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The Limits Of Scare Mongering And Spin: The GOP's Struggle To Govern

The GOP agenda is simply devoid of ideas that might aid anyone who is not a millionaire, a Wall Street insider or a fossil fuel executive, writes Steve Almond. Pictured: President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with House Republicans in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., is at his left. (Evan Vucci/AP)closemore
The GOP agenda is simply devoid of ideas that might aid anyone who is not a millionaire, a Wall Street insider or a fossil fuel executive, writes Steve Almond. Pictured: President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with House Republicans in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., is at his left. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Last week, Marsha Blackburn, a conservative lawmaker from Tennessee, held a town hall in her district. Citizens confronted her with pointed questions about the GOP plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Blackburn, a prominent member of the president’s transition team, responded by, uh, prevaricating her head off.

The particular nature of her falsehoods was striking. She claimed that two of the most popular provisions of the ACA — coverage for preexisting conditions, and young adults being able to remain on their parents’ coverage — were “Republican provisions which made it into the [Obamacare] bill.”

This is, to put it politely, malarkey.

Nearly every single popular government program enacted in America is the result of Democrats trying to govern in a manner that helps the poor and disenfranchised. These programs are always furiously opposed by Republicans...

It was the Obama administration that pushed for these measures, in the face of fierce opposition from folks like…Blackburn. Blackburn herself was asked, specifically (and on C-SPAN, back in 2009) why GOP alternatives to Obamacare did not cover preexisting conditions. She said she supported creating “high-risk pools” instead.

This was back when Republicans were opposing the ACA by retailing the lurid myth that the bill called for “death panels” that would euthanize elderly Americans.

Now that Blackburn and her colleagues are encountering frustrated constituents, they have resorted to peddling yet another myth: that most of those present at their town halls are protesters from outside their districts, a canard that has been exposed over and over.

But the nature of Blackburn’s dishonesty travels to the heart of the debate over the ACA and redounds to the larger crisis that the GOP now faces as the party in power. Namely: Elected officials such as Blackburn simply have no idea how to govern in a way that might help their constituents.

So what do they do? They falsely claim liberal ideas as their own and try to paint any backlash as partisan.

What other choice do they have?

The only “policy ideas” that the modern Republican Party can trot out at this point are tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation. That’s it. The GOP agenda is simply devoid of ideas that might aid anyone who is not a millionaire, a Wall Street insider or a fossil fuel executive. This is why Republicans run campaigns largely lacking in policy details but full of scare tactics aimed at vilifying immigrants, minorities, Muslims, etc.

In fact, the repeal of the ACA would essentially redistribute money from the poor to the wealthy. Across the country, the public is catching on to the true nature of the GOP agenda, which is to recycle the same greed-first policies that result in massive income inequality and financial ruin.

To put it more affirmatively: Most people, if they can move beyond their fears and bigotry, actually want (and need) help from the government. This is what Kentucky’s former Gov. Steve Beshear discovered when he embraced Obamacare.

Many Kentuckians hated Obama. But they desperately wanted affordable health care, and they signed up for plans in droves. The result has been a remarkable turnaround for a state whose citizens were among the least healthy in the country.

Take an historical step back here and you can see a clear pattern. Nearly every single popular government program enacted in America is the result of Democrats trying to govern in a manner that helps the poor and disenfranchised. These programs are always furiously opposed by Republicans, who whine about government debt, lazy people living off the dole, etc. Then these programs go into effect and actually help, and the public embraces them. Imagine that.

What programs do I mean, specifically? How about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? The basic work done by the New Deal, along with the Great Society programs, the Civil Rights movement, etc.

Remember the economy Obama inherited, the one losing 800,000 jobs a month? The one with a financial sector on the brink of collapse? The one where American families with a sick member routinely went bankrupt?

It was Obama’s steadfast work, in the face of pathological GOP opposition, that created 30 straight months of job growth and rising wages.

So those are the facts.

Our new president has responded to these facts by claiming, absurdly, that he inherited a “mess.” He has also made it habit to take credit for the jobs Obama’s policies created. This is his only option. What’s he supposed to say? “Hey, the Democrats managed to rescue the economy. Again. I’m here to tank it on behalf of my rich buddies.”

Trump seems to feel he can run the country by signing oversized decrees like a monarch and waging wars of distraction against anyone who threatens to hold his administration accountable.

Across the country, the public is catching on to the true nature of the GOP agenda, which is to recycle the same greed-first policies that result in massive income inequality and financial ruin.

But here’s the thing about democracy: Sooner or later, politics gives way to policy, and the rhetoric of grievance to the reality of governance.

The proposed repeal of the ACA is the first concrete measure of Republican rule, aside from Trump’s cruel and senseless executive orders. Based on what happens in the next few months, millions of Americans — many of them grievously ill — stand to lose medical coverage.

Blackburn and her ilk can’t spin away the mess they’ve created for themselves. If they can’t govern in a manner that serves their constituents, those constituents will serve them notice at the ballot box.

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Steve Almond Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond is the author of 11 books of fiction and nonfiction. He writes Cog's advice column, #HeavyMeddle, and is the co-host of Dear Sugar Radio.

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