In a development that surprised absolutely no one, Missouri voters passed Proposition C with more than 76 percent of the vote on Tuesday. Prop C declared that the state would exact no penalties against its residents if they refused to comply with the federal health care insurance mandate.
Of course, the referendum is ultimately worthless, because it’s a state law written to undermine a federal law. And the Articles of Confederation hasn’t been in force for awhile.
But Prop C drove tea party-leaning voters to the polls and its success has energized a base that didn’t seem all that unmotivated to begin with. So regardless of what happens next, it’s served its purpose.
On an intellectual level, it would seem like no one has any reason to support Prop C. Obviously you have anyone who supports health care reform, who understands that a mandate is necessary under this new system to broaden the risk pool and thus drive down premium costs. To those tired of hyper-partisan politics, Prop C seems like the latest temper tantrum from the anti-Obama-at-all-costs crowd. Neither of these are particularly surprising.
Yet, even those who hold true to conservative views would seem inclined to dislike Prop C, given its unconstitutional nature. And those given to disgust over government spending and so-called frivolous lawsuits should have a field day over what the coming rounds of court will cost taxpayers.
But this isn’t an intellectual exercise at all. Like seemingly everything else these days, it’s fraught with emotion and irrationality. Not to mention the smug pronouncements of Republicans who claim The People Have Spoken!
(Side note #1: When a conservative candidate or proposal wins, it’s because The People Have Spoken. When Obama overwhelmingly wins the presidency, it’s a mistake made by a bunch of young voters who will soon have buyers’ remorse. People speak selectively, you understand.)
Regarding Prop C, the voters have spoken, but they haven't said what its supporters think. The mind is capable of staggering compartmentalization, and this is a case of that. As long as the idea of a health care insurance mandate has been around, the conservative cry has been, “The government can’t force me to buy insurance!” And thence Prop C becomes a question of, “Do you want the government to tyrannically force you into buying something you don’t want?” Of course not! Come to think of it, how did this get only 76 percent of the vote?!! To quote Christopher Walken in Blast From The Past, "COMMIES!"
Of course, if the question was framed as, “Do you think the state of Missouri should spend thousands of dollars unsuccessfully defending a law that is not only constitutional, but could shrink the health care risk pool to a point where insurance companies might just leave the state altogether due to the expense?” you might get 76 percent voting in the other direction. Yes, that question isn’t any less loaded than the first, but it’s more truthful.
(Side note #2: For what it’s worth, I’m not a fan of the system being put into place. It’s a hard sell. I think it’ll be better than what we have now, but it’s ultimately a compromise over the much-better ideas of a public option or single-payer. But a mandate is the only way it’ll work in this form; otherwise, only sick people will sign up. And you need a large pool of healthy people to drive down costs and sustain payouts.)
I find it fascinating how successful the rhetoric has been in the Prop C campaign. Mainly because it’s so ridiculous. As I mentioned in my last blog, “freedom” piped up with much regularity. Freedom apparently means to the right to deal with massive bills and giant corporate conglomerates your own way. With bootstraps as your tourniquet because you can’t afford anything better to stanch the hemorrhaging. And if you have a problem with the way we do health care in this country, get a job or move away, freeloader! The People Have Spoken!
One interesting, though scary, side effect of Prop C (and Obama in general) is the emergence of a whole batch of sudden constitutional scholars who snidely ask just exactly where in the Constitution it says the government has a right to grab citizens by the balls and demand they pay up for health care. In those exact words. These types have been around for a while, but the Obama era has brought them into the mainstream. And they could very well drive the debate for years to come, aided and abetted by screamers like Glenn Beck, who frame the debate in twisted ways that American voters inexplicably lap up with a beer funnel.
(Side note #3: One reason political debate is so stupid these days is the terminology. Who knows if they really believe it, but many conservatives — especially tea partiers — paint things they’re against in the worst possible terms, and blithely assume liberals think in the same bizarre mind-set. That’s why we’re so often accused of wanting dead babies, for example, because clearly that’s all being pro-abortion rights is about. Or that we want racial and gender equality because, as white liberals, we hate ourselves. Or that we insist on separation of church and state because we hate Christians and actively worship gods and demons we know are wrong and evil.
Same thing with health care. Obviously, we’re for reform because we want the government to rule over everyone with an iron fist. It has nothing to do with addressing the serious health care crisis in America, with saving people from being one illness away from bankruptcy. No, it’s all an insidious plot to make everyone slaves to our elected representatives. For some reason or other. I imagine this mind-set exists is because it’s exactly what right-wingers want — money, power, glory and moral certitude at the expense of everyone they deem inferior — and they assume that’s what we want too and resent the competition.
And that, I think, is why it’s so hard to debate nowadays. How do you make your case that something is the smart and humane thing to do when your counterpart can quantify things only in terms of their personal checkbook?
Side note within side note #1: George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign was little more than an appeal to greed and moral superiority. “It’s YOUR money, and I want to give it to you!” “It’s time to restore honor and dignity to the White House.” I remember my aunt telling me she voted for Bush because “He will be good for my stocks.” When Bush took office, he had no qualms about enacting a far-right agenda and was open about his rich-enriching intentions. Obama gets the same criticism from the right that Bush got from the left, but without foundation. Obama has gone out of his way (maybe too much so) to compromise and to enact provisions that help middle-class and poor Americans, which is not in his self-interest. And that’s the fundamental difference in why conversations now are so irrational. When one side claims to hold the monopoly on freedom and accuses the other of Marxism, the exchange is already too far gone. End side note within a side note, as well as the side note itself. I think.)
Ultimately, Prop C is a political statement, and while its success in the short term seems to portend an end to the Obama era, it could just as well backfire. And even if it doesn’t, it’ll take more than a symbolic rebuke to bring about a significant pendulum swing. Having actual solutions would be a good start. So would a healthy sense of perspective.
After all, California just declared Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage, unconstitutional. Wonder how that fits in with our supposed rightward march?