Obamacare Yay, Democratic Party Nay: The Way Forward in a Big Country
Kentucky is one of the few red states to have their own healthcare exchange and medicaid expansion, thanks to their Democratic Governor, Steve Beshear (disclaimer and potential nom de plum destroyer: I went to graduate school with his nephew. I never met Governor Beshear and my classmate grew up in another state. His nephew is an actor and musician.) The New York Times reported that residents of the Bluegrass state love Obamacare but are absolutely not planning on voting Democratic this November (1). I am unsurprised, saddened, and perplexed by the New York Times Story in a way that might be true of all political parties.
I am not surprised or shocked that political parties exist. I know it is popular to decry the existence of political parties in the United States but people are social animals and it does make sense for people with like-minded goals, ideals, and characteristics to form groups and associations in order to turn those ideals and goals into a reality. Strength through numbers works. I also think that people vote on numerous issues and most people including many die-hard political junkies do not try very hard to make sure that all their political goals or ideals are perfectly consistent. I remain a committed liberal democratic voter but probably benefit a bit or a lot from Republican tax policies because of my professional status as a lawyer and I might benefit more in the future if my income level goes up. There are simply many other issues which keep me in the Democratic fold including social issues, environmental issues, and family history and connections. I cannot blame someone who says “Born and raised Republican,“I ain’t planning on changing now” because I was born an raised a Democrat and I am not planning on changing now. I think I might have a great-grandparent somewhere who voted for Eugene Victor Debs and I am proud of that.
I am also not shocked or surprised by Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort, the idea that Americans are choosing to isolate themselves among like-minded people even though Bishop thinks this is driving Americans apart. I read an article recently where Bill Bishop said that previous generations of Americans would only move for work and family. I am not sure that this is true. There are countless stories of Americans wanting to get the fuck out of Dodge where ever Dodge may be. Usually these are people yearning for the excitement of the big city but not always. A friend of mine from college grew up in suburban New Jersey but lives in Montana because he likes outdoor activities.
That being said, some of the attitudes expressed in the New York Times’ article perplex and infuriate me. One subject admitted that ACA helped her a lot but she still hated it because “Nobody don’t care for nobody no more, and I think he’s got a lot to do with that.” As a fan of ACA and a big supporter of the Democratic Party, this makes me want to throw my hands up in the air. What is the ACA but an attempt to help people? 7.3 more million Americans now have health insurance thanks to Obamacare (2). I also think this quote represents a very fantasy filled view of the past and one that looks more like TV than real life. I am not sure whether there ever was a golden age where people looked out for each other. I also question whether it is possible for someone to rely on the help of friends and neighbors when suffering from a serious illness. Friends and neighbors can help an ill person afford groceries and take a person out to do chores, they can probably not afford to pay for chemotherapy sessions or an organ transplant or lost wages while a person is too sick to work. I don’t know what the Democratic Party can do to combat views like the one expressed by the interviewee who yearns for the Andy Griffith show to become reality.
The United States is big and heterogeneous. When people praise the old spirit of bi-partisanship, they are praising the fact that both parties used to have liberal and conservative wings. Southern and Midwestern reactionaries used to work together to pass legislation, as did Democratic and Republican liberals but those days are gone and not coming back. The problem is that our political system requires both parties to try and act as big tent parties. The Democratic Party has a good advantage in Presidential elections and the Republican Party has a decent advantage in congressional elections. Many issues that politically important in California or Oregon are likely to alienate and anger people in Kentucky and Arkansas and vice-versa yet both parties need to fight in all elections. In the pre-Internet days, it was probably easier to play for local differences and not raise the ire of the base. The Internet know makes it clear that the base is not likely to accept a Southern Democratic politician bashing environmental issues or being skeptical of gun control. The Internet probably also makes it hard for a Republican politician to support environmentalism or gun control in a Blue State or area. Both parties are required to have an uneasy relationship of playing to the base while hoping the base is not paying attention to unorthodox positions in opposing states for the hope of victory.
I am not sure what the way forward is for the Democratic Party. 2014 is likely going to be a disaster but many people think 2016 is going to be good for the Democratic Party (3). Tom Cotton is a rising star among Republicans and he is as ideologically conservative as I am ideologically liberal. He is also only three years my senior. I do wonder and worry whether my generation will be even more polarized than previous generations. The ones that grew up Republican will go further to the right and the ones that grew up Democratic will go further to the left. I do think that the Democratic Party can probably do a better job of reframing some issues as being worker issues rather than women-issues. Slate.com recently ran an article about how very blue California is one state where women are winning (4). One of the bullet points was that California just passed a law that requires many employers to give employees at least three sick days a year. I don’t know why this is considered a woman’s issue, it is an issue that is good for all workers. I am male, single, childless, and right now a permanent contract worker and freelancer because of various changes in the economy. Three sick days a year means a lot to me too. I suspect that the Democratic Party could win back some white male and especially working class voters by railing against the “gig economy” and promising legislation like the sick leave policy and potentially mandatory vacation. Maybe not though based on the Kentucky story.