This is exactly what Republicans were afraid of: people crying over Obamacare.
When the [Affordable Care Act] exchange opened--17 minutes later than the 8 a.m. scheduled start time--the website and call centers were flooded with inquiries. Walsh said that in the first few hours "it was just raw emotion calling in." People eager for insurance, at times in tears, wanted to get coverage that they didn't have before. "They were calling up saying, 'Can I get my coverage today so I can see my doctor this afternoon?'" he says. "That is in one sense moving but also frustrating because, sure, you can sign up--but the coverage can't be effective until Jan. 1."
These tears were falling, of course, because Obamacare cannot get here fast enough for millions of people.
The polls on the president's signature legislative achievement have always been easy to misread and exploit. Many Americans want the law to go further. Many Americans prefer the Affordable Care Act to Obamacare. For the people who need the law the most, there was always frustration that it wouldn't be implemented faster. And for many if not most Americans, there were always the lingering questions -- fueled by a ridiculous propaganda campaign from the right -- about what the law will actually do.
For nearly all the 85 percent of Americans who have health insurance, reform will likely have no noticeable effect on their lives whatsoever, except to make their insurance stronger and their insurers more accountable. But for the 15 percent of the country that is uninsured, it will mean tears... often of joy.
Too many working poor people in red states who should be able to get fully subsidized insurance from Medicaid expansion won't get any help in the form of subsidies at all, thanks to their state's Republicans. For them, there will be real sobbing and real misery.
But for the rest of the uninsured -- the millions who have been putting off care, the millions who have been living in fear that getting sick will cost them everything, the million with pre-existing conditions craving the freedom to pursue a career without being tied to an employer -- there will be happy tears.
That's why the GOP base hates this law.
It's been said a million times, but if Republicans actually believed Obamacare was going to be the disaster they insist it will be, they'd just sit back and watch the Democratic Party implode. Instead, the Affordable Care Act and the likelihood it will work presents a perfect storm that riles Tea Partiers and evangelicals, and encourages Republicans to respond with their patented apocalyptic mindset.
Obamacare activates a primal fear in the GOP's mostly white base that something is being taken from "us" and given to "them." They fear this not only will lead to a deterioration in the quality of their lives, but a strengthening of Democratic power by using "dependency" on the government.
The actual details of the law -- like the fact that it requires the "personal responsibility" so near and dear to conservative hearts through the individual mandate -- don't matter. Like Ayn Rand taking Medicaid and Social Security, they only see -- and fear -- others becoming dependent on the government. Ironically, the mandate is the key portion of the law Republicans are trying to delay in exchange for reopening the government -- at least that was their final offer last week.
President Obama suggested that his reelection could break the "fever" that compels the GOP to oppose everything he does and has done.
That was true for the GOP establishment, which recognized that opposing immigration reform and shutting down the government over Obamacare would end up hurting Republicans more than the president. But Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT) and their Suicide Caucus of 30-80 members of the House fed on their party's anger and drove the party to a shutdown timed exactly to the day the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces opened.
"I would liken this a little bit to Gettysburg, where a Confederate unit went looking for shoes and stumbled into Union cavalry, and all of a sudden found itself embroiled in battle on a battlefield it didn't intend to be on, and everybody just kept feeding troops into it," an anonymous GOP congressman told The Washington Examiner's Byron York. "That's basically what's happening now in a political sense. This isn't exactly the fight I think Republicans wanted to have, certainly that the leadership wanted to have, but it's the fight that's here."
The GOP base requires an end-times battle of Obamacare and the GOP leadership is saying no.
Government shutdowns were pretty common from the period after Watergate until the Republicans' last disastrous shutdowns in the mid-90s. They're economically harmful, especially in a slow recovery, but the damage will be limited.
The GOP's real weapon -- their weapon of global economic destruction that no one in American politics has ever seriously considered using before -- is defaulting on America's debt.
"Bottom line: The failure to raise the debt ceiling means economic devastation," the Business Insider's Sam Ro explains.
Just as Tea Partiers and evangelicals believe that only others will benefit from Obamacare and climate change is a communist plot to create bike lanes, some Republicans in the House refuse to believe that a debt default would spark another financial crisis compounded by skyrocketing interest rates, exploding foreclosures and America's debt.
"I think, personally, [default] would bring stability to the world markets," Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) said this weekend.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) tried to assure Wall Street this week that the GOP wouldn't default. But he didn't think the government would shut down, either.
Republicans spent this week running around trying to draw attention to parts of the government that they didn't think should be closed, even though they're the ones who closed the government. Their goal has been to fund everything the government does except Obamacare. It's goal that's allowed them to ignore that they've already won the budget debate and that the shutdown is already hurting them in battleground states.
All of this has distracted from the very real problems with HealthCare.gov, the tool that will be the primary method of signup for the seven million Americans who need insurance, in order for Obamacare to be successful. If the GOP actually thought these technological problems were a disaster that could take down the law, they'd be drawing attention to them, instead of the World War II veterans memorial they shut down.
Instead, they know that it will start working better and better and the trickle of signups will likely grow stronger every day. And it's their fear -- the fear that millions of Americans will be crying tears of joy -- that makes the Republican Party capable of anything. It's also why the president giving in to them now would guarantee an even greater disaster as the Affordable Care Act improves and saves more and more lives.
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