This is normally the point in my article where I would engage in many paragraphs of the mildest rage, but having spent the last several hours in cheerful shouting matches with pictures of Congressmen, I am pleased to announce that I am now fully purged, and may discuss what happened with a mild, philosophical disposition.
The House GOP voted to roll back Obamacare yesterday. The measure is called The American Health Care Act of 2017, or HR 1628. If this is brand-new gossip to anybody, congratulations on maintaining your sanity in whatever electricity-deprived part of the world you hail from. The GOP finally did it. The bill won’t pass the Senate, but it shouldn’t have passed the House to begin with. Normally, history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. But what happened today when the grim moment finally arrived, was both. The House approved HR-1628 ... and the opposition sang.
Pelosi and the other House Democrats sang “Na na na, na, hey hey, goodbye,” and waved farewell to the other side.
Josh Marshall pointed out that this was both “homage and a literal repetition of what Republicans did when the Clinton tax bill passed in the House in 1993.” But why does this matter? It confirms the fact that neither of them take this the least bit seriously. Or at least not beyond the stakes of a game. Even the pundits who understand correctly the course that this will take, speak of it in terms of the turning of a hand of poker. According to Jeff Stein, when someone asked why Pelosi and the Congressional Dems didn’t challlenge the GOP, she replied, “Because we want them to define themselves …They will walk this plank for nothing.”
I know the pathology of conservatism all too well. All of the world knows its symptoms. As much as I could spend the rest of my life diagnosing them, today it is the diseases of the Democrats I wish to doctor. Trump is not President because the GOP is sage and swole, but because the Democrats are a deflating pile of human-shaped luggage. What impressive counter-thrusts did the Resistance offer today? Jacob Bacharach, writing about the repeal, said that
It would be tempting to call [the Democratic Party] a zombie, but a zombie is living dead; a zombie is compelled by a lustful, powerful hunger. A zombie is all appetite—it is more than alive. The GOP is a zombie. The Democratic Party is a ghost—diaphanous, spooky, and utterly unable to interact with the actual world. At best, it can rattle the pots, or leave a little trail of slime.
The major difference between the Democratic Party and the dismal dull-fleshed hacks of the Soviet regime is that the tired old Communists had universal health care, and the Democrats still can’t pull it off. Democrats bumbled twice when passing Obamacare: they failed to pass a bill that would have done the full job, and they failed to sell themselves as the authors of even that half-assed salvation. One complicates the other. Because Obamacare is a dreary prospect in the light of true universal health care, it was unpleasant to defend. But whatever its faults, it stood between millions of Americans and ill-health. There is much to say about why the Republicans did what they did today. I wish to consider the how.
What deserves our special attention is the response to the repeal, which tells us something about the country we live in. “Did Republicans just wave bye-bye to their House majority?” wrote the Post. “Vulnerable Republicans back ObamaCare replacement,” said The Hill. “Obamacare repeal is an opportunity for Democrats,” opined CNN. “Fourteen Republicans who voted for the bill sit in districts won by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016, another potential sign that they could face tougher reelections,” wrote Kamisar and Hagan.
Friends, imagine if the Republicans had just detonated a cluster nuke in the lower atmosphere; I assure you the national press would respond more or less the same. And so would the Democrats: “They don’t know how bad they look.” At what point will it become clear that the GOP—which now controls all three branches of government—is on the verge of repealing the major legislative piece of the previous administration? When will the time for face-saving end?
This is a frolic to these people. This is a plot point in their movie. It’s Game of Thrones to them. Just as voting American troops into Iraq was a lark—a Risk board of positions and moves—so it is here. That’s how they see the world, our important journalists and politicians. That’s how Brian Williams could ogle the missiles landing in Syria and blithely rhapsodize that “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.” Yes, why not? Why not enjoy your time as a sounding brass for what American authority does? You were made for the world, and the world was made only so you could make insipid, amoral comments about whatever the management does. Of course.
California is the case. California proves everything. “All of California’s GOP House members voted to pass the Obamacare repeal bill,” to use the L.A. Times’ phrasing. The entire California delegation—from the most reliable liberal state that is not Massachussetts or Vermont—saw its entire Republican delegation vote for the bill. Calvert, Cook, Denham, Hunter, Issa, Knight, LaMalfa, McCarthy, McClintock, Nunes, Rohrabacher, Royce, Valadao, Walters. Those fourteen names are the shortest explanation for why Trump and the GOP could do this. Without the California GOP, it wouldn’t have happened.
Many of these Californians came from districts Hillary won by sizable margins. Why? Doing away with Obamacare is unpopular. Why weren’t they scared to death of a mob meeting them at the airport, or of being voted out? That is how we got here. Where the right-wing party in a liberal state had no fear—absolutely none—of the popular will. Just as the Congress has no fear. The only people the Democrats are skilled at beating are millennials. At best, the Democrats won a victory that comes, what, two years down the line? Forget for a second that the Democrats have the worst track record for forecasting victory. The Old Democratic party would have executed their entire leadership if this sort of thing had happened. Today’s Donkeys are not interested in power, except as a status object. Their investment in politics is to position themselves in virtuous stances: they are principled losers.
No, damn it, no.
The point of power is not to win symbolic victories, but real victories. That is what power is and what it’s for. Lyndon Johnson, the Master of the Senate, said: “It is the politician’s task to pass legislation, not to sit around saying principled things.” The Democrats are entirely in the business of saying principled things.
Resistance. You speak to me of Resistance. The Resistance is the people in the streets. There is no Resistance, in any concrete way, in Washington. Today’s kumbaya circle is not Resistance. Hillary saying she would have won if not for Comey is not a Resistance. Pelosi saying single payer is still impossible is not the Resistance. Chris Matthews cooing over today’s political Olympics is not the Resistance. The New York Times selling Real Serious Journalism and then hiring Bret Stephens is not the Resistance. Not fighting is not the Resistance. Claiming the FBI did it, that Russia is still hacking, sharing Colbert and Oliver online is not the Resistance. None of this is the Resistance. Jon Stewart has a lot to answer for.
You know who the savior of the Official Resistance is? Who has done the most to preserve progressive legislation? It’s horrible. I’ll tell you: Mark Meadows, the chair of the Freedom Caucus. His stubborness kept Trump from Obamacare during the first hundred days. If the messiah of the progressive cause is a reactionary real estate developer from Cashiers, North Carolina, you are not Resisting. The incompetence and fractiousness of the Republicans will not save us. It didn’t save us from Trump, it won’t save us now.
You are advertising for your virtue, and not doing a damn thing. It doesn’t matter that the Senate won’t pass it. It should not have gotten to this point. The American people cannot wait for your glib positioning to pay off. Do you think you’ve lived lives so worthy of polite applause, that Providence will keep the Governor of Kentucky from ending reproductive rights? Do you think because you mock Putin, there will be no more bombs in Yemen?
Politics is not a game for bored urban professionals to play. It is about need and hunger and desire and choosing which stony path society trundles down. It comes from the same part of the body that love and fear do. How hard is it for the gala crowd to get? Oh, Democrats, what will it take for you to change? Will the Republicans have to have every last governorship? The way to escape this is not to consider the pathology of the Republicans, as staggering a prospect as that is. The answer is to fight. The fact that the GOP got this far is proof that what you are doing it wrong.
Donating to the same leaking spittoon that has lost to Trump is not the Resistance. Here is what your precious Resistance amounts to: a bag of wet straw. The hope that exists is the hope of the populace, not the professionals. Trump’s defeats are due to his own incompetence, not because of the skill of his opponents. It is not strength to stand behind a wall built by your grandparents and claim you are invulnerable. Stand up and fight for something, every time. Physician, heal thyself.