Has any political party in American history ever handed the opposition a more potent weapon than Republicans have just given the Democrats?
Seven years ago, a Democratic president and Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, antagonizing an angry, highly ideological faction of the GOP that showed up to vote in the 2010 midterm elections, which gave the House to the Republicans and walloped the Democrats with enormous setbacks at nearly all levels of government.
The 2010 election took place before most of the ACA's provisions had gone into effect, which meant that very few Americans had yet benefited from ObamaCare, allowing ideologically based scare-mongering to have maximum effect. That is no longer true today. Millions of people have gained access to health insurance through ObamaCare, which is one big reason why a plurality now favors it — and why a significant portion of those who oppose it do so because they think it doesn't go far enough in providing access to medical care for all.
All of that is useful background to the current state of play in Washington, which is truly something to behold.
The Republican majority in the House is considering a bill (the American Health Care Act) that, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, would end up leaving the country with roughly 24 million fewer people covered by health insurance in 2026. Since around 14 million people have gained insurance through ObamaCare, this means that the Republican plan would produce a significant net loss in the number of people insured relative to the status quo prior to passage of the ACA. Oh, and just in case you're inclined to discount the accuracy of CBO scoring, the White House's Office of Management and Budget has done its own analysis of the AHCA, and it's even more pessimistic, predicting that 26 million fewer people would be covered a decade from now.
If you're a millionaire or billionaire whose taxes went up after passage of the ACA, you may be happy about this news, since those taxes would be abolished under the Republican law, and you know that you'll be able to afford health insurance no matter what illness or injury may befall you. But if you're just about anyone else, it's hard to see how any of this is appealing. First there are the millions and millions of people who would be directly, and adversely, effected by passage of the AHCA. And as for the rest of us, those lucky enough to receive affordable health insurance through our employers: How many will be cheered by a "reform" in which a hypothetical 62-year-old man in Nebraska who makes $18,200 year and currently pays $760 in premiums a year gets hit with an annual charge of $20,000 a year, or $1,800 more than he makes in total income?
If the Democrats can't transform this monstrosity of a bill into fuel to power them to victories in the 2018 midterms and beyond, then they should just pack it up and go home.
Could they screw it up? You bet they could. This is the party, after all, that just a few months ago lost the presidency to the most unsuitable, unfit, unappealing major-party candidate in American history, and has spent most of the time since then blaming Russia for its own ineptitude.
So yes, the Democrats could blow it. But they shouldn't. Especially when the path to victory is so clear.
The primary thing they need to do is follow the example of Bernie Sanders. Have you heard about his town hall in rural West Virginia on Monday night? A 70-something socialist with a thick Brooklyn accent won over a crowd of Trump supporters with his earnest, straight talk about health insurance and the struggles faced by voters in coal country. I don't often agree with Glenn Greenwald, but he was surely right to plug the event with this tweet:
Watch: it powerfully shows that the *last* thing Dems need is more muddled, McKinsey-tested, centrist, platitude-filled, corporatist pablum https://t.co/w5DXUTV17u
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 14, 2017
Precisely. Sanders has a message that resonates with large numbers of Democrats — and like Trump, it's a message with potential appeal among members of the other party as well. This is a moment of realignment, both in the U.S. and Europe. Neoliberal, managerial, centrist globalism is being challenged by populists of the anti-liberal right and left. Right now, the right-wing variant holds power in Washington. If Trump had the guts to combine his populist-nationalist appeals with support for a single-payer health-care system, he just might succeed in realigning both major American parties by scrambling their policy commitments. But despite his occasional words of support for covering "everybody," Trump shows no sign of actually doing this.
That leaves the field wide open for the Democrats to act boldly. And Sanders is showing how to do it: Call the AHCA the social calamity that it is. Talk about how trade deals have enriched some but impoverished many others. Propose bold policies that could make things better, and do so with confidence, daring the Republicans to denounce them. And make the case for all of it in terms of citizenship.
The last point is crucial. Let the Trump Republicans have their nationalism (with its appalling ethnic and racial overtones). Democrats can and should rise up in defense of the citizen — of that hypothetical 62-year-old man in Nebraska, who deserves better than to be booted off of his health insurance so that a rich man can take home an even larger portion of a six-, seven-, or eight-figure salary. We're all in this together. We share a bond. We're all Americans.
No American should be left to die alone without proper medical care — or be forced into bankruptcy by a heart attack or cancer diagnosis. Most countries came to this realization years ago. ObamaCare was a modest step in the right direction. But we can do better. We certainly shouldn't be following House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump in actively screwing over our fellow citizens for the sake of further enriching a tiny few who are already thriving. That should make all patriotic Americans angry. Because our fellow citizens deserve better — because we know deep down that we're called as Americans to be better than that. Let's prove it.
This is pretty close to the Bernie Sanders message right now. But it shouldn't just be him. Every Democrat with national ambitions should be pressing the point, experimenting with different citizen-based patriotic appeals to move and inspire the greatest possible number of people.
Let the GOP be the party of white nationalism and Ayn Rand-inspired sadism. We'll see how that does at the ballot box. Meanwhile, let the Democrats be reborn as the party of patriotic citizenship.