On Friday, Abby Goodnough wrote a very informative article at The New York Times, Poll Finds Kentuckians Split With Governor Matt Bevin on Expanded Medicaid. You may remember that just over a month ago, Bevin was elected governor of Kentucky by almost 9 percentage points. Of all the Republicans who ran, he was the most clear: the Medicaid expansion had to go. Here is a quote from last February before the election, “Absolutely. No question about it. I would reverse that immediately.” That seems clear enough.
Of course, as the election went on, it became muddled. According to Sam Youngman at Lexington Herald-Leader just a month before the election, “At last week’s Centre College debate, it was far from clear whether Bevin knew the difference between Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income and disabled residents, and Medicare, the health insurance program for people 65 and older.” To me, this is really telling. We liberals talk a lot about how Republican voters are ill informed. People who consume conservative media tend to believe things that just aren’t true. But the truth is that Republican politicians (especially over the last couple of decades) are that way too. They’re just mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. “It” in that sentence is nothing very concrete except their vague feeling that something ain’t right.
More important, however, Bevin’s position depended upon the circumstances. By July, he said it was “an absolute lie” that he ever said he would reverse the Medicaid expansion on the first day. In August, he was pushing for a complete reversal in a fundraising letter. For readers of this site, it is probably obvious that Bevin’s July statement is disingenuous. So he wouldn’t reverse the program on the first day? That just leaves every other day of the remainder of his term. And true to his word, as I write this on the fifth day of his term, he has not done anything official to the program.
The poll found that over 70% of Kentuckians who have an opinion on the Medicaid expansion want it kept the same. I’m sure that on many other issues the vast majority of Kentuckians are similarly at odds with the governor they just elected by a huge margin. I have to admit, this still annoys me. There really isn’t a bait-and-switch going on here. The people of Kentucky knew who they were voting for. Or to put it more accurately: the people of Kentucky knew who they were “not voting” for.
The same poll found that while 54% of Republicans wanted to keep the Medicaid expansion, only 43% who voted for Bevin (and I assume that pretty much means those who voted at all) want to keep it. I suspect that Bevin’s best political move would be to cut the Medicaid expansion. It really doesn’t matter what the people of Kentucky think; it matters what the voters of Kentucky think. Given that Kentucky holds its gubernatorial elections in off-off-years, he can depend upon a very conservative electorate. He’s for more likely to lose the primary because he did what the people want than he is to lose the general because he did not.
What it looks like he’s going to do is change the program so that the poor have “skin in the game.” He’ll probably also cut it back so that fewer people get it. These are both bad ideas. They reflect the usual conservative hatred of everyone who you don’t know. (Remember Rob Portman deciding that gay rights were a matter of liberty as soon as he found out that his son was gay? That sums up conservatives completely.) But Kentuckians should count themselves lucky. Like most politicians, Bevin was very clear who he is and how he would govern.
People love to quote Benjamin Franklin, “A republic — if you can keep it.” They usually quote it as if keeping the Republic would require some kind of herculean effort. Who would have thought we would lose our republic just because people couldn’t bother voting?