Ethics Alarms feels obligated to state what should be obvious, but increasingly is not, as abuse is heaped on the Republican House and President Trump for failing to be able, for now at least, to agree on a replacement/repeal/fix for the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare” its close friends….enemies too, come to think of it.
The headlines on stories all over the web describe the lack of a GOP bill are brutal:The failure of the Republican health care bill reveals a party unready to govern (Vox)…Republicans Land a Punch on Health Care, to Their Own Face (New York Times)…Inside the GOP’s Health Care Debacle (Politico). Those are the nicest ones. The conservative media’s headlines are even more contemptuous. This only reflects how much the prevailing delusion on the Left and by extension the Left’s lapdog media and punditry, has infected political common sense, leaving a Bizarro World* sensibility about what ethical governing is about.
It may be futile to point this out from this obscure corner of the web, but hell, I’m a fan of quixotic endeavors: the House health care bill was a bad bill. Virtually everyone who examined it thought so. If the thing had somehow been passed by the Senate (it wouldn’t have been, so this meltdown just got all the abuse and gloating out of the way early) and signed by the President (who admits that he has no idea what a “good” health care system would be), it would have thrown millions of lives and the economy into chaos. It isn’t responsible governance to pass bad laws. (Why is it necessary to even say this?) It’s irresponsible. The Republicans wouldn’t show they were “ready to govern” by passing an anti-Obamacare bill that made a bad mess messier; they would have shown that they were fools, reckless and incompetent.
You know: like the Democrats when they passed the Affordable Care Act.
So eager were the Democrats and President Obama to pass a law that gave health insurance to the small percentage of the nation that couldn’t get it (or didn’t want to pay for it) that they rushed through a sloppy, ill-thought out law without even reading it. The President didn’t read it (unless you believe he was deliberately lying about that “keeping your plan if you like your plan stuff”—I think he was lying by representing that he was certain of a bill he hadn’t read, which is a teeny bit better…I guess…), because “details, details”: he wanted a law passed. Legacy, you know. As his Speaker of the House said, we could find out what’s in it after it is a law. That’s being “ready to govern”? Blindly passing a law affecting every American, millions of companies, and billions and billions of dollars on a wing and a prayer?
Apparently so in the new, Bizarro World thinking of U.S. Politics. “Do something!” is the refrain we have been hearing from Democrats for eight years–on gun control, on racism, on climate change, on campus assault, on immigration, on the Iranian nuclear threat. Never mind if …
…the “something” is unconstitutional, like the Democratic plan to take away the Second Amendment and Due Process rights of Americans on no-fly lists. Never mind if
…the “something” is cultural airbrushing and government censorship, like banning depictions of the Confederate flag at national Civil War Battle Fields on the crackpot theory that the emblem encourages racial hate. Never mind if
…the “something” is killing the Keystone pipeline to send a “message” about our concern for climate change, while admitting that the project would have had no climate change impact at all. Never mind if
….the “something” means destroying the academic careers and reputations of male students not permitted to defend themselves in campus kangaroo courts that begin with the presumption that any woman’s claim of rape must be true. Never mind if
…the “something” means that the United States will hold out the promise of citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, if their parents can somehow smuggle them into the country.
…the “something” provides a sponsor of world terrorism with billions of dollars to pursue that end, while doing nothing to ensure that a consistently perfidious Iran won’t eventually have the capablity to reduce Israel to radioactive rubble.
These and more were also bad provisions, bad policies, bad proposals, bad treaties or bad laws, all somehow proclaimed by Obama, Democrats and progressives to be virtuous, valid and praiseworthy because they meant being proactive, even though they made the problems they were designed to address worse—in some instances much worse.
Obamacare was another such “something,” arguably the most reckless of all.
Now the Republicans are being mocked for not adopting this irresponsible pattern: charging ahead with enterprises even after it is clear, or should be, that the results are likely to be catastrophic. In the Times today are several rueful quotes from Republicans about “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good,” an occasionally useful maxim that in politics more often functions as a rationalization for “Do something!” It would have taken integrity and courage for Democrats to look at the Affordable Care Act in 2009 (of course, this would have required reading it) and say: “You know, this is too complicated, too expensive, too unstable and too uncertain to pass. Too bad. Better go back to the drawing board. Involve the other party. Do it right. This is too important to screw up.” They couldn’t muster it.
In passing the ACA, the Democrats reenacted the scenario inveighed against by historian Barbara Tuchman, in many of her works, but specifically in her justly famous “The March of Folly.” The book explains how over and over again, otherwise smart and competent leaders pursue courses of action long after it is undeniable that the like results will be disaster. The first time I referenced the book, ironically enough, was in regard to Obamacare:
“The March of Folly” was a cold-eyed retrospective of how supposedly brilliant people in power can follow through on destructive and objectively stupid policies; how a mission, ordered by a trusted leader, travels the arc from aspiration to compulsion to obsession, and how the public, paralyzed by deference to authority, inertia and restraint, accepts flawed premises long after the damage they are doing and will continue to do are obvious and undeniable. Tuchman calls this lethal tendency of policymakers a “process of self-hypnosis.” She concentrates on its long and bloody history using examples spanning the Trojan War, through the British handling of the American rebellion and the Vietnam War. In another publication, she applied similar analysis to the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. This is what is going on with the Affordable Care Act, and I doubt whether anyone with the necessary influence will stop it until it becomes a chapter in another historian’s sequel to Tuchman’s classic.
We simply have to banish this insane—no, that is not too strong a word—preference for badly planned and executed action with good intentions over responsible inaction in the absence of a competent plan. No, the Republicans and the President don’t deserve extravagant praise for talking as if replacing Obamacare was the easiest thing in the world, and they had the answers: that was irresponsible, dishonest and ridiculous. But at least they didn’t take the next step—the step the Left loves so much—of taking action when they had good reasons to believe that it wouldn’t work. Not passing bad laws just to “do something” is more responsible than passing them. Stopping a planned course that you have promised and hyped is more ethical and courageous than going through with it. Doing something just to do something is not competent leadership. It is leadership malpractice.
*Bizarro World is a planet in Superman Comics where the stupid populace has everything backwards: they say hello when they mean goodbye, good is bad, bad is good, and they eat the polates while throwing out the food on them. The term is used on Ethics Alarms to describe toxic cultures and irrational ideologies.