In “The Art of War,” Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu states that “the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” Watching Congressional Republicans’ response to President Obama to date, I am left to wonder “when did the GOP become so generous?”
I image at the initial GOP strategy meetings in January that they were briefed by pollsters on data showing that nearly four out of five voters thought the country was heading in the wrong direction; only 17 percent approved of President Bush’s economic policies, 70 percent of Americans believed that the GOP should work with the new president and 66 percent of independents thought the party should move toward the center.
Once the pollsters left the room, my guess is that is when they broke out the Kool-Aid. How else do you explain the party’s decision to block President Obama and label him as a socialist, while calling for continued adherence to the Bush policies that yielded the worst job creation record of any president since Hoover. Not to mention proclaiming the infallibility and curative power of the free market after a period in which risky subprime lending had led to a financial meltdown, a collapse in the stock market that destroyed 45 percent of global wealth and job losses nearly equal to the entire population of Los Angeles.
This decision was not a “Profile in Courage,” but an act of willful and destructive blindness. Motivated by ideology and a fear that if Obama succeeded the Democrats, as Rep. Bachmann warned, would “secure a power base that … can never be defeated,” Republicans stood firmly against any government spending despite a Moody’s analysis that Obama’s infrastructure spending would provide three times the stimulus over the Bush tax cuts (which would yield less than 50 cents for each dollar in tax cuts).
After the “S” word attack backfired, as it was ridiculed by Republicans outside the Beltway as “stupid” and “absurd” and only increased public approval for socialism, you would think the GOP would have shown some caution before opposing the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee who had 2-1 public support. Once again, cries of “Hey Kool-Aid” were heard in the Republican caucus, and the party then proceeded to play the race card on Judge Sotomayor, which only increased the public perception of the GOP as the Southern White Man’s Party.
Surely the GOP would not be as foolish when it came time to debate health care. Especially when 72 percent of Americans favor a government run health plan — including 50 percent of Republicans, while only 13 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of HMOs.
Kool-Aid appears to be in ample supply, however, as the GOP’s principal response has been to continue to rely on the “S” word, trumpet HMOs and the private sector as the solution to all problems and dismiss the government’s ability to provide comparable care.
This is another instance of willful blindness as the reality is that the largest government provider — the Veterans Administration — consistently outperforms private providers in customer satisfaction surveys and a New England Journal of Medicine study examining the VA using 11 separate measures of quality found the VA to be “significantly better” than private providers on all measures. Similarly, Medicare was found to have substantially lower admin costs than its private sector counterparts.
For Republicans, these facts are meaningless as long as they continue to follow William Kristol’s 1993 admonition to block any healthcare proposal in order to prevent the revival of the Democrats reputation as “the generous protector of middle-class interests.”
The upcoming healthcare debate will prove to be a critical test for both parties, but it presents a potential no-win situation for the GOP. If President Obama is able to pass a healthcare bill, the Republicans may see William Kristol’s warning come true.
While the defeat of the Clinton health plan led to the GOP takeover in Congress in 1994, this is not 1994. Approval for today’s GOP has plummeted to record lows in recent polls. More ominous is the fact that their base may be deserting them as 41 percent of Republicans disapprove of their Congressional leaders. Life-long Republicans like Waldport, Ore. Mayor Herman Welch have left the party citing the Beltway’s Republicans adherence to placing “worn out ideology” over the interests of the country.
Unlike 1994, today’s GOP is on the road to perdition, not revival. After five months, the Congressional Republicans have been out of step with the public on every major issue. Blocking Obama’s health plan may lead to a backlash that only accelerates the party’s descent and come November Democrats will “reward” them handsomely for their generosity.
Bennet Kelley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.