[This is G. I’ve been away for a while, but I’m back for the week. This morning I woke up, read the papers, and learned that the Republicans truly hate the Affordable Care Act.  They’re hell bent on rescinding it, no matter what, and even though they’re a minority party. And if they don’t do it this time, they’ll try again, and again, and again until they succeed.

Somehow this all seems familiar. Oh, yes, I remember! Way back in the summer of 2012, the Republicans had just lost their effort to overturn Obama Care in the courts, were enraged, and vowed to continue the fight in the Presidential campaign. Then they lost the election, rather badly as it turned out, but still weren’t discouraged. They would fight even harder, this time in the Congress.

Of course, they were left with a minority in the Senate, and a fractured majority in the House, so they really couldn’t pass laws; but they could stop them. That should be enough. How? Well, the Government needs money, and if the Congress doesn’t appropriate it the Government, or large parts of it, will have to shut down. And if that doesn’t work, they’ll try again when the time comes to raise the limit on the National Debt sometime in October. Obama Care is clearly evil and has to go. Extreme measures are justified!

You could say, I suppose, that they’re downright Churchillian in this regard. They’re going to fight on the beaches, in the landing grounds, on the fields, in the streets, etc., until they prevail.[1]Of course, Winston Churchill was faced with the prospect of a Nazi invasion of the British homeland during the Battle of Britain. Today’s Republicans are resisting a Government program to expand healthcare in the U.S.

The two things don’t seem to be moral equivalents, but nevertheless factions in the Republican party are willing to go all the way to resist any expansion of national healthcare. Why? Well, they say, it’s all tied up with their view of American Exceptionalism, a philosophical (or perhaps economic) view that I missed in college. But it was quite popular, or so I am told, in the high Ivy League; so, of course, only the best people are pushing it today.

Of course, it could be that all this talk about our exceptionalism could simply be a mask for a deeper, and more profound political concern. And, as fate would have it, we blogged on that back in July of last year. Rather than paraphrase our speculation, perhaps it’s best to simply reprint the piece here[2]. (It’s certainly easier.) Consider this an experiment; let us know if you like, or hate, the idea of reprints from the old blog

July 20, 2012[3]

My name is Sam Hall, it is Sam Hall.

My name is Sam Hall, and I hate you one   and all.

Yes I hate you one and all, God damn your   eyes.

American Folk Song[4]

Well, finally! On June 28 the Supreme Court issued its much-awaited   decision on the Affordable Care Act – aka, Obama Care – much to the consternation of the Right and the   bewilderment of many Liberals. The drama hypnotized many for hours, and   preoccupied the folks on AM Talk Radio for days. But comic relief came from   the so-called Mainstream Media, and by that I mean the media outlets that had   the resources to station a commentator and a camera on the courthouse steps.   Those folks, ever-ready to pounce and report the news, were the first to   receive the Court’s opinions.

For those of you who don’t know, the actual decision is styled National Federation of Independent   Business v. Sebelius.[5]   The Court spent the better part of three days listening to arguments on   health care, and produced a series of closely-argued opinions that, in total,   exceed 190 pages. Even the Syllabus, a kind of précis of the opinion, ran on   for more than five pages of fine print. Sometimes you can find out what   happened in a case by reading the Syllabus; but not always. In this case you   had to read into page 4 to see that key parts of Obama Care had been upheld.

Apparently not everybody in the media read that far before they   spoke. Early on two networks reported that Obama Care had been struck down. Not true. The others were   silent, probably because the adults in that group were still reading; and   eventually gave the correct answer.

So which is better? To wait a bit and get the facts straight? Or to   talk early and often, and correct mistakes only if someone makes you do it?   I’m not so sure that the producers of these shows value the ‘true facts” of a matter so much that they are willing to put up with dead air. Better to fill   the air with something, even if it   has to be changed, or retracted, at a later date.

Does this mean that we can’t trust the media? Perhaps. And if so,I’m talking about all media. People   knew this even back in the 19th Century. “Believe nothing of what you hear, and only half of what you see.[6]”   I don’t think we’ve improved much since then. In fact, with the recent   development of picture altering software, perhaps these days we should trust our sight even less than our ancestors trusted theirs.

The Republicans were on the case as soon as they realized what had happened. Mitt Romney’s Campaign proposed a new initiative: i.e., to exempt all states from complying with the current law, and to work with Congress to   repeal the whole thing.[7] The Campaign’s view is that Obama Care   is too expensive, will burden the states with needless regulation, and will “worsen the [health care] system’s existing problems.”

Why do they think that? Well, basically they seem to believe that government never can do anything right. That’s a popular view with AM Talk Radio and the Republican base, but it hardly stands as fact. After all, the federal government runs the military, provides medical services to veterans and others, protects us from terrorists, and so forth. The states and municipalities run the police forces, fire and EMS teams, maintain highways   and regulate utilities, etc. I don’t think Candidate Romney thinks any of these efforts are failures and should be discontinued. If he does, I’m sure he will make that known in due time.

Strictly speaking, there are no facts about Obama Care and its complex program for creating state insurance   markets. That part hasn’t been implemented and it’s not scheduled to be implemented for some time. So how does one criticize it without any documented failures? Only on the grounds of ideology, not fact.

Of course, none of this really matters to the people who truly hate Obama Care.

  • Some have disliked it from the beginning,   mostly because they think we have the best health care system in the world.   Why tamper with the best?
  • Others, especially on AM Talk Radio, say the   United States was founded as a nation of sturdy yeomen, and that we should   preserve our independence, work for health care, and pay for it. Don’t accept   health care from the Government! If you do we’ll lose American Exceptionalism![8] It’s our exceptionalism that allows us to go about the world, correcting injustice wherever we find it.
  • And what about the people who can’t afford to   pay for health care? Are they just supposed to die? You’ll hear dead silence   on that. In the past, the standard rejoinder would have been that any   tampering with the medical establishment, or the insurance industry, would be Marxist.

Do we really have the best health care system? Not if you look at the   facts. For instance, take a look at the average life span of people in this country. How do we stack up against other nations? We may not be at the top, but we should do pretty well, right? Wrong.

The Central Intelligence Agency tracks this kind of thing for about   220 countries, including the United States. The information is available to   the public.[9]   You probably didn’t know this, but we are number 50 on that list. That is, the citizens of 49 other countries enjoy longer lifespans than we do. These include Monaco, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Italy, Canada, France, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, Germany and the United Kingdom.

So why do all of these countries do better? Well it could be, it just could be, that those particular countries have national health care plans that help their citizens to live longer. Check the list and see if you agree.[10]

What about American exceptionalism? After all, our exceptionalism is   our license to topple dictators and install democracy in their countries.That’s pretty important.   Shouldn’t we be willing to sacrifice health care to maintain such a lofty   position?  We’ll lose it if we keep Obama Care.

Come again? How does that work? If we abolish government health care at home, how does that encourage us to go to war abroad? And how does any of this relate to the morality of government healthcare?

After a little research we found that Israel, for example, has national healthcare; its operating principle seems to be that “[a]ll Israel   is responsible for one another.”[11] Assuming responsibility for others?! Are the Israelis weak for taking that position? Are they no longer exceptional because of it?

So, would we be better than the Israelis if we demolished Obama Care? We certainly would be   denying responsibility for some of our fellow citizens. And if that’s OK, why not move on to Medicare, Medicaid, Veteran’s health programs, and the like?   If we abolish those programs then we would be truly exceptional in the world   – but for what? Stupidity, perhaps?

OK, what about Marxism? Nobody really wants to be a Marxist these   days. Perhaps we should abolish Obama   Care – and the other government health programs – to avoid even the appearance of Marxism.

You know, not too long ago we blogged about Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, and their belief system[12] To them society was organized into two main classes: the rich (or   capitalists); and the people who worked for them (the proletariat).  Eventually the two classes would go to war   and the proletariat would win, principally because there were many more workers than rich people. After that the workers would take over, and society would gradually evolve into a single class. Marx and Engels saw this as a good thing.

My guess is that they would not approve of Obama Care. Instead, they would see it as a half measure,   designed to short-circuit or prevent class warfare and the victory of the   workers. So in today’s political climate they might well side with the media pundits of the Right: Destroy Obama Care root and branch.

For this reason Obama Care is most definitely not Marxist. So what about the Right; how would Marx see them? Possibly as “useful idiots,[13]”  i.e. as furthering Marxist goals by opposing Obama Care, and thereby encouraging class warfare.

Finally, let’s get to the real question. Why is the Right so adamant   about Obama Care? The reasons they give don’t seem to make much sense, so what’s really at play here? Actually, we wrote about this a couple of years ago.[14]   We were struck at the time by the general vagueness of the health care   debate. Nobody seemed to talk about specifics; instead all we had was   rhetoric and glittering generalities from both sides. The Democrats wanted to help the uninsured, and the Republicans wanted to save us from Marxism and/or Big Government.

Of course, there were a lot of healthcare proposals floating around   then. At one point the House had sent bill to the Senate; the Senate rewrote   it and sent it back; while the House continued to work on three other   proposals unrelated to the Senate rewrite. So where was a politician, or a   pundit to look for specifics? Well, Elemental Zoo had an answer for that.

In January of 2010 the Senate operated under rules that permitted a   minority to stall legislation by debate. Debate could be cut short only if 60% of the Senators voted for that. After the Senate passed its version of   healthcare, the Senate lost one of its leading proponents of the measure, Ted Kennedy. This left the Democrats with “only” a 59 vote majority, not enough   to move new or amended healthcare legislation. So the only legislation left   on the table was the Senate Bill, and we suggested the contending parties should examine that and debate it in detail. Perhaps they could reach agreement on some issues, and pass a better law.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. The parties remained   stalemated and no compromises were made. Eventually the Democrats in the House accepted the Senate Bill and, after some procedural wrangling, both   houses succeeded in passing additional ‘reconciliation” legislation to make some relatively minor changes to it. If you’re confused by the process, stand in line.

So why didn’t the parties just work something out? Well, I think it   was because both sides agreed on one thing, a very big thing. The Conservatives thought that new legislation that expanded healthcare would be very   attractive to the newly covered, and that said newly covereds probably would   reward Democrats by voting for them in future elections. And the Democrats thought so too.[15]

So there we have it. The Conservatives are against Obama Care because they’re afraid it   will attract more voters to the Democrats. But they don’t say that. Instead   they carry on about Marxism, big government and so forth. But they’re really singing in Sam Hall’s choir. You know, they hate Obama Care because they hate it, they hate it, they hate it, and because the Democrats may get a political advantage from it, God damn their eyes.

What about your and my healthcare? Not an issue; go out and earn it!

[So there you have it; musings and reflections from the summer of 2012. Nothing seems to have changed since then, except, of course, that Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, recently entered the debate on American Exceptionalism.[16] He said, rather puckishly I thought, that it’s always dangerous to tell people they are exceptional.

Probably he was thinking about his own country’s experience with the Nazis in World War II. Ultimately we, the Russians, the British and a lot of other people had to put the Nazis down in a great bloody confrontation involving most of the world. The Nazis, Germans and others, were driven in large part by the mistaken belief that they were part of an Aryan race destined to rule everything. They were exceptional.

Of course, no one is saying that Americans are trying to do the same thing. After all, for the last 100 years or so our modus operandi has been to fight our wars, wherever they might be, and leave the area once the hard part is over; except, of course, we do leave expensive garrisons behind for very long periods after the fighting.

It’s not fair to compare our record to that of an expansionist empire, trying to expand its power and influence at the expense of others. For one thing, our military adventures generally are quite costly, and don’t pay for themselves. But we, or at least modern Conservatives, do have a tendency to preach to the world about how its various peoples and cultures ought to govern themselves. And what’s our advice? Why, that everybody should create a Western-style democracy and follow in our footsteps.

Interesting argument, but lately I don’t think it’s selling very well anywhere but in Washington, D.C. And wait until the Republicans defund Obama Care, and we tell the rest of the world that they, also, should give up their national programs. My guess is that no other country will do that. And what if the Republicans shut down our Government, or destroy our Government’s credit rating, simply to defund Obama Care? Will the world be impressed by that?

Or will we be a laughingstock?]


[1] See Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th edition) (Oxford, 2004) (hereinafter, ODQ at __) at Churchill, p. 221, n. 8: “…We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

[2] With a light edit, of course.

[3] See the blog of 07/20/2012, Health Care Again, at http://elementalzoo.typepad.com/elemental-zoo/page/4/

[4] This is quoted in Cohen, Curses, Hexes and Spells (Lippincott, 1974) at p. 84.

[5] 567 U.S. ___ (2012). The decision is currently available only as a slip opinion. You can get it –for a price- from one of the expensive legal services or you can download it for free from the Supreme Court’s web site. Go to http://www.supremecourt.gov/ and look under Recent Decisions. But be warned. The whole thing is over 190 pages, so you’re in for a long read once you get it.

[6] See ODQ at Proverbs, p. 615, no. 8.

[7] Where do I get this? From the Romney Campaign website. Go to http://www.mittromney.com/issues/health-care

[8] Don’t know what this is? Take a look at Wikipedia, which defines it this way: “American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is different from other countries in that it has a specific world mission to spread liberty and democracy.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism

[9] See Central Intelligence Agency, World Fact Book, at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2102rank.html

[10] See PBS, Frontline, Sick Around the World at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sickaroundtheworld/countries/models.html

[11] Don’t believe me? Then take a look at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Health/health_gen.html

[12] See the blog of 04/25/2012, What Did Marx and Engels Really Say? at http://elementalzoo.typepad.com/elemental-zoo/2012/04/index.html  From time to time we refer to previous blogs. All of them are still available from Elemental Zoo. To get them you have to scroll down on the blog page until you find what you want. If you hit bottom on the page and still haven’t found what you are looking for, click on next to go to the next previous page, and repeat the process as necessary. Trust me; all the old posts are still available, although it may be a bit laborious to find the earlier ones.

[13] Actually the term “useful idiots” may be somewhat suspect. It’s popularly attributed to Vladimir Lenin, and means people who aren’t Marxists but support Marxist objectives. Brewer says that the phrase was not known in the former Soviet Union, and “may have been concocted by anti-Communists in the U.S.” See Rees, Brewer’s Famous Quotations (W&N, 2006) at Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov), p. 282, 283.

[14] See the blogs of 01/22/2010, Health Care and 01/29/2010, Health Care II, both at http://elementalzoo.typepad.com/elemental-zoo/2010/01/index.html

[15] See Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal (Norton 2007, revised 2009). Krugman describes the political dynamics of the issue in Chapter 11.

[16] See, e.g., New York Times, Opinion, Putin, A Plea for Caution from Russia (September 11, 2013) at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-russia-on-syria.html?smid=tw-nytimes&_r=1& ; see also Newsmax,  Burke, Putin Writes Op-Ed for NY Times: America Not ‘Exceptional’ (September 11, 2013) at http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/putin-times-op-ed/2013/09/11/id/525217