Thanks to at least nine opposing Republican senators, Congress left for its July 4 break without passing a replacement bill for Obamacare.
The opposition from these Republicans was two-fold: Four conservatives thought the GOP bill on the table went too far in retaining government control over the medical insurance market, while five centrist members complained it doesn’t go far enough in providing federal funding for Medicaid in their states, and would leave 22 million Americans overall without medical insurance.
The free-marketers in the party have countered the centrist Republicans by indicating that many of the 22 million who will not be insured under the new system are young people who were forced to buy Obamacare insurance. Why should they continue to be forced to buy what they don’t want and probably don’t need? Moreover, payment for Medicaid expenses will be left to the states, which will be free to deal with this arrangement as they see fit. And within a few years both medical premiums and the taxes currently being raised to cover Obamacare will fall dramatically. None of these arguments seems to carry weight with Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Sherry Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who seem to think they can please their voters by tinkering with Obamacare rather than replacing it.
There may be many reasons why the Republicans can’t muster enough votes to pass this replacement for Obamacare. But high on the list is the fact that the present GOP Congress differs from its Democratic predecessors in a way that hurts them grievously. The Democrats were and are internally unified to a degree that Republicans can’t hope to match. The Democrats passed Obamacare by making sure that every Democrat in the Senate voted for it. The same party in Congress continues to practice exemplary party discipline by standing as a monolithic bloc against anything attempted by the divided opposition. Even those of us who disagree with the Democrats about 99 percent of the time have to marvel at the united front they maintain. The party is not full of warring contrarians like John McCain and Rand Paul; nor does it have to worry that one wing will do in the other.
Part of this difference stems from the fact that most of the media, Hollywood, and the so- called deep state have the backs of congressional Democrats. The more vociferously and ferociously they resist the Republicans, the more backing they can count on from CNN, the national press, and other voices of the Democratic Left. The Republicans have nothing like this massive support system; and even if the chief executive were less reckless in his speech, he would still likely be pummeled by the media since he’s willy-nilly a Republican. (I don’t remember the media showing any special fondness for moderate Republicans like George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.)
But there is another reason that Democrats seem far better unified than Republicans. They are more driven by ideology, and as more and younger Americans are raised in the same ideology, Democrats may be able to create a consensus for what drives them and provides internal unity. This ideology is a combination of statist control of social behavior and an extended welfare state, both in the name of achieving greater human equality. This ideology depends for support on racial minorities, increased immigration, mass education, and radicalized social and entertainment elites. One needn’t like what the Democrats are pushing and what they themselves embody to notice how well it sells in our changing American society. The Republican Party by contrast stands for nothing in particular, except for a more slowly growing federal welfare state, a neoconservative foreign policy except at its libertarian margins, and government incentives for business. Republicans in Congress have a sprinkling of libertarians, mostly on its right, but otherwise it’s an organization that wants to manage public administration, keep down the minimum wage, and get its candidates elected.
In any case I’m challenging the “conservative” talking point that Democrats don’t have a unifying philosophy or program but are a collection of grievance-driven constituencies. Although this observation includes more than a grain of truth, it also understates the ideological unity that holds the Democrats together. We are talking about an ideology of the cultural Left that also attracts, perhaps out of opportunism, Republicans and “conservatives.” In social questions the establishment Right has come to embrace just about everything the other side has advocated. The conservative press is now praising gay pride parades and calling for more anti-discrimination laws to protect the employment prospects of the LGBT community. When Democratic mayors started pulling down the statues of Confederate heroes, objections from the GOP were not even audible. But I did notice foreign policy think tank fellow and leading pro-war neoconservative Max Boot extolling the mayor of New Orleans for his facelift and calling upon Americans to do more to obliterate any token of honor paid to the slave-owning racist traitors in the Civil War. When action was taken to deal with illegals who committed felonies, the initiative came from the populist president who imposed himself on the Republican Party. If left to their own devices, the GOP Congress would in all probability have done little to rectify this problem, lest it be accused of xenophobia or racism.
Unless I’m mistaken, the direction in which social policy has moved for both parties is toward the Left. Republicans have typically followed the Left in this tendency rather than vice versa. The worldview represented by the Democrats has long-term power, while the moderateness and piecemeal concessions featured by the other side betrays weakness and indecision. Appearances in this case are not deceptive. Democrats in Congress look much more cohesive than their opposition because they really are.
I would also note that the incriminatory speaking style of Democrats in Congress and of Democratic Party operatives should not be taken as literally as Republican talk show hosts are inclined to do. When Elizabeth Warren or Maxine Waters rails against the racists, homophobes, sexists and plutocrats in the other national party, their remarks should not be judged by the standards of scientific research. They are engaging in illocutionary rhetoric, a form of speech that politicians often resort to in targeting particular constituencies. These Democrats are “appealing to their base,” something Republicans do less effectively when they promise to “get government off our backs” or insist that “government is the problem.”
In 1980, when I was still relatively young and a Reagan enthusiast, I imagined the newly elected president would make good on his talk about whittling down our centralized bureaucratic regime. Needless to say, Reagan changed only minimally the size and workings of the federal administration; and I doubt most of his voters wanted him to do more. Despite his sometimes misleading illocutionary phrases, Reagan was a paradigmatic New Dealer but one whose constituency expected him to sound like a fierce opponent of the welfare state.
Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for twenty-five years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale PhD. He writes for many websites and scholarly journals and is the author of thirteen books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents. His books have been translated into multiple languages and seem to enjoy special success in Eastern Europe.