The Republican Obamacare Endgame

We Heart ObamacareSahil Kapur wrote a really informative article at Talking Points Memo, Republicans Warn of New Obamacare Reality: No Repeal Without Alternative. It looks at the state of Republican Obamacare delusion. The only reasonably rational statement came from an anonymous Republican aide who said that in order to come up with a viable Obamacare replacement “you have to move in the direction of the ACA.” This will come as no surprise to readers of this blog. Obamacare doesn’t exist the way it does because Democrats just really like complicated laws. If you want to have popular things like no denial for pre-existing conditions, you have to have unpopular things like the individual mandate. Otherwise, given our insurance industry based healthcare, it doesn’t work.

The rest of the article was just a bunch of politicians posturing. That’s to be expected, because that’s what politicians do. I don’t blame them; it’s us voters who make that necessary. But I was very taken by something Eric Cantor said, “We are about proposing real health care reform that will be patient centered—and a plan that we will put forward this year.” Okay, it’s delusional. I don’t even know what “patient centered” means; it seems to imply that Obamacare takes individuals’ healthcare choices away from them, which is absolutely not true. But I’m stuck with the timeline: some time this year.

Obamacare was signed into law over four years ago. The fact that the Republicans felt no need to come up with anything until now (maybe) shows what they actually want to do: nothing. They don’t want to “repeal and replace,” they just want to “repeal.” At this point, the Republican elites are realizing two bitter truths. First, Obamacare isn’t going anywhere. Second, it isn’t actually that bad. It is, after all, a market-centered law to fix our broken healthcare system. Conservatives all claimed to like it until the Democrats proposed it.

The problem is that the right wing propaganda machine has spend about five years convincing the base that it is, “Socialism! Socialism, I tell you!” So the elites can’t just shrug off the defeat and move on. They have to continue this charade that Obamacare is a takeover of healthcare, blah, blah, blah. And thus we get Cantor’s new plan for an Obamacare replacement. It’s pathetic.

But I know how this will go. Or, at least, I know how this will go at best. Cantor will come out with a plan that is a minor variation on Obamacare. It will be what the Republicans could have gotten in the first place if they hadn’t just decided that each and every one of them were going to vote against it. It is what they would have gotten if they had worked to strengthen the law rather than just kill it. It is what they would have gotten if their primary concern had not been to simply deprive Obama of a political victory.

And if they do come out with this best case scenario plan, they will do what Republicans do best: they will sell it. They will magnify the minor differences and try to convince the base that they weren’t just lying for the last five years. But I’m afraid that they are doomed to fail. The base doesn’t seem to know much of anything about Obamacare except that they hate it. When the plan comes out, the Heritage Foundation will look at it and report, “This is just a minor variation on Obamacare.” And the base will rise up and Cantor will quietly bury the plan.

But by then, the election will be over and the nation will get on with the important work of forgetting that Obamacare was ever contentious. I give it 20 years.

Four Songs From Jacques Brel

Jacques BrelThere are a lot of great birthdays today, but I have to with Jacques Brel, who was born on this day in 1929. He was one of the greatest singer-songwriters ever. He wrote chansons with interesting characters in complex situations. There is nothing especially interesting about his life other than that he died very young from some ill-defined problems with his lungs. So let’s just focus on his songs.

First up is “Le Moribond,” probably his best known song in the United States. A terrible English translation of it was a big hit for Terry Jacks, “Seasons in the Sun.” The original version is full of pathos that was somehow ripped out of the English version. You can read about it in some depth in, It’s Hard to Die in French.

Next up is “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (don’t leave me). It is haunting in its quiet desperation.

The flip side of “Ne Me Quitte Pas” is “Mathilde.” In this song he talks about the ecstasy as well as the terror of a returned lover. You know it won’t work out. All your friends and family know it won’t work out. But you just can’t stop, “Mathilde est revenue!”

And just to finish out, here is “Madeleine.” This is just about the delusion of love. The narrator has scheduled meetings (according to him) with Madeleine, but she always stands him up. The song ends with him looking forward to tomorrow where he will take Madeleine to the movies. He plans to tell her that he loves her. He knows she will like that.

Happy birthday Jacques Brel!

Bad Tipping and Christian Apologetics

Bad TipLast year, there was a whole media dust up about Pastor Alois Bell who refused an 18% autograt (automatic tip on large parties), writing on the receipt, “I give God 10 percent why do you get 18?” It was an unfortunate incident that the Pastor later apologized for. But there is a larger question here, which Karen Swallow Prior grapples with in her Christianity Today article, Why Are Christians Such Bad Tippers?

On one level, it is a puzzler. In general, Christians are generous; they give more money to charity than non-Christians. But they seem to be lousy tippers. The truth is, we don’t know that Christians are bad tippers. The anecdotal evidence we have suggests only that ostentatiously Christian people are bad tippers. You know, the Matthew 6:5 Christians, “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” Do we know if the more reasonable Christians are bad tippers too?

Another question is whether the ostentatious Christians are generous in charitable giving. Maybe they’re not. But I suspect they are, for the same reason that they make a big show of proclaiming their faith after church at the local Denny’s. Prior thinks this has to do with Gnosticism and the way many Christians separate the holy from the profane. Giving to starving children in Africa is part of the holy, so they are generous. But tipping a server is part of the profane, so they aren’t.

That strikes me as a bit too tidy. I think there a couple of things going on. One is the “Hitler was nice to his dog” effect. The server right in front of you is very real and so complicated and flawed. But the starving African child is an ideal: perfect and pure. And if humans can come up with reasons not to part with money, they will! I think to a large extent, that explains the paradox of Christians giving to Good Causes but not to the good cause of a server making rent.

But this doesn’t explain why these Christians tip worse relative to others. Here I think you have to look at the kind of people who are ostentatious Christians. They are also: conservative Christians. Just in the simplest of terms, these people may not tip for the same reason they won’t go to see Noah: they don’t want to give money to those kind of people. But in this case, it’s even worse because there are all kinds of issues of class and identity. If servers were the right kind of people, they wouldn’t be servers. Servers tend to be younger and female; they really ought to be married. There are all kinds of extra reasons there to hang onto your cash.

In general, people tip based upon how they want to be seen. Mr Pink in Reservoir Dogs doesn’t tip because he sees himself as smarter than the bleeding hearts who voluntarily throw away money they don’t have to. I tip well because being a bleeding heart and ostentatiously generation is important to my self image. And I think that everyone fits somewhere in that continuum. But Christians can see themselves as not giving money to servers because they are saving it to give it to more deserving recipients.

Either way, tipping doesn’t actually say anything about you other than whether you are a total jerk to the people who serve you. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, but even servers have bills to pay.”

Why Conservative Christians Hate Noah

NoahDan Mathewson wrote a really interesting article over at Religion Dispatches, Noah, Cosmos Controversies Not About Biblical Literalism. In it, he traces the rise of the conservative Christian movement to the early 20th century. At that time, Christianity had to deal with new scientific discoveries—most especially evolution by natural selection. The liberals decided to make peace with science and see in the Bible certain spiritual truths. The conservatives glommed on to Biblicism. This is the idea that all Christians must believe certain biblical truths, starting with: “the inerrancy of the bible; the virgin birth; the substitutionary atonement; the historicity of the miracles; the second coming.”

So Mathewson sees the outrage over Noah to be simply based on the fact that the film’s director is an atheist. His approach to it was not any different than had he made a film about Snow White. It’s just a story like any other. There is much to what Mathewson said. But I think he is giving a bit too much credit to the Biblicists.

I once had a terrible roommate. He was a violent drunk who brought prostitutes home. But you could not talk about religion with him because even the slightest suggestion that Christianity was not the One True Way would provoke a violent response, whether he was drunk or not. And this was from a guy who never went to church. For him, Christianity was not a religion so much as a cultural signifier. It was what gave his life meaning.

This is what’s going on with the Biblicists. To them, the entire modern world is crashing in on them threatening to destroy the meaning in their lives. But notice in the list above that the first item is “inerrancy of the bible.” This is why people use “fundamentalist” or “literalist” as shorthand for these people. But what they are, above all, are cultural conservatives who are afraid of any information that might disturb their very stable beliefs.

Are there biblical literalists who are not Biblicists? Mathewson certainly implies that there are. But I don’t recall running into such people. This is why I have noted in the past that they are conservatives first and Christians second. A non-Biblicist literalist would not fall into that category. But instead, all we see are a bunch of Christians for whom the religion is primarily a cultural signifier.

In the end, there is no real surprise in the reaction of conservative Christians against the film. People make instant decisions and then rationalize them. I can assure you that I would have a very hard time liking a movie by Dick Cheney. I would focus on everything that was wrong with it. And I would minimize everything that was good. That’s just the way humans are. For Christian conservatives, Noah was just a film made by one of those people who want to destroy God. So of course they hate it.


H/T: Ed Kilgore

Third Way Looks Out for Corporate Base

Third Way

You may know about Third Way. It is a supposed centrist party that doesn’t fall into the trap of the supposed extremist Democratic and Republican parties. The problem is that when they talk about policy, it turns out that it is what the Democratic Party establishment already supports. Now this is an indictment of the Democratic Party, because it shows that it is not liberal, at least on economic issues. But the reason that Third Way doesn’t just get behind the Democratic Party is that they aren’t really for centrist policy. Instead, they are professional centrists who get their gravitas by pretending to be the mean between the two extremes. They have never been able to explain how the modern Democratic Party is extreme, except in that the Republicans say it is and that they disagree in some small ways.

Over the weekend, the top two people at Third Way, Jonathan Cowan and Jim Kessler, wrote an OpEd in The New York Times, Capitalize Workers! They argue that low wage workers don’t need no stinkin’ minimum wage increase. What is really behind income inequality is that low wage workers aren’t vested in the stock market. So they propose forcing employers to pay 50¢ per hour into a private investment account for employees. They claim this will result in an annuity worth $790 per month at retirement.

Note first how they frame the debate in a way that appeals to their base: the business interests. Raising the minimum wage would actually move money from corporate profits to worker wages. But forcing employers to add 50¢ to every hour worked would end up getting taken out of the employee wages. So this is a way of just forcing workers to invest some part of their earnings and not requiring anything from employers. Note also: all of the proposals to raise the minimum wage are a lot more than 50¢ so even at its best, this proposal is yet another attempt by economic conservatives to do as little as possible to help low wage workers.

But it’s much worse than this. Dean Baker goes through all the numbers and shows that the annuity would be far less—perhaps only half as much. And it is a huge giveaway to Wall Street. It represents between $25 and $50 billion per year in fees for the investments. And then another $25 to $50 billion for turning the investments into annuities at retirement.

Last December, the same two men were at The Wall Street Journal arguing, Economic Populism Is a Dead End for Democrats. So they are very much aware that Obama and the Democratic establishment push policies that are effectively identical to their own. And they are afraid that populism of the Warren and de Blasio type might break out—because they would be bad for their corporate base. So it is clear where they are coming from.

Sadly, the media generally treat Third Way as though it had something useful to say. But this goes back to a point I’ve argued for a long time. Elite media figures are upper class urbanites. They see their interests represented by third way: economic conservatism and social liberalism. Of course the actual people of the country are the opposite; they are economic liberals and social conservatives. And that’s why the Third Way boys push this investment nonsense: it’s a great way to confuse people into thinking that the government is doing something for the working poor, when it is actually just stealing money from them.