Opinion Columns & Blogs

Davis Merritt: Radical right is creating its own train wreck

The radical right’s obsession with the Affordable Care Act has led the Republican Party and the nation into yet another federal government shutdown. If the irrational tactic works as well as it did last time, the result will be more Democrats in Congress for the remainder of Barack Obama’s second term.

It’s wholly understandable why the 30 or 40 most radical members of the House of Representatives went all-in, because it was their best shot at the two things they and the powerful entities that own them most abhor: the federal government and the president who heads it. It’s not understandable, however, that they were able to bully other House Republicans into abandoning all reason and political sensibility.

The nation will survive, and the health care law along with it. But if red-state voters continue to send to Congress people who promise instant and drastic reform that they cannot deliver, over time the lack of effective governance will extract a much larger toll on the nation’s economy and social compact.

When you create a situation so damaging that you must frantically try to attach the blame to someone else, what have you accomplished? There was never a chance that the president would surrender to crude street-level extortion. It would have been wrong for him to do so.

Had he given in, what about next time, which will surely come? The radical right could tie the next fiscal crisis to one of its other agenda items, be it privatizing Social Security or dismantling Medicare or even impinging on a president’s foreign policy decisions. Government by extortion would become the norm.

From the nation’s founding, the appropriate role of government and the balance of responsibility between state and federal governments have been matters of constant debate and adjustment to changing circumstances. The world’s biggest economy and most durable democracy were not developed and sustained by people wielding sledgehammers and axes, but by rational people who understood compromise as the mortar in any viable governing structure.

Throughout those 25 or so decades, political and philosophical strife have been predictable and constant. The occasional creation of major initiatives – the abolition of slavery, income taxes, Social Security, universal voting rights, Medicare – were greeted with doomsday prophecies of economic and social ruin. But in every case, save abolition, a majority of Americans were flexible enough to work around the inevitable glitches and unintended consequences of major change.

Those on the radical right also know that history and apparently fear it enough to stake the future of their movement on destroying the Affordable Care Act. In their single-minded focus they are setting themselves up for a very real problem.

It’s unlikely they can establish veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress in 2014. That means January 2017 would be their first opportunity – assuming they then control both houses and the presidency – to repeal the ACA. In doing so they would be stripping millions of Americans’ health coverage, taking back from insurance companies huge amounts of new revenue and returning to the days of pre-existing conditions and lifetime limits.

It clearly would be in their best interest – and certainly the nation’s – to work the next few years making needed adjustments to the law. Rational people could get that done and earn some credit for it rather than deliberately creating a train wreck and blaming someone else for it.