I’ve never expected conservatives to like Obamacare. I didn’t expect them to vote for it. I didn’t expect them to support it. I didn’t expect them to refrain from campaigning against it.
But the virulence and durability of their fight against has surprised me. I figured that once it was passed by Congress; signed by the president; upheld by the Supreme Court; and then made permanent by the president’s reelection; they’d at least resign themselves to it. They still wouldn’t like it, but they’d understand that they’d lost this round.
Maybe that was naive from the start. Certainly we all should have had a clue when ABC News asked about repealing Obamacare and John Boehner immediately had to walk back his answer that “the election changes that” and “Obamacare is the law of the land.” The base was having none of it.
Still, the absolute fury that it continues to generate even now, three years after passage, is remarkable. It’s not just the Republican governors who have refused to accept local control of the exchanges—normally a conservative platitude—for fear that it might imply a proper lack of hostility. It’s not just the Republican legislatures that have refused to expand Medicaid even though it’s virtually free. It’s not just the refusal to allow small tweaks that even their own supporters have begged them to pass. And it’s not even the remarkable hold that Obamacare as a harbinger of doom for the American way of life continues to exert on Fox News and talk radio.
It goes beyond that. The fury is so deep that an expansion of healthcare to the poor and working classes has become a part of the culture wars every bit as bitter and divisive as guns, gays, and abortion. Jon Cohn revs himself up to write about this today:
As you have read in a few places, perhaps even here, the federal government is starting a public education campaign about Obamacare—not to promote the law, mind you, but simply to inform the public about the new insurance options that will be available once the law takes full effect. In 2005, the Bush Administration ran a similar campaign to let seniors know about the Medicare drug benefit. A year later, Massachusetts officials launched their own effort to educate residents about insurance options that the state’s new health law was making available. In that campaign, Massachusetts authorities famously enlisted the Boston Red Sox as partners.
Sounds innocuous, right? Not to the Republicans. Last week, as word spread that the Obama Administration had approached professional sports leagues about forging a similar partnership, GOP leaders warned the leagues to stay away. “It is difficult for us to remember another occasion when [a] major sports league took public sides in such a highly polarized public debate,” Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, the highest ranking Republicans in the Senate, wrote in a letter on Friday. Among other things, they noted, Democrats had used “legislative gimmicks” to enact the law—an apparent reference to the Democrats’ use of budget reconciliation process in order to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
Cohn compares this to the passage of the Medicare prescription bill. But I think that actually lets Republicans off too easily. Sure, Democrats had reason to dislike the bill and dislike how it was passed, but let’s face it: it was basically an expansion of Medicare. That’s not something Democrats are likely to stay mad about.
So what’s a better comparison? Maybe welfare reform. Plenty of Democrats hated it. Plenty of Democrats still do. It goes to the heart of the liberal worldview, in the same way that Obamacare goes to the heart of the conservative worldview. But after fighting and losing, Democrats on the left didn’t try to sabotage it. Democratic governors didn’t refuse to implement it. Nobody introduced 37 separate bills to repeal it. That doesn’t mean everything was sweetness and honey, or that nobody kept up the fight. But generally speaking, it was obvious that after years of contention, it was the law of the land. Within the mainstream ranks of the Democratic Party, the goal was mainly to figure out how best to implement it, not how best to sabotage it.
But not Obamacare. Conservatives remain so spittle-flecked angry about it that they can’t even abide the thought of a sports league helping to run a public education campaign that reduces confusion about who’s entitled to what. Even now, they desperately want it to fail. And they’re going to do everything they can to help it fail, even if that means screwing over their own constituents. It’s a temper tantrum possibly unequalled in American political history.
And it’s revolting.