Poet's notebook: Republicans and Obamacare

click to enlarge Poet's notebook: Republicans and Obamacare - jeanne meinke
jeanne meinke
Poet's notebook: Republicans and Obamacare

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old, 

for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there’s the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight...

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about health care. Our own health, like most middle-class Americans’, is holding steady — although I’ve been sneezing a lot lately — unaffected by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka “Obamacare,” whose nickname’s been appropriated by its supporters in the same way that “gay” has been by the LGBT community: OK, if you want to call it that, we’ll take it.

But now that the 2016 presidential race is already bubbling up like a sewer in Miami, and the Republicans have actually produced a, sort of, budget plan, I think it’s time to assess the situation once again. The main reason is that the budgets I’ve seen are all based on repealing Obamacare (as well as dismantling other programs designed to help the needy).

One reason the GOP has presented so few new proposals over the years must be that they’ve spent all their creative energy — over 50 official efforts — to delay, gut, or repeal the ACA. Imagine how much better off the country would be if they’d used that time to help fix or adjust it. America has voted, twice, for Obama and his bill, but from the start Republicans have dug in against helping this black man whom they’ve refused to see, or even treat, as their leader. Ralph Ellison’s brilliant 1952 novel, Invisible Man, should be required reading for Congress, not to mention our schools — but I doubt that Ellison’s classic depiction of race in America is on many of the legislators’ booklists (the ones who have booklists).

It’s bizarre, for example, that Ted Cruz, the first to throw his sombrero into the presidential race, constantly brings up the old “birther” idiocy, saying things like “At least I know where I was born.” (This takes real chutzpah, as Cruz himself was born in Canada.) Another candidate, Ben Carson, calls Obamacare “the worst thing that happened to this nation since slavery.” Carson is African American, which ostensibly inoculates him against any charges of playing the race card. But make no mistake: That's what he's doing, because in many places in America this card still plays well. Listen to the crowds when Cruz plays it. Kenya! (Roar.)

The cracked basis of Cruz’s — and others’ — criticism is that Obamacare is bankrupting the country. Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee, has claimed it costs $5 million per person. This kind of gonzo misrepresentation has been going on blatantly for years; and though it’s been refuted by official sources like the Congressional Budget Office, and in multiple essays by economists, including Nobel winner Paul Krugman, it’s swallowed whole by almost half the country.

When the ACA passed in 2010, Republicans predicted an immediate economic meltdown. Of course, since then — and especially after Obamacare went into full effect — America has pulled out of the Great Recession better than most of Europe. Employment’s gone steadily up, the deficit’s slowed, the stock market’s booming, and the main trouble we have, lagging wages, stems not from Obamacare but from other complex and connected problems: elimination of blue-collar jobs, fewer unions, outsourcing, a gutless tax system.

Even the issues with Obamacare, though real, have been superficial. One can blame the president for hiring incompetent technocrats to set it up, but that wasn’t the fault of the ACA itself. And in the states where, unlike Florida, governors and legislatures cooperated with the plan, it went as well or better than could be expected by any huge operation.

But now our divided Supreme Court is about to decide — based on a four-word obvious oversight — the fate of a major part of the ACA: Can states, like Florida, that chose not to set up exchanges, decide not to accept federal subsidies, denying insurance to about 8 million people? Cross your fingers.

Find your hope, then, on the ground under your feet,
your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground underfoot.
—Both quotes from “A Poem of Hope” by Wendell Berry (Leavings, 2010)

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