Obamacare fight displays the politics of neurotic obsession

Listen

Our politics are being controlled by people who think there are monsters in the closet. What’s worse, no amount of tummy rubbing, or sharing of pertinent facts, can quell their anxieties.

Republicans in Congress threaten to shut down the government if they can’t overturn President Obama’s health reforms. A favorite line of theirs is that Obamacare is the worst law Congress has passed since Prohibition.

I’m wondering how they know that, since many of the law’s provisions have not yet gone into effect. This fall is when a lot of the big stuff – like the new insurance marketplaces – is supposed to being clicking into place.

So far, Obamacare has mostly been responsible for a lot of young people getting to stay on their parents’ health plans. Since the law passed, health costs and premiums have actually risen more slowly than before, for a variety of reasons.

So what part of that record compares to bathtub gin and Al Capone?

No matter, driven largely by bogeyman fears conjured by the Tea Party, the GOP majority in the U.S. House is girding for Armageddon.

Why? Because the Tea Partiers, the voters whom GOP lawmakers most fear, believe monsters lurk in the closet. They decry the health law as a socialist government takeover of what they apparently believe used to be a swell health system.

This, even though Obamacare relies heavily on market-based approaches originally brewed up in Republican think tanks. This, even though that former status quo delivered stunningly mediocre results for spectacularly high costs.

The hysteria over Obamacare speaks to a number of distressing trends. One is the partisan penchant, which is death to compromise, to reject any idea found on the lips of the other guy – even if the idea originated in your camp!

A second is that people can consider themselves well-informed on an issue, when all they’ve been doing is bathing in a stew of myths and misstatements cooked up by propagandists masquerading as journalists.

The third distressing trend is that we’ve so gerrymandered our elections that many incumbents fear challenges only from the extreme fringes of their own party. The only danger to their tenure lurks in low-turnout primaries, not general elections.

That’s why the Tea Party is so powerful, even though it includes at most one in five voters.  It’s powerful because its members are the Americans most likely to vote in an off-year election.  Just ask Mike Castle, who lost Delaware’s 2010 GOP Senate primary to the lightweight but Tea Party-favored Christine O’Donnell.

So, in effect, those of you who don’t vote in off years are lending the Tea Party your political clout.

And the Tea Party is using that clout to foment “monsters in the closet,” obsessional politics inside the Beltway.

“Whatever you think of the health care act – and it is far from perfect – you’ve got to see that the act going down on Capitol Hill right now is not good for the nation’s health.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.