Jonathan Chait on how Trump Is Proving That Obama’s Legacy Will Survive:
It is not surprising that only this year did the Affordable Care Act become popular. The law’s unpopularity depended entirely on the existence of an imaginary alternative that was free of trade-offs. The populist fallacy that everybody can get better insurance for less money if only the government wasn’t run by morons is seductive. Obama’s wonkish explanations could not expose the fallacy’s hollowness. But the Republicans in power have proven excellent (if inadvertent) tutors.
Indeed, some of the most important subjects of the lesson have been the members of the governing party themselves, many of whom never bothered to grapple with the policy before. The Republicans have spent the year desperately trying to pass a repeal, even in the face of staggering public disapproval for their efforts, because they cannot admit their entire case against Obamacare has been built on a lie. “They can’t accept they’ve been promising something that is undeliverable and a bad idea for seven years,” a “well-connected former Republican aide” told a reporter.
On the one hand, this kind of cheerfulness can understandably be mistaken for Pollyanna-ish naïveté. Every time your side gets a win, you can’t pat yourself on the back and say “of course, it was always going to be fine.”
But on the other hand, look: I’m exhausted and it’s less than a year into Trump’s first term. The other day, I listened to three podcasts about the dangers posed by the North Korean nuclear ICBM program. I appreciate—no, I need—a little of Chait’s relentlessly positive mentality. It’s good to hope that no matter how hard the Trump Administration tries, it can’t roll back every bit of Obama’s legacy.
So while I still have the reflex to throw up my hands and say “there are no political consequences for anything anymore,” I want to think that Chait’s right. How can you have watched a Republican House, Republican Senate, and Republican President fail to repeal Obamacare, and not believe that our politics are at least a little tethered to reality? The proposed legislation was wildly unpopular, even moreso than the existing legislation.
For eight years, Republicans drove themselves into a fever-pitch hysteria against the Affordable Care Act without bothering to learn how the law worked. Working from the premise that Obamacare was a uniquely ill-designed law — death panels! train wrecks! — they easily persuaded themselves and much of the country that Republicans could write something vastly better.
Half a year of Republican-run government has systematically exposed the right-wing arguments against Obamacare as bad-faith rhetoric or outright fantasy. One small-business owner, who told the New York Times in 2012 that he opposed the law as something jammed down the public’s throat, was re-interviewed this year. “I can’t even remember why I opposed it,” he now says.
It’s hard to argue with results in this case, but you have to wonder what the next year looks like.