There’s more to replacement than one word can define
Before this week, you had to watch a drag race to witness anything accelerate as fast, careen as recklessly, and burst into flame as catastrophically as did the first Republican effort to replace the Affordable Care Act during Pres. Trump’s term in office.
Clearly, Republican leadership was not ready. Clearly, they felt pressure to fulfill the one promise that had been pounded in ad infinitum to voters in hundreds of congressional districts over four consecutive election cycles.
Promises are funny things, though. The promisor – in this case, the politicians – and the promisee – voters – should have a common understanding of the terms. The absence of mutual understanding often leads to promisees reacting to the promisor’s actions as a breach.
“Behold, promisees! We are repealing! And replacing!” proclaims the promisor, beaming with pride.
“Umm, not so much repealing by our account,” say the promisees. “And that’s not even close to how we envisioned the replacing. I think we’d call that revising, but replacing… not so much.”
“Oh,” says the promisor. “Oops.”
I don’t mean to suggest that agreeing on a complex idea such as health care reform is easy. It’s an unavoidable limitation that in a representative democracy we’re not going to get the fine print on the social contract we’re asked to extend, modify and renew at each election.
Campaign slogans are useful tools for harvesting votes, but worthless when it comes to understanding what specific policies those votes may have supported. Governing, it seems, requires more communication to get it right. It’s critical for elected representatives to check back in with the public prior to diving into the creation of a broad, sweeping policy like the AHCA.
The late Mario Cuomo’s dictum (“You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”) comes to mind. Republicans have campaigned successfully in poetry since 2009. Last year’s devolution into a kind of right-wing beat poetry – MAGA rally chants and random thoughts of no more than 140 characters – resulted in even greater success. Transitioning to a mode of communication that embraced their new role as the governing party was never going to be easy. Decisions by many Republicans not to hold town halls during their mid-winter recess, though understandable, foreclosed opportunities to broaden understanding with constituents about the ACHA and other issues that lay ahead. The chaos generated by liberal action groups shut down the best chance for Republican members and their constituents to sync up on what the repeal and replace promise really did mean.
Not having the public forums was a rational decision where and when those choices were made, but it’s hard not to recognize that it was a choice that may have kept Republicans out of touch.
The same choice will present itself again and Republicans will need to find a way to push through. The use of technology, more meetings with smaller groups of constituents, or partnering with local media to host (and manage) town halls could be crucial ways of keeping communication active and open.
So, with all of that non-communication happening against the helpful backdrop of a daily White House circus show, it was unsurprising that the Quinnipiac poll released Thursday read like a stern note from estranged constituents: “We’re getting the feeling that we’re not on the same page anymore. Is there something you’d like to tell us?”
The poll found Republicans were predictably the most supportive of the now-decommissioned AHCA, though registering less than majority (41%) approval for the proposal. That’s an anemic lack of support from your own base on a keystone issue. Even more concerning, independent voters registered 14% approve/58% disapprove. That’s not anemic; that’s a femoral artery gashed and bleeding out if you’re a Republican in a purplish district. These are the shifting electoral shoals on which an otherwise great campaign can find itself wrecked in suburban districts across the country.
Now, there remains a promise on the table. A non-vote on an unpopular bill does not nullify that fact. Even if Trump does elect to blame Democrats and move on, that isn’t the deal the rest of the Republicans made with their voters.
Nothing should stop Republicans from discussing proposals and slowly building support through prosaic dialogue — not poetic soundbites – with constituents. Persuasion takes time, but I have a feeling that voters are ready to spend the time to get this right.
[Featured image credit: Adobe Stock]