Procrastinating on March 10, 2016

(Early) Monday Smackdown: Ezra Klein on the Execrable Josh Kraushaar: Obamacare Didn’t Pave the Way for Donald Trump. The GOP’s Response to it Did

Barack Obama promised his supporters that he would run a government not for Blue States or Red States but for the United States. And to that end Obama has attempted to adopt:

  • John McCain's global-warming policy,
  • Mitt Romney's healthcare policy,
  • George H.W. Bush's foreign policy,
  • Bill Clinton's tax policy,
  • Ben Bernanke's preferred fiscal policy--and
  • kept Ben Bernanke on at the Fed to run monetary policy--while
  • continuing the George W. Bush/Henry Paulson banking- and housing-crisis policy.

Thoroughly centrist governance.

Thoroughly technocratic governance.

And yet the execrable Josh Kraushaar claims that the radical-left policies of the Kenyan Muslim Socialist have driven the Republican Party justifiably mad...

Ezra Klein delivers the proper smackdown:

Ezra Klein: Obamacare didn’t pave the way for Donald Trump. The GOP’s response to it did: "Political Twitter fell all over itself mocking this article [by Josh Kraushaar] blaming Al Franken for the rise of Donald Trump...

... [Kraushaar's] underlying argument is fairly standard--and, in a way, much more revealing.... Kraushaar... blame[s]... the rise of Trump... [on] Obamacare. Franken only figures in because Obamacare couldn't have passed without 60 Democrats in the Senate and Franken was the last (and most famous) Democrat.... The next chain in the argument is that the passage of Obamacare drove the Republican Party into a frenzied, endless backlash.... Kraushaar is echoing the standard Republican line... quotes John Boehner saying... "in a democracy, you can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it.' In this telling, Obamacare was hubris that led to disaster....

There are two ways to look at Obamacare. One is that it was more or less American politics working as it's supposed to. Democrats won two wave elections in a row and amassed a tremendous amount of political power. That done, they turned to their top priority: health reform.... In a bid to win over both moderate Democrats and Republicans, they abandoned their single-payer dreams and their public option hopes and crafted legislation based on Mitt Romney's successful, bipartisan Massachusetts reforms.... Obamacare is now covering about 20 million people at a cost lower than anyone anticipated. This is the political system doing its job in a polarized age.

But there's another popular narrative of Obamacare — that it was a hijacking of American politics in order to pass radical, unconstitutional legislation that forever transformed the country. In this telling, Democrats won a hefty majority on a message of unity and moderation and then rammed socialized health care down the country's throat. They bought off interest groups, exploited parliamentary loopholes, and ignored the clear will of the people. The GOP's lockstep opposition was driven by the danger posed by the legislation and the corruption of the process... [by] the Democrats' unforgivable decision to use a transient majority to permanently reshape America.

Longtime readers won't be surprised to know I think the first narrative is basically true and the second narrative is rather overwrought. But the second narrative is widely believed on the right. It's what the Republican Party has been telling its voters for years. It's what Kraushaar is gesturing towards in his column. And I think there is reason to believe it's partly what's driving Trump.... Grassroots conservatives weren't fated to panic over Obamacare. They were told to panic over Obamacare. And their leaders told them that for good reason. Republicans persuaded their base that something terrible was happening to the country and promised that if they won the 2010 election they could undo the damage Obama had done. The strategy worked. Republicans won the 2010 election, and they won it in a big way. But then they couldn't undo what Obama had done. And their base was too scared to simply accept that.

Republicans told their voters to freak out. So their voters freaked out.... [What] connects Trump and Cruz is their demonstrated agreement with grassroots conservatives that something has gone deeply wrong in America and the traditional tools of politics are insufficient if you want to fix it.... Republican voters have good reason believe American politics is truly broken and something precious about this country is on the verge of being lost forever. They have been told that, again and again, by every leader and pundit in their party, for years... by Mitt Romney... by John Boehner... by writers like Kraushaar.... And those are the sober, establishment-oriented figures I'm quoting. What GOP voters have heard on talk radio has been much, much worse.

What's interesting about Kraushaar's column isn't the novelty of the thesis but the persistence of the metathesis. Republicans have worked for years to radicalize their base against Obama, to persuade them that something truly different and terrifying is going on, and in that project they have enjoyed a catastrophic success. Now elite Republicans are panicking as they watch their base turn to different and terrifying kinds of politicians.... Republicans desperately need to persuade their base that this moment isn't as dire as they think it is and a more conventional class of political figures is appropriate.... But doing so would require... a radical revision of the party's core narrative...

I suppose I assign more responsibility for this catastrophic public-political disaster than Ezra does to the mainstream media for not holding Mitch McConnell and company's feet to the fire.

I cannot excuse figures like Josh Kraushaar who never ask their Republican sources: "Isn't this just RomneyCare? Didn't Republicans win when they persuaded Obama to drop the public option in the summer of 2009? Even Romney says that this is an excellent plan for Massachusetts--that the only complaint is whether the federal government is greatly exceeding its proper federalist powers by offering to serve, via the Federal Exchange, as a Benefits Department for people who don't have Employer-Sponsored Insurance via large bureaucracies? How can the mere offering to serve as your Benefits Department--and imposing a small tax on you if you try to free-ride on the health-care system, thus breaking Mitt Romney's Republican "responsibility principle"--be in any sense an existential threat to America?"

He never asks. And he never listens to how they answer when those questions are asked. On Kraushaar and company's part, what is this? Is this Cowardice--not daring to question their Republican sources for fear they will get mad and the flow of career-sustaining leaks will stop? Is this Racism--agreement with many Republicans that the root offense is that a Black man is daring to act like he is actually President of the United States? Is it Stupidity--not bothering to learn enough about ObamaCare to recognize that it is RomneyCare on a nationwide scale, and not nothing to think it through far enough to recognize that offering to serve as your health-care Benefits Department is hardly an existential threat to your freedom?

Why choose?