Locked Out Politics and the Abolition of Health Care


 
The emotional effect of the assassination was devastating. Bobby Kennedy was crushed at the thought of a world without Jack.

Life as Attorney General was unbearable now that his brother was gone. But inactivity was worse. Afraid of heights since childhood, he now climbed mountains and skied down slopes that were almost cliff-sides.

The years of struggle against racial injustice more blatant than he had imagined had pushed him into a new awareness of human suffering, human anger, and the need for healing.

A campaign for public office seemed unavoidable. An aging antagonist of President Kennedy was now strolling toward re-election in New York State. Bobby finally took the leap.

I shall resign from the Cabinet to campaign for election. I shall devote all my effort and whatever talents I possess to the State of New York.

This I pledge.

Robert Kennedy, announcing for the US Senate, August 4, 1964

But it was too soon. President Kennedy had been taken suddenly, less than a year before. It became obvious to those around him that his heart was not in it. And there were other drawbacks. He had no clearly articulated message.

And he was far from the natural speaker his brother had been. Decades later, his daughter Kathleen remembered:

I remember as a little girl, watching him practice over and over in front of the mirror. And he was trembling. I mean, it wasn’t easy.

When he ran for Senate in 1964, it was hard for him sometimes to get out his sentences and to talk about what he wanted.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, June 5, 2008

As the election approached, it looked very close. Robert Kennedy’s chances were fading.

It is nearly forgotten now, but the image of one incident took the country by storm just a week before ballots were to be cast. And it made John Kennedy’s brother, the former Attorney General, the sadly mourning Bobby Kennedy, mad as hell. His campaign was suddenly electrified. It took on a new energy.

The empty chair was an old tactic often used against opponents who refused to debate. Robert Kennedy had been reluctant. He thought the image of a young politician beating up on an aging New York icon would backfire.

Senator Keating, the Republican candidate for re‐election, used the device of an empty chair to symbolize what he said was Mr. Kennedy’s “utter contempt for the voters of New York” by “refusing” to join the debate.

The New York Times, October 28, 1964

The problem was Robert Kennedy was there. He had been locked outside, barred from getting in.

The chair had a large sign on it: “Robert Kennedy” and Senator Keating gestured toward it as he accused his opponent of cowardice. Kennedy, he said, was afraid to face him.

“I wanted this debate,” Mr. Keating said, “for the benefit of the people of New York and also for my own sake because I know a face‐to‐face meeting between my opponent and myself would expose his ruthless attempt to destroy my lifetime character.”

The New York Times, October 28, 1964

Meanwhile, Kennedy was trying to get into the building.

But last night Mr. Kennedy was barred by WCBS‐TV guards from entering the Keating stu­dio. He protested, “I’m here to debate—Senator Keating has in­vited me to debate,” but the guards were adamant.

The New York Times, October 28, 1964

Television sets across the state carried a split screen. On one side was Senator Kenneth Keating pointing to an empty chair, angrily accusing Robert Kennedy of being too timid to face him. On the other side of the screen was Robert Kennedy, outside on the street, demanding to be allowed in, barred by locked doors as adamant security guards blocked his way.

The entire staged debate, the contrived empty chair, the harsh denunciation of the cowardly Bobby Kennedy, too timid to show up, all backfired.

This is how it ended a week later:

For all of us who were elected on this day, all of us now have a responsibility. Our job has just begun.

Robert F. Kennedy, election night, November, 1964

I thought about Robert Kennedy, and the phony empty chair debate of 1964, as I watched Republicans react to their legislative defeat more than half a century later. Health care repeal was on it’s way to down.

We had no Democrat support. We had no votes from the Democrats. They weren’t going to give us a single vote, so it’s a very difficult thing to do.

President Donald Trump, March 24, 2017

Yes. President Trump blamed Democrats for the defeat.

With no Democrat support, we couldn’t quite get there, with just a very small number of votes short in terms of getting our bill passed.

President Donald Trump, March 24, 2017

After more conservative setbacks, Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor:

Our friends on the other side decided early on they didn’t want to engage with us in a serious way, in a serious way, to help those suffering under Obamacare.

Mitch McConnell, July 28, 2017

It turns out Democrats had tried to participate. They could not agree to wiping out health care for millions of people, but they did acknowledge that fixes could, and should, be made. In truth, the outermost fringes of conservatism had taken control of enough of the Republican legislative caucus in past years to succeed in destabilizing key elements of the Affordable Care Act. Now, markets needed to be stabilized. Adjustments needed to be applied.

Democrats made private and public appeals. One letter was made public after it was rejected by Mitch McConnell.

We stand ready to work on … reforms to the current system and urge you to join us in advancing measures that would have an immediate impact on improving the health care system for American families.

But Democrats were locked out. Meetings were held in which they were not invited. In some cases, Democrats were forcefully warned not to show up. If they did, they would find only locked doors and guards.

The Speaker of the House was probably the most honest in the effort to keep Democrats out. He was concerned that President Trump might wilt under pressure and be tempted to actually allow Democrats to participate in health care reform.

What I worry about, Nora, is that if we don’t do this, then he’ll just go work with Democrats to try and change Obamacare, and that’s not going to — that’s hardly a conservative thing.

Paul Ryan, March 30, 2017

It was Robert Kennedy and Kenneth Keating revisited.

Republicans were debating an empty chair …

They weren’t going to give us a single vote

decided early on they didn’t want to engage with us

Democrats were on the sidewalk, confronting locked doors and Republican guards.

… work with Democrats … that’s hardly a conservative thing

As Republicans denounced Democrats for refusing to participate, Democrats were standing tall, demanding to be allowed in.


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8 thoughts on “Locked Out Politics and the Abolition of Health Care”

  1. The Republicans have been beyond contemptible with their myriads of votes to repeal the ACA when they knew it would go nowhere under President Obama. When the votes truly mattered with President Trump now being in the White House, some of those that previously voted for the repeal were no longer willing to cast that same vote now that it actually would cause passage of the bill into law with Trump’s signature.

    Yes, Obamacare has glaring problems with it, and Democrats knew that when they voted for it. And they alone voted for this monstrosity, as not a single GOP member voted in favor of it. Granted, some of the squishy Dem’s had to be effectively “bribed” with goodies from the treasury for their states before they would vote for what they knew was a deeply flawed health care bill, but vote for it they still did.

    Now the GOP is nominally in charge and playing the same games as the Democrats did. The difference is that they evidently can’t get over the hump and get their agenda passed. Both sides are beyond contemptible by putting forth and then leaving a law in place that hurts far more Americans with their health care woes than what it does to help. The Democrats now are hardly the bastions of virtue locked outside while all they simply want to do is contribute to the discussion.

    One wonders what must be done before we can get congress to actually do the business of the people while following the dictates of their offices and the United States Constitution. The fact that we keep voting in the same broken congressmen and senators suggests that this will continue to be the norm for us indefinitely.

    1. That is certainly the standard Republican narrative, T. Paine. What it lacks is evil motivation for that Democratic villainy. Hard to see what selfish reasoning was involved. Democrats suffered at the polls in the onslaught of exaggerated and over-the-top campaigning by opponents. Those who supported health care anticipated the price they would pay. Sure enough, careers were lost.

      I suggest a different narrative from one accepted by conservatives, one closer to the facts. The Democratic motivation was simply a conviction that everyone should have medical care. It is a human value standard that has become generally accepted since ACA was passed. That, along with the fact that scare tactics have mostly been proven to be false, is why public opinion has turned resoundingly against repeal. Unanticipated conservative victories in court damaged some of the mechanisms for health care, but those can be fixed.

      You do touch on one false equivalency. Republicans were invited into the process of devising affordable health care for everyone. They refused repeatedly. Conservative ideas were included anyway. Hearings and public forums were held despite Republican unity in boycotting them. In contrast, this year’s Republican efforts were pretty much devised in secret. Democrats wanted a voice, but they were exiled by Republicans.

      Most of us also perceive a difference in motivation. Democrats wanted health care available to all, even if the extremely wealthy would be denied the generous tax cut proposed by Republicans. Republicans insisted on a tax cut for those at the very top, even if it meant denying health care to a few million people with pre-existing conditions, or without financial means.

      And, of course, there was an underlying value, usually but not always unstated. A large subset of conservatives feel that those without medical care are undeserving. If those pushed to the ragged edge or their children die, so much the better. After all, life is filled with little trade-offs.

      1. It’s ok, Burr.

        To folks like T.Paine, thoughts and opinions are meant to be set in stone. It makes life easier when you do not have to re-evaluate things when new perceptions, point of views or information come to light. People shouldn’t change their minds when more data points get added to the equation. X + Y = Z. Always. Convictions they call it. Values they say. That’s why we have to resort to hyperbole and colorful language to villify government programs, welfare, welfare recipients, and regulations.

        “The Republicans have been beyond contemptible with their myriads of votes to repeal the ACA when they knew it would go nowhere under President Obama.”

        See? Colorful. It’s too bad folks that say things like this didn’t realize they were watching the politcal version of Washington Generals vs Harlem Globetrotters. The Republicans gleefully played the role of the Generals.

        “One wonders what must be done before we can get congress to actually do the business of the people while following the dictates of their offices and the United States Constitution. The fact that we keep voting in the same broken congressmen and senators suggests that this will continue to be the norm for us indefinitely.”

        And what business is that? What constitutes a broken congressman?

  2. “What it lacks is evil motivation for that Democratic villainy. Hard to see what selfish reasoning was involved.” ~ Burr

    Indeed, I am not necessarily assuming evil intent for most Democrats that voted for it when plain ignorance of the longer term ramifications of the law will suffice. I think it is likely that many Democrats had great intentions of helping the poor when they voted for the ACA. I think they simply misunderstood what the true outcome would be for most Americans when their access was restricted and their costs soared under this monstrosity.

    “That, along with the fact that scare tactics have mostly been proven to be false, is why public opinion has turned resoundingly against repeal.” ~ Burr

    Truly? Lack of access to some doctors has become a reality, let alone the fact that many of us were not allowed to “keep our doctor or health plan” that we liked before this mess became law. Further, there have been erosions of our constitutional liberties, particularly with the HHS mandate. Costs for most Americans have soared. Instead of my premiums going down by an average of $2500 as promised, they have gone up by that amount. Oh, and for all of those folks that did sign up with the various health care exchanges, many of those have gone bankrupt or left the system due to exorbitant costs. Yeah, all of these “scare tactics” are false….

    “And, of course, there was an underlying value, usually but not always unstated. A large subset of conservatives feel that those without medical care are undeserving. If those pushed to the ragged edge or their children die, so much the better. After all, life is filled with little trade-offs.” ~ Burr

    Really? I am unfamiliar with that large subset of folks, my friend. Indeed most conservative folks want health care for the poor too. We simply think there is a better, more efficient and cost effective way to provide that than what was produced with Obamacare. “Let them die” is largely a Democrat construct for propaganda purposes. I had to look again at the author of this comment to make sure it was you instead of someone else after having read that, sir.

    1. Well, let’s see. When, in 2011, a Republican audience cheered the idea of an uninsured person dying for lack of treatment, Mr. Paine’s fellow conservative Andrew Sullivan wrote: “Maybe a tragedy like the death of a feckless twentysomething is inevitable if we are to restrain healthcare costs. But it is still a tragedy. It is not something a decent person cheers.” Then candidate Rick Perry was disturbed by the response of the conservative audience: “I was a bit taken aback by that myself.” he added: “We’re the party of life. We ought to be coming up with ways to save lives.”

      My friend T. Paine takes an easier approach. Since his life’s experience does not include such people as those in that conservative audience, they do not exist. I suggest that, while many conservatives might be disturbed, a large subset of conservatives agrees with that audience. The applause did not come from unicorns.

      Those in that audience form a large enough segment of society to allow occasional politicians to express something other than dismay. One Republican governor, a few years ago, suggested that soaring costs might come down if hospital emergency rooms were allowed to turn away those who could not pay.

      As I pointed out, conservatives in courtrooms and in legislative halls have done all they could to undermine the financial underpinnings of affordable healthcare. That is why Democrats say, and say accurately, that fixes are needed. My friend’s higher premiums demonstrate that. Of course, I should acknowledge that the increase in those premiums, on average, has been lower than what had been projected prior to passage, a fact that may undercut my argument. But then, it would also undercut the argument of my always-disparage-Obama friend as well.

  3. Trey, please do tell where new facts have come to light that changes the equation so that I should change my mind, sir? I am sure some of my friends on the left will dispute it, but I have been known to change my opinion when a viable and powerful argument based on facts is presented to me. I wish that everyone was equally open to doing so.

    As for your other question, the business of the people is not simply providing for the next entitlement of the week that comes along. Most of what congress does these days far exceeds their constitutionally stipulated duties. Most of what they have undertaken should fall to the states or the people as the tenth amendment so states.

    When our congressmen and senators act in excess of their constitutional authority and thereby their oaths of office, they are broken and should not be re-elected accordingly.

    1. I contemplated not answering you, T.Paine, because I thought you were being intentionally obtuse and combative. Your response sounded so insincere. Despite this, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you can’t think of anything that could have changed to cause someone to change their vote.

      How many years has the ACA been in existance at this point? How many ‘the sky is falling’ “predictions” and theories did we have to endure during the run up to the signing of the ACA and since?

      * There are no government “Death Panels”.
      * The ACA doesn’t cause the deficit to increase.
      * The employer mandate is not, in fact, keeping companies from hiring past the 50 person threshold.
      * Costs aren’t being driven up by the ACA.
      * Employers aren’t dropping people from their insurance and forcing them into the marketplace.

      All of these things and more were (and still are) parroted ad nauseum. Heck, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are STILL calling it the “Job Killing Obamacare” and there’s no rationale behind calling it that other than partisan dog whistling and mongering. Unemployment is at, what, 4.3% now?

      I think, absent many of the things people claimed would happen if the ACA passed did not happen and are not happening, it’s ok to change one’s mind on it. That or they no longer find it politically necessary to lie about/misrepresent the law.

      ALSO;

      Since you threw it into your response, you’ve brought this up before and I’ve never been able to get a clear response out of you. What constitutionally stipulated duties has the congress usurped from the States? I want to assure you, I ask not because I am being combative or difficult. I. Really. Want. To. Know.

  4. Along with the “Let then die” faction of Republican con-servatives, this fact seems off Mr. Paine’s radar as well:

    Republicans were invited into the process of devising affordable health care for everyone. They refused repeatedly. Conservative ideas were included anyway.

    Obamacare is of course rooted in Romney Care and the Heritage Foundation. But when Democrats move to the Right, Republicans and con-servatives move to the far Right.

    I’m sure conservative “facts” say otherwise, just as they refuse to accept the existence of greenhouse gasses and their effects on climate.

    Of course it is also futile to attempt reasoning with those who say Nazis were liberals and the KKK are Democrats.

    But that is who they are. They are a Cult of Right-wing Authoritarian Personalities. Now over 2/3 of our government is under the rule of the CRAP.

    Time to cut food stamps for the poor so the rich get more tax breaks. That is what will make America great again, amirite? If they believe it, it must be true. It just makes sense….to the cult.

    As we mourn yet another act of fascist American Right wing terrorism, somehow they will blame liberals. That is what they do…all the time…every day…in every way. Obama is still demonized while Putin is admired.

    This will not end well people.

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