Obamacare Replacement And “The Second Kick Of The Mule”

Most of the time, when Republicans tackle issues in education, it's like a pig farmer getting involved in catering a bar mitzvah dinner or Maker's Mark providing beverages for the celebration of the end of Ramadan, i.e., disasters-in-progress in mortal competition to find the optimal place to actually occur. But Republicans -- we may be certain through sheer accident -- did an absolutely stellar job inadvertently educating the American public about ACA / Obamacare (hereafter O’care). (Remember: the Affordable Care Act [ACA] and O’care are the same thing.) In fact, Republicans did such a good job educating Americans about health care / insurance in general, and about O’care in particular, that, with a bit of luck, we may be able to leverage the paradigm implicit in the Republicans’ drunkard’s-walk methodology to achieve similar results in other traditionally problematic areas of public education. Doing so is simply a matter of becoming proficient in using Republicans' professed ideology against itself.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at an Affordable Care Act event at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, Nov. 6, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

When the Republican House tried to repeal O'care, that very attempt made O’care newsworthy again. As it turned out, Republicans had been salivating so freely about the prospect of repealing O’care that they actually slipped when they tried to run across their own “saliva slick”. Suddenly people, under the tutelage of the news media, began to look into some of the technical details of ACA, e.g., coverage for pre-existing conditions, kids being covered by parents' insurance til age 26, coverage persisting even after face value of policy has been maxed out, etc., etc. Folks also began to consider the provisions and consequences of TrumpCare, including weakened or absent provisions for pre-existing conditions, throwing people off their insurance when the face value of the policy is exceeded, etc. The upshot was that people, who had heretofore been about as enthusiastic for O'care as the movie mogul in The Godfather was about having a horse's head on his bed, suddenly discovered manifold and previously unsuspected virtues about ACA. Hence the accidental education I alluded to earlier, all thanks to the Republican Party. Public support for TrumpCare plummeted faster than a turd flushed from a starship restroom and past the event horizon of a thousand-solar-mass black hole:  a feeble valedictory ripple of gravity waves and the TrumpCare turd -- the House version -- was gone!  A single instance of a failed replacement would not be terribly meaningful, of course – one data point a trend does not make – but when the Senate’s version of TrumpCare suffered the same ignominious trip down the trans-dimensional commode, and for essentially the same reasons, connecting the dots becomes more justified. [As this column is written, Republicans seem no more enthusiastic about the "repeal-period" option, and allowed debate to proceed only because Vice-President Pence cast the deciding vote in favor to break a 50-50 tie.]

This second debacle is even more revelatory in light of Trump’s and McConnell’s reaction.  Instead of inferring, as any rational person unblinded by a slobbering hatred of all things Obama would instantly conclude, that … Holy Pre-Existing Condition, Batman! … people actually became attached, arguably committed, to O’Care, especially when the alternative of TrumpCare emerged into inadvertent clarity from the noxious realm of the legislative Mordor where it had been hitherto confined by Republicans’ penchant for legislative opacity, those two worthies publicly committed themselves to repealing O’Care and replacing it with … nothing – zip, zilch, nada, bupkis – for (at least) two years. In retrospect, Republicans have ample reason to be concerned about death panels. But the death panels they should be concerned about comprise the American public and associations of insurance and health professionals, who evidently stand ready to administer an unceremonious coup de grace, without so much as a gesture toward life support, to any ostensible conservative Republican substitute for O’care. Please be advised that this is decidedly not a case of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it":  parts of O'care are broken, though certainly not beyond fix-ability. (So was the early space program, and so were early versions of the Salk vaccine. But notwithstanding, we still landed on the moon and we still vaccinated kids against polio ... which is apparently more knowledge of history than the Republican Party possesses.) Instead, it is a case of "Even if it is broken, fa'Chrissakes don't break it worse".

But let's not dwell on the past. For me, the most salient part of the Republicans' ongoing health-insurance Marx-Brothers movie is the spectrum of possibilities it suggests about how to induce -- maybe even seduce -- Republicans into supporting other aspects of public education ... in spite of themselves. Let's take two hobby-horse examples:  evolution and the Big Bang.

Even though the connection between health insurance and Darwinian evolution is not immediately evident, the connection is in actuality both deep and quite intimate, at least in terms of orthodox Republican ideology, because, at least in the Republican imagination, both health insurance and Darwinian evolution subvert the principle of personal responsibility. Government-sponsored health insurance subverts personal responsibility by allegedly fobbing off responsibility for health and health insurance onto a faceless Federal bureaucracy. Likewise, Darwinian evolution makes no room for personal responsibility by accounting for the origin and development of the human species purely in naturalistic / materialistic terms, with no admixture of individual initiative. But, if progressives are somewhat cagey about it, there is a way to mitigate fundamentalist Republican hostility toward evolution in such a way as to render it more palatable to Republican sensibilities while doing only minimal damage to the theory itself:  by reviving, not the Darwinian, but the Lamarckian understanding of the evolution of species.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was a botanist who lived and worked in the closing years of the 18th century, and who advocated for evolution via the inheritance of acquired characteristics. For example, a giraffe has a long neck, not because local environmental conditions rendered a longer neck advantageous to survival, as Darwin averred, but because, argued Lamarck, adult giraffes' stretching of their neck to reach higher branches of trees resulted in the lengthening of their neck -- and this longer neck, once acquired by the parents and grandparents of young giraffes, was passed down the generations to the adult giraffes' descendants. Clearly, these would be Republican giraffes, because they would work to stretch their necks, both for their own sakes and for the sake of generations of giraffes yet unborn, and thereby take responsibility, not only for their own survival, but for that of their own species -- personal responsibility carried to its ultimate extreme. Such a version of evolution would leverage the Republican celebration of personal responsibility, and thus render evolution more congenial to, e.g., Republican educators and Republican school boards, vis a vis such considerations as biology-textbook selection in local schools. In time, the inaccuracies and fallacies of Lamarckian biology would fall by the wayside -- Lamarckism is remembered now only as a transient curiosity in the history of science, much like phlogiston and the luminiferous ether -- to be replaced by conventional naturalistic Darwinism. We would have taken one pedagogical step back with Lamarckism for the sake of later taking two steps forward with Darwinism, now unimpeded by Republicans' endemic skepticism about science.

The second issue is the Big Bang, which relies on belief in an old -- 13.8 billion years, to be precise -- Universe, which is opposed by many fundamentalist Republicans, who believe in a "young" -- say, 10,000-year-old -- cosmos. The Bible is cited as the authority for the latter. (Actually, the authority is not the Bible per se, but James Ussher, Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland in the 17th century. But let's not get confused with mere facts, shall we?) Well, speaking of the Bible, the author of II Peter 3:8 says that a thousand years of human time is equivalent one day with God. Since fundamentalists, almost by definition, lack the ability to decode  figures of speech, this is usually taken literally. So using the ratio of one Divine day to a thousand human years, we may fairly conclude that the 13.8 billion years of human time is equivalent to 13,800,000 thousand-year periods (13.8 billion / 1,000), and since 1000 years is equivalent to one Divine day, the 13,800,000 human days translates to a tad under 38,000 human years. This is still quite a bit longer than the 10,000 years demanded by Republican creationist orthodoxy -- though still of the same order of magnitude -- however ... one must compensate for the fact, scientifically attested, that the earth rotated faster early in its history, which might well, over time, compensate for the 28,000-year discrepancy, especially when the deceleration due to the tidal effect of the earth's moon is factored into one's calculations.  Regardless, the bottom-line point is that the dual timescales -- human vs. Divine -- take most of the wind out of the sails of fundamentalist Republican religious opposition to the teaching of conventional, empirical cosmology -- and that it has this effect because Republican ideology can be deployed so as to subvert itself.

Just to be clear ... my tongue is in my cheek:  I am not serious -- far from it -- about changing the way evolution and cosmology are taught.  My point, however, is quite serious:  the conservative / fundamentalist Republican strategy of treating people like mushrooms -- keeping them in the dark and feeding them natural organic compost -- is, in the end, self-subverting and -defeating, as proved to be the case with O'care in both the House and the Senate. Trying to hide health insurance issues -- or the facts of evolution, or the data substantiating the Big Bang -- from the public is a wonderful publicity strategy -- like trying to hide the lingerie section of a Sears catalog from adolescent boys. Republicans evidently need to learn a lesson that was long ago glaringly obvious to my 80-plus-year-old maternal Arkansas grand-daddy:  "Buckshot [his nickname for me], there ain't no education in the second kick of the mule!"

James R. Cowles

Image credits

Kicking mule ... Thomas J. Nast ... Public domain
President Obama speaking to crowd re ACA ... Peter Souza, White House ... Public domain
American Health Care Act (AHCA) ... White House photograph ... Public domain
Evolution image ... Artist unknown ... Public domain
Planetary nebula ... artist's conception, NASA ... Public domain
Drugs and syringe ... Torange.biz ... Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Giraffes ... Luca Galuzzi ... CC by SA 2.5

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