‘Un-American’ is a weak charge, if that’s all you’ve got

September 3, 2013

Jim DeMint, the former Republican senator from South Carolina, came to Delaware last week to trash Obamacare. A News Journal headline nicely summed up his speech: “DeMint: Obamacare is un-American.”

I’m guessing DeMint liked the headline. He should. It accurately reflects the heart of his message. It also betrays the paucity of Republican thought regarding healthcare.

“I cannot think of anything that’s more un-American than national government-run healthcare,” DeMint was quoted as saying.

That’s interesting. From that, I would assume DeMint’s mission is twofold, to end not only Obamacare, but Medicare and Medicaid as well.

Here’s another problem. Well before Obamacare became law, we had a national healthcare plan. Those who were sick or injured could go to a hospital emergency room and get treated.

I have never heard any politician say hospitals should do otherwise, that they should turn away the sick or injured. Any politician who did, I would think, would be considered cruel, perhaps even un-American.

It follows then that if people without health insurance are going to be treated - and many can’t afford to pay out-of-pocket - others are going to have to pick up the tab.

Those “others” are the rest of us who pay for our health insurance. The most common estimates I’ve seen are about $1,000 a year. Depending on how long I live, I might pay out $25,000 or more to pay for other people’s health coverage. We shouldn’t be forced to shell out that kind of money for others’ healthcare.

That’s why Republican Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts, came up with a plan to eliminate the freeloaders. That plan became the heart of Obamacare.

Another problem is that while Republicans have managed to whip up hysteria over Obamacare, many of its individual provisions remain popular. Millions of parents, for example, have kept their children aged 26 and under on their healthcare plan. That was made possible by Obamacare

But the biggest single issue is pre-existing conditions. Two-thirds of Americans support being able to buy health insurance without regard to pre-existing conditions.

Republicans tend to gloss over this problem. Sometimes they pretend it can be solved by encouraging insurance companies to compete for customers. It can’t.

No plan can handle pre-existing conditions without some kind of individual mandate. Insurance pools need enough relatively healthy customers to pay for those who are sick. Without an individual mandate, too many healthy people would game the system, waiting until they are ill to buy health insurance.

If you’re among the two-thirds of Americans who think people should be able to buy health insurance without worrying about pre-existing conditions, then, effectively, you are in favor of Obamacare.

(A pre-existing condition, by the way, need not mean a present illness. You might be healthy, never having spent a single night in a hospital, but be turned down by a health insurance company.)

For a long time Republicans charged that Obamacare was unconstitutional. Unfortunately for them, the Supreme Court took away that argument.

Now they’ve retreated to the more general “un-American” charge.That reminds me of magicians who tell their audiences to watch for sudden movements. “The hand is quicker than the eye,” they say.

In fact, nothing attracts the eye more readily than sudden movement. Try not noticing a rabbit darting across the lawn. The magician is merely disguising the secret behind his illusion: misdirection.

That’s what we’re getting from DeMint - misdirection. If Republicans had concrete ideas, they’d talk about them. But they don’t. So they mount silly attacks. If you don’t believe me, perhaps you’d believe former Republican House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Speaking recently before the Republican National Committee, he blamed the GOP for having “zero” alternatives to Obamacare.

According to the CNN story, Gingrich said Republican culture rewards obstruction and negativity. “We are caught up right now in a culture, and you see it every single day, where as long as we are negative and as long as we are vicious and as long as we can tear down our opponent, we don’t have to learn anything,” Gingrich said.

That’s a Republican talking about his own party.

It’s not that Obamacare is perfect. Speaking at the recent Democratic Jamboree at Cape Henlopen State Park, Sen. Chris Coons readily acknowledged that it can be tweaked and improved.

But to do that you need to do more than call the other side “un-American.”

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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