July 15th, 2024


The nature of change in politics

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Nov. 15, 2016

 The nature of change in politics

The more things change, contrary to the French expression, the more they keep changing.

To cite only one example, Obamacare is fast going from this president's signature achievement to his signature failure. And both the winners and losers of last week's election took due notice.

Only a couple of days ago, the Wall Street Journal was anticipating the deeply divided nation that faced the next president of these once again Disunited States of America. To quote its front-page headline, "Winner Faces a Fractured Nation," but talk about a turnaround: As the world turns, so do its politicos. By the time the sun came up the next day right on schedule, and the sky hadn't fallen contrary to so many predictions, the whole political map had changed. The losers certainly noticed. "Reeling after defeat," the Journal reported on its front page, "Democrats call for change in party's message, tactics."

The losers tend to remember past struggles longer and far more vividly than the winners. Case in point: our own civil war, which left the country divided over not just its results but what to call it. The War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression? The actors who re-enact its battles are still caught up in that war's thrall.

It wasn't that the winner and next president of the United States had come out of nowhere, but that he'd come from everywhere, such as real-estate development and the specialized branch of business known as showbiz. And if Democrats were intent on uniting in the face of defeat, Republicans were also wondering about just what their party now stood for and how to get behind their and the country's new leader. The first item on their agenda would seem to be giving Obamacare a decent burial. But it's not likely to be the last, for the Republicans have a whole legislative agenda to enact.

Naturally enough, Republicans' plans to end Obamacare at last have angered and infuriated every special interest with a stake in it. To quote Ron Pollack, who's been executive director of Families USA for three stultifying decades, "The clock is ticking because Republicans seem to be saying health care is going to be the first item on their list with repeal of the (Affordable Care Act) being the banner for that, so we realize this work has got to be done quickly and effectively. This will be the most intense fight I remember. One should never underestimate an extraordinary backlash that occurs when people have something that they really value and it is taken away." Or the extraordinary backlash when the bureaucrats and educrats and all the other assorted -crats have something they've taken years to put in place and now find in danger.

This president has vetoed any such change in his namesake piece of legislation and pledged never to sign onto it. But as Tevi Troy, former deputy secretary of health and now chief executive of the American Health Policy Institute, hastened to point out: "Congress intentionally set it up so they could demonstrate a legislative pathway" to completely change large parts of the law. "It was a strategic move." Like retaining the Constitution's co-equal branches of government. For the Founders were a far-sighted bunch, unlike those lobbyists who just swing and sway with every passing wind.

Larry Levitt, senior vice-president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, put it in that now arcane tongue known as plain English: "The ACA as we know it would seem to be toast. Repealing Obamacare has been such a mantra for conservatives. ... The difficulty for them comes now in trying to come to some consensus about how to unwind it and what to replace it with. I don't think there has been a reversal of any public benefit that would be as large as this."

Give folks something they can view as a benefit, and they might not only try to keep it but expand it. Just as Medicare was expanded to include catastrophic coverage in 1988 so those with pre-existing medical problems would be covered. But that was before the benefit took effect. It's a lot easier to give up a benefit that's only in prospect than one We the (grabby) People haven't started to enjoy yet. Just be sure to get 'em hooked on the habit first -- the way knowing drugs dealers do.

Liberals and conservatives are not so deeply divided in this country as they may appear to be in the eyes of partisans of each philosophy. They each believe in change, for both recognize that change is the law of life. It's just that liberals want to change faster. Conservatives are in favor of making change more slowly.

"Make haste slowly" is the real conservative mantra. For conservatives in this country are dedicated to conserving the principles of a liberal revolution that occurred at least a couple of centuries ago. You take your choice between what we today call liberals and conservatives, radicals and reactionaries, and you pay for the ride fast or slow. But this merry-go-round ain't about to stop going in circles. Enjoy the ride. It's called Change.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.