After months of floundering as RNC chair, Michael Steele has found his calling card: kill President Obama's health care plan. That should help restore his credibility with the Republican party. To do this, Steele knows he can't afford to engage the issue honestly. And while he has a legendary arsenal of tried-and-tested weapons to gun down health reform, he seems clueless on how to use them tactfully. His recent media appearances attest to this.
According to Steele, it simply doesn't matter what's actually in the Democratic reform bill, because "you can read and know where this thing's going," he said Tuesday on CNN. Steele is worried that Democrats are intent on monopolizing health care, and his concerns subsist "whether or not it's in the legislation."
Without pointing to a shred of evidence, Steele declares that the Democratic plan will cause people to lose their health care. When CNN anchor Kyra Phillips clarified that under the proposal, "people will have a choice -- they won't be told to go one way or another," Steele retorted: "I don't know that. I haven't seen the final bill. And you don't either."
Also telling was his declaration this week that the moral question of tens of millions uninsured is not a concern for politicians, but for pastors. He dismissed the idea that Republicans should propose counter-legislation to prove they take this issue seriously. Most striking was when he said: "I don't do policy. I'm not a legislator. My point in coming here today was to begin to set a tone and a theme, if you will..."
As that seems to be Steele's thought process: It doesn't matter what the reform legislation says. It doesn't matter how crooked the current system is, or how many people are suffering because of it. And there's no reason to believe the Democratic proposal will limit anybody's choice, but it just will.
Steele admits he hasn't looked at the health care bill, nor does he "do policy," but that doesn't stop him from authoritatively making conclusions about it -- conclusions that are unsubstantiated and convenient for his party. And seeing as how these conclusions weren't based on reality to begin with, we shouldn't expect his party's tone moving forward to be based on the reality either. It's become amply clear that Steele's version of the truth need bear no resemblance to the actual truth.
To Steele's and his colleagues, it's unimportant that the health care bill on the table will merely increase choice by adding a supplementary option. That doesn't impact their allegations that Democrats want to limit choice and take over health care.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media is doing its part to undermine health reform. They need catchy headlines, and Obama struggling is unique and interesting -- Obama succeeding is stale. But he and the Democratic leadership are succeeding, and the country is highly supportive of their ideas.
The approach that Steele and his Republican colleagues have adopted is to relentlessly enunciate a few key buzzwords and hope the effort falls through the cracks -- use idioms like "government takeover," "socialism," "rationing," and "Europe," to try and scare people. It sounds comical, but only until you realize it has worked like a charm in the past.
The real -- but largely unnoticed -- reason Republicans oppose a public option gets to the core of their survival. A functioning government-run program would disrupt their ideological narrative -- that government is incompetent and incapable of effectively serving its constituents. Any victory for Democrats won't play well for them, but this issue is unique as it could deliver a fatal blow to their core philosophy.
And that's the subtext of these desperate ploys by Steele and his cohorts. In order to remain politically relevant, Republicans need the country to believe government has to be inefficient, backward and corrupt. That's why they opposed Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and now the public option -- because these are public programs that benefit the country. Republicans know that the moment Americans start to see that public policy can actually be a way of improving people's lives, they will face their own Waterloo.