Friday, July 28, 2017

GOP Healthcare: Just 'Tell 'em I lied'

An aide to Louisiana Governor "Uncle" Earl Long (1939-40; 1948-52; 1956-60), having faced a group of constituents demanding to meet with the Governor, and angry over his failure to deliver them a promised road, asked Long what the aide should tell the crowd. Governor Long replied,

"Tell 'em I lied."

-- Louisiana Governor Earl Long [full story in Endnote, below]
Why do the Republican members of the House and Senate seemingly feel compelled, like those who self-flagellate their backs with knives and chains, to march on to ever greater self-inflicted wounds, in order to make good on their promise to "repeal Obamacare"? [Photo credit: Gov. Earl K. Long speaking to the Legislature in June 1956; New Orleans Times-Picayune archive.]

Surely they are aware that the titular head of their party -- the President of the United States, Donald Trump -- with all of his lies and broken promises to supporters, has nonetheless enjoyed a successful political career. After all, as he's said of the media, "I'm president and they're not." [Michael D. Shear, "'I'm President and They're Not': Trump Attacks Media at Faith Rally," New York Times, July 2, 2017, p. A18.] As the Times has reported, "There is simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths."
"[H]ere are the numbers for the president’s first 100 days.
492: The number of false or misleading claims made by the president. That’s an average of 4.9 claims a day.
10: Number of days without a single false claim. (On six of those days, the president golfed at a Trump property.)
5: Number of days with 20 or more false claims. (Feb. 16, Feb. 28, March 20, April 21 and April 29, his 100th day in office.)" Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, "President Trump’s First 100 days: The Fact Check Tally," Washington Post, May 1, 2017.

And see, David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson, "Trump's Lies," New York Times, Updated July 21, 2017 (with chronological itemized list; "There is simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths. Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers. No other president — of either party — has behaved as Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.")
As much as we may admire the congressional Republicans' ethical desire to keep commitments to constituents, why can't they, with regard to this healthcare business, follow their President's example, and that of Governor Earl Long, and simply say, "We lied"?

In fact, they even have a much more acceptable explanation than "we lied." I would suggest they consider something like this:
When Obamacare became law we did not like it. You did not like it. We did not like the process the Democrats used to get it enacted. During the years since, our efforts to repeal it have been frustrated by President Obama's threat to veto any repeal. As you've probably noticed, we've had our difficulties repealing it this year as well.

This is, in large part, a function of the passage of time.

There are things that even the Democrat Obamacare enthusiasts agree are wrong with the law. Whatever else happens, those defects must be fixed.

But after seven years of Americans living with Obamacare, getting access to insurance and healthcare, many of you have come to depend upon it. Few if any of our proposals to repeal it have had the support of more than 15 percent of the American people -- including Republicans. Changes that would continue, or increase, the tens of millions of Americans with no realistic access to Medicaid, Medicare or other adequate health insurance and healthcare, are neither good medicine nor politics.

We have not abandoned our quest, your quest, to improve on Obamacare. What we have come to recognize is that an outright repeal, with or without a replacement, is not politically possible. What is possible is to do better than the Democrats did in fashioning Obamacare while essentially locking us out. What we can do is to start over with the traditional legislative process of staff research, committee hearings with the nation's experts, and full floor debate regarding amendments -- a process that will enable Democrats and Republicans to work together. What we can do is create a process in which facts replace ideological arguments, a process in which every member of the House and Senate has some skin in the game, a process from which can come the best healthcare for all Americans that our representative democracy is capable of creating for the American people.
There's something to the old saying that when you find yourself at the bottom of a deep hole, the first step to getting out is to stop digging. The Republicans continued digging. It hasn't worked. Perhaps it's time to call on Winston Churchill. As Churchill once observed of our democracy, "The Americans will always do the right thing -- after they've exhausted all the alternatives." Now that Congress has pretty well exhausted all the alternatives, perhaps the next step is to do the right thing.

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The full story is told by Michael Kurtz and Morgan Peoples:
"During one of his campaigns for governor, Earl Long made a stump appearance before a crowd of farmers in rural St. Tammany Parish. In typical fashion, he promised that if elected, he would have a local road, heavily traveled and full of potholes, widened and paved. Long won the election abnd carried the rural district, but when the legislature convened, he failed to include the promised road work in his agenda of bills. Astonished and furious at this display of gubernatorial duplicity, a large contingent of irate citizens journeyed to Baton Rouge to see Governor Long. Earl would not see them, and they subjected his administrative aide to a barrage of threats and insults. Refusing to leave, they stood their ground and demanded that Long see them. Equally adamant, Earl turned down the impassioned pleas by his aid. The fist-shaking mob gave the aid one last chance, and out of sheer exasperation, he said to Long, "After all, governor, you did promise to have their road paved. What should I tell those people?" With a shrug, Earl replied, "Tell 'em I lied!"
Michael L. Kurtz, Morgan D. Peoples, Earl K. Long: The Saga of Uncle Earl and Louisiana Politics, (LSU Press, 1990), Preface

I will leave to others the search for other possible indicia of similarities between President Trump and the Governors Long, such as, "[Huey] Long became a dictator, disdaining the ordinary processes of constitutional government and flouting the principles of separation of powers. . . . [H]is successors engaged in outrageous acts of personal enrichment, stealing an estimated $100 million from the state [roughly $2 billion today]. . . . [Earl Long] openly practic[ed] spoils politics. He wrecked the state civil service system, fired civil servants for 'political halitosis,' and openly accepted 'campaign contributions' from gamblers and mobsters." Id., p. 9.

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