Politico has added a new word to its glossary of adjectives: “burn-it-down.” As in: “the House’s hard-right band of burn-it-down conservatives, the Freedom Caucus.” In a piece yesterday for the National Interest, I mock Washington’s most prevalent gossip rag for using incendiary descriptors like “arch-conservative” and “hardline” to characterize the Freedom Caucus’ serious and substantive objections to the Republican Obamacare alternative, and apparently they’ve only doubled down since. (Fittingly, I think “burn-it-down” also sums up most people’s attitude towards the Playbook emails.)
Our political dialogue has suffered greatly from this lazy thinking, which automatically places Republican leadership and any legislation it presents towards the center of the spectrum and assumes tea party legislators are intransigent and far-right when they voice reservations. Yes, but what about the substance of their objections? Do they not have a point when they say you can’t kill the individual mandate, drive premiums downwards, and keep existing health regulations all at the same time? How does employing rudimentary logic make you a flea-bitten right-wing radical?
Politico certainly doesn’t know. And neither do many on Capitol Hill and in the White House who have succumbed to this intellectual light-lifting. Instead of assessing Republican legislation as good policy or bad policy, they siphon everything into the boring, tired, stultifying categories of center-right and far-right, with the latter dismissed as unreasonable by default.
Another manifestation of this constipated thinking is the checklist mentality—as in “the president wants to get health care done,” as though one sixth of the national economy, touching everyone’s well-being and wallets, is just something you “do.” This attitude is hardly limited to the Republican Party. I remember one Democratic operative speaking to PBS about Barack Obama’s agenda circa 2009: “The president knew he could either do Wall Street reform or he could do health reform. He couldn’t do both.” So the Democrats “did” Obamacare, everyone patted themselves on the back, Washington was lauded for having worked—and premiums skyrocketed, deductibles shot up, the exchanges imploded, costs ran over.
We have suffered a great deal from government insisting it should just “do” one thing or another. Mere political footballs in Washington, these efforts have profound effects on people’s lives, whether it’s the single mother getting yanked off of Medicaid or the family wondering how it’s going to afford unsustainable premium hikes. Nobody gives a damn about Chris Matthews’ fetish for a Washington that “gets stuff done”; they want a Washington that gets good stuff done, that makes meaningful improvements, that protects their lives and liberty without being too intrusive. Obamacare failed those tests and so does the Republican substitute.
This is far bigger than Donald Trump’s legacy or Paul Ryan’s speakership or the tedious media metric of the presidential “first 100 days.” If the AHCA architects need another eight months to figure out how to transition people from Medicaid to affordable private-sector insurance, then they should take it. Current procedure, under which less than three weeks has been allotted between the release of the Republican bill and its vote in the House, is simply unacceptable.
As we go to press, the House is currently debating the AHCA again in an effort that seems fruitless—the New York Times presently counts 32 hard Republican no votes, plus one since yesterday. Even a whip-cracking Donald Trump isn’t going to break the Freedom Caucus’ spine. Why? Because they’re a pack of “burn-it-down” Jacobins? No. Because the tea party has always understood something essential: that killing bad laws is just as important if not more so than passing good ones. Policy outcomes trump the laziness of “do” every time.