Last week, as a repairman sprawling on my kitchen floor explored the innards of the dishwasher, the television was frantically exploring the latest “Obamacare calamity.”
“Have you had enough yet of Obamacare?” he asked rhetorically. “I just want to see the end of it.”
Carefully without an edge because I really needed the dishwasher fixed, I said, “I think that would be a mistake.”
He was silent for a few seconds. Then, “Yeah, everybody needs health insurance.”
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His ambivalence reflected how deeply the Republican right’s relentless campaign against the Affordable Care Act has seeped into the national psyche. The right’s insistence on ideology over reason and compassion even extends, incredibly, to a tiny $2,400 grant from a nonprofit entity that would help poor, mentally ill people in Sedgwick County get health insurance.
In that local drama, Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau may get away with their stone-hearted move to reject the grant and obstruct a few dozen unfortunate people. In the national drama, congressional Republicans and billionaire-backed organizations may get away with delaying the extension of basic health care to more of the 48 million Americans without it.
Their greatest fear is that it will work, given time and people with good intentions and the flexibility to adjust to changing circumstances, as President Obama demonstrated last week. They know they cannot repeal it before February 2017 if it survives the birthing process that has begun in avoidable chaos. By 2017, killing it would strip millions of coverage, devalue the new protections enjoyed by every policyholder, and write a prescription for the end of Republican political ambitions for decades.
It took 100 years for the political planets to align in a way that secured passage of the baseline health care that any civilized society should ensure and that every other advanced nation has long provided. In America’s case, the need is not only to provide care to 48 million people lacking it. It’s also to stabilize a broken system that constitutes an unnecessarily large and annually growing 20 percent of our economy – not because it must but because the classic American free enterprise model is an inefficient way to deliver health care.
Conservatives’ intransigent indifference to the concerns of the unfortunate combined with their determination to deny Obama any success on any issue – articulated several years ago by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. – is creating unsustainable contradictions and risky philosophical culs-de-sac for their ambitions and my repairman’s psyche.
Just one example: It ensures that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whose resignation they noisily demand, remains on the job. In a sane political atmosphere, the badly botched rollout of the health care law would have made her resignation automatic. But Obama, far from firing her, must make sure she stays.
Here’s why: In an atmosphere so sour that Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., puts a hold on the president’s nominee to head the Federal Reserve in order to force more administration testimony about his trumped-up and wholly unrelated “scandal” over Benghazi, imagine the obstacles to confirmation that a new HHS secretary would face. A program that Republicans are determined to destroy would be leaderless indefinitely.
Fixing a huge national problem is a marathon, not a sprint, and marathons cannot be finished without encountering pain and overcoming doubts and fears, real and imagined.