Sugar and the Real Reason for Cruz’s Opposition
Ted Cruz is worried about sugar addiction. Or rather, that Obamacare is like sugar addiction. He uses the metaphor over and over. Why? His point is this: once Obamacare is passed, Americans will get used to the sugar of health care insurance exchanges and won’t want to give it up. So we must fight it with any means necessary, at any cost necessary. Now, because this is a fight that cannot be won later.
There is a measured and rational GOP opposition to Obamacare. And then there is the opposition that sees Obamacare as so historically momentous, as so disastrous, it is willing to let the government shut down, let over a million people work without pay, let almost a million more go without paychecks to stop it. (Full disclosure: my husband is on federal furlough. His federal employment, however, is only part of his employment. So right now our household income is reduced by about 1/6.)
The idea that the shutdown is caused by Democratic intransigence is simply preposterous. GOP representative Peter King put it best: “Defunding the law? If Tip O’Neill said in the 1980s we are going to shut the government down unless Reagan stopped Star Wars or repealed his tax cuts, we would have said, ‘It’s left-wing Bolshevism.’ So I don’t see it as a conservative policy as much as a guerrilla tactic.”
Really, the Cruzites shouldn’t deny the intransigence. They should own it! Given what appear to be the Cruzites’ beliefs about Obamacare, they should be intransigent. My personal favorite is from GOP representative Todd Rokita from Indiana, who called Obamacare “the most insidious law known to man.” In a world that has known genocide as national policy, in a world that has known the Nuremberg laws, in a country that has known laws permitting slavery, Rokita’s view is, shall we say, a strong statement.
The GOP opposition has been making two separate arguments about health care. The first argument is that the law violates our rights. The Cruzites believe government may not forcibly take earned money from some of its citizens to pay for the health care of other citizens. This argument is reasonable and persuasive enough, although I disagree with it. It is not most-insidious-law-known-to-man-shutting-down-government-stopping-the-paychecks-of-millions-threatening-a-shaky-economy-failure-to-respect-the-outcome-of-democratic-processes-with-which-one-disagrees persuasive, but there’s a case to be made there. However, I don’t think it holds much sway with the public.
Given the general public tolerance for public education, Social Security, Medicare, and the NIH – as well as many other federal programs which are currently shuttered – I do not think it is a large percentage of Americans who oppose Obamacare a matter of rock-hard principle. Let’s say it could be conclusively demonstrated that more people would be better off with Obamacare then without it. I suspect many people who are currently opposed to Obamacare – especially independents who don’t have an axe to grind with Obama – would be in favor of it.
A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday (10/1) suggests that 47% of Americans are opposed to Obamacare. Do they all think Obamacare violates their rights? Only 22% approve of the shutdown, 72% disapprove. At least some of the 47% who oppose the law do not seem to think it is a right that should be protected by drastic measures.
Some other interesting numbers here (a CBS news poll from 9/25). Approval of Obamacare is at 39% (in the Quinnipiac poll above, taken a week later, it’s at 45%). 79% of people think will either hurt them personally or have no effect, while 18% think it will benefit them. 67% think it will either hurt the economy or have a neutral effect, while only 26% think it will help the economy. Given such a hopeless view of the benefits of the law, what’s actually shocking is that so many people do approve of the law. There appear to be a not-insignificant number of people who believe that Obamacare will have a neutral-or-negative effect on their lives, and/or a neutral-or-negative effect on the economy who nonetheless support the law. Both sides seem to have their ideologues; however, on both sides, it seems that most people have pragmatic concerns. They will approve of the law if they think it will help themselves or others, or disapprove if they think it does not.
I can’t imagine very many people rallying behind Cruz if he said flat out, “Obamacare will make us better off, but we still shouldn’t pass it as a matter of principle!” Here’s the weird thing, though. That seems to be exactly what he’s saying — at least sometimes.
He does make an argument that we would be worse off. He says flat-out:
There is bipartisan agreement that Obamacare isn’t working. It’s killing jobs, causing more and more Americans to be driven into part-time employment, causing employers to drop health insurance and dramatically increasing health insurance premiums. Even the unions — President Obama’s most reliable allies — are jumping ship.
Yet then. Why the sugar? Why would such a law that is so harmful be so sweet?
Some, including President Obama, have pointed out that the sugar addiction analogy seems odd, on its face. They note correctly that an implication of Ted Cruz’s argument, an argument with which Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity appear to agree, cedes that Americans will like the law. As Obama says:
In fact, one of the major opponents when asked, why is it you potentially shut down the government at this point just to block Obamacare? He basically, fessed up. He said, well once, consumers get hooked on having health insurance, and subsidies, then they won`t want to give it up.
John Aravosis suggests the fear that Americans will like Obamacare of Cruz’s is what lies beneath the surface of his recent Seuss-reading antics:
When you cut through the presidential-hopeful-pandering side of Ted Cruz’ faux filibuster of Obamacare that’s currently taking place live on the US Senate floor, you come to the conclusion that the man thinks the greatest risk from Obamacare is that the public might actually like it.
But let’s be fair to Cruz. His belief that people will like the law is not some hidden implication of his argument that never occurred to him. Indeed, that is his point in using the sugar addiction analogy. It is not a hidden implication of his view, it is a flat-out admission that people will like it. People like sugar, but it’s bad for them. He is agreeing that people will like the law, but believes that they will be mistaken. But this actually makes no sense.
Why would the great and good American people like a law, and be sucking on it like sugar, if it were actually a harmful, job-killing law? If there is bipartisan agreement, even among unions (unions!) that the law is harmful?
One possible answer is that the American people are stupid and/or delusional. I am guessing that Cruz does not believe this, and definitely does not want to argue it.
The other possible reason that I can think of is that it prevents short-term benefits such that people will knowingly disregard their long-term interests in order to pursue them. This is likely what Cruz thinks about welfare. People get money from the government for nothing, and thus are disincentivized from working and aiming for their own (and the country’s) long-term benefit.
But this is not at all analogous with Obamacare. From what will it disincentivize people? Will people suddenly take up smoking, or decide obesity is the path for them? I’m guessing the number of people who would jump at the chance to smoke or be obese if only they had health insurance is vanishingly small. It won’t disincentivize them from working. Health insurance is a matter of prioritizing long-term interests over short-term gain.
It’s one thing if Cruz stuck with his job-killing argument against Obamacare. But the sugar-addicted argument is even stranger than Obama et al. suggest. If Americans will be sucking at Obamacare like sugar-addicted toddlers at a birthday party, and they are not delusional, they are not doing it because they mistakenly like it. They will be doing it because it actually makes them better off. So Cruz seems to believe (unlike most Americans!) that Obamacare will, in fact, make people better off.
Now, since he also believes that Obamacare violates his rights, there is nothing inconsistent in his opposition. It makes perfect sense to think that something is a violation of your rights and should not be done, even if more people would be better off.
But. I seriously seriously doubt that the American people would follow him on this one. The real reason for his fight seems not to be a fear of negative consequences, but to protect a right not to pay for others’ health care. And I don’t think most Americans are believe that such a right exists.