If we are to believe the latest news reports, congressional Republicans are out to murder Americans, ripping life-saving medication from their hands and forcibly dragging them from health-care clinics by the thousand. Setting aside the fairly obvious fact that the GOP reform bill will not, in fact, kill millions, one wonders why the Left’s semblance of measured rhetoric on health care has vanished so quickly.
The recent histrionics from Democratic politicians, pundits, and even many journalists stand in stark contrast to the tone of public conversation about health-care reform before Donald Trump’s election. As recently as last fall, commentators on both the left and the right seemed to agree that the Affordable Care Act needed further work.
To be sure, Democrats at every level of government remained adamant that the few shortcomings of Obamacare were a necessary part of the equalizing process to provide health insurance for low-income Americans and minorities. But at the same time, most on the left named those shortcomings (however reluctantly) and acknowledged the need for improvement.
Even the Democrats’ own presidential nominee said as much. During the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton admitted that “premiums have gotten too high” and vowed to “fix” Obamacare. And while Clinton’s idea of “fixing” Obamacare would have looked much different from, say, Ted Cruz’s, she didn’t embrace the far-left-wing solution of single-payer health care, either.
A Huffington Post article from early 2016 divulged some of President Obama’s own proposed health-care reforms, noting, “Even the guy who signed it knows the Affordable Care Act has problems.” And last fall, several Democratic senators stretched magnanimous hands across the aisle, urging their Republican colleagues to work with them for the sake of improving the Obamacare markets.
“There are things we can do and need to do to address restoring competition in these exchanges, and my hope is when we’re through the elections and past the elections, we’ll do those,” said senator Tom Carper (D., Del.) last September.
“You know, I think the Affordable Care Act from the very beginning has been a roller coaster,” Democratic senator Chris Murphy (Conn.) said around the same time. Senator Bob Casey Jr. (D., Pa.) agreed: “I think it’s important to be vigilant, because like any complex area of policy, it’s going to require some changes.”
But after Trump’s surprise victory in November, the tenor of health-care-reform dialogue underwent a rapid transformation. Today’s Left — including these previously fair-minded Democratic senators — seems to have completely forgotten their earlier admissions that Obamacare needs some work.
Democrats can’t purport to sympathize deeply with the Americans who rely on Obamacare when they have chosen since November to ignore those who were hurt by the system the bill put in place.
Instead, pundits and politicians alike have settled on a tone akin to total panic. The American Health Care Act that passed the House this spring, and the recently proposed draft bill written by GOP leadership in the Senate, are surely not the type of reforms that Democrats had in mind. But neither of those bills by any means represents a full repeal-and-replace effort, and both at least attempt to address the skyrocketing costs and plummeting options that have plagued the Obamacare exchanges.
As the House and Senate debated their bills, news cycles teemed with utterly sympathetic stories, profiling sick individuals or low-income families who will supposedly lose their essential health care if Obamacare is repealed, or pointing to the many women who will die of cancer if Planned Parenthood is defunded. Such stories have allowed the Left to routinely caricature Republicans as callous politicians intent on slashing health care to fund tax breaks for the wealthy.
This frenzy is completely disingenuous, especially considering the many Americans who lost their doctors or insurance coverage as the result of Obamacare. Democrats can’t purport to sympathize deeply with the Americans who rely on Obamacare when they have chosen since November to ignore those who were hurt by the system the bill put in place.
Regardless of the merits of the GOP plans, Democrats ought to set aside the hysterical rhetoric and return instead to their earlier, more reasonable stance: that the Affordable Care Act was a worthwhile policy with some ugly costs. Obamacare has been for years a vastly unpopular program among the American people, despite its successes at upping enrollment among low-income individuals. Any Democrats who want to win this debate must remember that and be willing to admit to the policy’s failures before they accuse any more Republicans of murder.
— Alexandra DeSanctis is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.