Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Zombie Meets Political Reality

'Zombies, Vampires and Republicans' is not the name of a low-budget summer horror movie.

Though I freely confess that I would pay to go see that based on the title alone.

Actually that was the title of the esteemed Princeton University economist Paul Krugman's op-ed in the New York Times last Monday.

One that was both timely and insightful given the current political climate.

It offered his usual mix of progressive-tinged wit, wonky economic insight for the common man, and sharp political insight; it was published on June 19th, the eve of one of the most anticipated special Congressional election in modern history (we'll come back to that in a minute).

Krugman's op-ed also offers insight into today's decision by Senate Majority Leader McConnell to delay a vote on the Republican healthcare bill after at least six Republicans came out against it in the wake of yesterday's Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of this draconian piece of legislation showed that it would strip well over 22 million Americans of their healthcare by 2020, drastically increase healthcare premiums and gut Medicaid like a fish.

When Krugman uses the term 'Zombie', he's not talking about the fictional flesh-eating humanoids popularized in films like Night of the Living Dead or TV shows like AMC's The Walking Dead.

Krugman uses the word zombie to describe the derisive inside-the-Beltway term for "policy ideas that should have been abandoned long ago in the face of evidence and experience, but just keep shambling along."

The Senate's version of the healthcare bill, which was famously negotiated in total secrecy away from the sunlight of public scrutiny (by actual vampires apparently), is a prime example of a zombie.

Home for the holidays: Sen. Mitch McConnell
It's not a healthcare bill at all.

It's a massive tax cut for the wealthiest 1% that redistributes hundreds of billions of dollars from bedrock social safety net programs like Medicaid in order to lavish people who are already loaded with more cash.

Republicans figured they could slip it past the white working class base that elected Trump.

They figured that the Obama-fear-hatred the GOP base cling to like well-worn blankies would serve as sort of a political smokescreen and distract decent working class folk while they slapped a 'Repeal Obamacare!' sign on a tax break for the wealthy.

But unfortunately for Republican politicians and Trump, Obama isn't the president anymore.

Now that the levers of power in Washington in the House, Senate and White House are all controlled by Republicans, all the irrational disinformation about the Affordable Care Act and election campaign hysteria generated around conservative rallying cries to repeal Obamacare just don't have as much political oomph as they used to.

Now that millions of veterans, working and middle class people over 50 and people who work jobs that don't offer healthcare, people who used to fall through the cracks of the healthcare net in America, realize that the Affordable Care Act guarantees them access to healthcare - a majority of people don't want it repealed.  

The Republican healthcare zombie ran smack into the harsh political reality that the GOP just doesn't persuade the mainstream on issues anymore, because their policies don't actually do anything for them (the working class white base) which is why voter suppression and gerrymandering is how the GOP stays in power these days.

With a little help from the Russians of course.

All roads lead to Rome for Republicans, and Rome means tax cuts for the rich, the Senate bill was exposed for that even though they tried to craft it in secret.

Capitol Police escort a disabled protester from
Sen. McConnell's office last week
What's interesting to me is that McConnell could only lose two votes from his own party to get his zombie passed and six Republican Senators came out against it - rumors are that even more opposed it but stayed silent.

One would have thought McConnell would have gotten the message last week when cringe-worthy
video of Capitol Police hauling away disabled people in wheelchairs who showed up at McConnell's Senate office to protest the bill went viral.

But no, he was unmoved by such emotional displays by people who will be decimated by draconian cuts to Medicaid.

McConnell thought he could get the votes to ram it past in time for Senators to go home for their hardly-deserved July 4th break.

But the CBO score revealed the truth, and all the Obama-bashing in the world isn't enough to hide the fact that 22 million people are going to lose their access to healthcare.

The zombie met political reality today and McConnell was forced to delay the vote while Senators go back to meet to see what kind of compromises they can make to get the votes needed to pass it.

But Republican Senators from states like Kansas, Maine, Ohio and West Virginia realize that the 2018 midterm elections are on the horizon - they know what slashing Medicaid will do to their older constituents and to their chances for re-election.

To the casual political observer glancing at the calendar, the 2018 midterm elections might seem a long ways off - but they're really not.

The special election last Tuesday for Georgia's hotly contested 6th Congressional District between Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel made that quite clear.

House candidate Jon Ossoff (D-GA) waves during
his concession speech last week
The tens of millions of dollars, intense national focus and social media reach that both the Democratic and Republican parties poured into this race made it the most expensive in American history.

While there have been four different special Congressional elections already (all won by Republicans), the race in the Georgia 6th is widely seen as the first real opening salvo in the upcoming national political war for Congress.

An astounding $59 million was collectively spent on this race by both political parties.

And the campaign contributions speak to the candidates themselves.

The bulk of Karen Handel's donations came from large Republican Political Action Committees (PAC's) largely funded by the big conservative billionaires like the Koch brothers, the reclusive Trump-backing hedge fund gazillionaire Robert Mercer, or the shadowy casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Thanks to the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, these 1%'ers can now legally pour virtually limitless amounts of anonymous cash into elections, like a gushing fire hose shoved through the broken window of a house.

That unprecedented flood of cash, combined with the despicable kinds of Republican voter suppression tactics that Karen Handel herself specialized in when she served as Georgia's secretary of state from 2007 - 2010 (read Ari Berman's June 19th article on Handel in The Nation), helped Republicans keep this seat Red.

But the Georgia 6th has been Republican since before Ossoff, a former Congressional staffer and documentary film maker, was even born, the district of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a place where Democrats used to lose by a margin of 20 points.

Karen Handel is sworn into office: a reward for her
years of Republican voter-suppression tactics in GA
With the help of over $24 million raised from 200,000 different small campaign contributions from individual donors all over the country (like me) and an additional $8 million from the Democratic Party, Ossoff did something very few in the DNC expected him to do - he made the race competitive.

He forced Republicans who thought this would be an easy victory, to funnel tens of millions from their Big Donor war chest into this one race.

Ossoff didn't just compete, he almost won.

And it wasn't some 20-point political blowout, when the votes of all 259,488 people who cast ballots were finally tallied up in the early morning hours of last Wednesday, Ossoff garnered 48.1% of the vote to Handel's 51.9%.

He lost by just 9,702 votes by rallying the local Democratic base and doing what the Democratic Party used to be known for - Standing up for the little guy.

He made issues like the economy, defending Medicare and Medicaid, protecting civil liberties, and defending women's health issues and supporting Planned Parenthood and  fighting voter suppression cornerstones of his campaign - so he may not have won the seat.

But he set the stage for the 2018 midterm elections by showing that standing firm on a solid progressive platform can rally the Democratic base - and even persuade some disenchanted Republicans to switch sides as well.

Will that be enough to overcome nationwide Republican voter suppression tactics and gerrymandering of political districts to dilute Democratic and progressive voting blocs?

Organizations like Flippable, a group comprised of former Hillary Clinton staffers determined to use complex political analysis to challenge Republicans at the state level with small targeted donations, think so.

Ossoff winning 48.1% of the Georgia 6th District and a majority of Americans rejecting the Republican healthcare bill is enough to hang the hat of hope on - and maybe enough to stop the zombie in it's tracks in 2018.

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