate will fall out. The theory seems to be if Trump goes, the world will snap back to the way it was. But there’s no going back. The GOP will still want to repeal Obamacare when Pence is our distinguished, authorized, duly-constituted President.
The way to fight Trump is to be effective. We will not effective if we take down Trump and leave the forces which support him undamaged. Because although Putin is a draw and Putin is a first-class coverup, Putin is not the Long War. Watergate beheaded Nixon. But the right had not been defeated, only delayed. Six years later, Reagan—a far more conservative politician—took power. The way for progressives to be effective is to protect what they have, while inventing the new. There must be a real platform, with actual, desirable content behind it. That is the sole way of clothing yourself with authority in the era of Trump. Effort should be a renewable resource.
The Dems on Capitol hill are either incapable or unwilling to understand that there is, verily, a world of left votes out here in the wild hinterlands of America. An enormous number of Americans stay away from the polls. Working class voters don’t currently vote; they have no reason to. Who represents their interests? After all, they have been electorally jilted so many times that they’re the proverbial bridesmaid sister in a Southern novel. They could be had for a song, or a promise. A platform would do. That the Democrats can’t be bothered to really fight for the former President’s half-varnished legacy should send the goosebumps helter-skeltering down your back.
What do they care about, these voters? Polls have been taken. Reliable ones, by savants of the art of data-gathering. The people have been queried, and after all the dust has settled, it turns out, Solomonically-speaking, the folks of this country love not dying and not going broke.
The Democratic polling firms Garin-Hart-Yang and Global Strategy Group conducted a national survey for Priorities USA, the Democratic super PAC, last month that found the Comey news and concerns related to Russia are major liabilities for Republicans. But the pollsters found that the health-care issue is a significantly bigger driver of voter behavior. “A key imperative for Democrats and progressive organizations is to bring even greater attention to the health care issue in the weeks and months to come,” the pollsters said in a memo about their numbers. “Disapproval of the health care proposal transcends partisan lines. Furthermore, health care needs the added reinforcement since it is less dominant in the news compared to Russia, which has been the subject of new revelations for several weeks in a row. As a result, more voters say they’re closely following news about Russia right now than say the same about health care.”
Amazing, right? They tend to care less about what happens in the Kremlin, which is far away, than they do if their parents or children or neighbors or the courteous old man from church is killed by whooping cough. Those factors are near. They are the clear and present danger, as the national security folks say. The people want health care. The people want health care. Repeat that over and over again until your voice gets hoarse, at which point you’ll need medical treatment, and Obamacare won’t be there anymore.
The Democrats in Congress are a moderate group, a creeping team, creatures of the Nineties, still entranced by the pied piping of dot-com-era capitalism. A klatch of lawyerdom, who think their case has already been won. That would be the only logical explanation for leaning on Trump the Russian Agent, and not hitting Trump the Repealer of the ACA.
These alt-center beliefs are not the result of careful meditation or philosophical insight, but unexamined reactions formed in the past. None of the Democratic leadership seem to understand what is happening. Pelosi and Schumer et al have bought into the legend of New Democrat politics, where everything can be managed and massaged. They have forgotten how to fight.
It is hard for the outside world to comprehend how tightly-bound ideology is inside the bubble of government. The folk of Capitol Hill are more provincial than the smallest town in Alaska. Any villager near the Arctic Circle knows that they don’t possess all the answers. But Congress believes this, or a version of this.
The Dems must decide what they stand for: is universal health care one of those issues? What is more precious to you, Dems: Obamacare, or the Russia game? The Kremlin business matters, but not in the way that health care matters. At the end of the day, whatever golfer-in-chief sits Oval Office, Americans will still get sick and still need help. That will never change, no matter who sits in Moscow or Washington. They say if you have nothing, you still have your health; soon we may lose even that.