Democrats Are Right to Run on Obamacare
New York Times columnist David Brooks is surely not alone in complaining that the Democratic response to Trump's dangerous "ethnic nationalism" is "inadequate." Yet in many ways a Democratic campaign centered on Obamacare is the perfect vehicle for the political moment.
First, it's hard to fight a successful demagogue head on. The Democratic Party platform of 1952, when McCarthyism was in full flower, danced around an unnamed evil. “Slander, defamation of character, deception and dishonesty are as truly transgressions of God's commandments, when resorted to by men in public life, as they are for all other men," the platform stated. Then it skedaddled, moving on to everything from tax loopholes to crop insurance. Many individual Democrats were far less forthright and courageous in combating McCarthyism than their platform.
Donald Trump, who received 63 million votes in the last presidential election and controls the White House, executive branch and much of the Republican Party, is vastly more powerful than Senator Joseph McCarthy ever was. And while McCarthy, who rode to power on the strength of around 600,000 votes in Wisconsin, had plenty of right-wing propaganda behind him, he had nothing with the reach and influence of Fox News.
Second, health care is about as good an issue as a party could find. According to a Pew Research survey published earlier this month, 60 percent of Americans say it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health-care coverage. So for the moment, while the anti-government party is running Washington, 6 in 10 Americans are saying they agree with the left wing of the Democratic Party on health care.
Third, Obamacare provides a direct contrast with Trumpism on multiple levels. With extraordinary complexity and delicate compromises, driven by both broader politics and the narrow demands of the health-care industry, the Affordable Care Act successfully expanded health-care access to 20 million Americans without adding to the national debt.
Obamacare is confounding, and often clumsy. But the interlocking policies were wonk-tested and built to last. Most have endured years of furious GOP assaults. For the majority of living Americans, Obamacare is the most ambitious government program to deliver positive results in their lifetimes.
By contrast, most Americans have correctly concluded that the legislative pinnacle of two years of full GOP control – the seat-of-the-pants tax cut passed by Republicans and signed into law by Trump – was of, by and for Republican donors.
Which raises another key distinction: Obamacare was built for all. Trump rarely even pretends to care about anyone outside his political base. His policy impulses are focused on specific enemies, targeting long-resident immigrants for deportation, for example, or on rewarding himself and his tribe. Even on a rare occasion when Congress is unified, Trump lies about the result rather than applauding an instance of national unity.
Obamacare is thus not only a contrast to the specific Republican goal of withdrawing subsidized health insurance from people who need it – although that’s crucial. It’s grounded in a contrasting public philosophy, and constructed with the kind of policy expertise that contemporary Republicans seldom muster.
In short, Obamacare delivered genuine, life-improving services to millions of people in need, it did so with fiscal responsibility and it did so whether those people lived in deep-red Kentucky, dark-blue California or the pinkish precincts of the Bronx.
Pundits like Brooks can use their platforms to make it clear how corrupt and divisive Trump is. For Democratic candidates seeking to win elections and hold Trump in check in the next Congress, running on Obamacare is a better option.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg Opinion. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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