Monday, September 23, 2013

A Good Measure of Where We Are? Judd Gregg's "To-Be-Sure"

Want a good measure of how far Republicans are from being a healthy paragraph? Check out Judd Gregg's "to-be-sure" paragraph.

Gregg has a column over at The Hill today slapping down Ted Cruz and other Republican Crazy Caucusers. It's legitimately brutal, and written to get attention, beginning with: "Most Americans these days are simply ignoring Republicans. And they should."

Well, yes. But then we get to the to-be-sure -- placed not close to the end, as the classic structure dictates, but smack-dab in the middle, and continuing far beyond one paragraph. This is the part in which Gregg, essentially, performs a Ritual of Conservative Obedience to establish his credentials so that the column is taken as "sane, loyal Republican criticizes suicidal strategy" and not "RINO establishment turncoat criticizes real conservatives" (and, yes, I know that RINO establishment turncoat isn't exactly the most rational formulation, but it's a thing, nonetheless. Well, it isn't, but...oh, you know). Where was I...oh, yeah, Gregg:
None of this is to deny that ObamaCare is a disaster, especially for small businesses, most states and many healthcare providers. It should be replaced with something that will actually improve the quality and reduce the costs of healthcare. There are many good ideas in this area but they will not be achieved via an inherently self-defeating strategy...

Beginning next year, there will be a real outcry regarding the arbitrariness of the sequester cuts. At that point, the fight should be joined in earnest over the issue of changing ObamaCare to initiatives that improve and expand healthcare coverage rather than march toward a dysfunctional, single-payer system. 
So not only is this substantively nonsense -- ACA may or may not be a good policy, but it certainly isn't a "march toward a dysfunctional, single-payer system" -- but it's also tactical nonsense. After all, the message shifts here from a sensible one about the impossibility of the Cruzites getting their way by holding their breath until they turn blue into one about that being nuts this year...but perhaps appropriate once sequestration hits harder. Or something like that; it's hard to tell exactly what he's holding out as Plan B here.

At any rate, the point here isn't whether Gregg makes sense; it's what he feels he needs to do to get listened to by his target audience of non-crazy Republicans (how do we know that's his target audience? Different audience gets different "to-be-sure" paragraph!). And, to tell the truth, it shows how hopeless the task is right now. Tea Party Republicans have spent four years now convincing themselves that the enemy within (the GOP) is in some ways an even bigger problem than the enemy in the Oval Office. And you know what? Advice they're not apt to take from someone grovelling to their myths really isn't going to push them in a better direction. Good for Gregg that he's trying, and he's of course correct about the defunding strategy right now, but my advice for anyone trying to push Tea Partiers back on the path to healthy governing is that they aren't going to get there unless they give up their mythology, so you might as well be blunt.


  1. "Neither he nor his party colleagues are about to repeal the signature effort of his presidency."

    ... until next year!

    I'd tie Gregg's tactics here to those of Boehner, not wanting to play a game they cannot win. The difference is that while Boehner was trying to get Republicans to bypass the CR for the debt ceiling, Gregg is trying to get Republicans to bypass the debt ceiling for next year's budget.

    Neither one is trying to push Tea Partiers back on the path to healthy governing; they're just trying to grab breathing room until Nov 2014.

    1. I'm not sure how much breathing room they're going to get by tying the showdown to the debt ceiling.

  2. I think the Republicans are even further away from being a healthy paragraph than they are from being a healthy party!

    1. What we need is a third paragraph, that, unlike the hidebound Democratic Paragraph that mindlessly wants to keep the government open and the crazy Republican Paragraph that mindlessly wants to shut it down, provides a place where reasonable people of good will can come together in a healthy spirit of comity and bonhomie and reach the commonsense compromises the American people are clamoring for.

  3. There's something a bit off about Republicans saying both "Obamacare will turn the United States into a hellish socialist nightmare where liberals feast on your children's entrails" and "Ted Cruz is barking up the wrong tree to get Obamacare defunded. We can't do anything until January 2017!"

    If Obamacare really means the end of life as we know it, then there is no response that is too extreme.

  4. The reason for that is that I think there are two different groups among Republicans and Republican-aligned groups.

    When Obamacare was first being proposed, several groups said that it would destroy civilization as we know it (etc etc), but they didn't mean it. It was all hyperbole. They wanted to prevent it from getting passed, and after that they wanted to use sensible channels for repeal (eg. a possible Romney presidency), but that didn't work.

    The problem is that the conservative base never got the memo that it was all hyperbole. They actually think this is the end of America. That's why they're so extreme.

    And that's why no argument can persuade the Tea Party Republicans. If you argue that it's bad politically, they'll disagree because letting the apocalypse happen just so you can be popular would be shameful. If you tell them that shutting down the government is bad for the economy, or that defaulting on our debt could cause the entire world economy to collapse, they'll say that Obamacare is ALREADY going to cause civilization to collapse.

    1. (whoops, I meant to have my post be in reply to Kal)

    2. Yo, faith-based thinking here... if you really believe, then it doesn't matter how many facts the other side has.

      In evangelical Christianity, they believe that this is how their spiritual leaders faced the lions.

  5. When Paul Krugman, the Patron Saint of the Virtue of Stimulus in a High Debt Environment, notes that the US will very soon have to come to terms with its broken income statement, in particular the cost of health care, indeed elderly health care, it must be so. We've all been around the block a few times; we know how this is going to go down: no one's gonna deny Grandma her meds, instead provider reimbursements will be continuously squeezed, causing more of them to exit and surely forcing Grandma to see some stranger willing to take the govt's low-ball reimbursements.

    Which, interestingly, is exactly the conclusion reached by the Grey Liberal Lady wrt low premia in the Obamacare exchanges. The larger point here is that there are inevitable, unpleasant changes to the US health care system soon to arise due to long-term structural budget unsustainability. Neither party wants to get anywhere near owning those unpleasantries. In their Obamacare pride, it appears that liberals may have signed up for ownership of some of them without realizing it.

    Jonathan, you have suggested several times that the seamlessness of the Obamacare transition will cause the legislation, as a cultural phenomenon, to disappear in relatively short order. Hm. I'd take that bet!


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