Like the hero in a James Bond or Indiana Jones movie, ObamaCare has faced new mortal threats at every turn. And like James Bond or Indiana Jones, each time it has emerged unscathed when the smoke of battle cleared.
After it was proposed five years ago, pundits and political commentators declared ObamaCare dead on dozens of occasions. It was assailed in television commercials supported by the insurance industry. Supportive Members of Congress were pummeled by Tea Party extremists financed by right wing billionaires like the Koch Brothers.
Once it was passed, the Right launched a massive movement for repeal. Dozens of Republican Governors refused to cooperate with its implementation. Republican Attorneys General challenged its constitutionality in courts across America.
The law became a centerpiece in the frantic right wing campaign to stop the reelection of President Obama.
And finally, the Tea Party Republicans made their last ditch-effort to take the government itself hostage – to shutdown the Federal Government if the law was not defunded or delayed.
But in the end, every desperate right wing attempt to stop ObamaCare failed. The attacks failed because of the energy of ObamaCare supporters – and the iron will of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
Today, the most important provisions of the law finally take effect. Americans who could not previously afford health insurance – or who had a pre-existing condition that prevented them from qualifying for health insurance -- can now go to one of the new insurance exchange website and finally get covered.
Today, America joins the company of every other major industrial democracy in declaring , in practice, that access to health care is no longer a privilege, but a right.
Of course – from their perspective – the ideological extremists who fueled opposition to ObamaCare were right. The Affordable Care Act expands the realm of relationships in America that are in fact defined by progressive values. It expands on the increasing number of commitments our country has made throughout its history to create a truly democratic society where everyone has a right to the basic necessities of life not because he or she is lucky or smart – but because he or she is our fellow human being.
The Affordable Care Act is part of a long line of legislative initiatives that have made good on the promissory note given to every American by our country’s founding documents – that every one is owed an opportunity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the eight-hour day, child labor laws, the civil rights bill, the minimum wage and so many other critical progressive initiatives, the Affordable Care Act is an acknowledgement that the promise of America was made to everyone – whether a person is healthy or sick, rich or poor, born to a hedge fund operator in Greenwich, Connecticut or a poor rural farmer in Greenwood, Mississippi.
Every one of those initiatives was fought tooth and nail by the political Right. But once they were passed and became the law of the land, they came to define the progressive tradition that for most Americans embodies those qualities in our country about which we are most proud.
Those on the extreme Right have always known that once ObamaCare went into effect, it would gain the support of millions of Americans who enjoy its benefits. And they also knew that the dark, frightening nightmares they had fabricated describing ObamaCare’s horrific consequences would evaporate when they are exposed to the daylight of its actual implementation.
In a year, the Tea Party’s dire warnings about the effects of ObamaCare will echo the comments of their hero Ronald Reagan when he warned the country against Medicare in a recording he made in 1961 for the Americans Medical Association as an actor and private citizen. At the time, the AMA was Medicare’s chief opponent. In his speech to them, Reagan argued that Medicare would threaten the vary fabric of Americans life. He called it “socialized medicine” and said if it were passed “We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”
In fact, of course, many Americans since then have spent their sunset years blessing the fact that they could rely on Medicare when they became ill.
In fact, even more than Indiana Jones or James Bond, the case against ObamaCare has been a work of complete fiction. The Tea Party has been desperate to stop its implementation because they will have a hard time explaining what happened to the “death panels,” price increases, lost health insurance, “job losses,” and other horrors once the law goes into effect and its popularity soars.
Of course the Tea Party constantly argues that ObamaCare is not popular with the voters. But they – and the pundits – would do well to look behind the gross numbers at the reasons for voters’ views.
Yesterday, CNN published a poll that found that 57% said they opposed the law and only 38% say they support it.
But it reported, only about four in ten oppose it because it is too liberal, with about one in ten saying they don’t like the law because it’s not liberal enough. To quote CNN:
If you add the 38% who favor the law to the 11% who oppose the law because it's not liberal enough, you get 49%, compared with the 39% who say they oppose the law because it's too liberal.
That’s right, in fact, even after years of unrelenting right wing attack, far more Americans want ObamaCare – or an even more robust government action like a public option or single payer.
And the Tea Party has done another enormous favor for ObamaCare. By demonstrating the GOP’s complete inability to govern through the shutdown, it has made the inevitable glitches that will accompany ObamaCare’s launch look minor and pedestrian by comparison.
A several day or week delay of a new website looks positively insignificant next to the furlough of 600,000 employees, closed national parks, and shuttered government offices.
Now that they have shut down the government in a last-ditch effort to stop ObamaCare, the Right looks less like the sophisticated villains in the Indiana Jones or James Bond movies than the cartoon character Wile E Coyote who keeps smashing into walls in his vain, obsessive pursuit of the Road Runner.
Ted Cruz and the Tea Party leadership have dragged the Republican Party into an obsessive, disastrous battle that will cost it dearly in next year’s elections. The GOP will certainly be held responsible for shutting down the government, and if they keep it up through the debt ceiling fight – for threatening the financial system and world economy.
In fact, rather than Wile E Coyote, the best literary analogy to the Tea Party Republicans might actually be Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab who led the crew of the Pequot on an obsessive voyage to kill the elusive Great White Whale.
That story did not end well for the ship’s company of the Pequot.