Ross Douthat tries to provide an intellectual underpinning for this fight to the death in a note in the New York Times titled Why the Right Fights. He claims that neither the left nor the right appreciates the long-term historical viewpoints of the other. The left views social programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as fundamentals of national life, not as progressive victories. Any attack on them is on a par with restricting access to food and water. The left views the Reagan/Bush years as a period when conservatism had its way and caused untold harm to society.
On the other hand, the small government forces view the Reagan/Bush years as a failed opportunity. Government growth was not turned around—it was barely slowed down. The current wave of Tea Party enthusiasm has also turned out to be unsuccessful—thus far—in reigning in big government.
Douthat suggests that it is generations of frustrations accumulating and bringing the Republicans to a breaking point rather than anger at Obamacare as a specific program that has led to the current standoff.
Douthat points out the reason why previous Republican generations have failed is because what they wanted to do was unpopular and they didn’t dare try to implement the changes they wished.
The Republican right—millennial version—comes across in Douthat’s description as a band of eccentric—perhaps even romantic—idealists determined to joust with one more windmill.
Douthat is perhaps too kind to this merry band of men. There are other interpretations of their actions and motives.
Eduardo Porter provides another perspective in a New York Times article: Why the Health Care Law Scares the G.O.P. In his view, the Republican Party’s attempt to deny healthcare coverage to tens of millions is based on the most craven of political calculations.
Porter uses the politics of the state of Missouri to illustrate what only appears to be irrational behavior. There was considerable support for state expansion of Medicaid for the poor and disabled under Obamacare. The Chamber of Commerce was in favor of expansion as it pointed out that Missouri hospitals would lose up to $4.2 billion in federal support over the next six years. Roughly half of the 800,000 uninsured in Missouri would have become eligible for Medicare.
"And it would expand health coverage in the state’s poor, predominantly white rural counties, which voted consistently to put Republican lawmakers into office."
"Missouri’s Republican-controlled Legislature — heavy with Tea Party stalwarts — rejected Medicaid’s expansion in the state anyway."
Are these Tea Party types a band of idealists standing up for a principle they hold dear? Porter thinks not. In his view, Obamacare could be successful enough to join Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as a popular program that became untouchable.
"There is a plausible alternative to irrationality. Flawed though it may turn out to be, Obamacare, as the Affordable Care Act is popularly known, could fundamentally change the relationship between working Americans and their government. This could pose an existential threat to the small-government credo that has defined the G.O.P. for four decades."
The greatest benefit from Obamacare will be felt by those who have had too high an income to be eligible for Medicaid, and too low an income to be able to afford health plan premiums. These are exactly the people (white) that the Republicans depend on to vote them back into office.
"Take Missouri. It has about 800,000 uninsured. Almost half of them would have been eligible for expanded Medicaid benefits, had the Legislature not rejected them. Many of the rest — including families of four making up to $94,000 — will be eligible to get subsidized health insurance."
"In St. Louis, for instance, a family of four making $50,000 a year will be able to buy a middle-of-the-road "silver" health plan for $282 a month and a bottom-end "bronze" plan for $32. Even Medicare recipients will get a benefit worth a few hundred dollars a year."
"This could justify conservative Republicans’ greatest fears."
The Missouri Republicans chose to withhold needed medical care from its own most faithful partisans in order to make sure that they did not receive a benefit for which they might be appreciative. They might even think kindly of Democrats for saving a life or two here and there. That can never be allowed to happen.
Douthat seems to view the current Republican Party as an evolution of traditional conservatism, but these people are not related to his New England examples of years past. These aren’t small-government enthusiasts; they are no-government enthusiasts. They do not want to take the country back to the glory days of unfettered capitalism; these people have a more Southern heritage and would rather reinstate the eighteenth century.
They seem to yearn to return to a day when wealth could be accumulated with no restrictions on methods used. If slavery was no longer practical, then low-wage serfdom was just fine. Pensions and healthcare? Who needs them? In the good old days people worked until they died, and the minimum wage was what God intended: the wage below which a person was too weak to show up for work.
Let these people have their last stand. When they fail, one hopes they have the decency to fall on their swords and disappear forever.