Fresh from presenting a “liberty medal” to Hillary Clinton on the anniversary of the Benghazi massacre, GOP establishment pillar Jeb Bush dropped in on ABC News over the weekend to bash Ted Cruz and the conservative campaign to stop Obamacare. (Memo to self: Maybe if conservatives called it the campaign to “abort” Obamacare, Beltway Republicans would be less confrontational.)
As if the last 40 years of American history, including the presidential administrations of his father and brother, had never happened, Bush urged that Republicans must:
[W]ith civility, have a dialogue about the bigger, more pressing issues, and try to find common ground. Rather than use each instance of a possible crisis to win a political point. We need to start solving problems….
Does it get any more vapid? Were there two more civil gentlemen on the planet than Presidents Bush 41 and 43? They were none the less savaged by the Left and its media. In opposing socialized medicine (as in other things) Ronald Reagan, too, was a model of civility, as is Sen. Cruz; yet for both rabid attacks were, and have been, the order of the day – coming from both the Left and the Republican establishment.
The press fawns over Democrats who demagogue conservatives as “terrorists” and “hostage-takers,” and over Beltway Republicans who deride conservatives as “wacko-birds” and “tea party hobbits.” Obviously, political strife in modern America has nothing to do with a lack of civility. It owes, instead, to the lack of common ground – not the inability to explore common ground but the non-existence of common ground.
We are not arguing here about the speed-limit on interstate highways or whether the ashy storm-petrel bird rates Endangered Species Act protection. With Obamacare, statists are trying, as President Obama has put it, to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” Conservatives, by contrast, want to conserve the United States as constitutionally founded, which means preserving the individual and economic liberties that statists are effacing. There is no meaningful common ground between these polar opposites.
The statist side is enthusiastically championed by Democrats, and the conservative side by Republicans, albeit more reluctantly. Like the Democratic party, the GOP is run by Washington-oriented politicians and, thus, is more enamored of Washington-centered fiats than is the conservative base whose support Republicans need in order to be politically viable. In the vogue of establishment Republicans, Jeb Bush ostensibly directs his “Can’t we all just get along?” preachments at the Republican-Democrat divide. Clearly, though, as an all-but-formally-announced contender for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nod, he is more vexed by the widening disconnect between Republicans and conservatives.
Here is the problem for Jeb: There is no common ground between (a) “I should control my own medical decisions, with my doctor deciding what to charge for his services and my insurance company deciding what risks it will cover, at prices to be determined by a free market,” and (b) “The federal government should oversee my medical decisions, tell the doctors what to charge, and dictate what insurance companies must cover at what rates.” In this, as in other matters Gov. Bush calls the “bigger, more pressing issues” – the issues about what kind of country we are going to be – one side has to win and one side has to lose.
We do not have what Bush calls “instances of crisis” because people are uncivil, or because competing sides are, as he says, merely trying to “win a political point.” We have them because there is no sensible compromise on these fundamental controversies. Each side is trying to persuade Americans of the rightness of their antithetical visions for our society.
Bush, like George Will, is wrong in suggesting that conservatives are unwilling to compromise. The most underreported fact in the recent shutdown controversy – and the fact most under-exploited by those leading the charge against Obamacare – was this: Conservatives do not want the federal government funded at today’s unsustainable levels. The monstrous size and scope of the federal government is largely what animates the Tea Party. Yet conservatives compromised on this point of great consequence to them, agreeing to fund government on the Democrats’ astronomical terms … except for Obamacare. It was President Obama who declined to seek common ground: refusing to compromise with conservatives despite having lawlessly compromised on Obamacare with corporations, cronies and Congress (members and staff) who did not want it applied to them.
In our system, we settle such fundamental controversies democratically: by elections or, between elections, by having elected officials exercise the relative powers the Constitution gives them to press their position until one side yields. Our health-care battle lends itself only to this kind of resolution. Again, there is no common ground between (a) “The government has no authority to make me pay for your healthcare – no more than it has to make me pay for your flat-screen TV,” and (b) “The government has the authority to confiscate its chosen percentage of my property in order to pay for your medical treatments that government deems necessary.”
There being no common ground, Gov. Bush’s notion of “common ground” translates into: Let the Democrats have their way. He went on to tell ABC:
Show how Obamacare, flawed to its core, doesn’t work. So, have a little bit of self-restraint. It might actually be a politically – be a better approach to see the massive dysfunction. But we don’t even hear about that because we’ve stepped on that message. And I think Republicans just need to take a step back, and allow – show a little self-restraint and let this happen a little more organically.
What an extraordinary statement from someone who just got done ripping conservatives for allegedly using crises to “win political points.” Bush’s game-plan is to sit back and let the crisis happen. What he describes as “the massive dysfunction” of Obamacare is a Beltway euphemism for millions of real people suffering grievous harm: prohibitive insurance rate rises; family budget-busting out-of-pocket costs due to soaring deductibles; immense transfers of wealth that discourage productivity and encourage dependency; billions of dollars misallocated away from productive enterprises and sunk into government-dictated health insurance plans that the unwilling are coerced to buy; employers in our paralyzed economy encouraged to cut employees and hours; a further bloated bureaucracy that will be next-to-impossible to roll back; and taxpayer funds egregiously wasted by the program’s imploding implementation (even more politicized than it is incompetent).
Conservatives trying to stop Obamacare want to prevent these things from happening. Beltway pols might have perceived the very partial government shutdown as a crisis; but to conservatives, Obamacare is the crisis. We resist because if Obamacare is allowed to take root, it will be years before repeal can conceivably occur – in the unlikely event Republicans are both able and inclined to repeal at some future point. In the interim, irreparable harm will be done. That harm is precisely what millions of conservatives elected self-proclaimed anti-Obamacare Republicans to Congress to avoid.
Jeb Bush, to the contrary, says let Obamcare happen. Why? So Republicans can exploit the inevitable pain to win the political argument on repeal – which repeal, he neglects to mention, would happen, at best, at least four years from now, and more likely six or more.
That’s it. That’s the “civil” approach. “We need to start solving problems” by letting the problems happen. We need to find “common ground” by restraining conservatives and ceding all the ground to statists. Sure, the result will wreak havoc on people’s lives, but at least it will be “organic.”
While blasting conservatives who staked out a clear, accountable position that Obamacare has to be stopped now, Bush, like most of the Republican establishment, was vaporous in outlining his own purportedly better strategy:
I think the best way to repeal Obamacare is to have an alternative. We never hear the alternative. We can do this at a much lower cost with improved quality based on our principles, free-market principles.
All right, so what’s Jeb Bush’s alternative? He didn’t say – it’s apparently one of those alternatives “we never hear.” Just some pabulum about doing “this” (presumably, a Washington-driven expansion of health insurance coverage) in some undescribed smarter, less centrally controlled way.
In his few public statements about it, Bush has been mildly critical of Obamacare for its emphasis on access to, rather than the quality of, health care. He said Obamacare compared unfavorably to proposals advanced by Sen. John McCain in the 2008 election to “reward [people] when they make choices that improve health-care outcomes.” To be sure, McCain’s overall health-care platform was superior to Obama’s. Still, it maintained a significant federal government role. More to the point, the Heritage Foundation rightly worried that McCain’s “improve quality” initiatives “could easily become avenues for imposing increasingly prescriptive federal regulation, duplicating existing state regulation, and further undermining personal freedom in health care decisions.”
Beyond the “quality versus access” distinction, Bush has mostly been hard to pin down on health care reform. As the Left-wing Think Progress noted earlier this year, the former governor is said to oppose Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion privately, but he has declined to take a public position on it and, more specifically, on the decision by Florida’s current governor, Republican Rick Scott, to embrace Medicaid expansion. When pressed on the matter by NBC News, Bush said he had been too busy on other things to familiarize himself with “the specifics.”
Jeb Bush has not been in public office for a few years, and the 2016 campaign is still over the horizon. No one should begrudge him the absence of a developed position on what the central government’s role in our health-care system should be. If he is going to criticize the elected officials putting themselves on the line to make the fight against Obamacare, however, he should offer more than risible blather about “common ground.” And he might think about cobbling together something better than a strategy that offers misery now with no realistic prospect of reversing Obamacare for years to come … all the while, finger-wagging about “alternative” reforms without actually offering one.