A couple of weeks ago, right after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that one faulty sentence in the Affordable Care Act shouldn’t be used to throw the federal law into chaos, I noticed a statement sent via Twitter by U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, the Republican congresswoman from eastern Missouri.
“Today’s SCOTUS decision doesn’t change the fact that Obamacare is deeply flawed and puts an undue burden on Americans,” she said.
I was feeling pretty happy about the ruling, and so I indulged myself by posting a mildly sarcastic (by Twitter standards) rejoinder to Wagner’s tweet. Something about “a broken record moment.”
That earned me a cyberspace rebuke from one of Wagner’s supporters, who said: “Consistency of stance is a good thing, right? The media would go bananas if Ann changed her opinion, and yet you mock her.”
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You know, it really is a brutal world out there, in the frothing sinkholes of social media, talk radio and cable news. And I suppose there would be hell to pay for any member of Congress who announced, “In light of the latest Supreme Court ruling, I will be meeting with members of the party across the aisle to seek common ground on Obamacare going forward.”
But that is exactly what needs to happen, with health care and any number of other issues. Consistency of stance is not a good thing if the result is paralysis.
How did we get to the stage where politicians are expected to check their independence at the doorway to Capitol Hill? State legislatures are just as bad.
The people elected to be public servants are subjected to loyalty oaths, purity tests, pledges and a dizzying array of rankings by interest groups. Pragmatism is the first casualty of office.
Jack Danforth, the former Republican U.S. Senator from Missouri, talked about the phenomenon during a recent appearance in Kansas City.
“I loved it when I did it,” he said of his work in Congress, “but I’d hate it now.”
Danforth continued: “Once you’re elected they don’t do anything. The true believers, the activists and the (Rush) Limbaugh types won’t let them do anything. Politics is gridlock. Who would want to be in it?”
Oh, lots of people, by the looks of the Republican presidential primary. What the heck, there’s even getting to be a backlog for Missouri’s lieutenant governor’s race.
But Danforth’s point is well taken.
“You can’t make politics work if it’s a morality play all the time,” he said. “Politics is about working things out. But the party regulars, the activists, don’t want you to work it out.”
After the Supreme Court’s health care ruling, President Barack Obama said he’d like to move away from the let’s-get-rid-of-Obamacare debate and on to issues such as improving health care quality, controlling costs, eliminating waste and expanding access.
Those kinds of discussions are going on all the time on the fringes of the political arena. People have some really good ideas. But most, if not all, of the candidates running for president on the Republican ticket are still vowing to repeal and replace Obamacare — with something. And you can bet the same will be true when U.S. Senate and House races heat up.
These folks who are still hunkered down in the repeal-and-replace crouch are missing out on the chance to make a difference. What’s worse, they’re creating a bottleneck for other people’s innovations.
We shouldn’t confuse consistency with craziness. To be consistently in favor of free market tenets in health care is admirable and could play a role in a constructive debate. To make opposition to Obamacare your entire health care strategy, even though you have no solid idea for a replacement, is unproductive and, well, crazy.
Ask most people, and I’ll bet they’ll say they’d trade consistency for progress. But no candidate for national or state office dares to hint that they’re moving in that direction.