The great conundrum at the heart of the movie Thelma and Louise is the problem the pair face in fleeing the law. They have to go to Mexico. They know that, they agree. But Louise refuses to enter Texas. Thelma tries to reason with her, but to no avail. Louise will not go to Texas. They’ll have to find another way. Thelma lets it drop, recognizing the complete irrationality of the position, not knowing what to do about it, but thinking perhaps eventually reason will prevail and they’ll get to Mexico.
The Republican Party is playing the part of Louise over the Affordable Care Act. They have now found themselves face to face with the need to go to Mexico. But they refuse to go through Texas. (I know, the ironies multiply.)
(Now, mind you, there are problems with the ACA. It is not what we should be doing, but it’s what we have, and we have examples to go by as to what to do, which is to work on it and make it better. Medicaid and Medicare were horrible when they were first enacted, but over time they have been made into something pretty good.)
Basically, they are beginning to realize that they can’t fulfill what has been their unspoken (though sometimes admitted) philosophical position for decades, which is that government is the enemy. They have campaigned on the presumption that their main task is to undo as much government structure as possible. Repeal, defund, tear apart. They have embraced the idea that their mandate (from who, when, and for what reason?) is to strip America of its government.
Starting with taxes. And of course they’ve been tilting at entitlements since Johnson. Their stance on the environment shows a consistent commitment to the idea that government, especially the federal government, should do nothing. Deregulate, roll back taxes, do less, do nothing, let corporate entities step it, remain aloof, privatize. The drumbeat of group-march has driven them into a position wherein the very idea of a successful or even improvable government program is oxymoronic.
Now they are faced with the fact that people—the very ones they have been presuming to serve by gutting all these programs—actually don’t want them to do that. And in order to improve anything, they will have to work across the aisle to actually make the ACA work better.
They have to go to Mexico and they have to go through Texas to get there.
As for their constituency, well, it’s not like they haven’t been getting mixed signals all along. In general there has been a constant background demand of “FIX IT! But don’t change anything.” They have fed back the disinformation and disconnect and reinforced the idea that government can’t do anything, in spite of evidence to the contrary. People—their people—have believed for decades that government spends far too much and delivers too little, all to the wrong people. (And, most importantly, that it can do nothing else, that it is impossible for it to function to the benefit of the people.) Combined with local, regional, and class attitudes, nurtured by the hyper aggressive distortions of talk radio and Fox News and the attendant priesthood of conspiracy-driven paranoia, this basic belief has been the chief barrier to reasonable discourse, the mustard gas in the air.
But even fantasy must eventually yield to reality and when thousands of solid Tea Party supporters and Trump voters understood that they were about to lose the health care provided under the much maligned and hated “Obamacare” the message changed. “Fix it but don’t take my healthcare away!” “Repeal this thing but leave it in place!” “Take us to Mexico but don’t go to Texas!”
Now some senate Republicans are suggesting that the geography requires them to go where they swore they would never go.
In its most generalized form, the GOP has taken it as given that government should not step in where they believe markets should do a job. But if those markets fail to function in accordance with public benefit, what then?
The more rabid among them seem to believe that it doesn’t matter, that only those who can thrive in that environment deserve any regard, that if you need what you cannot yourself provide, too bad, you don’t merit aid because “obviously” you fall into some category of freeloader, goldbricker, slacker, or political outlaw.
As Al Franken said in an interview (paraphrased) they believe you should pull yourself up by your boot straps. But what if you don’t have any boots?
Underlying this is some sort of apprehension that economies are somehow natural phenomena and that those who can’t survive and thrive in them should be weeded out in a bad application of Darwinian survival (based inanely on a theory they otherwise don’t accept—Texas again). They can’t quite come out and say that because it might be in poor taste or the Left might use it against them, but clearly it’s there. If you have no property, if you don’t make money, if you do not conform to an ideal image of American Self Sufficiency, you should die. You do not, by virtue of simply existing, deserve any consideration from the rest of society.
Unless you’re a fetus.
The contradictions of their positions are becoming manifest and even among themselves they seem to be coming to the conclusion that, for incomprehensible reasons, reasons that should not be, what they see as the only true template for America simply will not work. They may not understand why but at least the cracks in the casing around their ideologies, at least in some cases, are beginning to let light in.
Or they really are just worried about their jobs.
It will be interesting to see how they manage this. They’re actually going to have to, at some point, come to terms with how many of their policies over the last few decades have led to a state of the nation wherein people have been made surplus in service to a pillage of wealth that while it may look great on paper has actually eroded our general welfare. I seem to recall that being one of their jobs, to see to the health of the commonwealth…
So what exactly will Louise do? Go through Texas? Or do we continue driving toward the edge of that cliff?