to Barack Obama’s presidency, healthcare access was the gaping hole in
the country’s tattered, patchwork safety net. If, for instance, you made
too much money to qualify for Medicaid, weren’t old enough to qualify
for Medicare, never served in the military, and didn’t work for a large
employer, you probably had to pay for your own insurance. If you were
low- or middle-income, or you had a preexisting condition, there was a
decent chance you were uninsured, unable to obtain routine care and at
constant risk of financial ruin.
Add ‘em all up and we’re talking about upward of 50 million people.
of the reason conservatives fought the Affordable Care Act so
relentlessly, and continue to fantasize about its demise, is that it
will ultimately fill that hole. Though flawed and inadequate in key
ways, the safety net will now lack major structural gaps it just
had. When conservatives warn that Obamacare will turn the United States
into a European welfare state, they’re being histrionic, but they’re not
being entirely disingenuous.
The extraordinary but ultimately
failed efforts Republicans undertook in 2011 and 2012 to win back
Congress and the White House — the direct assault on public sector
unions, systematic disenfranchisement of minority voters, legislative
sabotage on Capitol Hill — are perhaps best thought of as rearguard
actions to prevent Obamacare from ever taking effect. To keep America
from becoming Europe.
Obama’s reelection was Game Over. GOP
leaders understood this, even if rank-and-file Republicans and millions
of Republican voters remain in denial about it.
But just because
the American welfare state no longer lacks the linchpin of a healthcare
guarantee doesn’t mean the programs that compose it will lumber along in
their current forms unchanged. In other words, the grueling ideological
struggle over the shape and generosity of U.S. social programs will
continue for years to come.
Enter a snarky, unconventional but ultimately innocuous Rolling Stone article
by Jesse Myerson. In it, he proposes five reforms that are pretty
far-reaching relative to the country’s existing social and economic
regime, and would in fact dramatically alter the balance of economic and
political power in America.
you strip away the comedic framing, though, they’re a fairly
straightforward mix of progressive and radical-centrist reforms. (See
Matt Yglesias for a complete breakdown
conservatives went absolutely apeshit. So severe was the apoplexy that
they failed to recognize that included in these ideas were a bunch of
things conservatives like — replacing income taxes and replacing
paternalistic welfare programs with cash transfers — and that already
exist successfully in the non-communist world. It was amazing.
In their rendering, Myerson hadn’t sketched out a road to serfdom. He’d planned a massive frog-march to Siberia for our society.
Part of this was emotional affect. Myerson’s Twitter bio
is satirically hashtagged #FULLCOMMUNISM. Combine that with the
article’s hyperbolic framing and many conservatives reacted tribally.
of Myerson’s antagonists were smart enough to see past the cultural
identity stuff but too weak-minded not to respond with shallow,
reactionary nonsense. Sean Davis thinks
Myerson’s ideas are discredited because they all appear in the USSR’s
constitution (they don’t really). Even if you assume, for the sake of
argument, that this rebuttal isn’t historically illiterate, you can’t
get past the juvenile reasoning. Even if you assume Soviet leaders
rigorously adhered to a constitution, Davis is making an inductive
If he’d clicked on the link in his own piece
, he’d have seen, right up top, that “women and men have equal rights in the USSR.”
of these rights is ensured by according women equal access with men to
education and vocational and professional training, equal opportunities
in employment, remuneration, and promotion, and in social and political,
and cultural activity, and by special labour and health protection
measures for women; by providing conditions enabling mothers to work; by
legal protection, and material and moral support for mothers and
children, including paid leaves and other benefits for expectant mothers
and mothers, and gradual reduction of working time for mothers with
Here the U.S. was a bit behind the
times, but by Davis’ standard we have now largely embraced this
particular form of murderous evil. The Soviet Union also guaranteed free
provision of higher education. Here in the United States, we limit that
to secondary education, which I suppose means we’ve escaped one of the
chains of Soviet bondage.
Smarter conservatives both understood
that Myerson’s list isn’t communism, but nevertheless had a visceral
oppositional reaction to it. Which brings us back to the right’s losing
bid to unseat Obamacare and the evolving debate over social policy in
the U.S., post-Obamacare.
I don’t think the ongoing freakout over
the Rolling Stone article is simply a reflection of cultural anxieties.
It also reflects an effort to limit the scope of that debate, so that
progressive ideas fall outside of the sphere of acceptability. A basic
cash income wouldn’t destroy America, and actually enjoys the support of
conservative heavyweights, now and in the past. But it isn’t exactly
compatible with significant tax cuts for wealthy people. And it
preserves the federal government’s role as the purveyor of public
welfare. One way to marginalize ideas like that is to call them
A lot of conservatives just don’t know any better. But
for the rest, this is as much about keeping the endless debate over
social welfare anchored around shrinking government and privatizing
services as it is an ignorant cultural reaction to a writer from New
York who made a #joke about #communism on the Internet.