Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming -- Dick Cheney’s home state –- represents the elitist mindset among Republicans in Congress that is completely divorced from the reality of people’s lives. To put it another way, one of the Republicans’ favorite preemptive talking points over the years is to accuse Democrats of “class warfare,” when in fact it’s the Republicans who represent American oligarchs in the corporate and moneyed elites. (It is interesting to note that Wyoming is the least populous state in the Union, with a U.S. Census estimated population of 544,270 in 2009, and has the second-lowest population density behind, you guessed it, Alaska.) This telling exchange between Senator Barrasso and President Obama demonstrates how differently Republicans and Democrats view the world:
BARRASSO: “. . .And “What's it cost?” ought to be the first question. And that's why, sometimes, people with catastrophic -- catastrophic health plans ask the best questions, shop around, are the best consumers of health care.
[. . .] And, Mr. President, when you say, with catastrophic plans, they don't go for care until later, I say sometimes the people with catastrophic plans are the people that are best consumers of health care, in using -- the way they use their health care dollars.
OBAMA: “I just am curious. Would you be satisfied if every member of Congress just had catastrophic care? Do you think we'd be better health care purchasers?
I mean, do you think -- is that a change that we should make?
BARRASSO: Yes, I think -- I think, actually, we would. We'd really focus on it. You'd have more, as you'd say, skin in the game ... and especially if they had a savings account. They could put their money into that and they'd be spending the money out of that.
OBAMA: Would you feel the same way if you were making $40,000 or you had -- that was your income? Because that's the reality for a lot of folks. I mean, it is very important, when you say to listen, to listen to that farmer that Tom mentioned in Iowa, to listen to the folks that we get letters from.
Because the truth of the matter, John, is they're not premiers of any place. They're not sultans from wherever. They don't fly in to Mayo and suddenly, you know, decide they're going to spend a couple million on the absolute best health care. They're folks who are left out. And this notion somehow that for them the system was working and that if they just ate a little better and were better health care consumers they could manage is just not the case.
The vast majority of these 27 million or 30 million people that we're talking about, they work, every day. Some of them work two jobs. But if they're working for a small business they can't get health care. If they are self-employed, they can't get health care.
And you know what? It is a scary proposition for them.
And so we can debate whether or not we can afford to help them, but we shouldn't pretend somehow that they don't need help. I get too many letters saying they need help. And so I want to go to...
BARRASSO: Mr. President, having a high deductible plan and a health savings account is an option for members of Congress and federal employees...
OBAMA: That's right, because members of Congress get paid $176,000 a year.
BARRASSO: ... 16,000 -- 16,000 employees take advantage of that.
OBAMA: Because they -- because members of Congress...
BARRASSO: It's the same plan that the -- that the park rangers get...
BARRASSO: ... in Yellowstone National Park.
OBAMA: John, members of Congress are in the top income brackets of the country, and health savings accounts I think can be a useful tool, but every study has shown that the people who use them are folks who've got a lot of disposable income. And the people that we're talking about don't.”
Perhaps Senator Barrasso should poll his colleagues to determine just how popular his idea for them to switch their coverage to catastrophic is. Better yet, Senator Barrasso should lead by example and swith his own insurance to catastrophic, much like Senator Sherrod Brown has refused to participate in the Senate’s healthcare until all of his constituents have access to the same healthcare he does. But then again, Senator Brown (the good one) is a liberal, and liberals have heart.
Class warfare is a preemptive Republican talking point because they could never justify the massive transfer of wealth from our pockets, the middle class taxpayers, to the pockets of the top two percent of the population, or the sweetheart deals, tax breaks, and reciprocal kickbacks to the corporations that grease their campaign wheels. Those ginormous tax cuts for the top two percent of Americans were the first order of business for Republicans after George W. Bush took office, immediately plunging the nation from surplus to deficit.
If anything, the White House healthcare summit exposed the Republican approach, which does not contemplate universal coverage, and pretty much buried any illusions some in the public may have had of “bipartisanship.” The Republicans do not believe in universal coverage for all Americans. It’s that simple. It’s a repugnant worldview, and one that is out of step with every advanced democracy in the world.
The odious John Boehner, who has yet to be spotted exercising his facial smile muscles (does he have any?), in the end launched into a prepared speech tirade in which he pretended to have “listened” to all that was said, and then repeated the Frank Luntz talking points. President Obama was clearly annoyed and told Mr. Boehner that partisan outbursts were not helpful. Perhaps Mr. Boehner’s idea of nonpartisanship is to refrain from referring to the Democratic Party as an adjective, the “Democrat Party,” as he did on the White House lawn. Here is a MoveOn video reminding Boehner’s constituents whom he really represents:
Now, the very same Republicans who voted for the massive Bush deficits have suddenly found religion, in the most despicable ways. Yesterday, despite repeated pleas from his Democratic colleagues, Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky placed a hold on desperately needed unemployment and Cobra benefit extensions for hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans, because he wants to make a deficit point and have the benefits paid for by the stimulus funds, which are already allocated. This stunning meanspiritedness, the crass cruelty of making a political point on the backs of unemployed Americans is almost unbelievable; but it is par for the course in the Republican Party. Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt would not recognize today’s Republicans.
This isn’t only a Republican sin, to be sure. Democrats, the so-called DINOs (Democrats in name only) are almost equally at fault for feeding from the corporate trough and benefiting corporations with their votes in detriment to the public interest. They have been mentioned here in the DINO Hall of Shame (Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, and Traitor Joe Lieberman, who is an “independent” wholly-owned subsidiary of the insurance industry); even Evan Bayh, who has more integrity than some of these others, has found it so hard to reconcile his coporate ties with his tilt to the right that he is leaving the Senate, with $13 million in his campaign chest and a fairly easy reelection. Senator Bayh’s complaints about excessive partisanship were not convincing and to the cynics among us, his reasons may well be those of a self-serving, ambitious coporatist. Through this prism the Citizens United SCOTUS ruling did not benefit Bayh. Unless, of course, he took himself out of the running. Look for Senator Bayh to return to electoral politics in 2012 or 2016 as a corporatist in sheep’s clothing.
But with the Republicants it isn’t only a matter of ambition and greed; it is also a matter of faith, ideology, and class privilege. Most of all, it’s heartless. There is a word for this institutional political ideology: Fascism.