How Did the Democrats Pass a Republican Health Care Bill?  My Response to E.J. Dionne

“Here is the ultimate paradox of the Great Health Care Showdown: Congress will divide along partisan lines to pass a Republican version of health care reform, and Republicans will vote against it.” — E.J. Dionne, 20 March 2010

Here is where the true beauty of the two-party capitalist political system kicks in.

Spiraling health care costs threaten to bring the system to a halt, with a crisis not unlike that of the 2008 financial meltdown.  The problem, however, must be solved within the framework of capitalism, without damaging the material interests of the major corporations in the field. . . .

The reality, of course, is that the working class must be forced to pick up an increasing portion of the costs of health care.  There is always the possibility that this might stimulate a plebeian revolt, not something that the establishment desires.

So in the face of that threat of unpleasantness, the two parties have a division of labor, which must not spoil popular perceptions of either of them.  The Democrats need to pose as champions of the popular classes they ostensibly represent; the Republicans must appear to champion the “free market.”

To the Democrats falls the task of passing the corporate bailout “Republican” bill.  They have the majority in Congress.  Their problem is how to sell this to their base, with the growing anger against for-profit health insurers complicating matters.

Of course, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors about a public option to divert the masses right up to a vote.  But this ploy must be abandoned in the end.  The whole enterprise could sink at this stage of the game.

This is where the Republicans come in, teabags waving aloft.  Pounding the podium in faux-hysteria, they posture as the saviors of the free market, implacable enemies of totalitarian government, the only ones standing in a thin red line against the advance of socialism.

The Republican tirades work their magic both on their own base and on the base of the Democratic Party.  The teabaggers get energized, mobilizing in protest, raising visions of brown-shirted hordes in the minds of the Democratic base.  “My God, we have to beat these fascists,” becomes the mantra.  Which is exactly the political cover that the leaders of the Democrats need to bring home the bacon, and pass the bailout bill.  Which they do, with much congratulation all around by most of the liberals so insistent on a public option only weeks earlier.

So both parties have strutted on the stage to the satisfaction of their supporters, to all appearances doing what they were elected to do.

And the health insurance bailout is accomplished.  As a piece of stagecraft, it’s a thing of beauty, as I said at the beginning.

Jon Flanders Jon Flanders is a member and former president of IAM LL 1145 and a member of the Troy Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

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