National politics has become built on consensus, so much so that the possibility that the opposition party, or even dissenting subfactions within a party, are treated as intransigents acting purely from a desire to be spiteful and obstructionist. Dissenters are never allowed to be genuine actors who stand on principle.
The result of this is a political dialogue that juxtaposes intransigent ideology qua functional practicality. Practicality is connected to attempts to “do good” for the polity, while ideology seeks the intangible perfect. Since ideology is a label reserved for the dissenting minority, and always portrayed as disingenuous, this dichotomy makes it impossible for legislation to even attempt perfect solutions.
Such is the case with the American Health Care Act fallout, which has become a hyperbolic morality play between Speaker Ryan, President Trump, the centrist Republicans in Congress and the House Freedom Caucus. The House leadership is very concerned that the obdurate conservative bloc is going to drive the president into making deals with Democrats, thus making right-wing policy impossible. The president is opposed to any position which does not support him. The party leadership is broadcasting a clear warning to the base: the extremists on the right jeopardize our chance to legislate.
The problem, though, is ideology had very little to do with the collapse of support for the AHCA. Of the approximately 33 recorded intentions to vote against the AHCA, only 15 of these were Freedom Caucus members. This means more centrist Republicans than Freedom Caucus members expressed an intention to vote against the bill. In fact, of the roughly 36 members of the Freedom Caucus, more expressed an intention to vote for the bill than to vote against it.
What’s more, the rationale of conservatives who opposed the bill had very little to do with philosophically-driven ideological arguments. Rather, they were more concerned with the bill’s failure to uphold the party’s promise to repeal Obamacare and the impacts which its particulars would have on healthcare markets.
In an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) stated, “There were political problems with this bill, there were policy problems and there were process problems.”
In a press conference Jordan gave in early March, in which he re-introduced the clean repeal bill the Republican Congress sent to former president Obama in 2016, he listed similarly practical reasons for his position on healthcare reform:
“And then there’s our plan, which I believe is consistent with what we told voters we were going to do. Repeal Obamacare, replace it with a market-centered, patient-centered, doctor-centered plan that actually brings down the cost of insurance, brings down the cost of healthcare, provides affordable insurance opportunities for all Americans.”
In an editorial which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) outlined three criteria which they knew would gauge how any attempt at healthcare reform was viewed, thus influencing their position:
“Does it make health care more affordable? Does it give consumers more choices? Does it provide Americans more control over their families’ health care?”
These positions, all from supposed hardline conservatives, are not a screed to the hallowed principles of individual freedom, federalism and Constitutional originalism. They are quite staid reactions to concerns with the workability of proposed reforms. Cost, not whether taxes and mandates represent an infringement on freedom of choice, represent many of the objections from prominent so-called hardliners.
It is evident that the leadership of the Freedom Caucus is more opposed to the AHCA’s failure to repeal ObamaCare’s Essential Health Benefits on the grounds that this violates their promise of full repeal than on the grounds that the EHBs are not in line with the principles of free-markets and limited government.
Political objections have not monopolized the language in which right-wing opposition to the AHCA has expressed its rationale.
It may seem like a pedantic issue of semantics, but the faux demonization of AHCA opponents on the ground that they are intransigent ideologues is significant.
At its core, America is an ideological nation; the structure and functioning of the government is designed to protect an individualist epistemology. It is politically problematic to villainize any who attempt to act in accordance with this idea.
More than that, mislabeling ideology and mischaracterizing motives of elected officials makes it difficult to have a productive discourse and to pass legislation that does anything other than attempt to advance one faction’s agenda at the expense of another. This places the locus of government action in the agendas of specific officials and makes legislative victories contingent on the relationships between members of the government, making equitable rule of law nearly impossible.
Also published on Medium.