At the risk of quoting T. S. Eliot twice in the span of a week – oh heck, why not – let it be recorded that the Republican crusade against Obamacare has ended in failure, “not with a bang, but a whimper.”
The quiet surrender was evident again yesterday, when Chris Christie became the eighth Republican governor to endorse the key Obamacare plank that expands Medicaid coverage to a larger pool of uninsured poor folks. Christie says he’ll take that federal money and use it as intended, to better the lives of the severely impoverished. He still insists that Obamacare is a colossal mistake – “it is wrong for New Jersey” – but he has agreed to sign on “based on what is best for New Jerseyans.”
Isn’t it a tad contradictory to say that Obamacare is wrong for New Jersey, yet best for New Jerseyans? Such are the pretzel-like twistings of Republican governors who are struggling to reconcile their old hatred of Obamacare with the new realities of governance. There’s a lot of that going on, because six of the eight Republican governors taking Medicaid money preside over blue states or swing states that voted last November for President Obama.
The GOP over the past year had suffered repeated blows in its quest to kill Obamacare – the Supreme Court upheld it, Obama’s re-election essentially sealed it – and House Republicans were reduced to passing 33 symbolic measures to repeal it. The Republican governers were supposed to be the last line of defense (the high court had said that states could decide for themselves whether to join the Medicaid expansion), but with each passing week that line of defense is more fractured. When Ohio’s John Kasich signed on to the Medicaid expansion last month, he said that “for those who live in the shadows of life, those who are the least among us, I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored” – a line that could have been lifted from an Obama speech.
Christie, who’s up for re-election this year, simply said that Obamacare “is now the law of the land,” another whimper of surrender. But he is by no means the best barometer of the shifting Republican zeitgeist. That honor goes to Rick Scott, the embattled governor of Florida.
As you may know already, Scott surfed into office on the tea-party wave in 2010. A former health industry executive, he was one of America’s most prominent Obamacare haters, and the gubernatorial job didn’t make him mellow. In February 2011, during an interview on Fox News, he mocked Obamacare’s Medicaid plank: “Floridians are fed up with this. They’re fed up with the federal government telling us what to do.” In July 2011, he said “I don’t want to waste either federal money or state money on something that’s unconstitutional.” One year later, after the high court said the law was constitutional, Scott declared that “Florida is legally allowed to opt out, that’s the right decision for our citizens.”
Care to guess what happened last week? Scott announced that Florida would opt in. He said that Obamacare’s Medicaid plank was the right decision for his citizens.
His words: “This country is the greatest in the world, and it’s greatest largely because of how we value the weakest among us. Quality health care should be accessible and affordable for all Floridians. It shouldn’t depend on your zip code or your tax bracket. No mother or father should despair over whether they have access to high-quality health care for their sick child….I cannot, in good conscience, deny Floridians that need it access to health care.”
Wow. Talk like that might prompt tea-partying protesters to deface Scott’s photo with a hammer and sickle. What’s the reason for his stunning switcheroo?
His state has voted blue in two straight presidential elections, the fastest growing group within the Florida electorate is the Hispanics (who overwhelmingly support Obamacare), his own poll numbers have been in the tank, and he wants to win re-election next year. He knows he needs to move toward the center; the fastest route is to make nice to the downtrodden voters whom he has repeatedly dumped on. Last year, he tried to stop them from voting (less early voting, much longer lines); this year, he decided he could ill afford to stop them from getting health coverage. So he did all the electoral math, and out popped his “good conscience.”
For Obamacare, the trend line is clear. Fanatical Republican opposition has yielded to grudging acceptance; in due time, health reform will be a given. And, political calculations aside, what matters most right now is that three million additional Americans will have health coverage, thanks to those eight Republican governors.
Susie Wiles, a Republican strategist who ran Scott’s 2010 campaign, told a reporter the other day: “The awareness that Obamacare is the law of the land, and that the president was reelected pretty resoundingly, is calming the saber-rattling….It’s a lot easier in the abstract to be dogmatic, but it’s really hard when you’re governing.”
That last comment says it all.
Speaking of things that end not with a bang, but a whimper:
The conservatives’ fruitless sound and fury about Chuck Hagel was vaporized yesterday when the Senate voted to confirm him. He was sworn in as Secretary of Defense this morning. One can only imagine what the right-wing echo chamber is buzzing about today: “Did anyone check to see whether Hagel had a long-form birth certificate? And whether it was signed by Friends of Hamas? OK, forget Hagel. Who else is out there to hate? Let’s all get started on Ashley Judd.”
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